Golf: It was a big weekend for Europe’s top stars, with a 23-year-old Spaniard rising above the rest – not that a 2-time U.S. Open champion was all that impressed.
By Jeff Shain, PSN managing editor
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- For all the attention given Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth at the forefront of the PGA Tour’s young guns, Jon Rahm now stands above both. The 23-year-old Spaniard rose to No.2 in the world rankings with Sunday’s playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth victory worldwide in a 52-week span that began with last year’s Farmers Insurance Open. Spieth gets bumped to No.3, with Rahm now trailing only Dustin Johnson atop the chart. Rahm needed just 38 pro starts to reach four wins, with 11 other top-10s. By comparison, Spieth and Rory McIlroy each had one win in their first 38 starts as professionals.
- The manner of Rahm’s triumph left a sour taste with Hall of Famer Curtis Strange, who took to Twitter to voice his displeasure. The gist: Rahm and Andrew Landry were annoyingly chatty in the playoff. “Walking off tee talking to each other,” the two-time U.S. Open champ groused. “Are you kidding me? Talking at all?” It isn’t the first time Strange – who used cold intimidation as a weapon – has complained that players are too friendly in the heat of battle. So how many words were exchanged during that 1988 U.S. Open playoff battle with Nick Faldo? “More than one, less than three.”
- Though the spotlight isn’t quite as bright as Rahm’s, Sergio Garcia got his 2018 off to a strong start by taking the Singapore Open for his fourth victory in a 50-week span. The reigning Masters champion went bogey-free over Sunday’s final 27 holes, finishing off a third-round 66 before a closing 68 left him five shots ahead of the chase pack. A year ago, victory in his second start (Dubai) put Garcia on a path that led to ending his majorless drought with a green jacket.
- Reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is sidelined until at least April with a partially torn tendon in his left wrist. Koepka’s disclosure didn’t say when or how the injury happened, though he tried to play through dead-last finishes at both Kapalua and last month’s Hero World Challenge. He’s a former champion in Phoenix and also was expected to tee it up at Pebble Beach, the Honda Classic and WGC-Mexico Championship. The Masters is now his target.
- Though there’s still no agreement (yet) between Golf Channel and striking camera and audio personnel, viewers won’t be shortchanged as Tiger Woods stalks the Torrey Pines fairways this week. Production of this week’s Farmers Insurance Open is in the hands of CBS technicians, who belong to a different union and have labor peace. As part of its PGA Tour contract, CBS is obligated to produce early-round coverage for Golf Channel. Meantime, a vote is expected this week by Golf Channel techs on a new deal. This week’s LPGA opener stands in those crosshairs.
PGA TOUR: Farmers Insurance Open
Site: Torrey Pines GC (South/North), La Jolla, Calif.
- Defending champion: Jon Rahm’s first professional victory came via a stunning eagle finish, watching his 60-foot putt from the back fringe drop into the hole. Nine golfers held a share of the lead at some point on the final day, but Rahm took charge by playing his final six holes in 5-under.
- Last week: Rahm outlasted Andrew Landry in four extra holes to win the CareerBuilder Challenge, finally getting a birdie putt to drop at No.18 after missing on both sides in three previous passes. The Spaniard caught Landry with a 5-under-par 67, forcing Landry to birdie his final hole to take things to overtime. Landry’s best chance came on the first extra hole, but he missed an 8-footer.
- Tour talk: The latest Tiger Woods comeback hits Phase 2, making his first PGA Tour start in 52 weeks at a place where’s he’s won eight times. However, his past three visits to Torrey Pines ended early. … Rahm, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama and Rickie Fowler give the lineup four players among the world’s top 10. … Jason Day makes his first start since blowing a 54-hole lead at the Australian Open.
- TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 3-7 p.m. ET; Saturday, 2-3:30 p.m.; Sunday 1-2:30 p.m.) and CBS (Saturday, 4-7 p.m.; Sunday, 3-6:30 p.m.).
- Etc.: First Look from PGATour.com; Farmers Insurance Open primer from Pro Golf Weekly.
EUROPEAN TOUR: Dubai Desert Classic
Site: Emirates GC (Majlis), Dubai, United Arab Emirates
- Defending champion: Sergio Garcia went wire-to-wire for his 12th career European Tour victory, opening with a 65 and finishing three shots ahead of his nearest rival. Henrik Stenson managed to close within one after birdies at Nos. 13 and 14, but a bogey at the 15th while Garcia birdied ended the pursuit.
- Last week: Tommy Fleetwood made up a five-shot deficit over the final nine holes, using a back-nine 30 to successfully defend his Abu Dhabi crown. Fleetwood tallied six birdies after the turn, overtaking Ross Fisher for a two-stroke triumph. Rory McIlroy tied for third in his first start since shutting down 2017 early to rest a recurring rib ailment.
- Tour talk: Garcia and McIlroy top a field that includes 10 of the top 25 in the world rankings, including past champs Stenson and Rafa Cabrera Bello. … McIlroy hasn’t placed outside the top 10 in his past seven visits to Emirates GC, including wins in 2009 and 2015. … Dubai winners have gone on to capture the past two Masters. Before Garcia did the double last year, Danny Willett did likewise in 2016.
- TV: Golf Channel (Wednesday, 11 p.m.-4 a.m.; Friday, 2:30-8:30 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 3:30-8 a.m.).
LPGA TOUR: Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic
Site: Ocean Club GC, Paradise Island, Bahamas
- Defending champion: Brittany Lincicome battled Lexi Thompson into overtime before emerging with her seventh LPGA victory, winning a playoff with a birdie on the first extra hole. Lincicome began the final day two shots behind Thompson, but birdied five of her first seven holes to pull even.
- Tour talk: Thompson and world No.1 Shanshan Feng headline a field that features five of the top 10 in the year-end women’s rankings. Feng will tee it up for the first time in the Bahamas. … A year ago, Lincicome’s LPGA-low performance at the Diamond Resorts Invitational became a springboard for Bahamas success. This year that mantle falls to Brooke Henderson, who tied for ninth at the DRI.
- TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 3:30-5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 3-5 p.m.).
PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS: Idle
Next up: Boca Raton Championship, Feb. 9-11, Boca Raton, Fla.
- Tour talk: Jerry Kelly leapfrogged Colin Montgomerie on the final hole to win the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship, draining an 18-foot birdie putt while Montgomerie missed a 6-foot par save. … Kelly began his week by being named the tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year, while Bernhard Langer claimed his seventh Player of the Year award and fourth in a row.
WEB.COM TOUR: Idle
Next up: Panama Championship, Feb. 1-4, Panama City, Panama
- Tour talk: The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic finishes up Wednesday, capping a two-week opening stretch of unconventional scheduling. Wyndham Clark held a one-shot lead at the midway point. … Sungjae Im’s victory in the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic made him the second-youngest winner in tour annals. At 19 years, 9 months, Im was two months older than Jason Day (2007).