Blame game for the U.S. Ryder Cup loss

By John HawkinsOctober 1, 2012, 1:30 pm

Since the guy who built my house forgot to put in a full-court gymnasium or a high-ceiling spa like the one at Doral, the only place I can swing a golf club indoors is the master bedroom. This is where the carpet bears the effects of my obsession with the perfect move. This is where I solve all my ball-striking problems, at least until I add a ball to the equation and substitute the rug for grass.

And since the people who clean my house have been instructed not to remove the set of Ben Hogan irons leaning against the wall next to that roughed-up carpet, I swing a club quite frequently. Like six times every eight minutes during Ryder Cup week, when my passion for the game suddenly regains its own high ceiling – and I can behave like a little boy who thinks he might actually get better.

You see, I can’t get to my office without walking through the master bedroom. So maybe the guy who built my house knew exactly what he was doing ...

WE CAN TALK into next week about how the United States blew a four-point lead at home and lost to Europe in the 39th Ryder Cup. We can question various elements of U.S. captain Davis Love III’s strategy – every collapse provides acres of opportunity for the second-guessers and shameless peddlers of 20/20 hindsight.

You can fire bottle-rockets of blame in just about any direction and not hit an innocent bystander – 10-6 advantage heading into singles is akin to a three-touchdown lead at the start of the fourth quarter. To give away such a large margin on home soil and lose before the final match even reaches the 18th green? Pretty astonishing.

No question, it was the darkest day in U.S. Ryder Cup history. From there, emotion governs opinion. Disillusion distorts reality. Logic gets lost in a rubble of shock and disappointment, but at some point, you try to get a clear sense of what happened and why. This is where I start.

• Not only did Europe win the first five singles matches, it beat five of America’s most dependable players: guys who had combined to win six of eight partnered matches by a whopping margin of 22 holes. It’s certainly not Love’s fault that all five woke up on the wrong side of the bed Sunday morning.

• To no one’s surprise, Euro captain Jose Maria Olazabal front-loaded his lineup. To everyone’s surprise, it turned out to be fully loaded – the Yanks managed just one victory in the last five singles bouts. Three crucial losses on that back end came from veterans who had been put there to serve as a safety net, but Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker played the final six holes in a combined 3 over par.

As much as it hurt America’s cause to lose each of the first five singles games, it could be reconciled by acknowledging Olazabal’s top-heavy batting order. The last five? That’s where the 2012 Ryder Cup was lost, which begs the question: Did Love have too many holes in his net?

• Everyone points to Medinah’s 17th and 18th as the site of America’s undoing, and indeed, you can’t go 2-9-4 on the final two holes of any course and expect good things to happen. The drivable par-4 15th, however, offered a great opportunity to reverse the mojo, and just three Americans birdied it Sunday. Two of the three (Dustin Johnson and Jason Dufner) won their matches. The nine who didn’t went 1-7-1.

And so goes the autopsy, an examination that isn’t complete unless we diagnose what I consider the biggest decision to contribute to America’s stunning loss.

IN WHAT AMOUNTS to almost 30 years in the sports-journalism business, I can’t ever recall quoting myself. But at 12:53 Saturday afternoon – about halfway through my portion of that day’s live chat – I posted the following response in agreement with those who disapproved of Love’s benching of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the afternoon fourballs.

“If you lead by six going into Sunday, doesn’t matter how tired anyone is. You can take your blankie and pillow out there if you must…”

I’m regurgitating the post only because sitting Mick/Keegs looked like a mistake long before the big picture played itself out. Love had said he wouldn’t play anyone in all five sessions because he didn’t want fatigue to factor into Sunday, but DL3 was either dealing with faulty historical data or no research at all.

I turn to Golf Digest executive editor Mike O’Malley, a longtime teammate and one of the best in the business. O’Malley dug up this beauty: Since 1979, Europeans playing in all five Ryder Cup matches were 21-29-9 in singles. Americans who played in all five were 17-11-7. So Love’s rest-'em-and-they-will-win premise, however well-intentioned, was a misguided hunch.

