The Day European Golf Came of Age
The PGA Tour granted it special status, declaring it an invitational, the same as Arnold Palmers Bay Hill. The Memorial was patterned after the Masters with green the dominant color. The past three years, the champion has been Tiger Woods, one of the greatest players in history. But to look at Muifields defining moment in golf history, one would probably have to look past the tournaments and go to 1987, when the Ryder Cup was held there.
Nicklaus was to captain the American squad, pitted against Tony Jacklin of Europe. Jacklin and his team bolted to an impressive 16 - 11 victory the preceding match at The Belfry in 1985. The U.S. had chafed about the loss for two years.
Everybody on this side of the ocean believed it was just a quirk, that Muirfield and Jack would right the ship and the U.S. would resume its winning ways. After all, America had never lost on its home soil in the Ryder Cup in the 60-year history of the matches. And absolutely no one believed that now would be the first, not with Nicklaus as captain.
That September morning in 87, the first two matches went as expected. Englishman Howard Clark popped his opening drive into a bunker to start the Ryder Cup. Curtis Strange birdied the second. He and Tom Kite were out quickly to a comfortable 4 and 2 victory, followed immediately by Hal Sutton and Dan Pohl ' 2 and 1 winners over Ken Brown and Bernard Langer.
Then, things quickly got interesting. Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam ' one of the most successful pairings in European history ' went up-and-down all morning with Larry Mize and Lanny Wadkins. The Americans birdied the first hole and went on to make the nine-hole turn 4-up ' surely a winning effort to match the first two.
Faldo nailed a 3-iron to begin play on the backside, however, and Woosnam sank the five-foot putt for a birdie. Wadkins found sand with his drive at the 12th and the European team won another ' 2-down. Wadkins missed another drive at 14 and the visitors were now just one behind. The Brits squared the match at 15 with a beautiful 1-iron to the center of the green from 250 yards, then went 1-up at 17 when Wadkins putt hit the hole and ricocheted, and Mize missed the ensuing shorty. The Americans lost the final hole with a bogey and the Europeans, who were down four with nine left, won going away.
What was the visitors motivation? We dont need any motivation, said Faldo. We are playing for history. Its like playing for your life.
From that point on, Europe was a formidable opponent, indeed. Larry Nelson had a perfect 9-0 Ryder Cup record, but when he was matched with Ryder rookie Payne Stewart, the pair fell to another veteran who was playing with a rookie ' Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. Ballesteros and Olazabal would go on to post the highest win percentage in European team history, and they started with a 1-up win in the closing match of the first day. The Americans, who early on looked like certain winners, were suddenly tied at 2 - 2.
The afternoon matches were all Europe, the visitors winning all four matches to a 6 - 2 lead.
This has nothing to do with money, American Tom Kite would say. Its bigger than that. This is playing for Uncle Sam. And Sam expects a lot.
Nicklaus sent out a warning to his players. Everyone of my team has played now, he said. From now on, Ill pick only the best players. Ive told them, If you dont win, you dont play.
Day 2 was the day the U.S. determined to reverse the slide, but the reversal wouldnt come. The morning result was 2 - 1 Europe, the afternoon matches were split, 2 - 2, and going into the final day, Europe was comfortably ahead, 10 - 5.
Could America actually lose, on a great American course with a great American ' Nicklaus - as captain? For the first time, that possibility appeared legitimate. And in five of the first seven singles matches, the European made bogey. Was it possible that the Americans could change possibly their biggest defeat into their biggest comeback?
Andy Bean defeated Ian Woosnam in the opening match, but Howard Clark turned it around by beating Dan Pohl in the next match, both players struggling home with 75s. Sam Torrance and Larry Mize halved, which was a virtual European victory considering the visitors now needed just 2 points.
The news from the course, however, was encouraging for the Yanks. The U.S. led in six of the nine matches, and in the three they did not lead, they were either tied or very near the lead.
Mark Calcavecchia defeated Faldo for another U.S. point, but Olazabal nudged Europe closer to its goal when he defeated Stewart on the 18th green. Kite performed beautifully in outdueling Sandy Lyle, but a tough break doomed Ben Crenshaw in his match with Eamonn Darcy. Crenshaw snapped his putter and had to putt most of the match with an iron.
I remember breaking my putter on the sixth green, said Crenshaw. I just tapped it down on a walnut, and it snapped. It was like somebody shot me.
Crenshaw actually holed a couple of long putts to keep the match going until the final hole, but bogeyed the 18th to lose the match. Europe now needed just two more wins.
Larry Nelson and Bernhard Langer halved, and Europe was a single point away from victory. There was some criticism over the Nelson defeat since he accepted Langers offer of a half at 18, though both players stood about three feet from the cup. However, Ballesteros won the Cup on the very next match, defeating Curtis Strange on the final hole.
They (the Americans) almost pulled it out, but we did not win the 18th hole in any match, and we lost the 18th in three crucial matches, said Nicklaus. We just werent as touch in the stretch as the European guys.
The U.S. won the matches Sunday, 7 - 4, but lost the war, 15 - 13. I never thought Id live to see golf played at the level it was played Friday and Saturday, said European captain Jacklin. Today? Ive never been so worried.
The Muirfield of Scotland has become famous as a legendary venue for the British Open. But the Muirfield of Ohio became legendary for Europes first success in America, a signal that golf had truly became a world sport.
Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas
Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.
Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.
Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?
Memo to the golf gods:
If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?
Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?
It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.
With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.
It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.
We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.
We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.
Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.
Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line. Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.
We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors.
In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.
While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.
Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.
Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.
Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.
While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.
Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.
So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?
McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever
With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.
The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.
Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.
"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."
McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.
But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.
"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."
What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire
Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.
Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft
Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft
Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft
Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x