One Year Should be Plenty for US Cuppers

By George WhiteNovember 4, 2004, 5:00 pm
Now that the PGA of America has shocked us all by naming Tom Lehman captain of the Ryder Cup team, they ought to stun us again with another change. Isnt it about time we do away with this business of selecting the U.S. Ryder Cuppers over a two-year period?
The two-year qualification might have had some justification in the past when you wanted to reward someone for excellence over a longer period. But we have the Presidents Cup now, which is played in the Ryder Cups off-year. That means that every year players have a chance to qualify for some kind of international play. A hot player next year will most likely make the Presidents team. After the Presidents Cup, under this scenario players would qualify all over again for the Ryder Cup.
I know, I know the Ryder Cup addresses this issue, in part, by making the Ryder Cup year the bigger year in points. Points carry twice as much weight if they are accumulated the year of the Ryder. But even though the non-Ryder years count only half as much as Ryder years, why have them at all?
This wouldnt have made a scintilla of difference this year, agreed. The Europeans won by a whopping nine-point margin, and I dont care if you had 30 people who qualified to play their 12 ' the Europeans still would have won. It was as if the PGA Tour were playing the Hooters Tour. But the question remains, why have the two-year qualifying period at all?
Would it make much difference in the team personnel? Only marginally ' this year it might have meant Kenny Perry or Fred Funk gave up his place for, say, Todd Hamilton. Im not going back through all the results of this year, but the fact remains that it wouldnt have been a major change. But in many years, one player could sway the result by two or three points. And a two-or three-point swing usually means the difference in winning and losing.
Paul Azinger said it Wednesday: 'In the end, what America needs to do is not get the right captain but get the right point system to get the hottest players; not the best, because they're all great, but the hottest players.'
I know the argument that some have advanced ' why cut it off at a year? If you want the hottest golfer, why not make it six months? One month? Heck, the hottest golfer of the moment would probably be the one who shoots the best score this day.
But you obviously have to have a cut-off point, and one year seems reasonable. And every year everyone would start out with zero points, even-steven, if the Presidents Cup would change their requirements also.
The Presidents Cup, of course, carries on with this two-year silliness, too. But its ranking this year is for 2004 only, and the list of those in the top 10 raises a few eyebrows. John Daly is No. 10. Zach Johnson is No. 8, Steve Flesch is seventh. And way up in the fifth spot is Hamilton.
That is what the Ryder Cup rankings might have looked like for this year. Absent from the top 10 are Funk, Jim Furyk, Chris Riley and David Toms. Those guys would still be eligible for a captains selection, of course, if the captain felt they could make a difference.
Of course, it wont make any difference if the United States doesnt have the best golfers ' and I mean the golfers who can meld together as a team. Hal Sutton was criticized unmercifully for this years debacle, but maybe we were expecting too much. Lets face it ' Hal might have had an inferior team ' period. If that was really the reason, then Lehman is doomed to a similar fate, and it wont matter a whit how great a captain he is.
But consider this year an anomaly ' and if youre a U.S. fan, you better pray that it is. If the next Ryder Cup is normal, it will be decided by a couple of points. And a couple of points might well be provided by the hot golfer.
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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.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.