Ryder captain Watson pleased with U.S. win

By Jason SobelOctober 8, 2013, 6:57 pm

At the Presidents Cup, United States players slap each other on the butt and perform silly handshakes. At the Ryder Cup, they tense up and get goosebumps. At the Presidents Cup, their clutch putts always seem to find the bottom of the cup. At the Ryder Cup, they always seem to miss. At the Presidents Cup, they win. At the Ryder Cup, well, you know the story.

Based on that information, this past weekend’s 18½ to 15½ victory at the Presidents Cup shouldn’t mean much, right? It should hardly serve as a potential preview of things to come at next year’s Ryder Cup, wouldn’t ya think?

Not so fast, says the man in charge.

“This is an indicator and I think a pretty good indicator of how the players play together, how they play a match very similar to the Ryder Cup,” captain Tom Watson said in a phone interview with GolfChannel.com on Monday. “I get a lot of positive thoughts about what happened in the Presidents Cup.”

Watson sat in the living room of his Bucyrus, Kan., home watching as much of this past weekend’s coverage as he could. What he couldn’t watch live, he would record on his DVR, then he’d catch up at night. In between, he would check in by phone with assistant captain Andy North and PGA of America president Ted Bishop, each of whom were on site at Muirfield Village. When asked how much he was able to glean from the competition, he explained without hesitation, “I got a good feel of what was going on.”

And he liked what he saw.

To say the captain did his homework is an understatement. Less than a minute after picking up the phone on the morning following the U.S. victory, Watson was ticking statistics off the top of his head.

“Well, you look at the team’s record and only one player was less than 50 percent. Everyone else was 50 percent or above it,” he recited. “The American team played well. They played very well.”

His categorization of “they” will now morph into “we” as the calendar officially shows next year’s match at Gleneagles as the next of the international team events. As we’ve learned in the past, of course, one year can make a world of difference. A roster comprised of largely the same players that hasn’t lost in a decade-in-a-half at the Presidents Cup has by contrast won just a single Ryder Cup title this millennium.

Even so, Watson believes his team gained more than just false confidence at an event it always wins.

“What impressed me the most,” he said almost incredulously, “were all the birdies that were made. The golf fan likes to see birdies.”

So, too, does the captain, who took special notice of the Phil Mickelson-Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner-Zach Johnson and Tiger Woods-Matt Kuchar pairings as ones that looked impressive.

Not that he’s tipping his hand, especially so far in advance.

“It looks as if Tiger and Kooch had a lot of good mo’ going on,” he said of the new partnership that compiled a 3-1-1 record together. “I’ll look at the relationships that were made. I’ll talk to other people who were involved there and get some more inside info. I’m not going to make team decisions yet, but they certainly played well together in the Presidents Cup. I’ll make decisions based on how players are playing and who they prefer to play with.”

He then gives a slight indication that such decisions may not be as much of a democracy as they were under Fred Couples’ reign last week.

“If I were a player on the team,” Watson declared, “I’d play with anyone the captain wanted me to.”

All of which could, at some point, lead back to the notion that American players have more fun at the Presidents Cup, enjoying the looser environment and lessened pressure.

Watson knows that idea exists, but doesn’t necessarily buy into it.

“You saw the Ryder Cup team on Friday and Saturday last year,” he explained. “They certainly had a lot of high-fives and fist-pumping and all sorts of things going on. When you’re winning, you can do that. When you’re not, you don’t have quite as much of that.”

The U.S. team had plenty of those celebrations going on during the Presidents Cup. Watson has been charged with ensuring they continue next year, too. But he also understands the only thing that can elicit such festiveness.

“One simple word,” the captain said. “Win.”

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.