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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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.