May 07

McIlroy: Jordan Spieth is just the latest of my rivals

When Tiger Woods was at the peak of his powers, golf so desperately wanted someone to step up and simply challenge him. Mickelson, Els, Goosen and Singh come to mind. So, too, did one-week big men like Bob May and Chris DiMarco.

For a while, golf reached so far as to concoct a Big Three or a Big Five. It never materialized. It was a figment of our imagination. 

Now the same thing is happening to Rory McIlroy, and he's not all that interested in the chatter.

“The talk doesn’t change much," he said Wednesday ahead of The Players Championship. "Last year it was Rickie, this year it’s Jordan. It could have been Tiger. There have been four or five rivals in the past year. It doesn’t really do anything for me.”

PODCAST: Is McIlroy-Spieth the next great golf rivalry?

That may prove to be bulletin-board material for Spieth, who was almost irrationally crowned the best player in the world after his record-smashing Masters win in April. Spieth and McIlroy will both tell you that the scoreboard of wins -- especially majors -- heavily favors the Ulsterman.

That said, McIlroy is excited to spend the next two days with Spieth and 27-year-old Aussie Jason Day at TPC Sawgrass.

“When I saw the draw come out, I was excited to play, not just with Jordan but obviously with Jason Day as well,” McIlroy said. “It's always nice when you're a part of a group that's got a little bit of a buzz around it and a good atmosphere.”

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

May 07

Grandstanding: Will Tiger Woods win on the PGA Tour in 2015?

Tiger Woods tees it up this week at The Players Championship, a tournament he won the last time he competed in it back in 2013. It was part of a five-win season. 

However, Woods didn't win at all in 2014, sidelined for much of it while recovering from back surgery. He then fired his teacher Sean Foley, took months to identify another in Chris Como and adopted a swing rooted in his approach from 20 years ago. The early returns were ugly, with last-place finishes in his own limited-field Hero World Challenge and at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he shot a career-worst 82 in the second round.

Two months after a self-imposed break from tournament golf, Woods finished T-17 at the Masters. At Augusta National, he looked like a man at peace and happy with his life as a dad to two children and an elder statesman of the game. With Lindsey Vonn at his side, it seemed he had found a true, meaningful love.

That wasn't the case. Woods and Vonn announced their breakup on Sunday, and the 14-time major champion said Tuesday he's tired and rusty heading into the PGA Tour's crown jewel at TPC Sawgrass. 

Can Tiger Woods win this season? Kevin Kaduk and Jay Busbee debate. The boys offer their top five picks (see mine here) to take home the fifth major.

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

May 06

Lindsey Vonn doesn’t want to talk about her break up with Tiger Woods

Lindsey Vonn doesn't want to talk about it anymore.

The champion skier was asked in a Wednesday news conference how her break up with Tiger Woods, which she first announced Sunday before a separate confirming statement from the golfer, would affect her performance.

“I don’t really want to talk about my personal life," Vonn said in South Korea, where she was accepting an appointment as an honorary ambassador for the 2018 Winter Olympics. "I think I said everything in my Facebook post. I will just leave it at that.”

The 30-year-old Vonn hopes to win an Olympic gold medal in three years after missing the '14 Games in Sochi with an injury. Vonn previously credited Woods for being instrumental in her recovery.

For his part, Woods did not dodge a question about the break up on Tuesday at The Players. The 39-year-old said he had three sleepless nights approaching the nine-year anniversary of his father Earl's death. He added that the breakup with Vonn made matters worse.

“Obviously it does affect me,” he said. “It is tough. There’s no doubt. I’m not going to lie about that.” 

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

May 06

The 19th Hole Golf Show: A brewing McIlroy-Spieth feud?

In light of their recent wins, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have clearly set themselves up for a potentially lengthy rivalry for domination of the sport as Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods exit the main stage. We look at both players' styles and why, despite their differences, they work so well for them individually.

We also look at the developing landscape in golf media and what it means to be a credentialed member of the media.

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunesTuneIn or Stitcher.

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

May 06

You can now bet on who you think Tiger Woods will date next

Well, that didn't take long.

Irish bookie Paddy Power, known overseas for their cheeky betting lines, is now taking wagers from its customers on the identity of Tiger Woods' next girlfriend. Woods and champion skier Lindsey Vonn somewhat concurrently announced on Sunday that they're no longer together after almost three years of dating.

For entertainment purposes only, let's look at a few of the contenders. 

As you might guess, Woods' ex-wife, Elin Nordegren, is getting 7-to-1 odds. For almost the entire duration of Woods' relationship with Vonn, the tabloids have suggested the skier is jealous of Nordegren's relationship with Woods as mother of his two children. There's also been a suggested reunion in the works. Good luck with that.

