Watson missing two hottest players on U.S. team

By Jason SobelSeptember 12, 2014, 7:51 pm

ATLANTA – Back at his home in Kansas, Tom Watson must be watching the last few PGA Tour events with clenched fists. He must be wistfully examining the developments. He must be feeling pangs of regret every time a leaderboard flashes across the screen.

All for reasons he easily could have avoided.

Two weeks ago, the United States Ryder Cup captain announced his three wildcard selections to the roster. Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson will each join the team at Gleneagles. Excellent golfers, proven winners, experienced competitors.

And yet, the choices still left plenty of observers befuddled. After all, since accepting the captaincy, Watson has persistently claimed he wanted hot hands entering the festivities.

Well, just two weeks before the first shot will be struck in Scotland, the two hottest hands are both American players – and neither of them are on the Ryder Cup team.

Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel are not only 1-2 in the FedEx Cup standings, they are currently listed in reverse order atop this week’s Tour Championship leaderboard. Meanwhile, Bradley didn’t qualify for the season finale and Simpson and Mahan are tied for 25th place in the 29-man field.

That’s not to say any of them was the “wrong” pick, because that won’t be determined until they actually compete overseas. But they certainly don’t fall in line with the captain’s personal edict.

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Watson shouldn’t be blamed for not seeing these performances in his crystal ball. He shouldn’t be blamed for making what he considered were the best choices for his team at the time.

No, here's where the blame can be traced to the captain: There exists no rule which states these wildcard picks must be decided by a certain date. As captain, Watson could have mandated that he was moving the announcement back two weeks in order to choose players who were in form.

There’s no reason why he couldn’t have done this. Did they need time to prepare passports? Heck, every pro golfer in the world has an updated one. To ensure they’d have tailored uniforms? Every candidate was fitted for clothes long ago. To get the hotel rooms set? It’s not too difficult to change names on a room – especially when that room is being held for a Ryder Cup team member.

It even made sense logistically. Unlike previous years, the current schedule includes an off week between the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup – which ostensibly would have given three picks a full week to prepare for the rigors of the competition.

Such a move would have been very much within Watson’s jurisdiction, too. In fact, it wouldn’t even be an original concept. Just six years ago, Paul Azinger pushed the captain’s picks announcement back three weeks, from its previous spot directly after the PGA Championship.

Moving it back this year might have resulted in a different team dynamic – not that the two guys for whom it likely could have affected are whining about the situation.

“I don't feel like I deserve to be on this team,” said Horschel, who won last week’s BMW Championship. “Two weeks doesn't mean you should be on a Ryder Cup. It may mean you may be the hottest player, but doesn't mean you've played a good enough year to be on the team.”

“I don't care anymore than I did a week or two ago,” added Kirk, who took the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago. “I mean, it's not really that big of a deal. Those guys that he picked are great players, and they're going to go do great. I'm a little tired, and I'm looking forward to my rest.”

They’re not the only players who potentially could have made a last-minute rally, either. Of the top 13 on the leaderboard at East Lake, 10 are U.S.-born players – and seven (Horschel, Kirk, Kevin Na, Ryan Palmer, Cameron Tringale, Russell Henley and Bill Haas) aren’t members of the Ryder Cup team.

Many of ‘em wish they still had a chance.

Palmer hit an approach shot to 18 inches for a tap-in birdie on the eighth hole Friday. His playing partner and European team stalwart Sergio Garcia turned to him and exclaimed, “I’m glad you’re not on the Ryder Cup team!” – a compliment by any measure.

“I think it would be a good question to ask the PGA,” Palmer said. “Why is it chosen so early?”

Horschel, who will take a two-stroke lead into the weekend, isn’t asking that question. But he has been asked a question recently from the man in charge of the team.

“Tom Watson sent me a text the other night,” he divulged. “It's exactly what I thought it was going to be, just sort of said, ‘Where was this sooner?’ People said, ‘Does Tom Watson think he's kicking himself?’ I said, ‘No, he's not kicking himself. He's going to kick me for not playing better sooner.’”

Maybe he isn’t kicking himself, but there’s no doubt he’s watching on TV at home. It won’t be much longer until Watson arrives in Scotland, understands that he’s without the two hottest U.S. players and realizes he’s not in Kansas anymore.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.