Punch Shot: Who will be men of the match?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 3, 2013, 12:20 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – The 10th Presidents Cup begins Thursday at Muirfield Village, where a team of 12 American will take on 12 International players. GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with who they believe will be the man of the matches on both sides.


United States: Jordan Spieth

With all this experience and leadership on the roster, can a 20-year-old rookie really outgain every other teammate this week? If you’re even asking that question, you clearly haven’t been watching him this season.

The moment won’t be too big for Spieth for the simple reason that he seems to play better when the pressure is greater. Don’t believe it? Check out these stats: His scoring average before the cut this year was 69.70; his third-round scoring average was 71.33; and his final-round scoring average was 69.22. Numbers can’t tell an entire story, but they can certainly suggest one. These numbers suggest he plays his best golf when it means the most.

Throw in the fact that he’ll be competing alongside wily veteran – and putting maven -- Steve Stricker for at least a few sessions, and it should be a huge week for Spieth.

International: Ernie Els

By his own admission, Els hasn’t enjoyed a great stretch of golf recently. Since winning the BMW International Open in June, he hasn’t finished in the top 10 in 10 consecutive events.

That doesn’t mean he’s been terrible, by any means. Els placed T-17 at the Dunhill Links Championship last week and has showed signs of turning things around. Competing here at Muirfield Village, where he won the Memorial Tournament nine years ago, should help rekindle some fond memories.

But there’s more to my pick than history. With seven rookies on the roster, the International team’s hopes may rest on the mighty shoulders of its most experienced player. The other 11 team members each look up to Els – heck, three of ‘em came up through the ranks playing golf at his academy in South Africa – and he’ll feel some pressure to deliver.

And I just happen to like Els’ chances when the pressure becomes greater.


Although the outcome seems foretold, the players who will emerge from this week’s Presidents Cup fray as the men of the match seem less certain.

Conventional wisdom would suggest it would be a Tiger Woods or Adam Scott, undisputed team front men, who would collect this week’s MVP hardware, but historically those type of clutch performances come from unexpected places.

For the United States, Steve Stricker is the likely candidate. The part-timer earned his spot this week at Muirfield Village playing on a limited schedule, has been as consistent as anyone over the last few months and appears to have the perfect partner in newcomer Jordan Spieth.

Stricker is also keen to score some personal redemption following a dismal performance at last year’s Ryder Cup when he failed to earn a point.

As for the International side, Graham DeLaet has the look of a surprise hero. Although he’s playing his first Presidents Cup, the Canadian had a torrid playoff run to earn his first trip to East Lake last month and ranks as the Tour’s best ball-striker which will be key on a course most consider the ultimate ball-striker’s golf course.


Give me Jason Day for the Internationals, Matt Kuchar for the Americans.

These two guys squared off in a semifinal match at the Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year, with Kuchar taking down Day.

They both relish these man-to-man games. Kuchar was the U.S. Amateur champ in ’97. He won the Accenture Match Play Championship this year and finished third in it two years ago. He is 15-3 overall in the event. He’s 4-5-3 overall in Ryder Cup and President Cup matches, but poised to turn that into a winning record, too.

Day likes mixing it up in match play. He likes the little mind games that go with it. He finished third in the Accenture Match Play Championship this year and is 9-4 overall in the event. His 1-3-1 Presidents Cup record is due for a boost.

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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.

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.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.