Beyond that, however, is the simplest here-and-now perspective. Mickelson/Bradley had just demolished Luke Donald/Lee Westwood, 7 and 6, their third consecutive victory together. You don’t bench a duo that just won a match on the 12th green. You don’t rest a pair that needed just 44 holes to win those three points – a full nine of downtime and then some.

The two had just earned the longest lunch break in Ryder Cup history, and besides, we’re not playing tackle football. You send your best team back out and collect as many points as you can. You try to turn 8-4 into 12-4, at which point Sunday is nothing more than a victory parade. You step on the neck until the body is no longer moving, then you step on the neck again.

Ever the good leader, Mickelson offered a full-blooded defense of his captain Sunday evening. “You can’t put that on [Love],” Mickelson said. “If anything, you put that on me. I told him [he couldn’t go back out] on the 10th tee [Saturday morning].”

Doesn’t matter. A hands-on captain goes in at lunch and tells his Dynamic Duo that he needs them. He tells them 11-5 is much better than 10-6, that nobody on earth is more likely to win another point than Lefty and his pet piranha. You stroke and coddle and plead for full throttle.

Knowing Mickelson as I do, for as long as I have, there’s no question in my mind: He goes back out. He’s stubborn, but he’s totally about the team, about what’s best for the big picture. A similar situation occurred at the 2004 Ryder Cup with Chris Riley, who had partnered with Tiger Woods to claim a must-have point Saturday morning.

Riley didn’t want to go back out that afternoon. Woods picked up Love as a fourball partner and got paddled, 4 and 3. Riley’s reticence didn’t really affect the final outcome eight years ago, but you’d have a hard time convincing me that sitting Mickelson and Bradley didn’t mean something this time.

WHEN YOU DO 14 hours of live chat during the Ryder Cup, you begin to notice a few trends. Somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the crowd basically hates everything. Another 20 percent really doesn’t get it. And among the rest, the urge to look into the future – be it six hours or two years – is difficult to resist.

There we were in the final stages of the Saturday foursomes matches, some big points in the balance, and my people wanted to talk about the next U.S. captain. The timing made no sense to me, but I told them it would be David Toms, the 2001 PGA champion and perhaps the most productive player on the American side during losses in 2002 and '04.

Toms is one of the best-liked guys on the PGA Tour, a former policy-board member who is enormously respected by his peers, all of which makes his pending captaincy a no-brainer, in my opinion. I’ve had two veteran players tell me the same thing, but that doesn’t sit well with the Fred Couples Fan Club, of which I will admit to being a member in a weak journalistic moment.

Anyway, I don’t see Couples getting the job, which isn’t to say I don’t think he’d be a terrific choice. His success as skipper of two victorious Presidents Cup teams probably should be a huge plus in the grand scheme, but that’s not how golf’s governing bodies work. Nobody has crossed over to captain in both events since the Prez Cup was conceived in 1994, and I don’t think it will happen now.

The Tour was smart to jump on Couples, who doesn’t really fit the PGA of America’s mold: a past champ with a strong Ryder Cup history. Toms clearly does, as does Justin Leonard, whom I see as a heavy favorite to get the job in 2016. Heck, Leonard gets Hazeltine on The Putt alone – the 40-footer on Brookline’s 17th in 1999, which capped the rally and triggered the post-celebration outrage.

So there you have it. Toms and Leonard. If Couples overcomes conventional wisdom and proves me wrong, I’d be just fine with that. Either Toms or Leonard would make an excellent choice two years later.

AMERICA MIGHT HAVE played worse than Afghanistan in singles, but this was still one hell of a Ryder Cup. Perfect weather, enormous crowds providing an ideal competitive atmosphere, some incredible play for long stretches every day, which takes us to my shout-outs for those who went above and beyond … and too far below.

Man of the match: Ian Poulter turns golf into an emotional contact sport, and he’s the only one wearing pads. Undefeated in four matches, the unbelievable Saturday evening finish … I don’t care that Poulter sat out a session. This might be the most significant Ryder Cup performance ever.

Sharpest dagger: Justin Rose’s 35-foot birdie putt Sunday at the 17th. After Mickelson almost holed his chip from behind the green, Rose buried the bomb to square the match, which he won on the 18th. It was the only birdie on the 17th all day. And only the biggest momentum-shifter on an afternoon that turned into a six-hour seesaw ride.

