Winning isn't everything

By Jason SobelAugust 25, 2011, 11:47 pm

EDISON, N.J. – Everything we ever needed to know about the Presidents Cup has apparently just been answered.

In a pre-practice round interview on Thursday prior to the Boeing Classic, United States captain Fred Couples was asked about including Tiger Woods as a wildcard selection and responded, “I've told him that he's going to be on the team. There is no reason for me to wait till Sept. 26 to pick Tiger. He's the best player in the world forever.'

Well, that’s bad news for those who fear the apocalypse, because “forever” somehow doesn’t include 2011.

This was the season that Woods – 14-time major champion, all-time great – appeared extraordinarily ordinary. Not only did he fail to find the winner’s podium, but his best finish was a share of fourth place at the Masters, he owned just one other top-10 in eight total starts and upon returning from a three-month hiatus due to leg injuries, he finished T-37 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and missed the cut at the PGA Championship, failing to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Woods is clearly undergoing personal, emotional, technical, physical and spiritual changes in his life. The debate as to whether he will return to previous status should be tabled for another time, but for now we can all agree that he isn’t only not at the peak of his game, he isn’t at the peak of any proficient professional’s game.

So why has Couples already backed himself into a corner by going public with the information that Tiger is on the team?

For one very important reason: Because when it comes to the Presidents Cup, winning isn’t the highest priority.

Don’t misunderstand that last sentence. Winning is surely better than losing, but it’s clearly not the most important aspect to rounding out the roster.

If it was, why would Woods be included on the team? Of those currently not on the team, Couples could choose young standouts such as Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley. Or he could go with experience in Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson. All of those players have been trending upward in recent weeks, a sign most captains usually enjoy.

By picking Tiger – who ranks smack dab between Kevin Na and D.A. Points at 28th in the current standings – Freddie won’t necessarily afford his team the best chance to win, but certainly ensures the competition will receive more attention than had he selected any of the aforementioned players.

And therein lies the dirty little secret about the Presidents Cup.

While the Ryder Cup is a storied, ferocious rivalry between country and continent, its less embattled younger cousin is more about pomp and circumstance, professional golf’s version of a hit-and-giggle festival at your local country club.

Don’t believe it? Just ask Lanny Wadkins, who once said of the Presidents Cup, 'Why would I want to travel halfway around the world to play a bunch of guys from Orlando?'

This year’s competition will take place halfway around the world in Australia and with a 16-hour time difference from the Eastern time zone, officials were invariably facing the prospect of a team that could fall Down Under without making a sound in its home country. Throw in the fact that it’s in the middle of football season and there’s an excellent chance that the Presidents Cup would barely move the needle back in the United States’ vast sporting landscape.

Enter the man who – for better or worse – remains the game’s constant needle-mover and all of a sudden, the event may have an opportunity to garner some headlines.

Don’t underestimate the PGA Tour’s influence in this matter, either. Couples is his own captain, of course, but this competition is the baby of those in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., headquarters who have plenty to gain by the added exposure that his presence will bring.

Does all of this mean that Woods can’t or won’t make a positive contribution to the team come November? Absolutely not. But that’s a risk which the captain hopes will be rewarded three months from now.

'Is he playing well right now? No,” Couples said. “[But] he almost won [the Masters] four months ago, so you don't do that by playing poor golf. In my opinion, when you're the best player in the world for 12 straight years and you're not on a team, there's something wrong.”

When that player doesn’t win a single tournament for nearly two years and descends from first in the world ranking to 36th in 10 months, there’s something wrong, too.

Woods’ apparent inclusion on the team may not give the U.S. less of a chance at winning, but it will sting as a slap in the face to players who have accomplished more in recent months and proven themselves to be worthy of such an opportunity.

If this was the Ryder Cup, things may be very different. Granted, Woods was named to the team a year ago when he wasn’t playing his best golf, but he hadn’t sunk to these depths and the team captain owned twice as many wildcard picks.

This is the Presidents Cup, though, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that winning may be placed on the back burner in favor of things like ratings and ticket sales. When it comes to those, apparently Tiger Woods is the right man for the job.

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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.