That Cinking Feeling

By Brian HewittMarch 10, 2008, 4:00 pm
All right, show of hands: How many of you, when the third round of the PODS Championship concluded, were picking Sean O Hair to win? How many of you selected Sean OHair in your fantasy golf leagues before the tournament began?
 
All due respect, Sean OHair won his second TOUR event Sunday, beating six other players by two shots. He is 25 years old and there isnt an expert alive who doesnt like his attitude, his work ethic or his game.
 
But Sean OHair showed up in Tampa last week ranked 76th in the world and No. 82 on the Ryder Cup point standings. He was, in short, a little bit lost.
 
Which is why Stewart Cinks meltdown is a more compelling story. Once again, a top American player who has been underachieving in recent years had his feet held to the fire on Sunday. Turns out he wasnt wearing asbestos socks.
 
Cink showed up at Tampa in fourth place in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings. He will almost certainly make the team. At the end of the day, captain Paul Azinger might have been a little nervous.
 
We got our first taste of this 2008 script in January when Justin Leonard, who used to be considered a perennial Ryder Cupper, spent a four-shot lead after 54 holes and could only watch as a lesser-light named D. J. Trahan leave him in the desert dust in the final pairing while winning the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
 
Cinks lead after 54 holes at PODS was two shots. And that margin quickly doubled when he birdied the first and second holes at Innisbrooks estimable Copperhead course. But then Cink missed a short one for par on the third. Then he added a bogey at the par-3 8th.
 
And quicker than you can say blonde ambition, Billy Mayfair, a solid ball striker, had crept to within one shot. All of a sudden Johnny Miller and the boys with the mikes were properly reminding the viewers at home that Cinks record in closing the deal with at least a share of the 54-hole lead was 1-for-8. Worse, Cink hadnt won on TOUR since the 2004 WGC-NEC (now the Bridgestone).
 
Bravely, Cink had met with reporters late Saturday and told them, My goal tomorrow is to give no one a chance. That hope was out the window before Cink had finished his outward nine.
 
Then there was this matter of Cink and Tiger Woods. Cink finished in a tie for third earlier this year at the Buick Invitational, where Woods prevailed by eight shots.
 
Cink caught heat at Torrey Pines for not catching Tiger. And the momentum grew at the WGC-Accenture Match Play last month where, Woods destroyed Cink in the finals, 8 and 7.
 
During the course of that match Cink appeared to be enjoying the day and the company if not the thrashing he was getting from Woods. So more critics surfaced and questioned his toughness and competitive fire.
 
It was a fair point to raise, but one that needed to be accompanied by the names of the players Cink had beaten to get to the final: Miguel Angel Jimenez, Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie, Angel Cabrera and the aforementioned Leonard. If youre keeping score, thats three recent European Ryder Cuppers and the reigning U.S. and British Open champions.
 
Moreover, Cink might have been excused if he was thinking no good deed goes unpunished. He had, after all, only entered the PODS Championship at the last minute because his son was playing in a hockey tournament the following week. If Cink was going to attend the hockey tournament (which he will), he was going to have to miss the Arnold Palmer Invitational. That left PODS as the open spot on his Florida schedule.
 
Mayfairs history with Woods, meanwhile, was quite different. His playoff victory over Woods at the 1998 Nissan Open was the only PGA TOUR event Woods has lost in overtime in 11 tries. Maybe Cink was aware of this. Maybe he wasnt. But it was all part of the fabric of Sundays tournament as the players got to the final nine holes.
 
Thats when Mayfair cooled and OHair made a 32-foot bomb on 15 for a birdie to take the lead. OHairs victory rocketed him to No. 12 on the U.S. Ryder Cup standings (Cink actually moved up to No. 3) and No. 35 in the world rankings. The victory gets him into next months Masters.
 
Still, Cink was the player you couldnt take your eyes off of on the back nine.
 
It started with a failure to birdie the gettable par-5 11th after a perfect drive that left him with 236 yards to the hole. Next came a three-putt bogey on 13 followed by a bogey on the par-5 14th that stemmed from a tee ball that stopped next to a tree. On 15, Cink missed a 5-foot birdie putt and followed that with a drive into the water right on 16. The wheels were officially off by the time he made a consolation birdie on 17.
 
I really feel I played well enough to win with the exception of two tee shots and a couple of putts, said Cink, who had the good grace to talk to the media afterward.
 
What did he learn?
 
That one might take a while to figure.
 
Right now, what Cink knows is this: Winning, on the PGA TOUR, is hard.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
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    Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

    Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

    That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

    Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

    From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

    Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

    She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

    She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

    Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

    With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

    The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

    She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

    The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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    One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

    Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

    Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

    Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

    Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

    Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

    Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

    Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

    David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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    DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

    By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

    The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

    ''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

    In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

    ''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

    The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

    ''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

    The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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    Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

    Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

    Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

    As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

    Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.