Punch Shot: Picking Presidents Cup wild cards

By Rex HoggardAugust 28, 2013, 1:30 pm

This week's Deutsche Bank Championship is the last event to automatically qualify for the Presidents Cup, after that it will be up to Fred Couples and Nick Price to fill out their squads via two captain's picks. So who should get the coveted spots? GolfChannel.com writers offer their selections based on the current standings. (Note: Tune into Golf Channel at 2PM ET, Wednesday Sept. 4 as the captains officially reveal their picks)


United States: Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson

Each year, team captains step to a microphone expected to deliver some outside-the-box pick and each year we walk away feeling underwhelmed. Expect a similar scenario next week when Presidents Cup captains Fred Couples and Nick Price make their picks for this year’s matches.

For Couples, the status quo adds up to Stricker and Johnson, Nos. 11 and 12 on the current U.S. points list, respectively. As a part-timer, Stricker remains one of the game’s most consistent players. He is 10-for-10 in cuts made this season with five top-10 finishes, and Johnson has started to show signs of life after a slow summer.

Besides, if you’re Couples why fix what isn’t broken (the U.S. leads the series 7-1-1)?

International: Tim Clark and Brendon de Jonge

As for Price, Clark at No. 11 is a bono fide no-brainer. He sat out the last match in 2011 with an injury but when he is healthy the South African is a match play machine; while No. 15 de Jonge would qualify as the only “surprise” pick.

De Jonge has quietly played his way onto the “best Tour player without a title” short list and considers Price something of a mentor, which would make his selection something similar to the leap of faith that Greg Norman took when he made Adam Scott a pick in 2009. And we all know how that turned out.


United States: Steve Stricker and Jordan Spieth

Give me the putter and the new kid on the American side.

I’ll take Stricker and Spieth. Stricker’s highly regarded putting stroke wasn’t quite right a year ago when he headed to the Ryder Cup, but he has it back, ranking 10th in strokes gained-putting on the PGA Tour this year. He’s a no-brainer as a teammate. He hits a ton of fairways, a ton of greens and makes a lot of birdies. Spieth is an exciting fresh face, a rookie with a load of confidence and momentum. He has a victory and a second-place finish in his last five starts. He has four top-10s in his last 10 starts.

International: Tim Clark and K.J. Choi

On the International side, give me the “little golfer who could” and the South Korean “Tank.”

I’ll take Clark and his steady, gritty play. Clark will hit a load of fairways, and at his best he’ll hit a lot of greens. There’s a lack of depth on the International side among potential captain’s picks, nobody riding a hot run or momentum, so I’m going with what I know. I’m taking Choi, the 43-year-old who is a former winner at Muirfield Village. Choi won the Memorial in ’07 and missed just one cut in 14 starts there.


United States: Jordan Spieth and Billy Horschel

Let’s be real: Who doesn’t want to see a 20-year-old wunderkind with a PGA Tour victory and another playoff loss competing among the world’s best at Muirfield Village? Unlike some young players who have been picked in the past, though, this would be less a choice for the future and more a choice for the present. There are few players who have been better than Spieth this summer. He deserves to be on this team.

The second pick is more difficult, because you’d need to overlook Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson – all veterans who are higher on the points standings than Horschel. But I’m a big fan of enthusiasm and a bigger fan of ball-striking. Horschel would bring some much-needed passion to a team that is already filled with guys who have been there and done that. While others could be going through the motions in a non-Ryder Cup year, Horschel might provide a spark similar to the one Nicolas Colsaerts gave to the European team at Medinah.

International: Tim Clark and Brendon de Jonge

Clark isn’t going to wow anybody. He isn’t going to blast 330-yard drives or start raining in birdie putts. But he’s as steady as they come, which is much needed in both team formats. In fourballs, I’d pair him with a guy like Angel Cabrera, who prefers to take dead aim at flagsticks. Or maybe as a calming influence on Brandon Grace, who will be playing his first Presidents Cup. He has unique value in that role.

Maybe I’m thinking more with my head than my heart on this one, but I think de Jonge gets picked by captain Nick Price. Both natives of Zimbabwe, a pick from his hero could launch de Jonge’s career into the next level, much like that of Greg Norman did for Adam Scott four years ago. And let’s face it: After the top 10, the cupboard is pretty bare for the International side. When faced with a decision, expect Price to go with a known commodity whose cell phone number he’s already got programmed into his phone.


United States: Steve Stricker and Jordan Spieth

Can’t have enough good putters on a 12-man team, and Stricker, even in semi-retirement, hasn’t lost any of his touch on and around the greens. The limited schedule has also seemed to help his game – top-10s in half his starts, including a pair of runners-up – so every time he tees it up, he’s ready to play. As for Spieth, he’s been the year’s main revelation (seven top-10s, one victory) and deserves to be rewarded, not to mention that he’ll be a fixture on these teams for years to come. Might as well get him ready for that environment now.

International team: Tim Clark and Marc Leishman

Clark doesn’t have a top-10 in his last seven starts, but he would be a steadying presence on a roster dotted with young players. The diminutive South African has played in three Presidents Cup matches, compiling a 5-2-8 record, and is one of the straightest drivers in the game. Leishman, meanwhile, has cooled a bit after a torrid spring, but has been in the mix at two majors this season and could pair well with fellow Aussies Adam Scott and Jason Day.


United States: Steve Stricker and Jordan Spieth

Amid a season of semi-retirement, Stricker has had a remarkably consistent campaign, with eight top-25 finishes in just 10 starts. Though it’s likely he would be on the team had he played more frequently this year, he still remains a solid addition as one who can easily partner with Tiger Woods – not to mention the tips he might offer the world No. 1 on the putting greens. Spieth is arguably the easiest choice for Fred Couples, as the 20-year-old has taken the PGA Tour by storm this year and has prior match-play experience from the Junior Ryder Cup as well as the Walker Cup.

International: Tim Clark and Marc Leishman

The veteran Clark appears to be a likely choice as a player who can add to the South African contingent at Muirfield Village while mentoring younger countrymen like Branden Grace and Richard Sterne. Leishman has struggled with consistency this year but demonstrated the ability to play well against the game’s best multiple times, finishing inside the top 15 at the Masters (T-4), Players Championship (T-8) and PGA Championship (T-12). His game would likely get a boost from the camaraderie with fellow Aussies Adam Scott and Jason Day.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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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.