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Rahm re-emerges with Spanish Open win

By Will GrayApril 15, 2018, 7:45 pm

It may have been one of the quietest top-five finishes at the Masters in recent memory.

With no shortage of storylines entering the season's first major, Jon Rahm didn't get much attention despite entering as one of the top-ranked players in the world. His fourth-place showing was then largely lost in the shuffle amid a final round that included a furious Jordan Spieth rally, a near-miss from Rickie Fowler, a collapse from Rory McIlroy and a breakthrough performance from Patrick Reed.

In the era of short attention spans, Rahm's playoff victory at the CareerBuilder Challenge may as well have happened in 2012. The weeks since consisted of largely solid but unremarkable performances, and his title hopes in Augusta were sunk in a matter of hours as he opened with a 75.

But with a stirring victory Sunday at the Spanish Open, Rahm became the latest Spanish golf phenom to win on home soil while re-establishing himself as a premier player worthy of attention heading into the heart of the summer.

Beginning with the second round of the Masters, Rahm has now carded seven straight rounds in the 60s. That run was highlighted by a final-round 67 in Madrid that turned a two-shot deficit into a two-shot win over Paul Dunne.

"It's such a satisfying feeling," Rahm told reporters. "When I made the decision to come straight from Augusta, it wouldn't be just to show up and walk around. I wanted to win this tournament."

Rahm went three months this spring without a top-10 finish before the Masters, left to watch as ever-increasing portions of the spotlight drifted toward other elite players who racked up trophies and picked up major buzz. But Rahm's victory is his third in a fledgling European Tour career, and he now has five titles in only 45 overall starts as a pro.


Full-field scores from the Spanish Open


Still only 23 years old, Rahm has now joined an eye-catching list of players over the last 30 years who have won three times in Europe and twice on the PGA Tour before age 24: Spieth, McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia.

It's proof once again that while others may receive more attention on a weekly basis, Rahm has the game to win anywhere in the world - and just might demonstrate that prowess again this season.

The U.S. Open will mark Rahm's return to a major where patience is tested more than any other, and one where he failed miserably in that effort last year at Erin Hills. Clearly frustrated and allowing his temper to erupt all over the brutish layout, he missed the cut after receiving ample pre-tournament hype.

While the Spaniard still wears his emotions on his sleeve, he has missed only one cut since leaving Wisconsin in June. Over that same span, he has now won tournaments in Ireland, Dubai, California and Spain while adding a runner-up showing in Hawaii and three top-5s during the PGA Tour playoffs.

The maturation process continues, but Rahm has already proven himself to be a quick study on a global scale.

"Mainly I just feel a little bit more experienced than I was last year," Rahm said at the Masters. "So you would say it's almost kind of like repeating the class and kind of like when you fail a class in college and you get to do it again. I mean, something sounds familiar, right? So it's a little easier."

Rahm made six final-round birdies to overtake Dunne, including three on the back nine. He closed things out with a birdie on the final hole, which clinched the trophy and ended an emotionally draining fortnight.

"It's truly been the hardest Sunday I've ever had in any tournament that I've won, because the crowd wanted it so much and I wanted it so much," Rahm said. "You can tell how excited everybody is. I felt that tension; I felt that stress. I felt everything magnified."

Rahm's latest victory won't improve the No. 4 world ranking he had to start the week. He's still on the outside looking in for the brewing No. 1 battle between Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, and when Shinnecock Hills rolls around he likely won't receive the attention of other peers who already have major titles to their credit.

But as the partisan crowds in Madrid can attest, Rahm possesses every skill and shot you'd expect from an elite player. He's likely flying a little less under the radar after racking up yet another win, but his most recent performance proves once again that his ascent to even more rarified air is only a matter of time.

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McCarthy wins Web.com Tour Championship by 4

By Associated PressSeptember 24, 2018, 2:14 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Denny McCarthy won the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship on Sunday to earn fully exempt PGA Tour status and a spot in the Players Championship.

McCarthy closed with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory over Lucas Glover at Atlantic Beach Country Club. The 25-year-old former Virginia player earned $180,000 to top the 25 PGA Tour card-earners with $255,793 in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals.

''It's been quite a journey this year,'' McCarthy said. ''The PGA Tour was tough to start out the year. I stuck through it and got my game. I raised my level and have been playing some really good golf. Just feels incredible to finish off these Finals. So much work behind the scenes that nobody really sees.''

McCarthy finished at 23-under 261.


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, closed with a 69. He made $108,000 to finish seventh with $125,212 in the series for the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200.

Jim Knous earned the 25th and final card from the four-event money list with $41,931, edging Justin Lower by $500. Knous made a 5-foot par save on the final hole for a 71 that left him tied for 57th. Lower missed an 8-footer for birdie, settling for a 69 and a tie for 21st.

''It was a brutal day emotionally,'' Knous said. ''I wasn't quite sure how much my performance would affect the overall outcome. It kind of just depended on what everybody else did. That's pretty terrifying. So I really just kind of did my best to stay calm and inside I was really freaking out and just super psyched that at the end of the day finished right there on No. 25.''

The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list competed against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. Sungjae Im topped the list to earn the No. 1 priority spot of the 50 total cards.

