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    At U.S. Open, Matt Fitzpatrick Wins His First Major Championship

    Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler, who tied for second, made it interesting down the stretch at the Country Club, but Fitzpatrick held on to finish at six under par.BROOKLINE, Mass. — This year’s U.S. Open began as the setting for an unprecedented showdown between golfers who had remained loyal to the established PGA Tour and a breakaway pack of ex-colleagues who recently joined the new, rebel Saudi-backed LIV Golf series. But the anticipated confrontation at the Country Club outside Boston fizzled in the first round on Thursday when golfers from both camps got along without friction.The LIV Golf-aligned players also faded from contention early.By Sunday, the ongoing split in men’s professional golf was hardly settled, but it was overshadowed by a riveting final-round shootout among three of the sport’s best young players: Matt Fitzpatrick, 27, of England, and the 25-year-old Americans Will Zalatoris and Scottie Scheffler.In the end, Fitzpatrick, who won the U.S. Amateur at the Country Club nine years ago, survived the crucible, claiming his first win at a major golf championship and on the PGA Tour with a fourth-round 68 that made him six under par for the tournament. Fitzpatrick earned $3.15 million for the victory.Zalatoris and Scheffler finished one stroke back.The pivotal moment, as is common at major championships, arrived as Fitzpatrick stood on the final tee of the 72-hole, four-day tournament while leading by one stroke. Known for his meticulous precision — he has for many years charted the finite details and the outcome of every shot he hits in competition — Fitzpatrick had missed only two fairways to that point in his round.But his 3-wood on the 444-yard, par-4 18th hole was ripped left and landed in the center of a yawning bunker just off the fairway. His ball was 156 yards from the hole, which was positioned on a plateaued green protected in the front by a cavernous bunker that has ruined many a golfer’s round for decades.As Fitzpatrick later said, he had been struggling to hit competent shots out of fairway bunkers all year.“It’s the one place I didn’t want to be — No. 1 on that list,” Fitzpatrick said.Fitzpatrick drawing a crowd on the 15th hole during the final round.Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesBut Fitzpatrick, who tied for fifth at last month’s P.G.A. Championship and tied for 14th at this year’s Masters Tournament, has a wealth of elite golf experience. Moreover, he felt comfortable all week since he had only happy memories of competing at the Country Club because of his 2013 victory in the U.S. Amateur.“I’m a fast player, and when I look back, it just all happened so fast,” he said of his second shot at the 18th. “It was like just kind of let natural ability take over.”He pulled a 9-iron from his bag and imagined he was a junior player again.“I thought: try to hit it close,” Fitzpatrick said, smiling.The shot soared over the perilous high lip of the bunker he was in and above the crest of the vast bunker guarding the 18th green.“It was amazing to watch,” said Fitzpatrick, who knew at that instant that he would almost certainly make a par, which he did with two cautious putts.Zalatoris, Fitzpatrick’s playing partner, had a 14-foot birdie putt at No. 18 that would have set up a playoff. But the putt drifted less than an inch to the left of the hole.The victory, which was Fitzpatrick’s first on American soil (he has won seven international events), could be a breakthrough for a quiet and popular player in the close-knit circuit of pro golfers. In the past year, Fitzpatrick, now No. 10 in the men’s world golf rankings, has worked tirelessly off the course to increase the speed of his swing, which leads to greater distance, and usually to lower scores. Quiet and unassuming, Fitzpatrick also has an easy smile that hides a fierce competitive streak.Late Sunday night, Fitzpatrick admitted as much.“Although it doesn’t come across, because I like to be quite reserved, I just love beating everyone,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. Just love winning. I want to beat everyone.”While Saturday’s third round was played in gusting winds that made the greens firm and fast — and produced only seven rounds under par — Sunday’s conditions were benign in comparison.As a result, the field could be more aggressive, especially if a tee shot landed on the fairway.Zalatoris began the day tied for the lead with Fitzpatrick at four under par but faltered early when he three-putted from 67 feet below the second hole for a bogey. Then, on the next hole, he sent his second shot into a greenside bunker, which led to a second successive bogey. But Zalatoris rarely appeared rattled. He steadied himself with three consecutive pars and at the par-3, 158-yard sixth hole, he drilled his tee shot 2 feet from the flag for an easy birdie. Zalatoris’s approach shot to the par-4 seventh green from 164 yards skipped onto the green and rolled just an inch left of the hole. His tap-in birdie brought him back to four under par for the tournament. When Zalatoris sank a 17-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole, he made the turn at five under par, just one stroke behind Fitzpatrick.Will Zalatoris, on the third tee, finished second at a major tournament for the third time in the last two years.Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports, via ReutersAfter a steady par on the 10th hole, Zalatoris played it smart and safe on the downhill par-3 11th hole, which was playing just 108 yards on Sunday (with a dastardly difficult back left hole location). Zalatoris left his tee shot below the hole and rolled in an 18-foot putt for birdie to move to six under par, which gave him the tournament lead at the time. But a missed fairway off the 12th tee led to a layup short of the green and ultimately a bogey.After watching Zalatoris fall back to five under par, Fitzpatrick attacked. Standing over a 48-foot putt for birdie on the 13th hole, he rolled a snaking, left-to-right putt slowly but confidently into the hole to tie Zalatoris.Like everyone at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday, Fitzpatrick’s round had its inconsistencies. He started strong with three pars and two birdies in his opening five holes. But his tee shot on the par-3 sixth hole was excessively long, sailing 66 feet past the hole, which led to a bogey. Fitzpatrick rallied with a comfortable birdie on the par-5 eighth but like many on Sunday he could not sustain the positive momentum. He stumbled on the 10th hole when a lengthy second shot was short of the green and led to another bogey. Then the tiny 11th tormented Fitzpatrick as a 7-foot par putt skidded past the hole for a second successive bogey.Scheffler appeared to take a commanding lead in the tournament on Saturday with a sparkling front nine, but then gave it all back with a string of bogeys on the back nine. On Sunday, Scheffler carved up the front nine again, with four birdies in his first six holes.But Scheffler’s putting stroke deserted him on the back nine when he bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes when he needed three putts to get his ball in the hole on both greens. That dropped him to four under par for the tournament. Scheffler stayed in the battle though with five successive pars from the 12th through the 16th holes. More

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    Zalatoris, Fitzpatrick Share U.S. Open Lead Heading Into Final Round

    Tied for the tournament lead entering Sunday, Will Zalatoris will get another shot at his first major win after surviving a perilous third round.BROOKLINE, Mass. — The U.S. Open usually waits until the final day of its 72-hole crucible to toy with the world’s best golfers. But perhaps in tribute to the venerable history of this year’s host, vexing conditions — blustery winds, thick rough and fast greens — began to crush the wills and sap the souls of the players 24 hours early at the Country Club outside Boston.With an under-par score a rarity, the top of Saturday’s third round leaderboard was overhauled frequently. In the end, a handful of this year’s hottest golfers remained in contention, joined by some lesser-known names to set up what figures to be an entertaining final-round slugfest against a golf course that one of the co-leaders, Will Zalatoris, called “an absolute beast.”Zalatoris’s determined round of 67, the lowest on Saturday, left him four-under par for the championship, tied with Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, who shot a two-under par 68. Jon Rahm, the defending U.S. Open champion, squandered a late lead in the round to fall one stroke behind Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick.Rahm had rallied from a stumbling start in his first 13 holes to make three birdies from the 14th to the 17th holes. That moved him to five-under par for the championship.But Rahm’s drive from the 18th tee dribbled into a bunker on the left side of the fairway. Rahm’s first attempt to clear the bunker’s high lip failed, and his ball rolled back into the sand. His next shot landed in the easy-to-find 18th hole front bunker. The combination of mistakes brought a messy end to Rahm’s round: a double bogey that dropped him into third place.Afterward, Rahm said he misjudged how deep his golf ball had been in the sand, in part because it was getting dark.“I had a 9-iron in hand, that’s plenty to get over that lip,” he said. “Maybe I was trying to get too cute — looking for another birdie.