Americans lead 3 1/2 to 2 1/2 after Day 1 of Prez Cup

By Doug FergusonOctober 3, 2013, 11:40 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Tiger Woods sat in a cart with a tiny squirrel resting on his shoulder. Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel walked onto the first tee wearing wigs to make up for their bad haircuts. Fred Couples had cupcakes delivered to him by the opposing captain in honor of his 54th birthday.

Opening day at the Presidents Cup was unlike any other Thursday at Muirfield Village.

Except for the score.

After six hours of fourballs that produced 102 birdies, two eagles and a new celebrity named ''Sammy the Squirrel,'' the Americans won the opening session for the fourth straight time, a solid start in their quest to maintain dominance in this event.


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But it took a great save from a plugged lie in the bunker by Steve Stricker in the final match on the course to give the Americans a 3 1/2-2 1/2 lead. And despite being in another hole, this only felt like a divot to an International team inspired by the clutch play of Hideki Matsuyama, the South African duo of Oosthuizen and Schwartzel, and the refusal to be spooked from trailing early in every match.

''There's plenty of heart on the team,'' Adam Scott said. ''And think we should take a lot of that.''

Ernie Els didn't make a birdie until the 17th hole, but his 12-footer extended the match to the 18th hole. The Internationals looked like they might win the last hole with a par when 20-year-old Jordan Spieth drove into the water and Stricker's approach plugged into the face of the bunker. He blasted out to 3 feet, and de Jonge missed his 18-foot birdie putt to end a wild day.

''You don't want anybody else to have to get that up-and-down other than Steve Stricker, so, God, what a match,'' Spieth said. ''It was incredible.''

That wasn't the only highlight.

Scott chipped in for eagle on the 15th hole and Matsuyama holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the next hole to square their match against Bill Haas and Webb Simpson. Haas answered with an 18-foot birdie putt to go 1 up, only for the 21-year-old Japanese star to hit his 8-iron approach from 168 yards to 2 feet for birdie on the 18th to halve the match.

''There were so many birdies made, you really couldn't keep up,'' Couples said.

As for that squirrel?

Love found it on the second hole and kept it with him for good luck the rest of the way. It was on his wrist, in his pocket, and quickly became the team mascot. At one point, Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn put it on Woods' back. It spooked her boyfriend, who at first looked bothered, but later became friends with Sammy.

''I carry a rabbit's foot around a lot. I don't know much about a squirrel, or a live squirrel,'' Couples said.

The International team had its own mascot – Mother Nature.

The Americans bolted out to a big start and were ahead in all six matches early. The round was stopped for 1 1/2 hours because of thunderstorms, and while none of the matches had gone beyond the 10th hole, it felt like a chance for the Internationals to start over.

''The break did us really good,'' Oosthuizen said. ''We came back out, felt refreshed and just played well.''

Jason Day and Graham DeLaet rallied from 3 down to Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker, winning on the 18th hole when Day made a 20-foot birdie putt.

Oosthuizen and Schwartzel gave Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson their first loss. The South Africans, best of friends since junior golf, took their first lead on the 11th hole and didn't lose another hole until they had a 2-and-1 win. Mickelson and Bradley were 3-0 as partners in the Ryder Cup last year and had a 2-up lead through seven holes on Bradley's eagle. They didn't win another hole the rest of the way, however.

''I had good rhythm early on and when we went back out (after the delay), I was just a little bit tight and didn't make very good swings,'' Mickelson said.

The Presidents Cup began with fourballs for the first time since 1996, which should have favored the Internationals. Instead, the Americans won their first fourballs session in 10 years, dating to the second day in South Africa.

Still, this was a moral victory for the International team.

''At the break, I just spoke to most of the guys and said, 'Hey, the U.S. has had everything go their way the front nine, and just be patient,''' captain Nick Price said. ''And what a comeback they made.''

Muirfield Village was set up for birdies, and there were plenty of them. Ten of the 12 teams were at least 8-under par in their rounds.

The exceptions were Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman, who were only 3 under in the shortest match of the day. They lost, 5 and 4, to Woods and Matt Kuchar. The Americans used a handshake from ''Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,'' and they used it a lot.

''That was definitely all me,'' Kuchar said. ''That stems from 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.' I figured this guy was the perfect Carlton.''

Woods turned out to be a decent partner, too. Kuchar was his 19th partner in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup, and it was a solid debut. Kuchar won at Muirfield Village in June, while Woods is a five-time Memorial champion.

''We both have the low stroke averages in this tournament's history,'' Woods said. ''Put us together and we feel very comfortable how to play this golf course.''

Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson in the anchor match were 3 up through three holes and never looked back. Branden Grace and Richard Sterne, the only all-rookie team for the International side, were 2 down after 10 and never got any closer. The match ended on the 15th hole.

The critical part could be Friday with six foursomes matches.

The Americans have won the last four times outright, and they have a 31-13 advantage in the more difficult alternate-shot format. Price kept his teams together, while Couples kept four of his six teams intact.

''I'm not going to lose faith in those teams, to be honest,'' Price said. ''I really think that they're all ready to take their games to the next level.''

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.