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Woods Looks to repeat at the World Challenge

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The World Challenge may not be an official PGA Tour event, but the tournament’s timing and stakes have allowed the stop to become meaningful on multiple levels. Tiger Woods, who hosts the benefit tournament for his Foundation, will welcome 17 of golf’s most notable players to Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., this weekend in the 14th annual World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual.

With the World Challenge falling in what little “off season” professional golfers may have, it has commonly lent itself to act as either a bookend to the current year or a kickstart for the ensuing season. Take just the last three winners, for example. In 2009, Jim Furyk took the crown, sparking his first PGA Tour wins (3) in three years and the FedEx Cup title in 2010. Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell stared down Woods in 2010’s World Challenge, capping off a career year for the Northern Irishman who captured the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and made the clinching putt in the Ryder Cup the same year. Then, in 2011, Woods stepped back into the winners circle at his event before winning three times on Tour in 2012.

The small, elite field may give it a relaxed feel, but the world’s best are certain to be focused when tees go in the ground Thursday. The 72-hole, no-cut event ensures a paycheck for everyone, with the top prize being $1 million dollars. Moreover, the tournament’s winner will receive 44 Official World Golf Ranking points, a total higher than some Tour events thanks to such an exclusive field.

Phil Mickelson serves as the only absent American Ryder Cupper this week, while McDowell, Ian Poulter and Jason Day provide the international flavor for the tournament. Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Bo Van Pelt and Nick Watney round out the 18-player field that will take on the 7,025-yard, par-72 track. Sherwood is hosting the event for the 13th-straight year, after the inaugural playing took place at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Overall, the exclusive field owns 19 PGA Tour victories in 2012, led by Woods’ three titles — the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial Tournament and AT&T National. Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson and Mahan each have a pair of wins from the season, while Bubba Watson (Masters) and Webb Simpson (U.S. Open) boast major championship titles from 2012. Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Watney and Fowler all earned one Tour title this season.

Woods’ previous success at the event instantly makes him a contender and probably the favorite for this week. The host has hoisted the trophy on five occasions (2001, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2011) and is seeking to successfully defend his title for the second time at Sherwood. In addition to his victories, Woods has finished second four times (2000, 2002,2003, 2010).

Woods enters the tournament with a win under his belt for the first time since 2007. After missing the World Challenge in 2008 and 2009, Woods has been in the thick of contention each of the past two years and will look to keep the trend going this week.

In 2010, Woods was denied his first victory in more than 12 months as McDowell rolled in a pair of clutch 20-footers on the par-4 18th hole en route to the victory. Both McDowell and Woods rolled in birdies on the 72nd hole to provide the tournament’s first playoff, but McDowell converted another birdie on the first playoff hole for the win.

Woods once again came to Sherwood without a title in 2011, with his winless streak still extending back to the 2009 Australian Masters. He entered the final round one-shot behind 54-hole leader Zach Johnson, but gained a two-stroke advantage with just seven holes to go. Johnson proved his gritty, bulldog reputation by reclaiming his one-shot lead thanks to birdies on Nos. 13 and 16.

Solid tee shots on the par-3 17th gave both competitors birdie looks inside of 20 feet. After Zach Johnson’s attempt peeked in the hole as it slid by, Woods knocked in a slick putt to keep Johnson’s lead brief. Johnson gave himself a 15-foot birdie attempt on the final hole, but a determined Woods stuck his approach within six feet. With Johnson missing, Woods snapped his victory drought by burying the 6-footer, earning the one-stroke win with a final-round of 3-under-par 69.

For the first time, Woods is looking to lock up a sweep of his hosted events after winning the AT&T National at Congressional this summer. He would have had the chance in 2009, but his Thanksgiving night one-car accident led to his withdrawal from the World Challenge that year.

But, if Woods wants to take the title, he’ll need to fend off his 17 more-than-capable guests in the process. One player Woods held off this season may be a top challenger this week. Van Pelt took second in the AT&T National behind Woods and has played strongly as of late, including a title at the ISPS Handa Perth International in Australia and a tie for second at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. Van Pelt also proved tough at the end of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, notching a pair of top 10s in the final two events.

Van Pelt isn’t the only recent winner though, as Watney and Poulter have both collected hardware in the weeks of late. Watney edged out Van Pelt at the CIMB Classic, firing a final-round 61 to overcome a four shot deficit for the victory. Watney’s lone Tour win of 2012 also came in the latter portion of the season, as he won the opening leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs at The Barclays.

Meanwhile, Poulter shot back-to-back rounds of 65 to close out the WGC-HSBC Champions and stand atop the leader board in China. With the makeup of the field, perhaps all Poulter would need to do for another victory is picture the event as another foreign-soil Ryder Cup.

Dufner is another player who has kept his sticks warm through the fall, competing in several international tournaments. Dufner finished second behind Van Pelt in Australia, finished T16 at the CIMB Classic and tacked on a tie for second at the WGC-HSBC Champions. Dufner and 2012 FedEx Cup Champion Snedeker will each be making their first appearance at the World Challenge.

