Watson doesn't gamble with opening fourball pairings

By Jason SobelSeptember 25, 2014, 5:51 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – It was nearly three full months ago – just before Independence Day, coincidentally enough – and Tom Watson was talking about the Ryder Cup. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since being named to the role of captain two decades after he last held the position, very few of his conversations haven’t veered into this territory.

As the last United States captain to win on foreign soil, Watson owns a unique perspective into the strategy of trying to triumph when the crowds and the weather and the bounces and maybe even the golf gods are all engineered to keep you from doing just that. He’s had time to think about it. He’s had time to consider every fitting analogy for this exact scenario.

So when he’s asked about it, he doesn’t flinch. Instead, Watson props himself up on the edge of his chair and leans forward as if he’s issuing top secret information. Then he offers an explanation that sounds at once elementary in nature and yet also completely appropriate and justified.

“It’s kind of like going to the casino,” he said. “They’ve got the advantage. You just have to play better or get lucky, but you can beat them. You can win at the casino; you can win at the Ryder Cup.”

With his opening fourball pairings, Watson essentially played the game by the book. He didn’t take a major gamble at this threatening casino, didn’t split kings or bet on snake eyes or move his entire stack of chips all-in.

Video: Breaking down Day 1 fourball matches

Instead, the captain named three teams that should have come as little surprise to those who have been paying attention during the interminable lead-up to Friday’s festivities and a fourth which only comes as slightly unforeseen.

Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley were always going to be a team since their first pairing at Medinah two years ago; Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson were embedded together the moment the latter was announced as a captain’s pick; Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker have meshed in recent weeks and formed a cohesive duo; and while the all-rookie team of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed could be considered a bit unexpected, he found two players who enjoy each other’s company and are each supremely confident in their own ways.

“They weren't exactly the way I thought about it,” Watson admitted of his four opening twosomes, “but I wasn't really too concerned about the pairings when I first came in. It was too early. Why go through all that exercise when you didn't have enough information to make the pairings? Obviously you look at Phil and Keegan, and Webb and Bubba, and it turns out, yeah, they are going to make good pairings together. I believe that.

“The other pairings, I really didn't know. I wanted to get a feel for the players and how they wanted to play with each other, and who I thought would be best to be out there playing with each other. It became a lot more concrete once we got here.”

All of which makes sense, because Watson is a concrete kind of guy. There’s not a lot of hemming and hawing when he speaks. He’s opinionated – and he isn’t afraid to share those opinions.

But he also believes strongly in facts, and what they can teach him. He plays percentages. He won’t take a risk if it outweighs the potential reward.

Each of these values can be found in his initial pairings. Watson falls somewhere in the middle of the captain’s spectrum, between Hal Sutton forcing Tiger Woods and Mickelson to play together, and Fred Couples essentially letting his players make their own pairings at the Presidents Cup.

On foreign soil, he understands the importance of playing the house odds.

“I have talked to them about the crowds,” he divulged. “I said, ‘Don't expect the cheers to be as loud for you when you have a winning hole versus the Europeans.’ I told them a couple things that I told the last Ryder Cup team. ‘If you can make the crowd go silent, and at the end of the matches on Sunday, if you can watch those stands empty, you've done your job.’”

These are the types of things Watson knows, because he speaks from experience. None of his dozen team members were around when he captained the U.S. to victory in 1993; hell, a few of ‘em had just been born.

He might be criticized for sitting Jim Furyk, the top-ranked player on his roster. Or Matt Kuchar, the smiley assassin. There will be second-guessing for as long as the Ryder Cup exists, but for this format, on this day, Watson stayed true to himself and his words. He played the best odds.

“This is what golf is all about,” he said after announcing his lineup. “Right here, match play, us against them. This is what it's all about.”

For a man who compared trying to win in enemy territory to walking into a casino, Watson didn’t take a major gamble with his first pairings. Now he knows, just like at those gaming halls, his team has to play better or get lucky.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry