Dec 29

Devil Ball Golf 18 for ’15 (Part 6): A youth movement…to the top

Hi there, and welcome to Part 6 of our 18-part series, Devil Ball Golf 18 for '15, which we're using to preview the new calendar year of golf that resumes in the United States with the start of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on January 9. In this installment, we look at the possibility that the youth movement of 2014 continues.

Rory McIlroy won two majors, bringing his total to four, as well his first World Golf Championships event. He won the European Tour's flagship event -- in the same week he announced his marriage to Caroline Wozniacki was off, no less -- and its money title for the season-long points race for the second time in three years.

Jordan Spieth closed out the year with wins in consecutive starts some 9,000 miles apart, destroying McIlroy and practically the entire world top 10 by a combined 16 shots. He became the first American in 21 years to win the Australian Open. He had the lead on Sunday at the Masters at 20 years old. 

Rickie Fowler didn't win anywhere in the world in 2014, but made history nevertheless. He became the third player -- after Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods -- in major championship history to score top-five finishes in all four majors and the first to do that and not actually walk away with one. That was while making a pronounced change to his swing under the watchful eye of Butch Harmon. 

Jason Day won his first World Golf Championships event, too, outlasting Victor Dubuisson to win the Match Play. He also won in his home country at Royal Melbourne in Australia in the World Cup of Golf, as an individual and with Adam Scott in the team portion. 

These four guys are in the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Add in FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel (No. 13), Hideki Matsuyama (No. 16), the aforementioned Dubuisson (No. 18), Chris Kirk (No. 20) and Patrick Reed (No. 23) and there are plenty of twenty-somethings playing golf at a very high level. 

Clearly, McIlroy is on a completely different level than the others. He's on his own march toward history, possibly completing the career grand slam at the Masters. However, the young guns chasing his ranking and his resume are poised to make a bigger mark on the game in '15.

Spieth could thwart McIlroy at Augusta National. Fowler will need to learn to close, but has found a game that's good at any major. Day is already consistent in the majors, but hasn't reeled one in yet. Dubuisson and Reed could ride their Ryder Cup debuts to greater heights. 

As golf has become more of a distance game, athleticism -- and, yes, youth -- takes on more importance in deciding success. These guys all have it. Now, with the exception of McIlroy, it's about harnessing their natural gifts, refining their mental talents and becoming the next generation of great champions. It would seem 2015 has all the makings of that transitional year.

Then again, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, new dads Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson and others will have something to say about that.

Read all of the Devil Ball Golf 18 for '15:

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Dec 29

Devil Ball Golf 18 for ’15: Who will reign over the LPGA?

Welcome into the latest installment of Devil Ball Golf's 18 for '15, where we're taking a comprehensive look at the world of golf heading into and the New Year. We turn our attention to the LPGA Tour and the women's game.

I sure hope you had a chance to see the LPGA in 2014. The competition was incredible. With few exceptions, the docket featured close tournaments that had the game's biggest names in contention week after week. That's appointment TV.

And the tournaments had fantastic results. Michelle Wie got her major -- and, later, her twerk on -- at the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Lexi Thompson got her major first, against Wie, in the former Kraft Nabisco Championship (now the ANA Inspiration). Mo Martin won the Women's British Open with a 72nd-hole eagle that should be considered among the greatest shots in major championship history. Inbee Park struck at the last LPGA Championship (it becomes the Women's PGA Championship in '15). And in the youngest major, The Evian, eventual winner 19-year-old Kim Hyo-joo shot the first-ever 61 in a major.

Christina Kim ended a nine-year winless skid at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Jessica Korda and Anna Nordqvist were among the many multiple-time winners. Michelle Wie won again on her home soil in Hawaii.

However, the LPGA has three big names vying for the sport's No. 1 ranking.

Inbee Park notched another two Ws on top of her LPGA Championship win. Stacy Lewis won three times and became the first American in two decades to win the scoring title, money title and player of the year award. And then 17-year-old Lydia Ko closed out the year with the largest pay day in women's golf history, winning the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship for $500,000 and the inaugural Race to the CME Globe for another $1 million. 

Park leads Ko and Lewis in the Rolex Rankings by a little over an average point per tournament, but that gap could close quickly come the new season, which kicks off at the Coates Golf Championship in Ocala, Fla., near Orlando, from January 28-31. The question is if one of the three will take control over the LPGA.

If one does emerge, expect Lewis to take charge. Of the three, Lewis was the most consistent. She's also the most hungry, looking for that second, validating major. Her ranking points are also spread out, unlike Park, whose three-major season in 2013 will lose value in the coming year. With Ko about to enter college at Korea University and take a little attention away from her game, Lewis is primed to have everything working her way. 

