The Most Important Match

By Brian HewittSeptember 17, 2008, 4:00 pm
LOUISVILLE, Ky. ' It will, if it comes to pass, be the dream match-up of a Ryder Cup that begins with alternate shot here Friday morning at Valhalla Golf Club.
It will be a pairing that will give the Americans and the Europeans, for a compelling variety of reasons, an opportunity for a win that will count one point in the standings and immeasurably more in the confidence column.
Im talking about the first foursomes match Friday morning. Tee time: 8:05 ET.
Im talking about Kentucky native sons Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes vs. the stalwart Euro tandem of Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia.
Im talking about a match that would almost certainly go a long way toward setting a tone for the 27 matches to follow.
A little history: At the 2004 Ryder Cup, played at Oakland Hills, American captain Hal Sutton obdurately insisted on mixing oil and water when he paired Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods in the first match on the first day. European captain Bernard Langer countered with Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington.
Harrington and Montgomerie silenced a Detroit sports crowd itching to explode with a 2-and-1 victory that the Americans, arguably, never recovered from en route to an 18 - 9 defeat.
I think it helped the guys behind and we felt it was almost worth a bit more than a point to beat Phil and Tiger, Montgomerie said afterward.
Langer echoed the sentiment almost verbatim. We always felt this match was worth more than a point, he said.
Fast forward to Valhalla and consider, first, a Perry-Holmes win against Garcia and Westwood, the partner with whom Garcia has had the most success on the current European team, would be huge.
Perry and Holmes winning would, without a doubt, whip the Kentucky crowd into a frenzy. And it would be impossible for that energy not to filter back to the other three morning matches Friday.
Moreover, Garcia is the player the Americans love to hate in the Ryder Cup. After the 2002 American loss to Europe at The Belfry in England, Jim Furyk said, We lost to 11 gentlemen and one little boy.
He was referring to the antic Garcia, whose greenside celebrations, the Americans felt, were way over the top.
Garcia, it turns out, is a target in more ways than one. His career Ryder Cup record is 14-4-2 and far better than any other player here on either team. Garcias record in alternate shot is an eye-popping 8-0-0.
I wasnt aware that he was that good, American captain Paul Azinger said Monday when told of Garcias foursomes mark. Just an amazing, passionate player.
All of which makes the point that the underdog Americans, psychologically, stand to win more than a point if Perry and Holmes get a shot at Garcia and Westwood and if they can take them down.
Those are both big ifs. Azinger, and especially Euro captain Nick Faldo, took pains Wednesday to stress that neither had penciled in their line-ups for Friday morning. Faldo did his best to weather a hail of questions from European writers who claimed to have, in their hands, a picture of a piece of paper with his Friday foursomes picks on them. Faldo attempted to deflect by saying it was the sandwich list for his teams lunch orders.
It was a story only the tabloids could love. And, safe to say, it wont knock the MLB pennant races off the front pages of the sports sections in the U.S.
Meanwhile, back on point: Perhaps the best part of the potential Perry-Holmes vs. Garcia-Westwood is the enormous risk-reward it entails for either captain.
A Perry-Holmes loss takes the local crowd out of the game, maybe for the rest of the week. A Garcia-Westwood loss topples Europes best alternate-shot team and encourages the state of Kentucky to throw a three-day party that wont end until well after Sundays singles matches conclude and victory is secured.
One final point: Much has been made of exactly how much influence a captain can have on his team at a Ryder Cup. Azinger reiterated Wednesday how much less nervous he is at this stage of the week than he was as a Ryder Cup player.
But a good captain sees things. And a really good captain sees sparks ' whether its something that happens in the team room or on the course or at dinner. It could be a reaction to something written in a newspaper article.
The best captain figures out a way to turn a spark into a bonfire that translates its way into a burning victory. Tony Jacklin did it for Europe in the 80s. Ben Crenshaw found it for the Americans Saturday night at Brookline in 1999.
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Related Links:
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  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup
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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.”