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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Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME
NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.
A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.
In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.
“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”
Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.
“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.
Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.
“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”
How does she feel?
“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”
Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.
New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title
NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.
Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.
She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.
“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”
Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.
Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.
Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.
Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.
“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.
Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.
“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”
You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios
NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.
Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:
Race to the CME Globe
Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.
Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.
The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.
Ariya Jutanugarn is also one shot off the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.
Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.
So Yeon Ryu and Shanshan Feng are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.
Rolex Player of the Year
The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.
Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.
Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.
Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.
It’s simple math.
The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.
1st - 30 points
2nd – 12 points
3rd – 9 points
4th – 7 points
5th – 6 points
6th – 5 points
7rd – 4 points
8th – 3 points
9th – 2 points
10th – 1 point
Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.
Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.
Rolex world No. 1 ranking
World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.
Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.
At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.
Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.
Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.
''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''
Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.
''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''
Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.
''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''
J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.
''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''
Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.
''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''
He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.
''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''
Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.
''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''