Now, all Lewis has to do is be her typical spectacular self. Easy, right? Sure, with Park, Ko, Wie, Suzann Pettersen, Shanshan Feng, So Yeon Ryu, Thompson and more looking for some upward mobility of their own in the year to come.

Read all of the Devil Ball Golf 18 for '15:

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Dec 27

And now ‘Sweet Caroline’ is awkward for Rory McIlroy forever

I guess Rory McIlroy can't go to a Boston Red Sox game anymore, lest he be within earshot of a Neil Diamond song in public.

The world No. 1 was in attendance at an Ulster-Connacht rugby game in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Friday. At halftime, McIlroy was interviewed by the BBC. Whoever controls the music inside the stadium had some fun with McIlroy during the interview, cranking "Sweet Caroline" as a nod to McIlroy's ex-fiance Caroline Wozniacki. McIlroy ended their relationship in May, just after the wedding invitations were mailed.

During the interview, McIlroy realizes what's playing over the public address system, and his reaction is priceless.

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Dec 26

Devil Ball Golf’s 18 for ’15 (Part 4): The best major venue of the year?

It's time for Part 4 of 18 in Devil Ball Golf's 2015 preview, where we're looking at all aspects of golf heading into the New Year.

On an annual basis, we drum up a discussion about which major is the best. There are variations on the topic: which you'd best like to attend, the one you most want to win, maybe the one with the best storylines. The question we're asking is which of the 2015 major venues is the best course.

Now, we're taking Augusta National out of the running. For one, it's the only major venue that doesn't change. Secondly, it's the best or second-best course in the country, depending on who you talk to, so that would skew the discussion. Instead, let's focus on the three majors with rotating venues.

In 2015, Chambers Bay in Washington (U.S. Open), the Old Course at St. Andrews (Open Championship) and Whistling Straits in Wisconsin (PGA Championship) are up for debate.

The Old Course speaks for itself. It's the Home of Golf and home to the game's oldest major every five years -- at least, in modern times. Golf lovers know the Old Course. Casual fans even know it, and it's probably the only course in the Open rota that can make that claim.

However, modern technology has passed the Old Course by, leaving it susceptible to very low scores, like we saw in 2010 when Louis Oosthuizen blew away the field. Wind protects the Old Course from absurd scoring, but it's still fun to watch in almost any circumstance. The only true blemish is the new tee box on the Road Hole 17th, which stands as one of the greatest failures of R&A chief executive George O'Grady, whose otherwise largely successful runs is coming to a close.

Whistling Straits hosts its third PGA Championship this coming August. The prior two PGAs ended in playoffs, with Vijay Singh coming through in 2004 and Martin Kaymer breaking through in 2010. Both should have been three-way playoffs, but Dustin Johnson's penalty for grounding his club in a bunker that shouldn't have been a bunker cost him a spot alongside Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

The Pete Dye design has wonderful scenery and can be, as many of Dye's courses, visually intimidating. However, it's never been considered an unfair track and the elite golf world's familiarity with it as host of the season's final major should make for a great stage.

Chambers Bay is the wild card this year. Robert Trent Jones Jr. shaped a beautiful course on this land situated with views of Puget Sound. Most golf fans won't be familiar with it, but it showed as host of the 2010 U.S. Amateur that it can play firm and fast, which makes for the perfect U.S. Open host. Chambers will likely have been softened by the USGA and executive director Mike Davis in the intervening years, but it should prove as unique a challenge as a browned-out Pinehurst No. 2 did in 2014. Looking at the lineup of future U.S. Open venues, Chambers Bay, along with Erin Hills in 2017, should excited architecture aficionados. However, without seeing how it yet as a major host, it's hard to rate Chambers the best of the three.

The Old Course is, well, old, but hard not to feel sentimental about seeing. Whistling Straits was slightly ahead of its time. Chambers Bay is part of the game's modern reclamation movement.

We're partial to the Old Course, so we'll rate it best, but check back in after the Wanamaker is awarded in August; we might change our tune.

Read all of the Devil Ball Golf 18 for '15:

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Dec 26

Devil Ball Golf’s 18 for ’15 (Part 3): Wrap-around gift or curse?

We're back with Part 3 of Devil Ball Golf's 18-part 2015 preview, setting the table for the year to come in golf. In this installment, we wonder what Year 2 of the PGA Tour's wraparound schedule will look like.