Best Yank: With his long putter propping as a microphone – and his medley of histrionics after winning a hole – Bradley carried himself like a rock star. Authentic and unbridled, he’s American golf’s new darling, regardless of the singles loss or the overall result.

Biggest disappointment: Steve Stricker finished 0-4 and struggled to help Woods in all three of their matches together. Tiger pulled the pair out of trouble in both of their fourball tilts, but when Stricker had perhaps a half-dozen chances to make a positive difference, he didn’t. Good guy, bad week.

Weirdest stat: Woods’ meaningless halve vs. Francesco Molinari in the final game of the week was the only match played to a draw. By comparison, there were five halves in 2010, six in 2008 and seven in 2006. It should be pointed out that in ’06, a halve actually felt like a victory for the U.S.

Most unlikely to succeed (but did): Hey, give Martin Kaymer credit. Olazabal tried to hide him in the 11th slot of the Euro singles lineup, where he was lucky to draw Stricker, but Kaymer shot 2 under and clinched the cup with a 6-footer for par at the 18th.

Most likely to succeed (but didn’t): Love was, in my estimation, the perfect captain for this U.S. squad. A great listener who seeks out consultation, a gentle voice who wouldn’t over-manage a squad with four decorated veterans. In a hero-or-goat world, his decision to rest his best tandem Saturday afternoon was a costly one, but in final analysis, his legacy as skipper was ultimately undermined by a team that pulled up lame on the day when 43 percent of the total points were at stake.

Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME

By Nick MentaNovember 18, 2017, 8:47 pm

Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.

Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)

What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.

Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.

Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.

Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.

Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.

Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.

Watch: Pros try to hit 2-yard wide fairway in Dubai

By Grill Room TeamNovember 18, 2017, 5:20 pm

While in Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour prestented a little challenge to Ross Fisher, Richie Ramsay, Nicolas Colsaerts and Soren Kjeldsen. On a stretch of road outside of town, the four players had to try and hit a 2-yard wide fairway. Check out the results.

Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai

By Associated PressNovember 18, 2017, 3:24 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose will take a one-shot lead into the final day of the season-ending Tour Championship as he attempts to win a third straight title on the European Tour and a second career Race to Dubai crown.

The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for a 7-under 65 Saturday and overall 15-under 201.

The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.

Rose is looking to be Europe's season-ending No. 1 for the second time. His leading rival for the Race to Dubai title, Tommy Fleetwood, is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.

Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.

''So, last day of the season and I've got a chance to win the Race to Dubai,'' Fleetwood said. ''It's cool.''

DP World Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Race to Dubai title, is tied for 13th on 10 under after a 67.

Fleetwood had a lead of 256,737 points going into the final tournament and needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey.

Rose, who made some long putts for birdies apart from chipping in on the 13th hole, looked to be throwing away his advantage on the par-5 18th, when his second shot fell agonizingly short of the green and into the water hazard. But with his short game in superb condition, the reigning Olympic champion made a difficult up-and-down shot to stay ahead.

''That putt at the last is a big confidence-builder. That broke about 18 inches right-to-left downhill. That's the kind of putt I've been hoping to make. That was a really committed stroke. Hopefully I can build on that tomorrow,'' said Rose. ''I know what I need to do to stay at the top of the leaderboard. If I slip up tomorrow, he's (Fleetwood) right there. He's done everything he needs to do on his end, so it's a lot of fun.''

The last player to win three tournaments in a row on the European Tour was Rory McIlroy, when he won the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship in 2014.

Fleetwood was 1 over after seven holes but turned it on with a hat trick of birdies from the eighth, and then four in a row from No. 13.

''I wanted to keep going. Let's bring the tee times forward for tomorrow,'' quipped Fleetwood after closing with a birdie on the 18th. ''Just one of them strange days where nothing was going at all. A couple sloppy pars on the par 5s, and a bad tee shot on fifth and I was 1-over through seven on a day where scoring has been really good ... Ninth and 10th, felt like we had something going ... it was a really good last 11 holes.''

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.