Now, a Ryder Cup tradition: second-guessing

By Doug FergusonOctober 1, 2012, 5:29 pm

MEDINAH, Ill. – The Ryder Cup didn't end with the closing ceremony at Medinah.

In a tradition that began about the time Europe started winning with regularity, no Ryder Cup can be put to bed without second-guessing. It figures to last for at least a week, maybe until 2014 when the next one is played in Scotland.

Was it wise for U.S. captain Davis Love III to bench every player, particularly Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson, for at least one match to keep them fresh for Sunday? Why did he put Tiger Woods in the 12th slot for singles? Does he regret his captain’s picks? Did it cost the Americans?

And was it really necessary for Justin Timberlake to read a poem during the opening ceremony?

Here's what will be – should be – remembered about one of the greatest Ryder Cup competitions in its 85-year history.

Justin Rose made a 35-foot putt from the back of the 17th green.

It's really that simple.

''That was one of the best feelings of my life to make that putt,'' Rose said.

Martin Kaymer looked calm as ever when he holed a 6-foot par putt on the 18th that assured Europe of keeping that shiny gold trophy. Francesco Molinari won a half-point on a short par putt that Tiger Woods conceded for Europe to claim an outright win 14 1/2 to 13 1/2.

This was not a Ryder Cup to contemplate failures. This was a Ryder Cup to celebrate success.

And no match – no birdie putt – was more significant than what Rose did on the 17th green. He was down one hole when his putt with plenty of pace disappeared into the cup to square the match. Rose made a 12-foot birdie on the 18th for a 1-up win over Mickelson, but odds are that Lefty wins that match if Rose doesn't make the putt.

But he did, just like Justin Leonard on the 17th hole at Brookline when the Americans rallied from a four-point deficit.

In happier times Sunday, Love had said he thought Jason Dufner in the No. 9 slot was going to be the clincher for the Americans. If not for Rose winning his match, it could very well have come down to Dufner's win over Peter Hanson.

So maybe Love had it right, and he lost out to a great putt.

''We had a lot of guys today that played well and just got beat,'' Love said. ''They got beat by some holed putt, chip-ins, some incredible shots, and some matches got flipped at the end on long putts and great saves by the other team. I have to congratulate them on the way they played. They played great.''

Ultimately, this Ryder Cup turned out the way everyone expected.

It featured the two strongest teams ever, all 24 players among the top 35 in the world ranking. Graeme McDowell was looking over the team rosters a few weeks out and said, ''There's a good buzz. I think it's set up to be an awesome Ryder Cup. I really do.''

And it was.

The best Ryder Cup matches – really, the best golf tournaments – are those that are won and not lost. Kiawah Island, where Bernhard Langer missed a 6-foot par putt on the last hole, left too many people with a sick feeling. McDowell making a 15-foot birdie putt at Wales was great stuff.

European captain Mark James was a hero on Saturday night in Brookline for sticking with the same partnerships in building a 10-6 lead. He was vilified for sitting out three players until Sunday, all of whom lost. Even this year, Jose Maria Olazabal was taking his share of criticism for not playing Ian Poulter in fourballs on Friday and for sending out Lee Westwood on Saturday morning after he didn't show much game on the opening day.

Mickelson and Bradley won three matches by playing 15, 17 and 12 holes in a dominant display. Why not send them out? For one thing, Mickelson didn't feel like he would have been effective. There's a history of teams going four matches and running out of steam, such as Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik at Brookline. They went 3-0, fought for a halve in the fourth session, and neither made it past 15 holes on Sunday before losing.

Love was grilled Sunday evening about sitting them out until Mickelson stepped in.

''Hold on, Davis,'' he said. ''As far as playing Keegan and I, you need to hear something. Keegan and I knew going in that we were not playing in the afternoon, and we said on the first tee, 'We are going to put everything we have into this one match, because we are not playing the afternoon.'

''And when we got to 10, I went to Davis and I said, 'Listen, you're seeing our best. You cannot put us in the afternoon, because we emotionally and mentally are not prepared for it. And I know you're going to get pressure, because we're playing so good.' So you cannot put that on him. If anything, it was me.''

They both lost their singles matches, Mickelson to a clutch performance by Rose, Bradley to Rory McIlroy, the best player in the world.

The one area golf is as fickle in the Ryder Cup as any other tournament is the inability to predict who's going to play well. Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker were the hottest players in September. Johnson went 3-0 in the Ryder Cup, Snedeker was 1-2. Zach Johnson had not been in the top 10 since July, and the only reason he didn't win every match was because Poulter ran off five straight birdies late Saturday afternoon.If there was room to second-guess anything, it was the ending.

The sole purpose of the Ryder Cup is to go home with the trophy, and Europe did that when Kaymer beat Steve Stricker to give Europe 14 points. As the defending champion, that's all it needed. There was chaos around the 18th green, and Woods had a 1-up lead. Molinari thought about conceding the match until he saw Olazabal.

''They told me, 'It's not the same, winning or halving, so get focused, and do your best.' And that's what I did,'' he said.

With singing and swaying all around them, Woods chipped to 3 1/2 feet and missed the putt. He gave Molinari a putt of about the same length, and Europe won outright.

''It's a tough spot to be in, because you've got to finish out the match, even though it's useless because our team didn't get the cup, and they did,'' Woods said. ''So 18 was just, 'Hey, get this over with.' Congratulations to the European team. They played fantastic today, and they deserve the cup.''

Getty Images

J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda fired eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record at the tournament.


Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


Korda, who is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda, leads fellow American Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Getty Images

Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

Getty Images

Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

Getty Images

McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.