The 2014-15 season will mark the second time the PGA Tour's season has bridged calendars, with the tour's fiscal year, so to speak, running from October to September, concluding when a FedEx Cup winner is crowned in Atlanta. It would seem the PGA Tour's denizens looked at the new approach with weary eyes, wondering if offering full FedEx Cup points for the former Fall Series event would mean they'd have to significantly adjust their regular-season schedules to assure their positioning for a playoff run, as well all the perks that come with advancing all the way to the Tour Championship.

For the most part, the tour's stars made it through the playoffs, with noted exceptions Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who had their worst combined campaigns since Woods turned pro in 1996. Conversely, Dustin Johnson, who skipped the playoffs entirely as part of his ongoing "leave of absence," had such a solid regular season that he still advanced to East Lake and earned almost $200,000 for not even playing.

In addition to the extended regular season, the PGA Tour has also announced changes to the playoff points distribution, giving out fewer points in the playoffs than the past six seasons with the hope that more consistent players in the regular season will be more protected.

The wraparound schedule and the change to the playoff structure combine to make the regular season more important, with the PGA Tour clearly hoping for better participation among its top players. However, the world's best don't seem convinced. The result? January and February tournaments could actually suffer, with stars choosing to start their season in earnest with the Florida Swing in March. With the WGC-Match Play moving, at least temporarily, to May, the first two months lack an anchor event that is a true magnet for the top 50 in the world. Kapalua's no longer the draw it once was for the prior season's winners (and it also feels out of place). The Clambake and Northern Trust Open have good fields, but have lost a step. Phoenix continues to be a great party, but not a must-play event. The Farmers Insurance Open, with Tiger Woods' and Phil Mickelson's patronage, remains strong, but competes with the allure of the European Tour's run through the United Arab Emirates.

The result is a run of events that have a handful of big names every week, but no formal gathering until March. That means an opportuity for up-and-coming players as well as Tour and Tour Finals graduates to pick up critical FedEx Cup and Official World Golf Ranking points, as well set up opportunities to play in the bigger events that follow after the Masters, including a six-tournament run in a seven-week span, starting with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and culminating in the FedEx Cup playoff finale.

Read all of the Devil Ball Golf 18 for '15:

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Dec 26

Devil Ball Golf’s 18 for ’15 (Part 2): Lefty’s U.S. Open chances

Welcome to Part 2 of Devil Ball Golf's 18-part 2015 preview, where we'll look at key questions heading into the new golf year as well as set expectations for the world's current top 10 players.

After Phil Mickelson's incredible Sunday 67 at Muirfield to surprisingly capture the Open Championship in 2013, the golf world's attention immediately turned to the 2014 U.S. Open. Everything lined up for Mickelson to finally break through in the major that has teased him the most and was the only left he hadn't yet captured.

Mickelson has six runner-up finishes in the national championship, and the string of them began in 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2 when Payne Stewart sank a 20-foot par putt to steal Lefty's first major in dramatic fashion. The Open returned to that site last June, with golf's storytellers hopeful for the perfect ending to Mickelson's quest for a U.S. Open, a sixth major and the career Grand Slam.

That wasn't in the cards. Mickelson was never a factor, and Martin Kaymer took full advantage of the perfect weekday draw to coast to a second major title.

While Mickelson didn't complete Majors Bingo in North Carolina, he gets his second crack at that feat in Washington this June when Chambers Bay hosts the U.S. Open, its first major. The public course near Tacoma, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., will play firm and fast, perhaps susceptible to wind off of nearby water and will be an unknown quantity to practically every player in the field. That may not play into Mickelson's hands.

Consider the sites for Mickelson's five majors: venerable Muirfield, major-stalwart Baltusrol and Augusta National, home to the Masters. The relatively scant pedigree of Chambers Bay doesn't jibe. Add in that Mickelson is coming off his worst season in a decade, salvaged only by a run at the PGA Championship in August. 

Perhaps motivated to prove the game isn't passing him by and that his legacy will live among the greatest of the greats, Mickelson has every reason to show one more time that his talent is ageless.

Read all of the Devil Ball Golf 18 for '15:

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Dec 23

Devil Ball Golf’s most popular posts of 2014

There was hardly a dull minute in golf in 2014, and we here at Devil Ball Golf kept you plugged into it all as it unfolded. Here's a look at our 20 most-viewed Devil Ball Golf posts in '14.

1. Lexi Thompson's newest photo shoot will catch your attention (Sept. 16): Lexi Thompson is no longer the 12-year-old girl who qualified for the U.S. Women's Open. She's an adult, and apparently wants everyone to know that. A photo shoot for Golf Punk magazine showed Thompson in a whole new light.

