Dec 23, 2014 | 09:08 am

Changing of the Guard

Rory McIlroy may have had the most dominant year, but a look at the World Golf Rankings for Week 52 shows a few other players with plenty to smile about. Among the Top 10 as we close out 2014, 10th place Rickie Fowler made the biggest leap, from 40th a year ago. Just ahead of him in ninth, Jordan Spieth, on the heels of a strong December, jumped from 22nd place at the close of his rookie season and seems destined to climb even higher next year. The other big gainer was mercurial Bubba Watson who rode his second Masters victory into fourth-place, up 24 spots from last year. Five players--McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, and Justin Rose—retained their top-10 positions, while Phil Mickelson dropped from fifth to 14th, Matt Kuchar went from seventh to 11th place,  and Zach Johnson tumbled from ninth to 18th. The biggest losers?  Steve Stricker, who opted for a reduced schedule and fell from eighth to 41st, and yes, the injury-plagued Tiger Woods, number-one in the world last year (and 11 of the 15 years before that) who finished 2014 ranked 32nd in the world, his worst position since turning pro. Perhaps most telling, the average age of the five players who dropped out of the top 10 is 41 while the average age of their replacements (even with 44-year Jim Furyk among them) is 31.

          2014                            2013
  1 Rory McIlroy          1 Tiger Woods
  2 Henrik Stenson     2 Adam Scott
  3 Adam Scott            3 Henrik Stenson
  4 Bubba Watson      4 Justin Rose
  5 Sergio Garcia        5 Phil Mickelson
  6 Justin Rose           6 Rory McIlroy
  7 Jim Furyk              7 Matt Kuchar
  8 Jason Day             8 Steve Stricker
  9 Jordan Spieth       9 Zach Johnson
10 Rickie Fowler        10 Sergio Garcia
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Dec 22, 2014 | 10:55 am

Need for Speed

While golf might be enjoying its seasonal slowdown, some of the game’s leading lights want to speed things up. World number-one Rory McIlroy was quoted on BBC Radio in Britain recently saying that golf has to get faster if it wants to attract younger participants. “Everything’s so instant now and everyone doesn’t have as much time as they used to. So you maybe try some way of speeding the game up.” McIlroy is singing the same song as the golf organizations, like the USGA, which has been looking for ways to get everyday players to play faster, even conducting scientific tests looking for a culprit and launching its “While We’re Young” campaign last year. “People enjoy watching the game,” McIlroy said, “but gone are the days that you could spend five or six hours on a golf course.” Other pros also have joined the chorus. Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher supported McIlroy, but added that the main offenders are their fellow Tour pros. “I think on the pro tour we have to make it ruthless and say it’s a shot penalty.” Darren Clarke followed suit, saying, “An awful lot of people are getting turned off by the length of time it takes to play and you could, I suppose, blame it on us, the professionals.” If recent golf coverage on TV is any indication, the pros definitely take way too much time. Do you agree they’re the main reason the game has gotten so slow? Let us know.

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Dec 19, 2014 | 06:00 am

Courses Are Still Opening

It’s been a busy week for major champions-cum-architects. Tiger Woods’ first course to open opened: El Cardonal, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, was well received by the inaugural group of golfers—mostly media types—to play it. Plus, it was announced that Annika Sorenstam, six years removed from playing the LPGA Tour, will design her first course in Europe, at the Estonian Golf & Country Club, located 20 miles from Estonia’s capital, Tallinn. Scheduled to open in 2016—and with a resort component planned for 2019—the Annika Course is being created with European Golf Design, the design arm of the European Tour and sport-entertainment conglomerate IMG. The new course will replace an existing nine-holer and complement the 18-hole Sea Course, which has hosted qualifying for the World Cup. Annika courses are already open in China, South Korea, and South Africa, and she has another in the works in Turkey. Her first course in Europe will be just 350 miles across the Baltic Sea from her homeland, Sweden.

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Dec 18, 2014 | 11:48 am

Six is Enough

Like most driving ranges at courses around the country, the one at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes, located in Maricopa 30 minutes south of Phoenix, would stand empty after the day’s last tee time. Not anymore. As part of an overall multi-million dollar renovation of the public facility unveiled last week — which included playability enhancements on the adjacent 18-hole layout that originally opened in 2001 — that range is now home to #minidunes, a short course with six holes ranging from 50 to 120 yards. After the range is cleared of practice balls in mid-afternoon, golfers can play from official tees to six greens built to USGA specifications. For unlimited golf, adults pay $12 but juniors 17 and under play for free. “#mini Dunes will serve as our laboratory to grow the game,” says general manager Brady Wilson. “We are going to use this facility to introduce new golfers, both young and old, to the game of golf.”

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