Debate: U.S. Ryder Cup player under most pressure

By Jason SobelSeptember 5, 2012, 9:01 pm

The rosters have been filled out and the waiting game has begun. Now the question becomes, who on the U.S. Ryder Cup team is under the most pressure to perform at Medinah? We asked our writers to weigh in. Here are their thoughts.


Every time we address one of these, “Which player has the most pressure on him…” questions, I ponder the possible answers and always circle back to the same one.

Tiger Woods.

Such is life when you’re a 74-time PGA Tour winner, 14-time major champion and one of the world’s most recognizable faces.

Let’s face it: If Jim Furyk or Brandt Snedeker lays an egg at Medinah and fails to perform up to expectations, it becomes a source of consternation within the shallow walls of the golf world and its inhabitants, from players to media to fans.

If Woods stinks up the joint, though, it turns into worldwide headlines.

Call it the Mom Clause. If Furyk or Snedeker or any of the other United States team members individually spit the bit against the Europeans, will your mom even hear about it? Depends on whom your mom is, but probably not. If Woods fails in spectacular fashion, however, you can bet that Sunday evening phone call with mom will include a question about why that popular golfer in all the commercials didn’t help his country win the competition. The situation instantly turns from a few bad swings to an international incident.

And that, my friends, is what we called added pressure. When the eyes of the world are watching your every move – as they always are for Tiger – nobody else will have more of it resting on their shoulders. 


The rookies. All four them – Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner – will feel the most pressure later this month when they roll up at Medinah for their first Ryder Cup. They always do.

It’s the nature of golf’s most-intense event, where every match feels like a Sunday at major and every putt is handicapped by the pressure that comes with playing, not just for yourself, but for your flag and friends.

Although they were not rookies, it’s the kind of stuff that sent Mark Calcavecchia into the dunes at the 1991 matches at Kiawah and reduced Hunter Mahan to tears in 2010 in Wales. Nothing can prepare a first-timer for the self-inflicted pressure that waits on the first tee.

This year’s crop has the advantage of the friendly confines of Medinah, where the Chicago galleries will surely be whipped into a jingoistic frenzy. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy.

Sure Simpson played well in last year’s Presidents Cup and Dufner has been to his share of Auburn-Alabama games, but nothing can prepare them for the weight of playing for your partner, your team, your country.

Al Geiberger was a rookie on the 1967 Ryder Cup when then-captain Ben Hogan approached him with a simple piece of advice. “Don’t lose,” the Hawk hissed.

This year’s captain Davis Love III won’t have to make the same curt speech, his four rookies already know what’s on the line.


Already, there are cries of cronyism.

Jim Furyk got picked even though he is the only team member without a victory this season. (Snubs Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler each won in 2012.)

Jim Furyk got picked because he played on four Ryder Cup teams with Davis Love III. (Mahan and Fowler have combined to play three Ryder Cups.)

Jim Furyk got picked because he’s good in the team room. (Mahan and Fowler are popular, too.)

That’s such an interesting phrase, isn’t it? Good in the team room. What does it mean? That the player gives the best motivational speeches? That he leads the most boisterous cheers? That he is the team’s best conversationalist?

Whatever it means, whatever it entails, it’s the reason Furyk – and, to a slightly lesser extent, Steve Stricker – is considered an invaluable asset to the team, because he has Ryder Cup experience and because, yes, he’s good in the team room.

Love suggested that during a practice round, he could send out Stricker and Furyk with a rookie like Brandt Snedeker, and in one day, after just 18 holes, the first-timer would be fit to perform during the most pressure-packed three days of his life.

But that alone isn’t enough to justify a pick. This is Phil Mickelson’s ninth appearance. This is Woods’ seventh Cup. They’re veterans, too.

Furyk’s overall record in seven previous appearances (8-15-4) leaves little to be desired, and his point percentage (.37) is the worst among 2012 team members who have played at least two Ryder Cups, and teams he’s been on have gone 2-5 since 1997. Furyk is virtually assured of not playing four balls, given his 1-8-1 mark in that format, and his 2012 meltdowns (U.S. Open, Bridgestone) are still fresh.

So, is veteran savvy still that important? We’ll find out later this month.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”