“But it doesn’t really matter much,” Rahm added. “I’m content where I am and happy with how I played.”Three golfers were tied for fourth at two-under par, including Keegan Bradley, a Vermont native who was roundly cheered by the New England crowd as he walked up the 18th fairway on Saturday. Adam Hadwin of Canada, ranked 105th in the men’s world golf rankings, shot an even par 70 to tie Bradley. Scottie Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion, joined the group after a chaotic, inconsistent round.Zalatoris was one of the few who rarely struggled Saturday, with four birdies and only one bogey. Even when he badly sliced his last tee shot of the day 35 yards to the right of the 18th fairway, he landed in a corridor between a grandstand and another temporary structure.Though 224 yards away from the hole, he had enough of an opening to lace a precise long iron into the famed, mammoth bunker that protects the 18th green. From there, Zalatoris splashed a spinning, gutsy shot from the sand and then sank a six-foot par-saving putt.Although Zalatoris is just 25, he is playing in his ninth major golf championship and has already contended for a legacy-defining title multiple times. Last month, he lost the P.G.A. Championship playoff against Justin Thomas, and he finished second at the 2021 Masters Tournament. He also finished tied for sixth at this year’s Masters and at the 2020 U.S. Open.The narrow defeats in majors have not demoralized Zalatoris.“I know I’m going to get one,” he said after this year’s P.G.A. Championship. “It’s just a matter of time.”But Zalatoris knows the battle against the Country Club’s devilish, decades-old challenges will not be won, only survived.A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf SeriesCard 1 of 6A new series. More

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    Five Players to Watch at the U.S. Open

    They include Dustin Johnson, who was just suspended from the PGA Tour for taking part in the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour.The Masters, the first major of the year, was won by the 25-year-old Scottie Scheffler, who is on the rise.The P.G.A. Championship, the second, was won by the 29-year-old Justin Thomas, who has been one of the game’s best in the last five years.Now comes the third major, this week’s United States Open at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass.Will youth be served once more, or will someone in his 30s or 40s produce some magic? Here are five players to keep an eye on at Brookline:Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesScottie SchefflerForget about the missed cut in last month’s P.G.A. Championship. Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world, rebounded with a second-place finish the next week at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. If not for Sam Burns, who fired a final-round 65 and made a 38-foot birdie putt in the playoff, Scheffler would have five victories this season.Some of the credit should go to his caddie, Ted Scott. The two first connected last year. Before working with Scott, Scheffler was in contention a few times but failed to break through. For 15 years, Scott was the caddie for the two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.Jim Cowsert/USA Today Sports, via ReutersJustin ThomasWinning a second major, as Thomas did at the P.G.A. this year, puts a golfer on a new plateau. Winning a third would elevate him even further. Only 47 players have collected three or more major championships.Thomas, who finished third at last week’s RBC Canadian Open, is more than capable of adding to that total at Brookline. As skilled as he is with the wedge — a prime example was his approach to the green on the first playoff hole at the P.G.A. that left him with a 6-foot birdie putt — he’s likely to make his share of saves to keep himself in contention.Phil Mickelson never captured an Open, finishing second a record six times. It would be something if his former caddie, Jim Mackay, who now works for Thomas, were to win one without him.Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesWill ZalatorisAs well as he’s performed in big events, with five top 10s in his last seven majors, it’s hard to believe Zalatoris has yet to win on the PGA Tour. He is bound to break through.He took a significant step with his showing in the P.G.A., losing in a playoff to Thomas. The key might be his ability to make short putts, which has plagued him in the past.Zalatoris, 25, who tied for fifth two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament, has registered only one professional victory, the 2020 TPC Colorado Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour.Michael Reaves/Getty ImagesRory McIlroyMcIlroy, 33, who shot a 62 on Sunday in Canada to post his 21st tour victory, is still trying to win his first major since the 2014 P.G.A. Championship. What were the odds that a drought in majors would last this long?He had his chances this year, finishing second at the Masters and eighth at the P.G.A. McIlroy needs to start strong, as he did at the P.G.A. with a five-under 65, and stay within range, even if he isn’t at his best. He trailed by nine strokes heading into the final round of the P.G.A, which is too big a deficit even for a player of his caliber.To contend, McIlroy will need to putt well from inside 10 feet.Matt York/Associated PressDustin JohnsonGiven his suspension by the PGA Tour last week for joining the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour, there is no doubt that Johnson will be attracting a lot of attention at Brookline.The Open is a United States Golf Association event, so the suspension won’t keep him from the tournament, but he’s still not likely to make a run at the title. Since winning the Masters in 2020, Johnson, 37, who has fallen to No. 16 in the world rankings, has posted a top 10 in only one of his six major appearances. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t won any PGA Tour events during that span.In 10 starts this season, his best finish was a fourth at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament in March. He missed the cut at the P.G.A. with successive rounds of 73. More

