Toms is easy pick as next U.S. Ryder Cup captain

By Jason SobelOctober 3, 2012, 3:32 pm

Throughout losses in seven of the last nine editions of the Ryder Cup, the job of U.S. captain has most often mirrored that of the president: Only half the people want the man there and even more want him gone once his term is over.

Depending on how you look at it, one man will soon be either honored or sentenced to preside over the team that will compete at Gleneagles in 2014. If the term “thankless” comes to mind, it should. There has often been a public mentality domestically that states if a captain loses, he’s a loser – and if he wins, well, he was supposed to anyway. Such irrational thinking has led some to believe that the next captain will break the mold. Perhaps a legend of the game from long ago, or someone who’s already won or a guy with a fiery demeanor that could inspire his troops.

Officials from the PGA of America don’t want to talk about it. Not yet, at least. Out of “honor and respect” for Davis Love III and the competition that just ended, they haven’t publicly discussed potential captains for the next one. At some point, though – some point soon – these officials will begin internal discussions in regard to whom should succeed Love.

Don’t expect the unexpected. Sure, decision-makers could buck all recent trends or play a newfound hunch, but based on everything we’ve come to know about how the position is chosen, it’s easy to narrow down the list of possible candidates by first figuring out who won’t get the gig.

It won’t be a man whose captaincy would simply right a wrong, an admission that he’s been getting screwed over for years.

Sorry, Larry Nelson.

It won’t be a man who has held the position previously – even if he was the last one to win.

Sorry, Paul Azinger.

It won’t be a man who already has a similar job – no matter how loved, how revered, how successful – because the PGA of America isn’t taking anyone else’s sloppy seconds.

Sorry, Fred Couples.

It won’t be a man who is still very much in the prime of his career, even if his age suggests he’s nearing the twilight years.

Sorry, Steve Stricker.

So, whom will it be? Well, we can deduce some prerequisites based on the last few captains: He’ll be a major champion … in his mid-to-late 40s … with multiple Ryder Cup appearances on his resume … and still active on the PGA Tour.

Those requirements fit a few different players at varying degrees, but many still leave something to be desired. Scott Verplank doesn’t have a major. Justin Leonard is too young. Kenny Perry isn’t regularly on Tour anymore.

Only one man fits the bill. He owns a major title – and it’s the PGA Championship, no less – he’ll be 47 at the time of the next Ryder Cup, he’s played on three previous teams and he’s competed in 18 events so far this season.

Ladies and gentlemen, your next U.S. captain … David Toms.

“If asked, I would not turn it down,” he recently said matter-of-factly. “I would love to be a part of it.”

If there’s an issue with Toms’ candidacy, it has less to do with his resume and more to do with an inherent inability to puff out his chest and declare himself the best man for the job. He’s not the type to lobby on his own behalf. He won’t wallpaper PGA of America headquarters with “VOTE 4 ME” posters. He isn’t going to glad-hand or campaign or otherwise try and win ‘em over.

“If you deserve it, I don’t think you need to do that,” Toms explained. “If they think I’m worthy of the job, that would be great. It’s like being a captain’s pick. I would never as a player go to the captain and say, ‘Hey, watch me play!’ You go out and represent yourself and if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”

There are those who may take issue with Toms’ selection because he’s too much like Love, who just presided over a heartbreaking defeat. Which is to say, he’s a nice guy, well respected amongst his peers and would likely be a players’ captain, listening to their requests and responding by obliging them.

None of those should be perceived as negative personality traits. One thing we have learned over the years is that there is no blueprint to picking a successful captain. The last two winners have included the cerebral Ben Crenshaw and the spirited Paul Azinger, two men completely different in most aspects, but each possessing those aforementioned traits.

Does Toms have what it takes to lead the team to a much-needed victory two years from now? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean the team will absolutely win, but it does mean he will absolutely give them a chance.

If you’re a PGA of America official and starting your search for the next man to lead this team, the wish list for a captain should begin and end there. Listen to Toms speak and he clearly understands the most important aspect of finding success in this event.

“I think you have to find some way to break through that pressure barrier,” he said. “That’s how Europe does it and they seem to play well.”

It would be neither a flashy choice nor an outlandish one, but in keeping with similar prerequisites for the next captain, the PGA of America would be sending a message to future Ryder Cup competitors and U.S. fans: The sky is not falling. We are not as far from winning as it may seem.

That’s an important message to communicate between now and the 2014 event.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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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.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

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.