US Stars Not Shining Once Again

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- It's a lesson they should have learned in preschool. Somehow, though, it's hard to imagine Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods coming home with a smiley-face sticker for playing well with others.
 
Grown-ups get points for doing just that in the Ryder Cup.
 
Mickelson and Woods won't be going home with many of those. Barring a Brookline-like miracle, they won't be carrying the Ryder Cup with them, either.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson may be looking for a place to hide this week.
Often brilliant as individuals, the United States' best just can't seem to find a way to play with each other. It happens every time, despite the best efforts of any number of American captains to figure out a solution.
 
Mickelson and Chris DiMarco were a disaster. Woods and Jim Furyk looked more like journeymen than the top two players in the world.
 
Captain Tom Lehman didn't send either to the corner for a time out. Perhaps he should have, because when your stars take a pounding, the rest of team begins getting queasy.
 
Especially when the rest of that team isn't as good as the rest of the other team.
 
'You don't like looking up there and seeing your superstar teams getting it handed to them,' Scott Verplank said.
 
That must have made the sight of Mickelson especially scary. Here's a guy who won the Masters, should have won the U.S. Open and is arguably the best player in the world whose first name is not Eldrick.
 
When Lefty left the course Saturday afternoon, though, here's the grand total he contributed in four matches -- one half of one point.
 
Let's put that in perspective. Vaughn Taylor is a Ryder Cup rookie and thought to be the weakest link on this team coming in. He played in one match -- and won the same half-point as Mickelson.
 
You might have thought Lehman would sit Mickelson down as his struggles became more apparent. You might have thought that, but Lehman apparently didn't.
 
He didn't even consider it.
 
'No,' was the short answer.
 
Lehman, of course, plays golf for a living. The captain thing is a part-time gig that will end sometime early Sunday evening. By all accounts, he has tried his best to make a go of it and win his country a Ryder Cup.
 
So maybe we shouldn't be so harsh. But there comes a time to cut your losses, and Lehman just couldn't bring himself to do it.
 
It's not because Lehman is too nice of a guy, because he didn't mind telling Verplank as he played the 13th hole Saturday that he was reneging on a promise to play him twice. And it's not like he didn't see Mickelson imploding, because he's been out there watching for two days.
 
No, the American team has a star system. And Lehman decided long before he even got here that he was going to live and die with his stars.
 
That meant Mickelson played every match. It also meant Woods and Furyk were going to be joined at the hip for this Ryder Cup, no matter how many wayward shots they hit or short putts they missed.
 
Woods was the nearest thing to a lock inside five feet all year on the PGA Tour. But he missed a half dozen of those putts in his four matches. Even a win in the last match of the day couldn't disguise the fact that the American team got only two points from possibly the best player ever and the guy right behind him in the world rankings.
 
Do the math yourself. The top three players in the world combined for 2 1/2 points for the U.S. team. Sergio Garcia won four on his own for the Europeans.
 
You don't bench Woods, of course. But did Lehman ever think of splitting he and Furyk up?
 
'No.'
 
If Lehman's pairings seemed uninspired, so did his team. The points weren't coming from the top, and the other guys couldn't help noticing.
 
Woods is 6-12-1 when playing with others, while Furyk is an even more anemic 3-11-1. Mickelson is 6-9-4, and 1-8-1 overall in his last 10 matches.
 
For some reason, the Europeans have no such problems with their best players. They enjoy the camaraderie of team play. They like hanging out together, and they enjoy winning together.
 
All the fist bumps and fist pumps the Americans exchange don't equal the warmth of one hug between the Euros. And when things go wrong, it's usually every American for himself.
 
'If you're out there and your partner misses a shot you know the only thing you do is just give them a laugh and just encouragement,' Garcia said. 'You don't give them any weird looks or anything. That's not the way to go, and that's not the way to win Ryder Cup.'
 
That was a thinly veiled jab at Woods, who does not suffer fools on the golf course easily, even if they're wearing the same uniform.
 
The Americans are getting used to taking punches in team play. They can't seem to play well together.
 
They will get no smiley faces this time around.
 
And they won't have any smiles on their faces on Sunday either.
 
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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.