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    Justin Thomas Wins the P.G.A. Championship With a Roaring Comeback

    Thomas, who entered the final round seven shots behind the leader, beat Will Zalatoris in a playoff to win his second career major championship.TULSA, Okla. — The dominant story line before the 2022 P.G.A. Championship revolved around Phil Mickelson, who became the oldest major champion last year when he won the event at age 50 but chose not to defend his title. Then the focus of the tournament shifted to Tiger Woods, 46, who arrived at the Southern Hills Country Club to resume his stirring comeback from injuries he sustained in a horrific car crash 15 months ago. But Woods struggled physically, and mired in last place after three rounds, he withdrew before Sunday’s final round.What evolved instead on the last day of the P.G.A. Championship was a glimpse of elite men’s golf’s youthful future, not its aging past. On a nervy, topsy-turvy afternoon in eastern Oklahoma, there was yet another dramatic showdown between the dazzling, hard-swinging 20-somethings who have overtaken the game.In a taut, three-hole aggregate playoff after the 18-hole fourth round ended in a tie, Justin Thomas, 29, held off the 25-year-old rising star Will Zalatoris to win his second P.G.A. Championship. The last four winners of golf’s major championships, Thomas; Scottie Scheffler, at the Masters; Collin Morikawa, at the British Open; and Jon Rahm, the reigning U.S. Open champion, are in their 20s.Even in defeat, Zalatoris briefly laughed as he assessed how his generation had become dominant so quickly.“I kind of have to check myself sometimes because I feel like I’m playing junior golf and college golf all over again,” Zalatoris said, mentioning his longtime rivals Scheffler, Thomas and Mito Pereira, 27, who held the lead for most of the fourth round. “We’ve been playing together for almost 10 years. Now we’re at the highest level of golf.”Thomas, who began the final round seven strokes off the lead, did not figure to be celebrating a victory after his first eight holes Sunday when he was one over par. His final-round rally tied for the third-largest comeback in major championship history.“It was a bizarre day, no doubt,” Thomas, who also won the 2017 P.G.A. Championship, said. “But I said in a news conference before the first round that no lead would be safe here — too much wind and too many scary holes.”Mito Pereira’s double bogey on the 18th hole dropped him out of first place.Matt York/Associated PressPereira, the third-round leader, had appeared poised to become the first golfer from Chile to win a major golf championship. Stepping to the 18th tee Sunday evening, he was playing in the final group and needed only a par to clinch the title.But Pereira, playing in just his second major championship, sliced his tee shot into a small creek adjacent to the fairway. After a penalty shot drop from the water, Pereira’s approach shot found the thick rough alongside the green. His chip from there trundled far across the green until it stopped in the fringe on the opposite side of the green. Pereira made double bogey, and finished in a tie for third place with the American Cameron Young, a college teammate of Zalatoris’s when they were at Wake Forest.“It’s such a stressful situation,” Pereira said of the atmosphere on the 18th tee. “But I didn’t feel any more nervous than other shots today. I wasn’t even thinking of the water. But, you know, I wish I could do it again.”The playoff ended a streak of 19 consecutive majors, dating to the 2017 Masters, that did not require extra holes to decide the outcome.Thomas and Zalatoris began the playoff with birdies on the first hole, the 13th. On the reachable par-4, 302-yard 17th hole, Thomas drove the green and had a lengthy putt for eagle that came up 3 feet short. Zalatoris’s drive on the 17th hole was just off the green, and his flop shot stopped 8 feet from the hole. His birdie putt skidded past the hole, and Zalatoris tapped in for par.With the chance to seize the advantage, Thomas rattled in his birdie putt for a one-stroke edge heading into the third playoff hole, the 18th.Both golfers reached the 18th green in two shots. Zalatoris could not covert a birdie putt, and Thomas needed only two putts for a par that clinched the championship.For Zalatoris, it was his latest close call in a major. He finished second at last year’s Masters and was tied for sixth at that event last month. He was tied for eighth at the 2021 P.G.A. Championship and tied for sixth at the 2020 U.S. Open.Will Zalatoris after making par on the 18th green. A birdie on the 17th hole put him in position to set up the playoff.Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesBut on Sunday, Zalatoris, after an even-par front nine, was hampered by poor putting, which has plagued him all season. He bogeyed the 12th and 16th holes but rallied by draining an 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole. He also sank a 10-foot putt to save par at the final hole to shoot 71 for the final round and finish at five under par overall. At the time, though, it did not appear to be enough to catch Pereira.Thomas most likely finished his round with the same feeling. After his rough start to the day, he birdied the ninth hole and had a par at the 10th. Thomas then sank a 64-foot putt from just off the 11th hole for another birdie. At the par-4 12th, he sank an 18-foot birdie putt. Thomas missed consecutive manageable birdie putts at the 13th and 14th holes, but then splashed a shot from a greenside bunker at the par-4 17th hole to within 3 feet, a distance he successfully negotiated for his fifth birdie of the day. That would put him within one stroke of Pereira with one hole to play. A brilliant drive and courageous approach shot to the elevated 18th green stopped 11 feet behind the hole, but Thomas’s putt slid past the right edge for a par and a score of 67.“I was very calm in the playoff and very calm in the final holes before the playoff, which helped a lot,” Thomas said. “I was nervous, but it was a different kind of nervous, which maybe comes with experience. It was different than how I felt trying to win my first major in 2017. Whatever it was, it felt right.“To execute some of those tough shots when you really need to, it was full body chills.” More

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    Tiger Woods Withdraws from PGA Championship

    Recovering from leg injuries from a car crash last year, he had struggled at the Masters and now again at the PGA Championship.TULSA, Okla. — Tiger Woods, struggling in his comeback from severe leg injuries sustained in a car crash last year, withdrew from the P.G.A. Championship on Saturday night.The decision came hours after shooting a nine-over par 79, the highest score he has recorded during 22 P.G.A. Championship appearances. Yet an unsettling scene of Woods trying to perform a simple pre-round exercise Saturday presaged the interruption of his celebrated return to competitive elite golf.As Woods walked down an incline alongside a common practice area bunker, his right leg, which was surgically reconstructed 15 months ago with a rod, pins and screws, buckled. Woods nearly collapsed into the sand, but quickly used a golf club and a half step with his left leg to remain upright.On the golf course, Woods continued to limp and move slowly and stiffly, descending into a tie for last place on the tournament leaderboard at 12-over par. Because his halting gait and deteriorating game was so striking, Woods was asked afterward if he still planned to play in Sunday’s fourth round.“Well, I’m sore,” he answered. “I know that is for a fact. We’ll do some work and see how it goes.”Earlier in the event, Woods described how his recovery from golf rounds now includes many hours of ice baths and physical therapy. Saturday, he did not address when he might enter another tournament. The U.S. Open outside Boston begins June 16.Long after Woods’s round was complete, it was the weather that proved most vexing to his colleagues.The last time the P.G.A. Championship was played at Tulsa’s Southern Hills Country Club in 2007 temperatures reached 105 degrees. But that was during August in Oklahoma.Tiger Woods’s Lasting Impact and Uncertain FutureThe star golfer, one of the most influential athletes of the last quarter-century, is mounting a comeback after being badly injured in a car crash.The 2022 Masters: After saying that he would step back from competitive golf, Tiger Woods teed off at Augusta once again.Four Days That Changed Golf: When Woods won the 1997 Masters, he remade the game and catapulted himself to stardom.A Complicated Legacy: Our columnist looks back at Woods’s stunning feats and shocking falls.His Enduring Influence: Even when Woods is not playing, his impact on the sport can be felt at a PGA tournament.The P.G.A. Championship is now contested in May and Saturday’s third round of the event brought temperatures in the 50s, blustery winds and a field unnerved by the taxing conditions.With shots made unpredictable by swirling gusts, a bevy of golfers jockeyed for the lead, including unheralded Mito Pereira of Chile, who charged to a commanding advantage at the midpoint of his round. But the second-round leader, Will Zalatoris, who has four top 10 finishes in his last five major championships, caught Pereira several holes later.Then Cameron Young, a young rising star on the PGA Tour, and Bubba Watson, a 43-year-old two-time Masters champion, charged within a stroke of the lead.When play concluded Saturday evening, Pereira, who is 27 and playing in just his second major golf championship, had confidently, even boldly, regained the top spot on the leaderboard. After a third-round 69, he will enter Sunday’s final round with a three-stroke lead over Zalatoris and Matthew Fitzpatrick of England.Pereira, after a mid-round stumble, vaulted past the other third-round contenders with consecutive birdies on the 13th and 14th holes. Then, with a packed 18th