Other players will seemingly have to dust off the clubs for the World Challenge after having a relatively calm fall. Fowler has stayed out of the golf spotlight with his last appearance coming at the Tour Championship, while Steve Stricker took his yearly respite home in Wisconsin after the Ryder Cup. Other players such as Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Bradley and Simpson have played select low-key events.

No matter how active or inactive players have been of late, Sherwood is likely to produce another solid weekend of golf as the world’s best look to conclude 2012 in fashion or jump start their 2013 season a little early.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Tuesday’s Photos from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California.

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Tiger Woods, who has won eight times at Torrey Pines, will make his first start in a full-field PGA Tour event since his spinal fusion surgery. The last we saw of Woods was in the 18-player Hero World Challenge where he finished T9, and showed that he could be healthy for 72 holes.

Jon Rahm, who’s now ranked No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings, is the defending champion at the Farmers, and he also won last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. He’s joined in the field by notables Hideki Matsuyama (No. 5), Justin Rose (No. 6), Rickie Fowler (No. 7), Jason Day (No. 14) and Phil Mickelson.

Enjoy our photos from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open below!

Tuesday’s Photos

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Monday’s Photos from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California.

Tiger Woods, who has won eight times at Torrey Pines, will make his first start in a full-field PGA Tour event since his spinal fusion surgery. The last we saw of Woods was in the 18-player Hero World Challenge where he finished T9, and showed that he could be healthy for 72 holes.

Jon Rahm, who’s now ranked No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings, is the defending champion at the Farmers, and he also won last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. He’s joined in the field by notables Hideki Matsuyama (No. 5), Justin Rose (No. 6), Rickie Fowler (No. 7), Jason Day (No. 14) and Phil Mickelson.

Enjoy our photos from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open below!

Monday’s Photos

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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Tour Rundown: Rahm gets win No. 2 and goes to world No. 2

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Week two of the 2018 calendar season added events on the PGA Champions and European tours. The PGA caravan left Hawaii for California and found its first playoff of 2018, just as the Champions Tour reached the islands. The Euros teed it up in Dubai, and the Web.Com Tour stayed in the Bahamas for a second week. With an Asian Tour event in Singapore, the globe’s eyes were once again on professional golf. Time for Tour Rundown at warp speed!

Rahm continues to build career with win at CareerBuilder Challenge

For all of the final round, it looked like Jon Rahm would pull away for a 4-stroke victory. His driving was impeccable and his irons were dialed in. His putting stroke looked sound, but some of the birdies simply did not nest. Throughout the four-hole playoff with Andrew Landry, it seemed as if Rahm was destined to lose. Somehow, he persevered and won.

Rahm’s patience pays off with second PGA Tour win 

How many edges of holes were singed with putts and chips by Jon Rahm down the stretch? At least four, not counting the playoff. Fortunately for the Basque, only Andrew Landry made enough of a move to track him down temporarily. Rahm played like the 3rd-ranked player should, and now he’s the world No. 2 player. Perhaps the fact that he couldn’t or didn’t separate himself from his pursuers, yet had enough weaponry to pull out a victory, mattered more than a runaway triumph. Yet golf is a funny game. The only fairway Rahm missed in extra time came on the 4th hole. Despite that errant tee ball and his misses on the first three playoff holes, Rahm was able to drain the only birdie of the playoff and walk away a champion.

See the clubs Jon Rahm used to win

Landry and others made the most of their opportunities

Andrew Landry showed more gumption than anyone anticipated. The 2016 first-round leader of the U.S. Open stayed around even longer this week. A 72nd-hole birdie brought him to 22-under par and a tie with Rahm. The Arkansas alumnus drove the ball straight and far on each of the playoff holes, and never once sniffed a bogey. His irons brought him within birdie range but, like Rahm, he could not find the proper combination of line and speed. In the end, Landry missed last and settled (if such a term might be used) for a runner-up finish.

Fleetwood greets 2018 with title defense at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Tommy Fleetwood looks for all the world to be a millenial hipster with his free-flowing hair and his strands of beard. In absolute contrast, he is equal parts passion and cold blood. When opportunity beckons, he doesn’t look away. Given the slightest opportunity to defend his 2017 Abu Dhabi title, Fleetwood assented and took charge.

How Fleetwood dispatched Fisher and the rest

Through 9 holes of Sunday’s final round, the tag for Tommy Fleetwood’s title defense percolated as He gave an admirable effort. Nine holes and six birdies later, that tag line had changed to How in the name of all that is known did he defend his title? And yet, there was Fleetwood with the fourth European Tour title of his career and third in the past dozen months. When Fleetwood needed a great drive, he got it. When he didn’t hit a great drive, he came through with a stellar approach. When his approach was off, he drained a long putt. And for good measure, he hit a wonderful pitch at the 18th, nestling the ball 5 feet for birdie, and made that. The end result was a 2-stroke margin of victory over the runner-up, Ross Fisher.

