Old American guard giving way to new wave

By Randall MellJanuary 9, 2013, 8:15 pm

Dustin Johnson made the stage all his own Tuesday winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

While Steve Stricker gave a gritty effort, battling through pain in his right leg, we saw more evidence of the changing of the guard in the game.

We saw youth continue to step over their elders on their way to the top of another leaderboard.

It could be an interesting year in that regard in the American ranks, where there’s actually less a changing of the guard as there is a changing of the supporting cast.

Tiger Woods still rules.

Woods, thanks to his three victories last season, remains the top American in the world rankings, but the supporting cast, the next level of American strength, is rapidly changing.

Stricker’s limp around Kapalua was as symbolic as it was real.

For a long spell, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk joined Stricker as America’s “next best” behind Woods.

At the start of the 2010 season, Woods was No. 1 in the world, Mickelson No. 2, Stricker No. 3 and Furyk No. 5. They were the top four Americans beginning the 2011 season, too.

That’s no longer the case, and the jockeying for position to replace them is intriguing with no shortage of young American challengers on the rise.

Mickelson, Furyk and Stricker enter a year where it feels like they’re on the clock.

At 45, Stricker, the oldest, is hastening his exodus from the game’s top ranks with his announcement that he’s drastically cutting back his schedule, to as few as 10 events this year. While there’s nobility in his reasons, in wanting to devote himself more fully to family, there’s inevitability, too. There’s his inevitable fade. He’s stepping back, and that precedes stepping away.

Mickelson will play one more major before turning 43 this summer.

Nobody’s won a major after turning 43 in 18 years, since Ben Crenshaw won The Masters in 1995.

That’s not to say Mickelson’s washed up. He won just last year. He has won in each of the last nine seasons, including the Masters in 2010, but time’s ticking more swiftly for him now.

Just as it with Jim Furyk, who also has one major to play before turning 43.

Mickelson barely qualified for the American Ryder Cup team on points last season. Stricker and Furyk did not qualify and made the team as captain’s picks.

Mickelson has slipped from No. 2 in the world rankings just two years ago to No. 19 today.

Stricker has slipped to No. 13 and Furyk to No. 27.

Hey, Mickelson nearly won the Masters last year, Furyk the U.S. Open. If they were to bounce back and win majors this year, they would script some terrific stories, but there’s a legion of young Americans who are working hard to take those prizes instead.

Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Nick Watney, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler are all positioned to push Woods as his new supporting cast in the American ranks.

Johnson’s win this week fuels that competition.

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Thomas donating to hurricane relief at East Lake

By Jason CrookSeptember 19, 2018, 9:20 pm

Much like in years past, Justin Thomas is using his golf game to help with relief of a natural disaster.

The world No. 4 announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d be donating $1,000 per birdie and $5,000 per eagle at the Tour Championship to a charity benefiting the victims of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas last week.

At a fan's suggestion, Thomas, who has averaged 4.35 birdies per round this season, also pledged to donate $10,000 for a hole-in-one.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday just south of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and has left much of the area flooded and without power. At least 37 people have died in storm-related incidents.

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Rose realizes his No. 1 ranking is precarious

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:18 pm

ATLANTA – Asked how he would like to be identified when he was finished playing golf, Justin Rose didn’t hesitate – “major champion, Olympic gold medalist, world No. 1.”

He’s had only a week to enjoy the last accomplishment, but the Englishman is aware of what it means to his career to have finally moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It's a moment in your career that you always remember and cherish,” said Rose, who overtook Dustin Johnson with his runner-up finish two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.

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Rose said he took some time last weekend with family and friends to relish the accomplishment and will play his first event this week at the Tour Championship as the world’s best, but he also understands how tenuous his position atop the ranking is at the moment.

“I accept it's really tight up top. It could easily switch this week,” he said. “I just feel that if I go to [No.] 2 or 3 this week, if Dustin and Brooks [Koepka] both play well, I have an opportunity the week after and British Masters, and going to China and Turkey, there's going to be opportunities to get back there.”

