Warming Up for the Warburg Cup
When we came on the air live, the very first thing the viewer saw was Donna Caponi asking U.S. team captain Arnold Palmer a quick question. Immediately following, it was my turn with Rest of World captain Player.
My question was, 'I know you like your team's chances, but you also like this format don't you?'
Mr. Player, as if scripted and on cue, gave this impromptu soliloquy that eventually resulted in his son and caddy Wayne Player - who has obviously been witness to countless similar public performances by his father - breaking out in laughter seemingly at both the look in my eyes and the depth to which his father went to pull out this particular one. It was a classic, delivered with his typical conviction.
There couldn't have possibly been a better way to kick off our coverage than to open the show with two of the game's greatest legends - and certainly its two greatest ambassadors - talking about their thoughts on this very special competition.
'Shakespeare once said, 'A man for all seasons,'' was how Player started in a poetic attempt to capture both the nostalgia and the romance of this two-year-old competition. His point was that the age of players in the field spanned four decades.
However, in hindsight, it could have had plenty more significance, because the players were men for all seasons - and not particularly by choice. They had to endure four seasons in three days.
Wednesday was the first day of the Cup, and all pro-am participants were shown exactly why real estate at this seaside destination was higher than some of the scores recorded during Sunday's singles matches. It was perfect.
Thursday, the second pro-am day, was quite warm. It was relatively pleasant, but just calm and warm enough for the areas second greatest natural hazard other than hurricanes, 'no see 'ems', to make you wish the weather would change.
Well, be careful what you wish for. Saturday brought steady rains which at times turned into downpours strong enough to make you swear that the constant parade of shrimp boats was replaced by an arc - which would have been fitting because we were in the presence of gods.
And then Sunday, after raining through the night, the expected cold front moved in. What it lacked in warmth, it made up for in wind. Raymond Floyd looked like a Nordic skier, and Tom Lehman sported a nifty cold-weather undergarment that looked like a cross between a wet suit and a NASCAR pit crew fire protection coverall. Wind-chill factors in the 30s were what produced some big numbers, but it was match play and the Yanks dominated.
In the end, the U.S. team retained the Cup that they had won by a single point during the inaugural matches last year. The final tally was 14 to 9 , but that in no way tells the story of the UBS Warburg Cup.
Player, Floyd, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin, the King himself, and a host of other players who grew up with persimmon - all in one place, playing golf, and thoroughly enjoying each others company. Quite simply, if youve been a fan of golf for any amount of time preceding the Tiger era, you would have given anything to have a front row seat ' a seat that probably would have stuck to your seat on Sunday.
From the first words of the respective captains a year ago, through to this week, the one constant to the matches was the insistence by both captains that the matches be played in the spirit of the game 'the same spirit Samuel Ryder intended for the now-contentious cup matches bearing his name. And they were.
Players routinely dined together, played pool in the palatial and warm locker room, and generally got along. Perhaps it does have a bit of the feel of an inconsequential event ' perhaps. After all, the matches just blew out the first birthday candle. But from the first moment I stepped onto the property early in the week, it had a bit of a different feel.
Every player to a man reiterated the same comments about the competition. 'Were all competitors, and make no mistake, we do want to win,' Floyd said. 'But we want to do it in the spirit in which it is intended.'
The difference between this year and last must lie in the fact that now the matches had a tiny bit of something that they didnt have last year ' they had a year of history. The Americans had claimed the Cup last year, and they definitely wanted to keep it for another. The Rest of World team wanted to enjoy themselves, enjoy the camaraderie, and all that, but they also wanted to win the Cup. It was just a bit more serious.
The first match I followed Friday best illustrated my point. Floyd and Lehman played their first-ever round together. Think about that for a moment: Raymond Floyd, the man whose steely glare has probably intimidated more opponents than Ben Hogan himself, and Tom Lehman as partners. The same Tom Lehman who was so instrumental to the Americans monumental comeback during the singles matches at the 1999 Ryder Cup. The same Tom Lehman who received a cheap shot about his religious faith from Sam Torrance following the regrettable outburst on the 17th green at Brookline, and all the ensuing rhetoric.
Wait, it gets better.
Floyd and Lehman were pitted against this years European Ryder Cup vice captain, Ian Woosnam, and his great friend and European Ryder Cup captain, Torrance.
Torrance and Woosnam are gritty competitors - there should be absolutely no question about that. But they were playing perhaps two of the greatest match-play competitors to ever tee it up in a Ryder Cup with 50 stars and 13 stripes on their bag.
'There wasnt a lot of loose talk out there today,' Lehman said. 'We definitely wanted to win.'
Raymond Floyd was a captains pick in both the victorious 1991 and 1993 Ryder Cup Matches - the latter coming at the age of 51. Tom Lehman played his first Ryder Cup in 1995 and arguably should have been a captains pick last year. As a matter of fact, if we were betting on one of those hypothetical 'era vs. era' possibilities, I would bet the farm on those two as partners in their respective primes.
Floyd and Lehman won, 1-up, on the 18th hole. It was a win that might not make the annals of golf history, but it had to feel good for the Americans. But there was no animosity, no sneers, no backhanded comments to the press, and no lasting scars. It was good fun - the manner in which it was intended.
The matches were contested mightily - more so than a year ago. And next year, the RoW team will probably be even more focused. But win, lose or draw - or should I say, be it winter, summer, or fall - if these same players ever get together again in the future, I want to be there.
The UBS Warburg Cup matches are here to stay. The Cup might someday leave, but the matches arent going away. Imagine that ' a silly-season event that isnt silly.
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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time
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
Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2
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.
Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title
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."
Tom Brady, postgame, on wearing the wrap on his hand: “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. It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament.”— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) January 22, 2018
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.
Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder
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