green grandstand cheering for him, he closed out his day by sinking a 27-foot birdie putt to move to nine-under for the tournament.While Pereira, who is ranked 100th worldwide, is not a household name in professional golf, he has had three top 20 finishes on the PGA Tour this year and won three times on the Korn Ferry Tour, the tour’s top minor league circuit.Zalatoris had a bumpy start Saturday, shooting a four-over 39 on the front nine but steadied himself by curing some of his putting woes to shoot a rocky 73.After bogeying his first two holes, Fitzpatrick was five-under for the rest of his round to shoot 67.Young, whose father is David Young, the longtime golf professional at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in the suburbs of New York, made a late charge when he eagled the 296-yard par 4 17th hole by driving the green and making a short putt. With four birdies in his round, Young shot 67 and was in fourth place at five-under overall.After a sparkling front nine, Watson, who knocked his ball into seven bunkers during Saturday’s round, faltered and shot 73 and was tied for seventh.Woods’s troubles on Saturday were not doubt exacerbated by the Tulsa weather. With a back that has been operated on five times, Woods has not enjoyed playing in cold, damp conditions for more than a decade because it reduces the flexibility and fluidity of his golf swing. He is also still adjusting to modifications to his game required since the operations on his right leg.Once his round began, it was obvious Woods’s reduced physical capabilities were going to dramatically affect his score. His tee shot on the second hole was driven into a creek and led to a bogey. He recovered with three pars but then bungled the 218-yard par 3 sixth hole. By then, Woods already looked in pain and he was especially having trouble hitting his irons the necessary distances. Several were not on line either.On the sixth hole, his tee shot was short and left and landed in a water hazard. After a penalty shot drop, his third shot was in the rough just off the green and a subsequent chip that needed to go about 30 yards traveled only half that distance. Two putts later, Woods had a triple bogey.He then bogeyed six of his next seven holes. Woods appeared to be alternatively embarrassed and exasperated, but marched on. Always the grinder, he rallied for four pars and a birdie in his final five holes to avoid shooting 80.“I didn’t hit the ball very well and got off to not the start I needed to get off to,” Woods said later. “I thought I hit a good tee shot down 2 and ended up in the water, and just never really got any kind of momentum on my side.“I couldn’t get off the bogey train there. As I said, I just didn’t — I didn’t do anything right. I didn’t hit many good shots. Consequently, I ended up with a pretty high score.” More

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    Older Players on the PGA Tour Are Looking Over Their Shoulders

    A week ago, the top five players in the men’s world golf rankings were under 30 years old for the first time since the rankings began in 1986.PALM HARBOR, Fla. — On the eve of the PGA Tour’s Florida swing, a four-tournament series in March that sets the stage for four months featuring major golf championships, Rory McIlroy, 32, made a revealing observation.McIlroy, a one-time child prodigy turned four-time major winner, said the results of recent tour events were making him feel especially old.McIlroy was only half joking.But with Sunday’s conclusion of the Valspar Championship, the last chapter of the tour’s trip through the Sunshine State, McIlroy sentiments reflect an unmistakable reality: Men’s professional golf is being transformed by a sweeping youth movement.Even being a creaky 32 is enough to keep you out of the upper echelon. Sort of.A week ago, the top five players in the men’s world golf rankings — in order, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay and Scottie Scheffler — were under 30 years old, which was the first time that had happened since the rankings were instituted in 1986. While Cantlay turned 30 on Thursday, that does not diminish the headway the game’s youngest players are making.It is particularly noticeable because many of the most dominant names in men’s golf during this century are now farther from the top of the rankings than ever: Phil Mickelson is 45th, Justin Rose is 51st, Jason Day is 99th and Tiger Woods, who has not played a tour event in 16 months, is 895th.Moreover, no one expects the 20-something brigade to retreat.