Despite hindsight, Watson not sweating RC picks

By Doug FergusonSeptember 16, 2014, 11:54 pm

ATLANTA – Tom Watson didn't appear to be kicking himself.

On the day after Billy Horschel posted his 12th straight round in the 60s, won his second straight tournament against a world-class field and picked up an additional $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion, Watson was kicking back in his seat at a Kansas City Royals game. The 65-year-old Ryder Cup captain wore a Royals cap and a constant grin as he watched Omar Infante work the count to 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning.

These questions will follow Watson and his American team to Gleneagles next week for the Ryder Cup: Does he wish he could have Horschel on his team? Should the deadline to make his selections have been pushed back?

It makes for an easy – if not lazy – narrative. Hindsight allows for that.

Horschel not only won the final two FedEx Cup playoff events, he beat the top qualifier from each Ryder Cup team – Bubba Watson at Cherry Hills and Rory McIlroy at East Lake. It was McIlroy who said at the Tour Championship, ''I'm sure Tom Watson is kicking himself at the minute.''

Adding to the debate is that Horschel was runner-up in the event that preceded his back-to-back wins. Tiger Woods is the only other player to have two wins in a runner-up finish in the FedEx Cup. Then again, Horschel is not Tiger Woods.

Watson made his wild-card picks after the Deutsche Bank Championship, where Horschel was in prime position to force a playoff with Chris Kirk until he chunked a 6-iron so badly on the par-5 18th hole that it landed in the front of the hazard protecting the green. No one would have suggested Horschel as a pick the next day.

So why was the deadline set so early for the picks?

Remember, for years the American captain made his selections the day after the PGA Championship, six weeks before the Ryder Cup matches. Thanks to Paul Azinger, the U.S. captain now gets an extra three weeks to find the hot hands.

Why not extend it through the Tour Championship? If that's the case, why not wait until the final week to determine the entire team? This is not about uniforms, programs or any propaganda. This about a team, one that should know who is on the side with ample time to prepare leading to the matches. Four straight playoff events caused enough fatigue as it was.

Besides, would anyone be talking about an early deadline if McIlroy, Jim Furyk or Jason Day had won the Tour Championship?

And who's to say Watson would have taken Horschel even if he could have waited? Watson said he was looking for the hot hand and still passed over Kirk the day after his victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Watson was looking for experience.

He wanted Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson all along. He would have preferred Brandt Snedeker as the third pick, except that Snedeker missed the cut at both playoff events. Hunter Mahan, who has played on two teams, won The Barclays and became an obvious selection, and then Simpson won out over Kirk.

As good as Horschel looks now, how can anyone project how he would have played in Scotland?

Two years ago, Snedeker looked like a great captain's pick when he won the FedEx Cup. He went 1-2 at the Ryder Cup. Snedeker wasn't at his best that week. He blocked a tee shot on the 18th hole that led to bogey in foursomes and cost the Americans at least a half point. On the final day, he bogeyed three straight holes against Paul Lawrie and suffered the worst defeat of any singles match.

Woods was a captain's pick in 2010. He was coming off the upheaval in his personal life, split with his swing coach and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship. He had gone seven straight tournaments without a top 10, and he failed to break 70 in 19 of his last 25 rounds.

Woods went 3-1 at Celtic Manor, his best Ryder Cup performance.

Horschel will be cheering from home. His big finish will put even more scrutiny on the captain's picks than they already have. And that will lead to another round of hindsight, unless the Americans can find a way to win.

Maybe it was a good sign that the Royals rallied with two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win Monday night.

As for Infante? He struck out swinging.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."