Backspin Major Nerves and Disappointment

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 18, 2007, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: In our new feature, Backspin, the editorial staff takes a look back on the biggest stories from the past week in golf -- with a spin.
AN ANGEL'S DEVILISH GRIN: Angel Cabrera stumbled home Sunday but a par at the last proved to be enough to crown him U.S. Open champion. The Argentine, who began the final round four shots back of Aaron Baddeley, took a three-shot lead with three holes to play and then promptly bogeyed 16 and 17. Cabrera composed himself, however, with a massive drive on 18 and a two-putt par. That was the difference as Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk couldn't pass him.
BackspinCabrera was as visibly shaky as any player you will ever see coming down the stretch of a major championship. He was tighter than Tiger's red shirt. He smoked cigarettes, paced feverishly and almost wasted his hard-fought advantage -- but he didn't. That nervous smile he displayed on the final few holes turned to one of pure joy when Woods missed his birdie effort on the final hole of the championship. Cabrera now joins Roberto De Vicenzo, who won the the 1967 British Open at Hoylake, as their country's only major championship winners on the regular tour.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods couldn't get a putt to drop all week at Oakmont. (Getty Images)
MAJOR LETDOWNS: They were two former U.S. Open champions, ranked Nos. 1 and 3 in the world, chasing the world's 41st-ranked player. Woods and Furyk, based on past results and pedigree, seemed likely to knock off Cabrera. But, in the end, both fell one shot shy of catching the Argentine.
BackspinThough both were seen smiling during the trophy presentation, this certainly was a bitter pill to swallow for two of the world's best. As well as a little dj vu. Furyk's gaff on the 17th led to a second straight runner-up showing at the U.S. Open - both times finishing at 6 over par and one shot out of a playoff. As for Tiger, he again played in the last group on Sunday - like he did at the Masters - and once again failed to come from behind to win the title. He's a spectacular 12-for-12 with at least a share of the lead when entering the final round of a major championship, but now falls to 0-29 when trailing after 54.
TALE OF TWO ROUNDS: Vaunted Oakmont was being labeled by none other than NBCs Johnny Miller as the toughest course in the world as the players made their way to the first tee box on Thursday. And first- and second-round scores were, for the most part, backing up Millers assertions. But on Friday, Englands Paul Casey fashioned a near flawless 4-under 66 that had fellow players fawning over the accomplishment, and comparisons to Millers closing 63 in 1973 began to become part of the conversation.
Backspin Caseys 66 and Millers 63 are similar in a few ways. Both were nearly 11 strokes lower than the field average for their respective days. Both men hit 13 of 14 fairways. And both men only made one bogey. But there are few glaring differences. Millers 63 came on a softer, more receptive course. But Millers 63 also included 18 of 18 greens hit in regulation ' and it occurred on a Sunday and won him the tournament. Game, set and match Miller.
LEAVING ON EMPTY: Phil Mickelson entered this years championship with a lot of uncertainty and plenty of questions, thanks mainly to a wrist injury he incurred during a practice round a few weeks prior at Oakmont. He left with few answers and even more U.S. Open frustration. He also left on Friday. Mickelson shot rounds of 74-77 to miss out on the weekend by a stroke when Cabrera birdied his final hole in Round 2 to push the cut line to 10 over. It was the first time since 1999 that Mickelson had missed the cut in a major championship.
Backspin Lefty looked in decent shape after his opening 4-over performance. But a stretch of bad golf on Friday ' playing holes 7-10 in 6 over ' cost him any chance to atone for last years disaster. It may, however, have been a good thing, as Mickelson didnt have to subject his injured wrist to the venues trying conditions. Mickelson's exit was not only premature, but it left a bad taste in many mouths as some felt Phil was whining about the difficultly of the course. Either way, he has five weeks to get himself straightened out ' physically and mentally ' before the Open Championship, which just happens to take place at Carnoustie, site of Mickelsons previous major missed cut.
FATHERS DAY ON THE COUCH: This week was billed by some at the ultimate battle: Golfs best players vs. Golfs best course. Unfortunately for some, Oakmont was the clear winner. Joining Mickelson with the weekend off were Colin Montgomerie, Adam Scott, Retief Goosen, Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Davis Love III and Sergio Garcia.