What is it about Ross Fisher?

Ross Fisher is eternally composed. Not like his countryman Colin Montgomerie (more on him later), who wore every disappointment like a Halloween mask. Yet, the two share a certain sad penchant for missing opportunities. Last October, Fisher wasn’t going to catch Tyrell Hatton in St. Andrews, but he was chasing immortality. He had a 25-foot putt for the first 59 at The Old Course…and missed. He had a 4-foot putt for the first 60 at the Old Course…and missed. He broke the course record with his 61, but, you know. Fisher has an 0-5 record in European Tour playoffs. On Sunday, he was victimized by Fleetwood’s marvelous back 9 of 30 strokes, but by his own inability to gather the fruits of opportunity. Case in point: Fisher made a long and testy putt for bogey on the par-5 10th, a hole that many birdied. Rather than use it as a springboard to return to his coach on the birdie train, he floundered with four pars and one bogey over his next five holes.

Kelly wins at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

Jerry Kelly earned the 2017 PGA Tour Champions rookie of the year award, on the strength of consistent play and his first two tour titles. On Day 3 of the 2018 season, he added to his victory total with a 1-stroke win over Colin Montgomerie. A 2-stroke swing on 18 decided the fate of both…here’s how!

How Kelly klaimed the championship

For fans of Hideki Matsuyama and his deceptive reaction to fantastic shots, Mr. Kelly is guilty of the same on well-struck putts. He drops his putter from one hand and slumps his shoulders after mid-range putts. All the while, the ball is tracking toward the hole, and usually drops. Kelly played a fine round on Saturday, with 5 birdies and 1 eagle. It might have been the sole bogey of the round, on No. 16, that ignited his hockey-bred fire. The miscue allowed Colin Montgomerie to take a 1-shot lead into the final 2 holes, but Kelly’s birdie on No. 18 brought him the title. How’s that?

How Monty lost his opportunity

We forget how difficult it is to hold a lead in any event, at any juncture. Colin Montgomerie never figured the recipe out in major championships on the regular tour, but he had it down, for the most part, in regular tour events. On the Champions Tour, he has been quite solid, winning six times as a senior in the U.S. and five times in Europe. In the third round at Hualalai, Monty’s most reliable club betrayed him at the least opportune time. A drive into a fairway bunker at the last hole left him 100 yards to the green. He flew the putting surface with his approach and played an indifferent flop shot to 7 feet for par and a playoff. His effort was off the mark and the title slipped from his grasp.

Sergio’s Singapore Open

Despite this unexpected result, Sergio Garcia opened the 2018 season with a victory in Singapore. We’ll run down what he did right.

Sergio and Singapore on a Sunday

The #SingOpen2018 and @TheSergioGarcia made a perfect match on an extended final day. Wet weather forced a last-day completion of Round 3, and most golfers played more than 20 holes on the final day. Garcia stormed from behind with 66-68 over those final 36 holes to wrest the lead from Danthai Boonma of Thailand. Nine birdies and 1 bogey over that stretch of two rounds finished the task for the Spaniard, who looks to defend his 2017 Masters title in the spring.

See the clubs Sergio used to win

The battle for second ended in a tie

With Garcia separating himself from the peloton, attention turned to Boonma and cast for the runner-up resolution. After three stellar rounds (70-68-65), Boonma stumbled in Round 4 with 73, finishing in a tie for 4th with countryman Jazz Janewattananond. Satoshi Kodaira of Japan and South Africa’s Shaun Norris each birdied the final hole to finish tied for second at 9-under, 5 blows behind the champion.

Hello, World for Sungjae Im at Web.Com Opener

Sungjae Im, all of 19 years of age and pegging it in his first Web.Com event ever, gave us a Hello-World moment with a closing 65 and a 4-shot win over Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz. How did the young Korean pro flu powder his way to the top of the podium? We’re asking ourselves the same question

How Im became I’m The Champ

Im entered the final round of the Great Exuma Classic in a tie with Ortiz, but eyes were on proven winners like Rhein Gibson, Steve Marino and Erik Compton. Sungjae Im went out in Round 4 and played perfect golf. He had 4 birds on his outward half, then seized the trophy by both handles with 3 more chirps on holes 14 to 16. Simply put, there was nothing that Ortiz or any other entrant could do, beyond bow and salute the victor.

How Ortiz and the others took the shock

Carlos Ortiz did what he had to do during Tuesday’s final round. He played a solid round, minus-3 with 5 birds and 2 bogies. He stayed ahead of Gibson and all the others, but would have needed to turn his bogies into birdies to tie Im atop the board. Rhein Gibson began round four like a boss, with birdies on 5 of the first 6 holes. He reached 8-under and looked like the eventual winner. The engine sputtered, and it was 1-birdie-1-bogey-10-pars the rest of the way. Gibson would have needed 10-under on the day to tie for the trophy, but with a few more birdies along the way, would he have frightened Im? Who knows!

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