Hawk's Nest: Woods showing team spirit

By John HawkinsOctober 7, 2013, 2:05 pm

Not to hit you with a deluge of breaking news or anything, but it does rain fairly often in central Ohio. About 38 percent of all days on the calendar include some form of precipitation, although October is supposed to be the second-driest month of the year in Columbus – an average of 2.6 inches.

Insert your own punch line here.

So the Presidents Cup was victimized by a downpour of soggy luck. Just imagine, however, if Jack Nicklaus had been born and raised in Miami, where they get 6.3 inches of rain in October. Or Houston (5.7). Or Portland, where it really doesn’t matter which month you’re talking about. Nicklaus might not have even played golf if he’d grown up in Buffalo, which has more wet days (167) than any big city in the continental United States.

He might have decided to become a pharmacist if he’d come from New Orleans, which ranks atop America’s precipitation leaderboard at 62.7 inches annually. Instead, Jack is a Buckeye. He built Muirfield Village on a stunning piece of property where 30,000 people show up rain or shine to watch a contrived match-play event with less suspense than an episode of “Hollywood Squares.”

I’d take my hat off to the great golf fans in Columbus, but it’s raining here, too.

BACK IN THE Stone Age, circa 1998, many knowledgeable observers wondered whether Tiger Woods had enough long-term interest to participate in team-match gatherings every year. Woods’ Ryder Cup debut at Valderrama a year earlier had been neither stellar nor enjoyable. The PGA of America denied his father, Earl, the same access given to the players’ wives, and Tiger, who wasn’t married, is said to have resented the snub.

He won just one of his five matches and was drubbed by Costantino Rocca in singles. The southern tip of Spain is renowned for its perfect weather, but it rained all week there, too, which didn’t go over swimmingly for a 21-year-old kid from a Los Angeles suburb. More than anything, young Eldrick seemed indifferent about the whole concept of playing for a flag – and for the wrong kind of free.

The kid wanted to golf his own ball, wanted to keep score the normal way, and he’d gotten very used to receiving a big check Sunday evening. The Presidents Cup? Seriously? When the third edition of the Prez was held in Australia 14 months after Valderrama, Tiger clearly wasn’t into it.

Once the U.S. had been trashed by the Internationals in what remains America’s only Presidents Cup loss, the question wasn’t so much if Tiger would continue showing up, but when he’d stop. Then came 1999 – a Ryder Cup week dominated early by a flap involving several U.S. players who wanted at least some control over the event’s massive revenue.

Woods was convicted by the public on the grounds of guilt by association. Probation was granted after the Yanks staged the miracle comeback at Brookline, but of all the personality traits native to the Dude in the Red Shirt, here’s one of the essentials: you may forgive, but Tiger doesn’t forget.

Those days seemed like ancient history at Muirfield Village. Woods played with more passion than we’ve ever seen at a Presidents Cup, which he has never missed. His partnership with Matt Kuchar was a considerable success, and he had just enough to squeeze out the clinching point over pesky Richard Sterne on Sunday.

The Kuchar dynamic provided an interesting twist in the long-running drama tentatively entitled Tiger & Somebody Else. As was the case with Jim Furyk, then Steve Stricker, Kuchar’s collaboration with Woods produced immediate results. All three sidekicks are known to be outstanding putters, an overt suggestion as to what Tiger truly values in the team-match format.

Lots of guys hit it a mile. That and four bucks will buy you a cup of coffee nowadays. One thing Stricker and Kuchar have in common is that both rebuilt their careers after skidding into the abyss – two of the most impressive revivals in golf’s modern era. And though Furyk has been a hallmark of consistency, he is also the consummate grinder. Nobody expected him to be so good for so long coming out of college.

Beyond those successful partnerships, two additional factors strengthened Tiger’s zest for the team-match environment. The first occurred in 2007 at Nicklaus’ final Presidents Cup as U.S. captain, when the team stayed at a hotel in downtown Montreal, which necessitated a 30-minute bus ride to the venue. That year Woody Austin lost his balance and fell into a lake during the Friday fourballs.