Backspin If youll notice, that group contains the majority of the principals in last years dramatic finish at Winged Foot. Mickelson, Monty and Harrington all had chances to win and failed to do so. That opportunity was not extended to them this year; though, that might not be the worst thing considering what Furyk is feeling right now. Garcia is now 0-for-32 as a professional in major championships and has missed the cut in each of the first two this season. He seems to have developed a distaste for pre-tournament press conferences at majors. If he keeps playing like this, he wont have to worry about being invited to any more.
NOT SUITABLE FOR THE CHILDREN: Geoff Ogilvy returned to the U.S. Open as its defending champion, and as a newly minted 30-year-old. With his birthday coming last Monday, that meant not a single player in the field under the age of 30 had a major championship to his credit. It was the first time since 1991 that such an anomaly was true.
Backspin The way the day began, it looked promising that a 20something could possibly walk away with victory. Paul Casey, 27; Aaron Baddeley, 26; and Justin Rose, 26, all started the final round in the last three groups of the day. And all three imploded - early. Combined, they shot a total of 34 over. Remember, Miller was 26 when he won here back in '73. But the fact is, the game has since changed. Youth is no longer served. The game and its major champions are now more like fine wines - they get better with age.
EURO FAMINE: The 1999 British Open at Carnoustie will forever be known as Jean Van de Veldes epic collapse. It is also is becoming increasingly famous for being the last time a European won a major championship. Paul Lawries playoff victory was the last in what has now has become an eight-year drought.
Backspin Amazingly, Ireland's Great Potato Famine in the mid-1800s was about half as long as this major-less run. Swede Niclas Fasth was the low European this past week, finishing fourth. Perhaps the drought will end in about a month when the Open Championship is once again contested at Carnoustie. If so, the site may well become the permanent home of the season's third major.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: If you were paying attention closely, you would have noticed that the man on the bag for Cabrera was none other than Eddie Gardino, he of 'Big Break' fame; For the fourth straight year, an international-born player won the U.S. Open; 11 amateurs made the Oakmont field, but none made the cut; the 484-yard, par-4 18th played as the hardest hole of the week at 4.602; the 288-yard, par-3 eighth was the fifth hardest at 3.452; the 358-yard, par-4 14th was the easiet at 4.053; Baddeley led the field in putting entering the final round, then took 34 putts on Sunday; Fasth led the field in putting for the week (1.58); Woods led the field in G.I.R (68%); Fred Funk (T30) led the field in fairways hit (73%); Cabrera was second to George McNeill (63rd) in driving distance (McNeill averaged 311.4 yards); former U.S. Ryder Cup member Chris Riley won on the Nationwide Tour, beating reigning NCAA champion Jamie Lovemark in a playoff; Ashleigh Simon, 18, became the youngest ever professional winner on the Ladies European; Johnny Miller shot 63 in the final round of the 1973 U.S. Open to win at Oakmont.
Backspin Although quite a player himself, Gardino has made a fine career as a caddie, most notably looping for Sergio Garcia in the 2002 Ryder Cup, and now a major champion in Cabrera; This is the first time in U.S. Open history that an American hasn't won the championship in four years; it's rare that the final hole on the course is also the toughest; for all the complaining about the eighth hole, which became the first-ever 300-yard par-3 in a major on Sunday, the players seemed to handle it OK; Cabrera hit 32 percent of his fairways, 61 percent of his greens in regulation, and averaged 32 putts per round over the weekend -- and won; congrats to Riley -- maybe this will awaken his slumbering career; Simon, making just her fourth start as a pro, may well be someone to watch in future years should she compete regularly on the LPGA Tour; Miller shot 63 in '73? Wow, somebody should have mentioned that this past week.
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    What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

    Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

    Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

    Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

    Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

    Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.