Johnson, Koepka and Justin Thomas could unseat Rose atop the ranking this week depending on their finishes at the Tour Championship.

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Likely ROY Wise not looking past 'special' East Lake

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:05 pm

ATLANTA – Much like the PGA Tour Player of Year Award, voting for the Rookie of the Year Award is very much a rubber stamp this season.

Brooks Koepka is a lock to win the Jack Nicklaus Trophy after winning two majors - the U.S. Open and PGA Championship - despite missing a portion of the season with an injury. Similarly, Aaron Wise, who won the AT&T Byron Nelson, is the only rookie this year to advance to the Tour Championship, which is normally the threshold players use for voting for Rookie of the Year.

“I knew with the rookie class that we had it was going to be tough, and the players still have to vote but it’s definitely something that was important to me,” he said on Wednesday at East Lake. “My focus is just finishing strong this week and giving them a reason to vote for me.”

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For Wise, who had four top-10 finishes this season and begins the week 21st on the FedExCup point list, the chance to win the award is gratifying, but being among the best 30 players on Tour, and securing his spot in all four major championships next season, is an accomplishment worth savoring.

“To win Rookie of the Year you have to have a solid season, but to make it to East Lake, so many guys don’t get this far. You really have to have a special season and this is really special,” Wise said.

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Stanford returns home to share Evian celebration

By Randall MellSeptember 19, 2018, 5:33 pm

Angela Stanford’s eyes welled with tears when her flight touched down at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in her return from winning the Evian Championship.

When she lands from the south, as she did Monday, she always looks for the towering grain elevators in her Saginaw hometown. She also always looks for downtown Fort Worth’s skyline.

She got teary with the replica of the Evian Championship trophy in her carry-on in the luggage bin above her seat, knowing she wasn’t bringing it home just for her.

But for her mother, Nan, who’s battling a second bout with breast cancer.

For her father, Steve, who got her started in the game.

For other family and friends.

For Shady Oaks, the club Ben Hogan made famous, where she is a member.

And for TCU, her alma mater.

She realized how empty she felt in so many returns from major championships.

She’s 40 now.

She won in her 76th try in a major.

For so long, Stanford believed she had what it took to win a major, but that only made the string of disappointments harder.

“So I remembered what it felt like coming home from so many disappointments, but not this time,” Stanford said. “This time I got to bring something home for everyone to see.”

When Stanford got off the plane, her parents were among a group of family and friends waiting to greet her. So was her TCU coach, Angie Larkin, who brought along the Horned Frogs mascot, Superfrog.

Tour pros Kristy McPherson, Dori Carter, Kendall Dye and Emory University coach and former tour pro Katie Futcher were all in Fort Worth helping Stanford celebrate.

“It was pretty cool,” Stanford said. “Of course, I asked them all if they wanted to see the trophy.”

She pulled it out of her carry-on and never put it back.

“It’s a heavy trophy, but I told them I’m carrying this everywhere,” Stanford said.

There was a celebration dinner with family and friends Monday night, and another celebration with friends on Tuesday.

“I think it’s just the start of many celebrations with more friends to see,” Stanford said.

Stanford went to work with a new swing coach about a year ago, Todd Kolb, from Sioux Falls, S.D. In her flight home, she thought about how grateful she was for all the help poured into her game, not just the good work Kolb is doing, but the foundation important figures in her life helped to lay. She thought about the lessons and wisdom Amy Fox, Mike Wright and Joe Hallett passed along.

“I’m still using things I learned from my first instructor,” Stanford said. “Amy Fox is a huge reason I’m playing on tour. Mike Wright is a huge reason why I’ve won on tour. Joe Hallett helped me navigate through a tough time in my career.

“They were all important to my winning Sunday. They all gave me building blocks, and they’ve all helped lay the foundation to what I’m learning now from Todd.”

Stanford said being able to share her gratefulness made her return home special.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “It’s been everything you could imagine it would be.”