The Lessons of RTJ

By Brian HewittSeptember 26, 2005, 4:00 pm
Lessons. There were so many of them. So much instructive information came out of the sixth Presidents Cup. And we must not forget these lessons, going forward in the game of team golf, which, by the way, should never be confused with individual golf.
 
Lessons, like the fact that golf at its highest and most scrutinized level doesnt always have to be played with the volume turned all the way up to 10. Thursday and Friday at the Presidents Cup, on the course, were full of quiet intensity accompanied by stout play. It was every bit as terrific, as theater, for its spare brilliance as the Solheim Cup was, as theater, for its unprepossessing celebration.
 
Lessons like the fact that the question a reporter asked of American captain Ben Crenshaw six years ago at the Ryder Cup finally has an answer.
 
The question was: Ben, why is it so hard to find a partner for Tiger Woods?
 
The answer, we finally now know was this: Because nobody thought to pair him with Jim Furyk, a less outwardly emotional player, but one whose pilot light produces the same blue flame as Woods.
 
And if you dont think the most important moment of this Presidents Cup was late Saturday morning when Woods and Furyk willed their way to winning the last two holes against Stuart Appleby and Vijay Singh to gain a stunning halve, then you simply werent paying attention.
 
Woods and Furyk will be partners in these things for as long as they can stand on the same tee box together. Same goes for Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco.
 
The putt DiMarco holed on the last hole to beat Stuart Appleby and clinch the Cup late Sunday was remarkable. But it was just one part of an improbable up-and-down from an awkward stance with a lousy lie from the rough that was worlds more amazing than just the putt itself.
 
DiMarco continues to refuse to allow himself to be ignored on golfs big stages. He has been there at the last two Masters. He was there at the 2004 Ryder Cup, the 2004 PGA Championship and the 2005 Accenture Match Play. Sure, he could have won more than he has. But it is impossible to ignore his presence and his appetite for important moments.
 
In a world where a lot of people have, unfairly, decided its not hip to be American, Chris DiMarco is as American as you will find on the PGA Tour. Every movement he makes shouts in your face that he is not going away. Neither, he will tell you, is America.
 
So his partner, as long as they can stand in the same tee box together, will be Mickelson. And dont think the Europeans, who will oppose the U.S. next year in Ireland at the Ryder Cup, didnt notice this.
 
We learned that David Toms and Kenny Perry didnt quit Sunday when they could have. We learned that Justin Leonard has always been an undervalued resource as a team player.
 
And, on the International side, we learned how really good Retief Goosen is and that his taut singles victory over Woods was an instant classic before it even concluded. An injured Ernie Els was sorely missed. Vijay Singh, needs to putt well to play great.
 
The Internationals fight their fight in the Presidents Cup with less fanfare and less guile than do the Europeans in the Ryder Cup. And, as strong as they are, it is hard to believe they have won just one Presidents Cup in six tries.
 
The Presidents Cup is not perfect yet. The powers-that-be need, among other things, to restore what they promised us at the conception of this event: That there would never be a team tie at the end of Sundays play.
 
But through trial and error'lessons that had to be learned the hard way'the Presidents Cup is finally comfortable inside its own skin.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
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.

Getty Images

McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.