How about Caroline Wozniacki at 40-to-1 odds? Wouldn't that be the ultimate knife in Rory McIlroy's back? That doesn't seem all that likely considering the very thing that supposedly drove him away from Vonn -- the different travel schedules -- would be a factor with the former world No. 1 tennis player.

Britney Spears is a 50-to-1 shot. Woods has been known to enjoy himself in Vegas in the past, and Spears is "in residence" at Planet Hollywood, performing on a regular basis. Then again, as Woods has aged, he's appreciated being a father, which means trying to spend as often as he can in Florida when he has custody of his children.

Perhaps we should bookend this exhaustive search for Woods' next girlfriend with the woman originally cited by the National Enquirer in 2009 as their proof positive that the 14-time major winner was cheating on Nordegren: Rachel Uchitel. Uchitel, a former night club host who now owns a clothing store in New York, just turned 40 and is out of what she terms a verbally abusive relationship with former baseball player Bret Boone. TMZ says Uchitel would consider getting back together with a groveling Woods, but that doesn't seem Woods' style.

So let's all put a few quid on Pippa Middleton at 100-to-1.

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

May 06

Day: Without Woods, I probably wouldn’t be playing golf

Without Tiger Woods, there wouldn't be a Jason Day -- at least one that plays pro golf.

Day, who played a practice round with Woods on Tuesday at The Players Championship, credits the 14-time major winner with inspiring him to pick up a golf club.

“Without him, I probably wouldn’t be playing golf," Day said afterward, according to Golfweek.

The practice round was actually a rain check of sorts from the Masters, when the pair had intended to enjoy a practice round at Augusta National. Despite Day not being much of a morning person, he happily took up Woods' invitation after their nine-hole round for another go on Wednesday. Consider it paying a debt of gratitude.

“That’s why I woke up every morning at 5:30 and went out and practiced,” Day said. “I got up to 32 1/2 hours a week of practice because of [Woods]. He has influenced my life a lot.”

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

May 05

Tiger Woods tired after sleepless nights following anniversary of father’s death

Tiger Woods says this time of year is always tough for him.

Nine years ago on Sunday, Woods' father, Earl, passed away. For the 14-time major winner, Earl Woods wasn't just dad, but his best friend, confidant, teacher and legend-builder. Losing a parent is difficult for anyone and seemingly never gets easier, and Woods still struggles with the loss. 

After a nine-hole practice round on Tuesday at The Players Championship, Woods remarked that he was tired after three consecutive restless nights.

“This three-day stretch is very tough," Woods said.

"I haven’t slept. And with what happened Sunday it’s been brutal.”

The last line was an allusion to his break-up with champion skier and girlfriend of nearly three years, Lindsey Vonn. Vonn posted first to Facebook on Sunday to announce the couple had split, largely due to their hectic schedules that keep them apart for long stretches. The grind was no longer manageable -- something Woods mentioned in a similar statement later in the day.

Woods said he was also rusty in his practice round. This is his first start since finishing T-17 at the Masters in April. However, he did win The Players the last time he competed there in 2013. Woods knows that, at least for him, he'll have to shake off the rust quickly or he'll be an afterthought this weekend.

"When you're on, this golf course doesn't seem that hard," he said. "You feel like every round you should shoot 67 or lower. Then you have days where you're like, God, I don't think I can break 75 here."

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

May 05

Power rankings: The Players Championship

The Players Championship is one of the best weeks in golf. The PGA Tour's crown jewel boasts the deepest field in golf, and the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is an iconic test that is built to confuse, scare and challenge. 

While the top-to-bottom field is excellent, our rankings this week favor the best players in the world.

1. Jordan Spieth -- Spieth finished T-4 here last year, was the best player in a losing effort last week at Harding Park and is the best putter in the world. His driving leaves something to be desired, but he's on fire.

2. Rory McIlroy -- The WGC Match Play champion has to be gassed after seven matches last weekend, including finishing off three players on Sunday. He has top-eight finishes in his last two Players starts.

3. Jim Furyk -- It's a home game for Jim Furyk, coming off a strong performance out in San Francisco. It's hard to believe Furyk has never won here given his track record at Harbour Town, another Pete Dye design. Runner-up a year ago.

4. Henrik Stenson -- The Swede was the champion here in 2009 and was T-5 in 2013. Hard to look past his great March and early April results.

5. Jimmy Walker -- Walker may not be the most accurate driver, but the guy is built for a course like this because he can hit less than driver and find the fairways. His T-6 here last year is his best-ever Players finish.

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