“I’ve been saying it since Day 1, the young guys, we all believed in ourselves when we got to the tour,” Morikawa, 25, said. “That’s not going to change. The recent play just shows how good the young guys who are coming out can be — how good this young pile is.”Collin Morikawa, 25, will attempt to defend his British Open title, his second major tournament victory, in July.Julio Aguilar/Getty ImagesThe remaking of the rankings has been most dramatic over the last several weeks.It began a week before the first PGA Tour Florida event this month when Joaquin Niemann, 23, won the Genesis Invitational near Los Angeles. It continued when Sepp Straka, 28, was atop the final leaderboard at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.Next, Scheffler, 25, claimed the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. The following week, on the east coast of Florida, Cameron Smith, 28, won a Players Championship that was battered by bad weather over five days. Finally, on Sunday, near Tampa, Sam Burns, 25, won the Valspar Championship, a tournament he also won last year. Burns, who moved to 10th in the world with Sunday’s victory, defeated Davis Riley, 25, in a playoff. Justin Thomas, 28, and Matthew NeSmith, also 28, tied for third. Matt Fitzpatrick, 27, was fifth.Thomas, a former world No. 1, praised the growing accomplishments of this younger set even though the competition has helped push his current world ranking to seventh.“I’ve played some pretty damn good golf, but if you’re not winning tournaments now, you’re getting lapped,” Thomas said. “That’s just the way it is, which just goes to show the level of golf being played.“But the jealous side of me wants that to be me.”It is a reasonable expectation that youth will continue to have an impact heading into the four golf majors contested from April through July. While the truism is that experience matters greatly at the Masters, it is also worth remembering that Will Zalatoris, 25, finished second at last year’s Masters. Xander Schauffele, 28 and ranked ninth (one behind McIlroy), played in the final group on the last day of that Masters with eventual winner Hideki Matsuyama.At this year’s U.S. Open, Rahm, 27, is the defending champion. Scheffler, Schauffele and Morikawa were all in the top 10 last year, as were Daniel Berger, 28, and Guido Migliozzi of Italy, who is, of course, just 25. At last year’s P.G.A. Championship, Scheffler, Zalatoris and Morikawa were among the top 10 finishers; Morikawa is the reigning British Open champion. Oh, yes, at that event a year ago, Spieth was second and Rahm was third.There are a handful of theories to explain this youthful surge, and most center on the heightened professionalism that has become commonplace even in competitions for top golfers in their late teens or early 20s. That has in turn raised the caliber of golf at the American collegiate level, where rosters are also now frequently dotted with elite players from around the world.And since every conversation about modern golf must have a tie to Woods, there is also a belief that more agile and finely honed athletes have been flocking to golf for more than 20 years — a tribute to Woods’s effect on sports worldwide.Put it all together and those graduating from pro golf’s chief minor league, the Korn Ferry Tour, seem less intimidated by the big leagues and more ready to win, or at least contend, right away.“It’s a reflection of the system at work,” said Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner. “The athleticism, the youth, the preparedness, the system is working. You can talk about the top five, but you can extend it past the top five and into the top 30.”Jon Rahm, 27, won his first major tournament title at the 2021 U.S. Open.Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesSixteen of the top 30 golfers are 30 years old or younger.Scheffler gave credit to Jordan Spieth, who won his first PGA Tour event when he was 19 and nearly won the Masters when he was 20 (he finished second). Scheffler, like Spieth, attended the University of Texas.“It was one of those deals where I had a personal connection with him,” Scheffler said of Spieth, who is 28. “He gave a lot of the guys from Texas the belief that we can come out here and play well at a young age. You don’t have to wait until you’re 25 or 30 to get some experience under your belt.”The one aspect so far missing from golf’s youth movement is the kind of prominent rivalries that fuel any sport’s popularity. While television ratings for golf broadcasts have been surging since 2020, which could be because of the new faces at the top of leaderboards, pitched competition between familiar foes always helps.But if the cohort of 20-something golf champions has anything in common, it is their congeniality. Morikawa and Hovland were born 12 days apart, turned pro at the same time in 2019 and roomed together during their early days on the PGA Tour. Cantlay and Schauffele have vacationed together. Thomas and Spieth have been close friends since they were preteens.In that case, maybe the rivalries will have to be between the new guard and their elders — you know, those old guys in their early 30s. More

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    Race to Dubai Players to Watch

