Freddys Putt Made a Statement
Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco rolled them in, all three on putts that were anything but gimmes. Take any one of the three out of the equation, and America probably loses ' again. But maybe this year the U.S. men have finally learned what it takes to win ' and that is to play well on the final hole.
The Americans have so often failed in singles on the last hole. Their problems with 18 began in 1987, when another Nicklaus-captained team played on a Nicklaus course, Muirfield outside Columbus, Ohio. There the Americans proved to be miserable closers, failing to win the 18th in any match, making bogey or worse five times, losing three critical matches in a 15-13 defeat.
That began a trend in Ryder Cup play which began in 1985 and now has reached into last year with the U.S. winning only three times in the last nine matches. The Americans have had more success in the Presidents Cup, where four of six have been played on home soil.
But Davis Love III bogeyed the 18th in the 2003 Presidents to allow Robert Allenby to escape with a tie in the final match, necessitating the Woods-Els three-hole playoff before it was agreed that this exercise would be declared a draw. The 18th has been nothing but a problem for the Americans down through the years.
This year, though, Couples, Mickelson and DiMarco refused to give up on 18 after all three had lost leads which many thought they wouldnt. Couples was 2-up on Vijay Singh though 11, Mickelson was 2-up on Angel Cabrera through 9, and DiMarco trailed Stuart Appleby on only one hole ' the 16th.
But of all the winners Sunday, the most surprising was Freddy. Truth be known, he probably shouldnt have been here. He has missed six cuts this year, including his most recent attempt at the 84 Lumber. He stands a woeful 159th on the tour putting statistics. Some suspected Nicklaus was overly impressed when Couples finished second in Jacks own Memorial tournament this year.
Nicklaus made Couples a wild-card pick, then put him with Woods in the opening foursomes match. Their International opponents won, 4 and 3, then won again in fourballs by 3-1 against Couples and David Toms. Nicklaus was already being widely second-guessed for picking 45-year-old Freddy.
Couples teamed with Love Saturday to escape with a half, though. And Saturday night, when Nicklaus asked his team for suggestions of whom they wanted to play, only Freddy wanted to try his luck against Singh ' ranked No. 2 in the world, incidentally.
Why would anyone want to play Singh? Because I like him, Couples said simply.
He's a great player and we've played - this is the third time. He beat me in Australia on the last hole and I beat him here. I just figured maybe I could lull him to sleep.
It was no (slap) intended to play against him. I enjoy playing with him Because he's such a great player, I figure if I beat him, there might be a small golden rainbow out there. And I did.
Couples did, even though he really hasnt been a major force in the world of golf since 1998, when he finished ninth in the tour money race. A back that has all the strength of a strand of spaghetti has prevented him from doing any more damage, particularly since 1992 when he has the top money-winner in the world.
His win Sunday kept the Americans head above water until Mickelson and DiMarco could come to the rescue. He rolled in a 20-foot left-to-right slider on the final hole for the birdie, somewhat reminiscent of his 45-footer in 1996 which toppled Singh on the 17th hole.
It was a great match, said Freddy. He hit the ball extremely well and I got it around. To hole that putt in front of everyone ' I did the same thing, I don't know how many years ago, but on the old No. 17. So it was a great match and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
Eight of 10 times, Singh will win a match against Couples ' and this was Freddy speaking, being painfully honest. But in a one day time, I have just as good a shot as anyone, he said.
Singh shocked everyone when he hit his second shot over the green, then his third-shot chip back left him six feet from the hole.
It gave me a little charge of energy just to say, Hey, even if I don't miss this, which is two out of ten times, he still has to make a tricky little 6 footer and we'll see what happens. But it was great to see it go in, which was Freddy-speak for, I will miss that putt eight of 10 times, but even if I miss, he can miss that tricky little six-footer. But it was great to see it go in.
Couples prayed that he might be an example. And in the end, he was.
To be honest, I thought, if I could play with him and handle him, that I would be doing the same - several guys would be excited about that. And it happened that way and then the putt on the 18th, was thrilling. It was energetic, and if I could throw one word out there, it was karma.
Karma, indeed. He had played his first two matches against Retief Goosen and lost definitively. No thanks, he didnt want any more of that. But against Singh, he called up a lot of old memories and ' he prevailed! Maybe he has started something for the U.S. now. Old guys sometimes bring back pleasant old memories. Freddy did.
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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
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
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
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.
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."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
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.
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.