Rest of World Catching up to Americans

By Associated PressJuly 18, 2006, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship HOYLAKE, England -- Thirty-four flags are flapping in the breeze above the 18th green at Royal Liverpool, a potpourri of colors symbolizing the diverse field for this British Open.
 
The red, white and blue sure doesnt stand out like it used to.
 
Make no mistake, the United States is still the golfing worlds superpower, but all those other countries are closing the gap on Tiger, Phil and Co.
 
Every time we turn on our American coverage on the TV, it always seems that half the top 10 are so-called foreign, be it Australians or Europeans or South Africans or Koreans or Japanese, whatever, Colin Montgomerie marveled Tuesday. Right now, the rest of the world, if you like, is performing very well.
 
Just look at the world rankings, that convoluted formula that no one really understands but does provide a fairly accurate barometer on the state of the game.
 
Tiger Woods is at the top of the list. Phil Mickelson is No. 2. No argument there'the two best Americans are clearly the two best players on the planet.
 
But scan down a little farther, and its clear that the Americans dont have such a dominating grip on the standings. The only other U.S. player in the top 10 is Jim Furyk at No. 5.
 
Compare that to the rankings at the end of 2000, when the stars and stripes dominated with twice as many players in the top 10 -- Woods and Mickelson joined by David Duval, Davis Love III, Hal Sutton and Tom Lehman.
 
The trend holds up deeper into the list. The Americans currently hold down six of the top 25 spots, compared with 12 of 25 at the start of the decade. The U.S. has eight fewer spots in the top 50, dropping from 26 to 18.
 
The rest of the world has gotten better, said American Ben Curtis, the improbable British Open winner from 2003 who finally picked up his second career victory just last month. Theyre trying harder to get over and play (on the U.S.-based PGA Tour). I think thats the reason you see more of them up there in the points.
 
Curtis has a point. The rankings include plenty of guys such as No. 3 Vijay Singh of Fiji, No. 6 Adam Scott of Australia, No. 9 Sergio Garcia of Spain and No. 11 Luke Donald of England, all regulars on the PGA Tour.
 
Then theres a player such as No. 19 Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, who splits time between the two tours. So far this year, hes entered seven events on the European tour, five on the PGA Tour and three that are part of both circuits.
 
Its not that weve made it easier for them to play on our tour, but weve opened up to them, Curtis said. Thats made a huge difference in the rankings. Its not necessarily what the Americans are doing. More of them have gotten over to play on our tour, and theyve played well.
 
That said, golfs surging popularity around the world -- 14 countries other than the U.S. are represented in the top 50 -- appears to be coinciding with a bit of a lull in Americas developmental pipeline.
 
While Sutton has essentially retired, Lehman (No. 48) is closer to the senior tour than his prime and Love (24th) is struggling to hold his spot among the games elite players, theres no one on the horizon showing signs of becoming another Woods or Mickelson.
 
The American Ryder Cup team could have as many five rookies this year, but the contenders are J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson, Brett Wetterich, Vaughn Taylor and Lucas Glover. Good, solid players? Yes. Any of them on the verge of greatness? Probably not.
 
Theres obviously some great young American players that weve never heard of yet, and we will, Montgomerie said. But I havent seen or heard of them yet, no, no. I dont mean to sound that way. I just havent heard of them as of yet.
 
In fact, some Americans who figured to be running neck-and-neck with Woods and Mickelson at his point in their careers are nowhere to be found.
 
That list is headed by Duval, who reached the top of the world rankings, won the 2001 British Open for his first major title, then suddenly couldnt figure out how to hit the ball straight. At 34, hes still struggling to turn things around, failing to make the cut in half of his 16 events this year and cracking the top 20 at only one tournament.
 
Charles Howell III is another guy who appeared to be a major champion in the making. But a 2002 victory at Kingsmill is still his only PGA Tour victory, and hes taken a major step backward this year. With only one finish in the top 25, Howell has plummeted to 60th on the money list and wont even be playing at the British Open this week.
 
Then theres Matt Kuchar, who appeared to be a star-in-the-making when he contended at both the Masters and the U.S. Open as an amateur. His pro career is a different matter. Hes managed only one victory on the PGA Tour and lost his card after finishing 159th on the money list last year.
 
Curtis never dropped as far as Kuchar, but he needed nearly three years to follow up his British Open title with his second career victory. The 29-year-old won the Booz Allen Classic last month, but win No. 2 hardly compares to his first'most of the top players skipped the Washington-area event.
 
Even so, maybe his career will take off now that hes won again. Or maybe someone else will come along to challenge Woods and Mickelson. Whatever the case, Curtis doesnt believe American golf is in a downward spiral.
 
Somebody is going to come up and be a star, he said. Theres a lot of great players out there who have never won. Its just a matter of time. Once they get to the winners circle, who knows what might happen?
 
Related Links:
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    Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

    Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

    Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

    In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

    Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

    “I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

    Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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    Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

    In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


    Made Cut

    Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

    Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    September can’t get here quick enough.

    Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

    There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

    In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

    “I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

    The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

    Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

    Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

    The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

    The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

    “My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


    Missed Cut

    Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

    After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

    It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

    Tweet of the week:

    It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

    The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”