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LaCava pushed Woods to work on bunker game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 1:52 am

ATLANTA – Last week as Tiger Woods prepared to play the season finale at East Lake he sent a text message to his caddie Joey LaCava that simply asked, what do I need to do to get better?

Although when it comes to Woods his proficiency is always relative, but LaCava didn’t pull any punches, and as the duo completed the final round on Sunday at the Tour Championship with a bunker shot to 7 feet at the last the two traded knowing smiles.

“We had a talk last week about his bunker game and I said, ‘I’m glad you kept that bunker game stuff in mind,’” LaCava said. “I told him he was an average bunker player and he worked at it last week. There were only two bunker shots he didn’t get up-and-down, I don’t count the last one on 18. He recognized that after two days. He was like, ‘What do you know, I’m 100 percent from the bunkers and I’m in the lead after two days.”


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


For the week, Woods got up-and-down from East Lake’s bunkers seven out of nine times and cruised to a two-stroke victory for his first PGA Tour title since 2013. That’s a dramatic improvement over his season average of 49 percent (100th on Tour).

“His bunker game was very average coming into this week,” LaCava said. “I said you’ve got to work on your bunker game. If you had a decent bunker game like the Tiger of old you would have won [the BMW Championship].”

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For Woods, is this only the beginning?

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 1:42 am

If this is Tiger Woods nine months into a comeback, wait until he actually shakes the rust off.

This was supposed to be the year he kicked the tires, to see how his body held up after all those knives digging into his back.

To see if a short game could truly be rescued from chunks and skulls.

To see if a 42-year-old living legend could outfox the kids.

On the final breath of the PGA Tour season, it was Tiger Woods who took ours away.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy on Sunday at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club – and one group behind the current World No. 1 and eventual FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose – Woods bludgeoned the field and kneecapped Father Time. 

It was Dean Smith and the Four Corners offense.  Emmitt Smith moving the chains. Nolan Ryan mowing them down.

And all of a sudden you wonder if Phil Mickelson wishes he’d made alternate Thanksgiving plans.

Even if everybody saw a win coming, it was something else to actually see it happen, to see the man in the red shirt reach another gear just one more time.

Win No. 80 reminded us, as Roger Maltbie once said of Woods when he came back from knee surgery in 2009: “A lot of people can play the fiddle. Only one guy is Itzhak Perlman.”

It wasn’t long ago that Tiger Woods seemed headed toward a disheartening final chapter as a broken man with a broken body.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


He would host a couple of tournaments, do some great charity work, shout instructions into a walkie talkie at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, and call it a career.

There would be no Nicklaus 1986 Masters moment, no Hogan Mystique at Merion.

He would leave competitive golf as perhaps both the greatest to ever play the game and its greatest cautionary tale.

Willie Mays with the New York Mets. Muhammad Ali taking punishment from Larry Holmes.

But then Brad Faxon and Rickie Fowler started whispering at the end of 2017 that Tiger was healthy and hitting the ball hard. 

There was that hold-your-breath opening tee shot at the Hero World Challenge, a bullet that flew the left bunker and bounded into the fairway.

Rollercoaster rides at Tampa and Bay Hill, backward steps at Augusta and Shinnecock, forward leaps at The Open and the PGA.

He switched putters and driver shafts (and shirts, oh my!) and seemed at times tantalizingly close and maddeningly far.

That he even decided to try to put his body and game back together was one of the all-time Hail Marys in golf.

Why go through all of that rehab again?

Why go through the scrutiny of having your current game measured against your untouchable prime?

Because you’re Tiger Woods, is why, because you’ve had way more wonderful days on the golf course than poor ones, despite five winless years on the PGA Tour.

Suddenly, Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins is in jeopardy and Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record of 18 major championships, is at the very least paying attention.

Woods has put the golf world on notice.

It won’t be long until everyone starts thinking about the 2019 major schedule (and you’d better believe that Tiger already is).

The Masters, where he has four green jackets and seven other Top 5 finishes. The PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won in 2002 by 3. The United States Open at Pebble Beach, where he won in 2000 by 15.

The Open at Royal Portrush, where his savvy and guile will be a strong 15th club.

But that’s a talk for a later date.

Tiger is clearly still getting his sea legs back.

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Nonfactor McIlroy mum after lackluster 74

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2018, 1:04 am

ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy didn’t have anything to say to the media after the final round of the Tour Championship, and that’s understandable.

McIlroy began the final round at East Lake three shots behind Tiger Woods. He finished six back.

McIlroy closed in 4-over 74 to tie for seventh place.

In their matchup, Woods birdied the first hole to go four in front, and when McIlroy bogeyed the par-4 fourth, he was five in arrears. McIlroy went on to make three more bogeys, one double bogey and just two birdies.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


McIlroy was never a factor on Sunday and ultimately finished tied for 13th in the FedExCup standings.

The two rivals, Woods and McIlroy, shared plenty of conversations while walking down the fairways. On the 18th hole, Woods said McIlroy told him the scene was like the 1980 U.S. Open when people were shouting, “Jack’s back!”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just don’t have the tight pants and the hair,’” Woods joked. “But it was all good.”

It’s now off to Paris for the upcoming Ryder Cup, where Woods and McIlroy will again be foes. It will be McIlroy’s fifth consecutive appearance in the biennial matches, while Woods is making his first since 2012.