Notes Verplank MIA Miller Irritating US

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- Scott Verplank must be wondering why Tom Lehman picked him for the Ryder Cup.
 
After not playing on the first day of the matches, Verplank -- an alternate-shot specialist because he is among the straightest hitters in golf -- was sent out in a fourballs match Saturday morning. He and Zach Johnson produced the only U.S. victory.
 
Then Verplank returned to the bench.
 
'I would be lying if I told you I wasn't disappointed and feel like I shouldn't have another chance or two,' Verplank said. 'But I'll have another chance tomorrow, and hopefully ... we'll still have a chance as a group to win. That's what we're all here for.'
 
Even so, it was peculiar.
 
Only one other American to make the team as a captain's pick has played only one team match -- Paul Azinger in 2002, the year the Ryder Cup was delayed one year because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
 
Stranger still was that Lehman told Verplank on Thursday night that he would not play in either match Friday, which would indicate it didn't matter how anyone performed in the opening session.
 
Verplank finished 20th in the Ryder Cup standings, so it was considered a bold move for Lehman to take him.
 
'One of the things that I think our team needs is somebody who can really putt and really can chip, who can drive the ball, put it in the fairway, who is a tough, tough, tough competitor, who will never quit, never give up,' Lehman said of Verplank the day he picked him.
 
Apparently, that didn't come with a guarantee to play.
 
Johnson made all the birdies in their 2-and-1 victory, although Verplank's contributions were quiet. He was in virtually every hole, assuring the Americans no worse than par.
 
'It was a team effort, regardless of what anybody says,' Johnson said.
 
Verplank said Lehman approached them on the 13th hole to tell Johnson he would play in a foursomes match Saturday afternoon.
 
'I said, 'Am I playing this afternoon?' And he said, 'No,'' Verplank said. 'And I said, 'We're going to win this match. I'd like to play.' But he already had it set. And fortunately, we won the match.'
 
Verplank tried to say all the right things, although it was an awkward handshake with Lehman after his fourball victory, and Verplank walked away shaking his head.
 
After a team meeting Saturday evening, Lehman said Verplank was fine.
 
'I'm sure he's disappointed -- or was disappointed -- and that's what makes him such a great competitor,' Lehman said. 'I simply felt that this afternoon, we needed to put what I considered to be our best teams out there.'
 
Verplank said ultimately he cared only about winning. A captain's pick in 2002, he played both foursomes matches and went 2-1 in another U.S. loss.
 
'If we win the Ryder Cup, captain Lehman is going to look like a genius,' Verplank said. 'And that's what I'm hoping.'
 
DRESS CODE
Ian Woosnam and Tom Lehman have to guess how the other captain is going to arrange his team for each session of matches. Apparently, they don't trade secrets on uniforms, either.
 
Both teams arrived on the first tee Saturday morning wearing dark slacks and blue shirts, and the only way to tell them apart was when the Americans put on their black sweaters.
 
The Americans kept their same uniforms for the afternoon, while the Europeans switched to a lavender top.
 
SMALL MAN AND A BIG HEART
The sure sign Europe is in the lead is when Colin Montgomerie turns into a standup comic.
 
Sergio Garcia was asked about the attributes of captain Ian Woosnam, especially after Europe built a 10-6 lead.
 
'He might be a short man, but he's got a huge heart,' Garcia said.
 
Monty interrupted.
 
'He IS a short man,' Montgomerie said of the 5-foot-4 captain. 'There's no question about that, Sergio. He is a short man with a very, very big heart.'
 
'But I think he's grown about 3 inches this week,' Garcia countered.
 
MILLER TIME
Johnny Miller might have been getting on the nerves of U.S. players without even knowing it.
 
Ryder Cup officials made available NBC Sports' raw feed, which included the chatter during commercial breaks. Miller had no shortage of material, whether it was Tiger Woods' sloppy game or Scott Verplank needing to 'wake up' because his partner, Zach Johnson, was making all the birdies.
 
Once it was pointed out the raw feed was going to the U.S. team room, it mysteriously ended.
 
There was talk the U.S. players decided not to speak to NBC, but Chris DiMarco said that wasn't the case and that players weren't even listening.
 
'We don't flatter him that way,' he said.
 
Miller's most infamous line at the Ryder Cup was in 1999, when it was suggested Justin Leonard should have sat out a team match Saturday when Europe was dominating. Miller said Leonard should have stayed home.
 
The Americans rallied around that remark, winning at Brookline when Leonard holed a 45-foot putt on the 17th.
 
'Since then, nobody really hears anything he says,' Verplank said. 'I don't think he's important enough to inspire Tiger or Phil.'
 
JUNIOR CHEERLEADERS
The gang in U.S. team clothes hanging around the 16th green Saturday morning was doing its best to cheer on their fellow Americans.
 
It was the junior Ryder Cup team, just back from their matches in Wales, and they were determined to make their voices heard over that of thousands of European supporters in the nearby bleachers.
 
The crowd had been serenading the Europeans with a rousing 'Ole, Ole, Ole,' and the U.S. juniors tried to come up with their own version of the song. Failing that, they reverted to a basic 'USA, USA' chant.
 
That's what greeted Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood as they arrived at the green with Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk. The group kept it up as the two Europeans arrived at Clarke's ball, which was just off the back edge of the green only a few feet away from them.
 
Then they stopped, except for one unfortunate cheerleader who kept going.
 
'Didn't you get the memo?' an amused Westwood asked him.
 
Clarke wasn't exactly intimidated. He walked up to his ball in the muddy rough and calmly chipped it into the hole, sending the crowd into a frenzy and giving the Euros a win.
 
Next to the green, though, things grew suddenly quiet.
 
DIVOTS
Zach Johnson made seven birdies as he and Scott Verplank won their fourballs match Saturday morning. That's more birdies than Chris DiMarco and Phil Mickelson made combined in their two fourball matches at the Ryder Cup. ... Mickelson now is 1-7-1 in his last nine Ryder Cup matches. ... Europe's captains picks (Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood) have contributed half of Europe's 10 points. ... Sergio Garcia didn't play Tiger Woods on Saturday, but he still took a shot at him. Asked why the Europeans got along so well, Garcia said it was important to laugh about bad shots and give encouragement. 'You don't give them any weird looks or anything like that,' he said. It was a reference to the last Ryder Cup, when Woods looked disgusted after his partner, Phil Mickelson, hit a 3-wood on the final hole at Oakland Hills that one-hopped off a fence and cost them the match.
 
Related Links:
  • Ryder Cup Scoring
  • Full Coverage - 36th Ryder Cup Matches
  • 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.