My 2016 moment: Reed-Rory singles match

By Ryan LavnerDecember 20, 2016, 6:00 pm

This won’t surprise you, but owning a national-media credential has its advantages. Flash area, locker room and range access? Yeah, it all helps us do our jobs. But to me, the single-greatest perk is being able to walk inside the ropes (not least because, as one of the vertically challenged, it’s a chore to watch among the masses).

Never was this more evident than at this year’s Ryder Cup, and the Sunday singles match between Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy. The first eight holes of that showdown are My Moment of 2016.

There were 12 matches that day, 24 players, but it seemed like all eyes were on the Reed-McIlroy opener. And for good reason. A day earlier, Reed had seemingly dragged Jordan Spieth across the finish line in their Saturday fourballs match, making seven birdies and an eagle to dispatch Europe’s best team. And McIlroy, one of the most amiable superstars in sports, was every bit as animated as Reed, confronting a beer-soaked spectator who told him to, well, we can’t print that here; barking the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” after fans tried to tweak him about his ex-fiancée; and even bowing to the crowd after a match-clinching eagle, as if to say, “You’re welcome for the show.”

That 11:04 a.m. pairing was what everyone wanted, and so dozens of media types (hey, who said print was dead?) waited on the first tee.

Normally at the Ryder Cup, I walk around the course with a radio stuffed in my left ear – it keeps me informed with so many other matches going on simultaneously. But there was no need for the background noise that day. Either Reed would win, setting the tone for a U.S. rout, or McIlroy would beat the Americans’ heart and soul, paving the way for yet another European comeback.

What happened those next two hours, those first eight holes, was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced on a golf course. If they weren’t going to beat each other with birdies, it looked as if they might just settle the score with a steel-cage match.

Posnanski: Rory vs. Reed: Good times never seemed so good

Everyone recalls the eighth hole, of course, but there were plenty of memorable interactions before then. Reed won the fifth after driving the green and pouring in an 8-footer for eagle. On the next hole, he sank a short putt, then mocked McIlroy’s bow to the crowd and wagged his finger. McIlroy never saw the gesture, but it wasn’t lost on those following the match, including two interested European observers.

“Did you see that s—?” pop star Niall Horan said, as he and vice captain Ian Poulter headed down the hill toward the seventh tee.

“Yeah,” replied Poulter, who then rattled off a few expletives of his own.

McIlroy and Reed matched birdies on the seventh, but the antics continued, as McIlroy stood defiantly on the green and shushed the crowd. (Seriously, the NFL would have had a field day with these demonstrative celebrations.)

Funny, but there was a slight letdown after both players hit their tee shots on the eighth. McIlroy was well short, about 50 feet, prompting more jeers from the crowd. Reed wasn’t tight either, but he had a better look from about 25 feet. They were the worst shots they’d hit it about an hour.

As I stood next to the grandstand behind the eighth green, there already was a sense of foreboding as McIlroy lined up the putt.

“This is going down,” a fan in the first row grumbled.

And it did, spectacularly, as McIlroy’s birdie bomb touched off a wild celebration. He shook with exhilaration, cupped his right hand to his ear and screamed, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Sure, there were some appreciative cheers, but the boos were so loud you’d have thought the Yankees’ closer had just served up a three-run homer to the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth.

“Let’s go, Reed!” the same fan now hollered. “F— that!”

Unfazed, Reed whacked his putt up the hill and into the cup. He turned toward McIlroy, extended his right hand and, in a moment that was forever immortalized, wagged his index finger, Dikembe Mutombo style. No, no, no. The ground shook, $8 beers flew through the air, and McIlroy could only laugh at the absurdity of it all. He waited for Reed behind the green – not to slug him, thankfully, but to offer a fist bump and a pat on the back. It was a truce.

“It’s over,” I told a golf-writing colleague as we floated toward the ninth tee. “That’s as good as it’ll get.”

And unfortunately, it was. After going a combined 9 under in a four-hole span, their play petered out from there. “We just played normal golf,” Reed would say later. I headed back toward the media tent at the turn, and the duo combined for only a few more birdies, the last coming on the 18th green, where Reed closed out the match with an 8-footer and unleashed one more crazed “Come on!” The teeming crowds roared once last time, a satisfying end to an epic duel – and the best few hours I’ve ever spent inside the ropes.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.