Who should be the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain?

By Ryan LavnerDecember 11, 2012, 4:18 pm

The PGA of America will announce the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain this Thursday on NBC's 'Today' show. There are a handful of candidates, but no favorites. Who should be the U.S. captain in 2014 at Gleneagles in Scotland? GolfChannel.com writers weigh in.


If only Tom Watson had made his recruiting pitch earlier.

On Sunday, the 63-year-old said that he would like to become the captain of the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Two days later, the PGA of America announced that the captain would be revealed this week.

Had Watson expressed himself earlier – in, say, August, like Larry Nelson – he likely would have increased his chances of landing the gig. Nonetheless, Watson said all the right things when asked about the opening.

“That would be cool,” he said.

“It would be a great honor,” he said.

And it would also be a proper tribute to one of the greatest players in the sport’s long history. Watson is an eight-time major champion. He won five Open Championships, four of which were held in Scotland, which conveniently enough is where the 2014 Ryder Cup will be contested (Gleneagles).

I know, I know. Watson hasn’t been a captain since 1993, but that just happens to be last time the Americans won a road Ryder Cup, at The Belfry. The man commands respect. He is a passionate leader. He is an eloquent speaker. He could devote himself fully to the task and represent the PGA with the class and dignity and grace.

And aren’t those characteristics precisely what the PGA desires?


This is a tough question, because I think the PGA of America needs to ask WHAT it wants before it can answer WHO it wants.

In the past, the Ryder Cup captaincy has been treated much like a pee-wee league tee ball game, with every player getting a turn to bat – well, every great player, that is (with the notable exception of men such as Larry Nelson and Hale Irwin). If the committee is going to continue in that direction, then the next obvious choice to step up to the plate is David Toms, a former PGA Championship winner who fits the mold and owns all the prerequisites for the job.

Even though the U.S. has lost five of the last six editions of the competition, I’m not one who thinks the sky is caving in just yet. In fact, I thought Davis Love III did a terrific job this past year, save for his pin positions on Medinah’s final two holes – though even that is the ultimate in Monday morning quarterbacking.

That said, if the PGA is insistent on getting back to its winning ways as opposed to giving everybody an opportunity, then the right man to lead them is the only one to win this century: Paul Azinger.

By forming a pod system and inspiring his players four years ago, Azinger was everything you could want in a leader. Now that his playing days are all but over, he has ample time to devote to the role, which in this scenario should last longer than 2014. That’s right – if the PGA really wants to break the mold and start a new trend, then its next captain shouldn’t serve just a two-year term, but it should be a long-term job much like national team coaches in other sports.

If that’s the direction they aim to go – and it certainly would break tradition – then Azinger would be the right man to hold the position for another decade.


Fred Couples won’t be the next American Ryder Cup captain, and he will probably never get the job. That will rank as an injustice almost equal to Larry Nelson being passed over.

Couples won’t get the job for silly political reasons. He won’t get the job as punishment for taking the job as U.S. Presidents Cup captain first. He won’t get the job because the PGA of America (Ryder Cup) and the PGA Tour (Presidents Cup) are rivals in the search for captains.

That’s a shame, and it’s just wrong, because Couples deserves the captaincy. Couples has all the credentials you want in a Ryder Cup captain. Plus, unlike everyone else who gets the job, he actually has winning experience as an American captain in international team events. He's a rare commodity in the American game today. He takes home team cups.

Couples has won 15 PGA Tour events, a major championship (Masters, 1992) and 18 Champions Tour events, two of them majors. He played on five American Ryder Cup teams with a 7-9-4 record. His qualifications go beyond that. His infectious swagger and ability to rally a cause as a team leader is clear in what he has done leading the Americans as captain to a pair of Presidents Cup titles.


It has always been a curious point of contention that every other year pundits inevitably refer to the Ryder Cup as a battle and each team’s captain as a commander, yet the U.S. side has blatantly ignored the one potential captain who has led men on a real battlefield.

For those of us who read tea leaves for a living, 65-year-old Larry Nelson’s turn at the captain’s chair seemed to have sailed in 1995 when Lanny Wadkins received the call, but as the American team’s stunning Sunday collapse this year at Medinah proved it’s time to shake things up and Nelson – who served as an infantry A-team leader in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive – would certainly qualify as an outside-the-box pick.

Whether Nelson’s leadership would be the tonic to wrest the U.S. team off of its 2-for-9 victory schneid in the biennial event remains to be seen, but what is not up for debate are his credentials.

The three-time major winner – including two PGA Championship tilts – has a 9-3-1 record in three matches and he has remained competitive on the Champions Tour when most players his age have turned their attention to golf course design or grandchildren.

The leadership of recent U.S. captains – Davis Love III, Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin, et al – isn’t up for debate. Nor is Nelson’s ability to lead. The rest is up to the PGA of America.


Well-liked and respected. Consistent player who often lets his game do the talking. Owner of a PGA Championship title among multiple Tour victories, and likely to still be relevant inside the ropes when the next Ryder Cup rolls around.

Sound familiar? It should. The description fits 2012 captain Davis Love III, and despite the Miracle at Medinah it should next apply to David Toms.

While Love took much of the fall for Sunday’s collapse, let’s not forget that while up 10-6 after two days, the world was triumphantly singing his praises. Is a single day of golf gone awry reason enough to scrap a selection process that yielded what, up until then, appeared to be an excellent captain? No.

Though rarely as bold or outlandish as some of his counterparts, Toms would bring a gritty, competitive streak to the matches in Scotland. At age 47 in 2014, he is still likely to be playing full-time on the PGA Tour – perhaps even contending, as evidenced by his T-4 finish at this year’s U.S. Open. Unlike the other options discussed here, Toms will have the next two years to form bonds and build relationships with prospective team members while playing alongside them on a weekly basis.

The delineation this past September between success and failure was razor-thin. And while the shortcomings of this year’s squad are well-documented, they can be learned from – and improved upon – without totally going back to the drawing board.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”