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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

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Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.


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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the ’70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the ’60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the ’40s and ’50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the ’20s and ’30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka … or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players – Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson – were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Jordan Spieth on putting woes: “Got a lot of work to do”

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Following the final round at the Sony Open, three-time major winner Jordan Spieth acknowledged his putting needs some work

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Rosaforte Report: Phil 'very optimistic' about 2018

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This is the time of year when Phil Mickelson turns up for practice rounds with Freddie Couples at The Madison Club in La Quinta, plays Riviera Country Club (as he did on Saturday), and talks about “making it a great year.” The freshness of another West Coast swing awaits, with Mickelson going into this opening stretch of his 27th season knowing 13 of his 42 PGA Tour victories have come in his home state of California.

Last year was different, because Mickelson was coming off two sports hernia surgeries. At 47, he enters the season healthy and with hopes of making the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

“I really would like to be on that team,” Mickelson told me Sunday morning in the closing stages of preparation for his season debut this week in the CareerBuilder Challenge. “I’m putting forth a lot of effort to get ready, so I play my best to get on a team.”

Mickelson has not missed a Ryder Cup since 1995. If he makes Jim Furyk’s squad and plays in France, it would be his 11th straight Ryder Cup appearance. Performance wise, he needs to step it up. Ranked 40th in the world, he is coming off a season with five top-10s, missed cuts in the PGA and Open Championship and a T-22 in the Masters. He skipped the U.S. Open for daughter Amanda’s high-school graduation.

This year’s U.S. Open holds a special place on Mickelson’s playing schedule. His last of 42 victories was The Open in 2013, so there is plenty of motivation to complete the career Grand Slam at Shinnecock, where he finished fourth in 1999 and second in 2009.

“I’ve put in a lot of time in [the] off-season, getting ready [for] this year,” he said from his base camp in Palm Springs. “I’m physically a lot stronger. I’ve been practicing and working to get my game sharp. I don’t know how it’s going to start out, but I’m very optimistic.”



Little bro steps into the light: Chase Koepka doesn’t look at it like playing in his brother’s shadow. Instead, it’s like playing for one of his biggest fans.

So when he tied for seventh place in his debut as a full-time member of the European Tour, the best text message Koepka got coming off the 18th green at the South African Open was from brother Brooks, the U.S. Open champion. “He believes in me so much,” Chase said not long after his closing birdie. “He’s pumped.”

What made it even more impressive is that it was Koepka’s first tournament with new equipment on a course (Glendower GC) in the mountains that he had never played before. Just before flying to South Africa, he signed with Callaway to use their clubs and ball. An injury prevented him from practicing enough to get the feel of his new tools.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said of the adjustment phase. “This is a course you had to see multiple times to understand how to play it. To see it for the first time showed how good my game is.”

A top-5 finish would have exempted Koepka into this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, but he will spend the week practicing with two teammates from his University of South Florida golf team in Dubai, where he will play next week. It will allow him to get better adjusted. “I’m going to relax and get some work done,” Chase said. “It was a good first week. I’ll have plenty more chances to win on the European Tour.”



In from the cold: Dan McCarthy’s pathway to the Web.com Tour started at LeMoyne College, a Division II private Jesuit school in his hometown of Syracuse, N.Y. But he wouldn’t be where he is today, starting the third round of the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic with a one-shot lead, without connections to Bear Lakes CC in West Palm Beach, Fla., and the hitting bay of Dennis Tiziani in Madison, Wis.

At Bear Lakes, he joins a cast of tour players that goes back to the heydays of Mark Calcavecchia, Ken Green, Kevin Johnson, Steve Hart, Brett and Dana Quigley, along with more modern players like the Koepka brothers, Brooks and Chase. He is known to play in members’ games and joined a list of tour players that have won the clubs pro-scratch event, making 11 birdies in his last 12 holes.

“I’ve never done anything like that before or since,” McCarthy told me Monday morning from the Bahamas. “It’s amazing what you can do when you get out of your own way.”

At 32, McCarthy is hoping to take that mindset when bogey is a good score in the final 36 holes at the windswept Sandals Emerald Bay. Playing on a medical exemption, McCarthy’s big-picture goal is locking up his Web.com card in a reshuffle after the first four events. He won four times in 11 events on the MacKenzie Tour in 2016 before suffering a wrist injury after finishing T-4 in Exuma to open the 2017 season.

Tiziani stepped into the picture when McCarthy missed second stage of Web.com Q-School by a shot in 2013. Always admiring Stricker’s swing and demeanor, McCarthy had his mother go online to track down Tiziani’s whereabouts and he made the visit to Wisconsin.

“They’ve got a nice little bubble up there, and they’ve been very kind to me, welcoming me into that circle,’’ McCarthy said. “They taught me tremendous amount and turned my game around.”

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Interesting timing: A former nuclear ballistic missile operator is playing in PGA Tour's CareerBuilder Challenge this week

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Interesting timing: A former nuclear ballistic missile operator is playing in PGA Tour’s CareerBuilder Challenge this week

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The Ryder Cup is still nine months away and yet it's all some Americans can think about

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Already in the run-up to the biennial matches in France, American players are talking about how motivated they are to make the team and help the U.S. win

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Get Your Arms Higher For More Power

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Leave the headcovers in the bag

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19 great golf apparel items on sale right now

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We scoured the Internet to find the best deals you can grab right now

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

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With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.’s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

“I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I’m on track to beat that,” McIlroy said. “I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I’m placed in the Race to Dubai. But I’ll see.”

McIlroy’s ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

“I’ve worked hard on my short game and I’m probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have,” McIlroy said. “I’ve had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road.”

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Justin Thomas is the Baddest Man on the PGA Tour, and it has very little to do with golf

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Justin Thomas is the Baddest Man on the PGA Tour, and it has very little to do with golf

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