2. Rory McIlroy calls off his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki after sending out wedding invites (May 21): For Rory McIlroy, sending out invitations for his pending nuptials to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki let him know he wasn't ready to get married. He called off the ceremony and the relationship, announcing the split before the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship. McIlroy responded to the fallout from the announcement by winning the tournament.

* * *

Other popular posts in the Yahoo Sports Blog family
Ball Don't Lie (NBA) • Big League Stew (MLB) • Cagewriter (MMA) • The Dagger (NCAAB) • Devil Ball Golf • Dr. Saturday (NCAAF) • Fourth Place Medal (Olympics) • 
From The Marbles
(NASCAR) • Puck Daddy (NHL) • Shutdown Corner (NFL)

* * *

3. Washington golfer makes hole-in-one and albatross in the same round (April 2): Jim Dyer, a 39-year-old man from Washington, was playing the Highlander Golf Course when he made an albatross and a hole-in-one in a nine-hole stretch. It takes a lot of players a lifetime to notch either of those, but this 18-20-handicapper got 'em both in one day.

4. Pablo Larrazabal's golf ball ended up in a pretty unusual spot at the BMW PGA (May 22): In the opening round of the BMW PGA Championship, Pablo Larrazabal, who had been attacked by a swarm of hornets earlier in the year, saw a shot of his land in between the legs of a spectator. The Spaniard obviously got a drop, but he lamented why so many strange things were happening to him on the golf course.

5. Former PGA star Anthony Kim reportedly could make $10 million by not playing golf (Sept. 17): A lot of golf fans have been wondering what happened to Anthony Kim, who hasn't competed on the PGA Tour since 2012. It turns out that Kim is healthy and able to play, but probably won't return to competitive golf because he can cash in on a $10 million insurance policy if he stays away from the sport. Meanwhile, Kim rarely even touches his sticks, having turned into a bit of an urban legend in Dallas, where he lives.

6. President Obama says Jordan should worry about Hornets, not his golf game (Nov. 5): It took him a few days, but President Barack Obama jabbed back at Michael Jordan, who said in an interview that the Commander-in-Chief was a "sh***y" golfer. Obama told His Airness to worry about the Charlotte Hornets, or Bobcats -- since he couldn't keep up with the name change of the Queen City's NBA team. Well played, Mr. President.

7. Tom Watson disparaged U.S. players, gift, leading to Mickelson comments (Oct. 3): Perhaps the Phil Mickelson-led mutiny against 2014 Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson could have been avoided had he just been more thankful for the team's gift to their leader. Instead, Watson apparently disparaged the replica Ryder Cup trophy the team got him, saying he wanted the real thing. After the U.S. got blown out, marking a third-straight Ryder Cup loss, the gloves came off.

8. Richard H. Lee hits two of the worst golf shots you will ever see, in a row (May 11): Even pro golfers hit terrible shots — sometimes consecutively. Richard H. Lee was on the par-3 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass in the final round of The Players when he nearly whiffed on consecutive shots. It was pretty bad, but Lee had a great reaction on Twitter.

9. Rory McIlroy hit a 436-yard drive on Thursday at the Scottish Open (July 10): Rory McIlroy isn't a big guy, but he's got big power. On the 13th hole at Royal Aberdeen in the Scottish Open, McIlroy drove the green at the 436-yard hole en route to an opening 7-under 64. McIlroy joked to Ian Poulter, who was in the group ahead, that he used a 3-wood to get home.

10. Tiger Woods snaps at a cameraman during the third round of the Bridgestone Invitational (Aug. 2): Tiger Woods wasn't in the best of spots on the sixth hole in Round 3 of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. After an errant drive and a chopped-out second shot from the tall lettuce, Woods berated a cameraman for getting too close to him, asking for some space -- with an expletive thrown in there for good measure.