    They are all among the leaders in the Race to Dubai, and a victory in this tournament could put one of them on top.The European Tour winds down for the year this week at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai with a close battle over who will win the Race to Dubai and be crowned the No. 1 golfer in Europe.After 42 tournaments in 23 countries, the winner walks away with a portion of the record $9 million in prize money.Here are five players to watch.Will ZalatorisHe is one of this year’s breakout stars. Zalatoris, 25, of the United States, tied for sixth at the United States Open, eighth at the PGA Championship and won the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year. Most notably, Zalatoris crashed onto golf’s center stage when he took second at the Masters, losing to Hideki Matsuyama of Japan by one stroke“This past year has been pretty crazy,” Zalatoris said in an interview. “But it’s all good stuff. It’s been a lot of fun. Augusta is the one I’m most proud of, though. Just knowing that I can put myself in that position and be in contention and handle it. It’s nice to know that you can do stuff like that. It’s motivating.”Zalatoris, who is No. 11 in the Race to Dubai, has been working on distance control, but said there is no secret to his success. “The good is really good,” he said. “We just need to make the bad a little bit better.”Matt Fitzpatrick is the defending champion and comes to Dubai after winning the Andalucia Masters in Spain. He is sixth in the Race to Dubai rankings.Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesMatt FitzpatrickFitzpatrick, 27, of England is the defending champion and comes to Dubai fresh off a win at the Andalucia Masters in Spain, making for a total of seven wins on the European Tour.“I really think my game is trending in the right direction,” he told reporters recently. “Playing well in the next few weeks, I’ll hopefully have some good results.”Fitzpatrick, No. 6 in the Race to Dubai, said it was important to manage the amount of pressure he puts on himself and to be patient.“I think for me it’s just about trying to have consistency throughout the whole four aspects of my game,” he said. “This year it’s been driving and putting, but my approach play’s been off, so hopefully I’ll get that to a better level and keep going with that.”Collin Morikawa is leading the Race to Dubai. He has won two majors on the PGA Tour.Atsushi Tomura/Getty ImagesCollin MorikawaMorikawa, 24, of the United States, made his Dubai debut last year and is leading the Race to Dubai this year.“I’ve put myself in a pretty strong position to win,” he said in a phone interview. “Now, I’m trying to get prepped, just like any other event. I’m coming out trying to win. It’s going to be a great field of players. I’ve seen this course, and I know what to expect.”Morikawa is working on “a few small things,” he said. “Some things are physical, and some things are mental. It’s just about getting a little sharper. It’s the end of the season, and sometimes you get a little too relaxed. So it’s just about staying sharp when you’re out there.”Morikawa, who has won two majors and five tournaments on the PGA Tour, is trying to pare his approach to the game.“You try to think back to when you played well and try to put yourself in that situation and realize what you did. You try to be consistent and keep a routine. It’s about being simple and thinking simple things when you’re out on the golf course. Sometimes that’s not so easy. I can’t think about protecting my lead. I just need to go out and hit the target.”Richard Bland has been on a hot streak recently that puts him eighth in the Race to Dubai.Sean M. Haffey/Getty ImagesRichard BlandBland, of England, made headlines in May when he took his first European Tour win at the British Masters at 48 years old.After grinding his way through 478 tournaments over more than two decades, Bland finally won. He’s been on a hot streak ever since, with six top-10 finishes that place him at No. 8 in the Race to Dubai.What did Bland change in his game to achieve the recent results?“I haven’t done anything different,” he said in a phone interview. “I think it was just my time. It’s hard to explain why a win didn’t happen earlier. I just carried on playing well since the win. I haven’t changed the way I practice. I’m not trying to do anything different. Everything just clicked into place, and then you get the confidence of winning. It just snowballed from there.”Comfort, consistency and a clear head work for Bland. “I’m not a big tinkerer, or changer of things,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, then don’t try and fix it. If your game is in good shape, then just go play. I don’t want too many thoughts going around in my head.”This season Min Woo Lee of Australia has had his first two wins on the tour, and he is No. 5 on the Race to Dubai.Dan Peled/EPA, via ShutterstockMin Woo LeeLee, 23 of Australia, is the latest to crack the Race to Dubai top 10 after three recent performances on the European Tour. He tied for second at the Andalucia Masters, tied for eighth at the Portugal Masters and tied for fourth last week at the AVIV Dubai Championship. The results place him at No. 5 on the Race to Dubai.“I was going to take this week off, but I thought my form was pretty solid and it would be another challenge in front of me and I could overcome it,” Lee said in a statement. “It is tough, I haven’t been home in six months, but I’m looking forward to going home and relaxing.”Earlier this season, Lee notched his first two wins on the tour, narrowly edging out Fitzpatrick at the Scottish Open and finishing two shots ahead of Ryan Fox of New Zealand at the ISPS Handa Vic Open. More