A half-hour commute to work is extremely rare for today’s top-tier players, much less an entire squad of them, but those lengthy journeys bonded the American side like never before. Austin served as the equivalent of a class clown on the bus. Phil Mickelson played the role of chief needler, and the laughs on the drives to and from Royal Montreal were non-stop.

It didn’t hurt that the Yanks crushed the Internationals. Woods and Mickelson found some common ground that week, acting as unofficial team leaders, and if the two will never be best buddies, their relationship made immense progress in Canada.

The second stage of Tiger ‘s team growth came when Fred Couples assumed the Prez Cup captaincy in 2009. Woods’ fondness for Couples is no secret. He was his favorite player as a kid and has always appreciated Freddie’s style and popularity. For years, Couples received a sponsor’s exemption to Woods’ year-end tournament, regardless of what kind of season he had.

Again, it doesn’t hurt that the U.S. has coasted to victory in all three of Couples’ terms as skipper. Maybe that success can be attributed to Freddie’s laid-back nature – or the lack of pressure at the Presidents Cup in general – but Tiger has become fully committed to an event he didn’t seem so sure about when he first turned pro. 

ALL OF WHICH leads to a rather obvious question: why doesn’t Couples get a shot at the Ryder Cup captaincy? The PGA of America’s selection of Tom Watson to run the show in 2014 was a clear diversion from the long-established pattern of picking a former PGA champ in his late 40s with some productive Ryder Cup experience as a player.

Couples never won a PGA. His defining moment against the Euros might be a loss to Christy O’Connor in 1989, when he missed The Belfry’s 18th green with a 9-iron and lost a match the U.S. had to have. None of that matters a quarter-century later, however, and Watson’s appointment suggests that a new mentality has been embraced.

It’s a job with such a limited number of candidates – I don’t know how my friends in Palm Beach Gardens could look themselves in the mirror and not offer Couples the position for 2016. Generally speaking, the PGA of America, PGA Tour and USGA all yield to each other when it comes to selecting big-tournament sites and captains. This is done mostly as a courtesy, although the PGA of America has become far more aggressive than the other two when it comes to raiding someone else’s cookie jar.

The recent “acquisition” of Bethpage Black as host of the 2019 PGA Championship and 2024 Ryder Cup is a perfect example. Bethpage was an established USGA property with a pair of U.S. Opens in its recent past. Maybe the Bluecoats weren’t all that interested in going back there, or maybe the PGA of America came roaring in with a better offer.

Regardless, last month’s announcement was another assertive move by an organization that has fought hard for respect among its governing brethren. It’s time for Palm Beach Gardens to give Freddie a call. 

I’M GONNA TRY my best to wrap my arms around the Tour’s new wraparound season, which starts Thursday with the Frys.com Open in northern California, but I’ve got to admit, I’ve got my doubts. I don’t think pro golf has enough mainstream firepower to substantiate an 11-month schedule – it wasn’t all that long ago when Camp Ponte Vedra was talking about tightening things up.

Hey, more golf tournaments that count means more business for myself and my primary employer, but the pragmatic side of me fails to see the point. I fully realize the Tour is a revenue-driven enterprise whose primary mission is to serve its entire constituency – every card-carrying PGA Tour member – but too much opportunity for the players translates to a diluted product.

A friend of mine at the Tour recently made one factor pretty clear: the title sponsors of the Fall Series events weren’t going to keep paying $5 or $6 million to host tournaments that didn’t count. They wanted to be included in the FedEx Cup derby, which might strengthen their fields, but I don’t see that happening.

I don’t see Woods or Adam Scott showing up in Las Vegas because they’re worried about falling too far behind in the FedEx Cup standings. I don’t see Mickelson hustling off to Sea Island because he owes a debt of gratitude to the Tour. Meanwhile, the Tour’s bloated middle class gets richer and richer, which poses a potential threat to the game’s competitive credibility.

Anyone seen Charlie Beljan lately?

This fall also marks the debut of the HSBC Champions as an official World Golf Championship, which sort of, kind of makes it the centerpiece of this scheduling addendum. Do we really need a WGC in China when we don’t have one in Europe, Australia or South Africa? Literally, what kind of world is that?

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.