The Next 10
11.Tiger Woods withdraws on Sunday at the Bridgestone Invitational (Aug. 3)
12. Payne Stewart's daughter gives us the photo of the week from Pinehurst (June 11)
13. Shane Lowry was not very pleased about his U.S. Open pairing (June 12)
14. Phil Mickelson, the king of the flop shot, gives us another great one (June 5)
15. PGA Tour player shoos away alligator with a bunker rake (April 26)
16. Floyd Mayweather buys 15-year-old son Bentley golf cart (Nov. 17)
17. Paula Creamer made incredible 75-foot putt to win HSBC Women's Championship (March 2)
18. Tiger Woods blasts satirical Golf Digest piece by legendary Dan Jenkins (Nov. 18)
19. Michelle Wie has some fun with her putting stance (July 15)
20. Nicolas Colsaerts hit a 447-yard drive at the Wales Open (Sept. 18)

Other popular posts in the Yahoo Sports Blog family
Ball Don't Lie (NBA) • Big League Stew (MLB) • Cagewriter (MMA) • The Dagger (NCAAB) • Devil Ball Golf • Dr. Saturday (NCAAF) • Fourth Place Medal (Olympics) • From The Marbles (NASCAR) • Puck Daddy (NHL) • Shutdown Corner (NFL)

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Dec 23

Devil Ball Golf’s 18 for ’15: Who could win their first major in 2015?

Welcome into Devil Ball Golf's 18 for '15, our 18-part preview of the coming year in golf. The series will conclude in 2015 on January 9, the first day of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the first PGA Tour event of the New Year.

In Part 1 of our series, we look at some players who could take their first major title in 2015.

A fresh slate of majors at mostly familiar places await us in 2015, with the Masters at its home, the Open Championship making its every-fifth-year rotation to the Old Course at St. Andrews and the PGA Championship returning to Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, site of Dustin Johnson's bunker quagmire in 2010. The only new major championship site this year is for the U.S. Open, when Washington's publicly accessible Chambers Bay hosts for the first time after a stunningly rapid rise to become one of the game's biggest stages.

You'd think, then, that experience at these venues would pay off and it might be hard for first-timers to win majors in 2015. Bolstering how important experience might be this coming year is that 2014 was the first year without a first-time major winner since 2000. However, with four 20-something players, including three without major titles, in the Official World Golf Ranking top 10, the talent is there for some new blood to win at least one major in 2015.

Here are four names that we're looking at for a major breakthrough in 2015:

Jordan Spieth: Spieth ended his 2014 with two very impressive wins. He ended a 21-year American drought in winning the Australian Open by six shots, then flew 9,000 miles to Florida and won the Hero World Challenge by a dominating 10 shots. The 21-year-old (who doesn't turn 22 until July) also had a lead at the Masters on the first nine of the final round until Bubba Watson came storming in to win his second green jacket in three years. Spieth said in Australia he has a long way to go to win a major. That's being modest. He can do it now, anywhere.

Jason Day: At 27, Day already has a remarkable record in the majors for a guy who's never won one. He has five top-four finishes in majors and seven top 10s overall. His knack is in the U.S. Open, where he's been in the top four in three of his four appearances. Closely behind that is the Masters, where he has a second- and third-place finish. 

Rickie Fowler: Fowler did something in 2014 no player has ever done in golf history, finishing in the top five in all four majors without actually winning one of them. He was just the third player in major-championship history to finish in the top five in all four majors. Under the watchful eye of Butch Harmon, Fowler has fine-tuned his swing to become more reliable and repeatable in the most nerve-racking of situations. Hard not to like his game at Chambers Bay or St. Andrews.

Henrik Stenson: The Swede clearly bucks the trend we've set up with our first three names. At 38 years old, Stenson is not a young gun, but he hits the ball like he's still in his 20s. Stenson seems to have found some comfort in the majors in his late 30s, sporting top-four finishes in half of his last eight major-championship starts. He's knocking on the door like Lee Westwood did a few years ago. The only hang-up may be the mental game because he has all the physical tools to win a slew of majors if he can notch the first.

Read all of the Devil Ball Golf 18 for '15:

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Dec 23

Adam Scott replaces Steve Williams with Mike Kerr on full-time basis

Adam Scott has found his man. 

Scott has selected Mike Kerr to take over as his caddie heading into 2015. Kerr, who had been working with up-and-coming Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, will take over permanent looping duties from Steve Williams, who had made it known he would retire as a full-time caddie at the end of this season. When Scott couldn't convince the Kiwi caddie to continue working for him year-round, Scott cut ties with Williams and began the search for a new caddie.

The Aussie said some 100 people inquired about his bag, one of the most lucrative in the sport. Making the job more attractive is that Scott doesn't play an exhausting schedule, preferring to focus on big events, like the majors and World Golf Championships, as well as committing to the end-of-year events in his home country. 

Kerr has a solid resume as a caddie, also working for Lee Westwood and Ernie Els in the past. The Zimbabwean caddie will have plenty of time to prepare for his first week with Scott. Scott will be a father for the first time in February and isn't expected to start his 2015 until the Honda Classic, which starts February 26.

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.