Simpson talked, texted way onto Ryder Cup team

By Jason SobelSeptember 25, 2014, 2:10 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – This week’s Ryder Cup matches haven’t yet begun, but there’s already been some history in the 40th edition of this event.

For the first time ever, a player early-morning texted his way onto a roster.

It was around 4 a.m. MT on Sept. 2, and Webb Simpson couldn’t sleep. He had finished competing in the Deutsche Bank Championship the previous afternoon, and then flew to Denver for the BMW Championship. With about 13 hours remaining before United States captain Tom Watson would make his three wildcard selections, Simpson felt the need to state his case.

So he sent a text message.

“I thought, I've got nothing to lose,” Simpson recounted on Thursday, “So I texted him, something like: ‘I know it's a really tough decision for you, I know Chris [Kirk] just won and I know Bill [Haas] is playing good, and you even have other options than that. But I really, really, really want to be on the team and I really want to represent the United States. I love this format, and I'll do anything to be on the team.’”

Not only did Watson immediately receive the message, he texted right back.

“He texted real quick,” Simpson continued. “I saw the three little dots on the iPhone and I was surprised he was awake. He said, ‘This is a tough decision, Webb.’ That's all he said.”

At that point, lying awake in a Denver hotel bed, Simpson assumed his Ryder Cup fate had been sealed.

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“I was like, I didn't make the team. He's going to call me and I didn't make the team.”

Within a half-hour, Watson did call him, but it wasn’t with bad news.

Instead, the captain wanted to find out why Simpson thought he would be a strong addition to the team.

“At 4:30 in the morning, it's a tough question to be asked,” Simpson admitted. “I just told him [about] my passion for the Ryder Cup from my one experience and how much I cared about it and how much I believed I thought I could bring to the team. Nothing over the other guys, but just, hey, you know, Medinah is still there. I think about it and I want another shot.

“I didn't have a lot of interaction with Captain in terms of texting and phone calls throughout the year. He would text me occasionally that I'm on his radar, but it was kind of the first time I expressed to him how bad I wanted to be on the team.”

By the end of the phone call, Watson congratulated Simpson. He told him he would be named as a captain’s pick later that day.

Needless to say, Simpson never went back to sleep. He called his wife, Dowd, who was back home in North Carolina. He woke up fellow captain’s pick Keegan Bradley with another call. He watched ESPN until he finally left for a practice round at Cherry Hills that morning.

And they all lived happily ever after. The end. Right?

Well … not exactly. Something sounds a little rotten in Denver.

According to multiple sources, Watson had already leaked the information that his third captain’s pick – after Bradley and Hunter Mahan – would be someone other than Simpson. While he wasn’t asked about that after announcing his selections in New York City that evening, the captain did offer a different take on how he came to pick Simpson.

“It really came to me this morning after struggling with a couple different players, who was going to be best for the team,” Watson explained at the time. “I kind of had a revelation.”

He insisted that it was a stack of statistics compiled by PGA of America president Ted Bishop which caught his attention.

“I was cleaning up all these stats and putting them in folders and things like that this morning, and the last one that was out there was the results from 2012 Ryder Cup right there,” Watson said. “I looked down there and I see Webb Simpson, 5‑4; Webb Simpson, 5‑4. And I said, ‘That's got to be the guy.’”

Whether it was more because of Simpson’s text message or what he told Watson over the phone or the statistics he perused that morning, we do know that the final captain’s pick was an 11th hour decision, made in the early hours of the day of that announcement.

The captain hasn’t really spoken with Simpson about that morning so far this week, but at one point Watson was relaying their conversation to a few other team members.

“We had a good laugh about that,” Simpson said. “I don't know what it was. I know he had let Keegan and Hunter know earlier, and I kind of snuck in there. So whatever it was, whatever he saw, it worked.”

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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.