Its the Majors That Really Matter

By Associated PressSeptember 26, 2006, 4:00 pm
CHANDLER'S CROSS, England -- Now that the Ryder Cup is over, golf returns to normal.
Of the 19 flags that rippled in a cool breeze Tuesday morning at The Grove, none was a blue banner with 13 gold stars. They were from Northern Ireland and South Africa, Canada and Australia, the United States and England.
Chad Campbell, Brett Wetterich and Jim Furyk walked down the first fairway as friends, but not teammates. Phil Mickelson has gone back on vacation, if he ever left. No one will pick up a ball from anywhere but the bottom of the cup.
Everyone is responsible for his own golf. Only one player gets the trophy.
The winner gets $1.3 million.
The only winning streak anyone is talking about involves Tiger Woods, the best in the world when he's playing for himself. While his streak ended two weeks ago at the World Match Play Championship about 30 miles down the M25 at Wentworth, a victory in the American Express Championship would be his sixth in a row at PGA TOUR events.
Ah, this is more like it.
Sure, Woods successfully defending his title at this World Golf Championship would only emphasize that Americans care more about their own achievements than winning a 17-inch golf trophy named after an English seed merchant.
But that's how it should be.
Golf is an individual game. Legacies are built on personal success, not team play that happens one week out of the year. Think of the players who are linked with their performance in team events, and you'll find guys who have never won a major, some who have never won many tournaments at all.
Colin Montgomerie. Sergio Garcia. Chris DiMarco.
No one has won more points for Europe than Nick Faldo, but that's only a postscript on the resume of a six-time major champion who won back-to-back at the Masters and once made 18 pars in his final round to win the British Open.
The Europeans are not just winning the Ryder Cup -- three in a row, five of the last six -- but dominating. Just don't get the idea that Europe is dominating the world of golf.
How else to explain why their players have been shut out in the last 29 majors?
'We've got a lot more top-10s in the majors, we've got more wins in the majors, we've got more tournament wins,' Stewart Cink said. 'In every category, we outpace them.'
The exception, of course, is the Ryder Cup.
But does that matter?
We give the Ryder Cup too much credit for its place in the game. It is a wonderful exhibition, and because it is so different from the 72 holes of stroke play seen the majority of the year, it is by far the most exciting tournament in golf to watch.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, consider what has followed: the Presidents Cup, the Seve Trophy, the Royal Trophy, the UBS Warburg Cup (now extinct, thankfully), the Lexus Cup and something called the Handa Trophy, which pits senior U.S. women against senior women from the rest of the world.
All of them were or still are promoted as being styled after the Ryder Cup.
But these matches only decide which team gets the trophy. It doesn't make the Americans a bunch of chops, nor does it make the Europeans a world power.
Perhaps the most telling match of the Ryder Cup was when Garcia and Luke Donald defeated Woods and Furyk in a foursomes match Friday afternoon. Garcia played in the final round against Woods at the British Open and got smoked. Donald was tied for the lead with Woods in the final round at the PGA Championship and fell apart.
As partners, Garcia and Donald are 4-0 in foursomes play at the Ryder Cup.
'It's match play over 18 holes, and anything can happen in an 18-hole sprint,' Woods said. 'You play a stroke-play event, all you're looking for is one shot over 72 holes. It's more of a marathon. It's about being consistent. It about never making big numbers. You could be three down after the first nine holes ... you've got 63 holes to go.
'In match play, it can turn pretty quickly.'
The Ryder Cup was never that big of a deal before World War II, when the United States won four matches and Britain won twice. After the war, when Britain took far longer to recover, the Americans won the Ryder Cup 18 out of 19 times before the other side caught up. Britain first got help from Ireland in 1973, then all of continental Europe in 1979.
Just like the America's Cup, it became a big deal when the Americans started losing.
Now, the PGA of America wants it to be a big event because the Ryder Cup has become its biggest moneymaker. Europe needs it to become a big event -- and needs to win -- to help increase sponsorship for its tour.
No doubt, the top 12 Europeans as a whole are equal to the top 12 Americans, and Ian Woosnam probably was right when he said Europe is strong enough now to field two teams.
It's also possible that Europeans are about to catch up in the four Grand Slam events, as they did when their 'Big Five' of Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle combined to win 16 majors.
Europe had eight players finish in the top 10 at majors this year, including three who played in the final group: Kenneth Ferrie at the U.S. Open, Garcia at the British Open and Donald at the PGA Championship. Montgomerie was a 7-iron away from winning at Winged Foot.
That still shouldn't change the dynamics of the Ryder Cup.
It's still an exhibition, golf entertainment at its finest, and nothing more.
One of the famous stories about Woods as a child was that he kept a list of Jack Nicklaus' achievements on the wall in his bedroom.
It's safe to say that list included nothing about the Ryder Cup.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - 36th Ryder Cup Matches
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  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.