Vintage is In Style

By John HawkinsMarch 31, 2010, 12:36 am
Four starts into his new day job as the Champions Tour’s cleanup hitter, Fred Couples has dominated beyond anyone’s realistic expectations. Three victories and a runner-up finish, a 65.33 scoring average –  Couples hasn’t shot higher than a 68 in 12 rounds and is a cumulative 77 under par for those 216 holes. More opportunity, less intensity. The Sultan of Silly Season is stomping all over his senior brethren.
Fred Couples
Fred Couples has collected plenty of hardware on the Champions Tour. (Getty Images)
Perhaps more than any top-tier player since Hale Irwin, Couples reached his 50th birthday with enough game to remain a factor on the PGA Tour. He still hits everything flush, rarely misses an iron shot, and at 298.2 yards per measured drive, has the type of quality length most players wish they had. His ailing back has been an issue since the mid-1990s, but Couples hasn’t missed any lengthy stretches since sitting out most of 2007.

When he’s healthy and playing a golf course that interests him, the guy can compete at the highest level, which is why Couples will tee it up with the big boys this week in Houston, site of his last Tour victory in 2003. The plan is for him to continue dividing his time between the two leagues, but if Geritol Ball almost seems too easy and the grind of the regular tour seems like too much, there is, of course, next week’s gathering at Augusta National.

No question, Fred Couples can win another Masters. A number of things would have to fall in place – warm weather, a rusty Tiger, a limited number of putts in the 3- to 5-foot range – but if Freddie isn’t near the top of the sleeper list you take to the office rotisserie pool, you need to step outside the box and think again. Wishful thinking? Maybe a little. Hallucinating? Absolutely not.

Three of the last six major championships have prominently featured an older guy in the weekend plot: Greg Norman and Tom Watson at the last two British Opens, along with Kenny Perry, who had never come close to contending in eight Masters appearances prior to ’09. Perry’s wobbly homestretch and subsequent playoff loss to Angel Cabrera defied the notion that talent will get you to Sunday and experience will get you to the trophy ceremony, but still, he should have won the tournament at age 48.

Couples has a superb history at Augusta, not only claiming his only major title there in 1992, but piling up nine top-10s and making 23 consecutive cuts, a Masters record he shares with Gary Player. He had excellent chances to win in 1998 and 2006, the second of which died when he three-putted the 14th green from no more than four feet, but overall, it is a place he dearly loves, a layout that fully engrosses his strategic imagination.

John Hawkins appears on Golf Central every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and on the Grey Goose 19th Hole every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

That was before he won three consecutive senior events, which definitely counts for something. It doesn’t matter who you’re beating or how you’re beating them — it’s all about the few extra inches of confidence you take to the ballpark. “Fred Couples is going to win the tournament,” Watson said on this week’s ‘Grey Goose 19th Hole.’ He’s winning, he’s shooting scores, he’s putting the eyes out of it.”

Again, let’s not get carried away, but there is a big-picture element to the possibility that Couples will work his way into the weekend mix, at which point his past success and local knowledge become even more crucial. Although his Champions Tour success is no surprise, it is the freshness of the challenge – different venues, a new set of opponents (guys he has known forever), a much greater chance of winning – that has reinvigorated him as a tour pro.

I vividly remember a conversation I had with Freddie in Dallas seven or eight years ago. “The good news is, I’ve played here [TPC at Las Colinas] 50 or 60 times and I know the course better than all these young guys,” he said. “The bad news is, I’ve played here 50 or 60 times and I’m kind of sick of the place.” It was vintage Couples, a verbal snapshot of a guy for whom golf began as a wonderful game, then turned into a business, then became a burden after his back miseries became a source of constant fret.

I’m hoping for more vintage Couples next week. Nobody gets kind of sick of Augusta National. Lots of pretty flowers, yes, but it’s also a great place to stop and smell the competitive fire.
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Stock Watch: Park rises again, under the radar

By Ryan LavnerMarch 20, 2018, 12:48 pm

Each week on, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


Rory (+10%): The massive drives, the fist pumps, the unmistakable strut – McIlroy finally found the spark that he needed to play confident, aggressive golf. Bring on Augusta and his shot at history.

Tiger (+7%): It was another forgettable end to a final round, but let’s not lose sight of the big picture: Five events into his comeback, Woods has now carded 10 consecutive rounds of par or better – all on tough tracks – and can be viewed as a legitimate threat at the Masters. Remarkable, really.

Inbee Park (+5%): Fighting injuries and questioning whether she should retire, the Queen ‘Bee routed a top field in just her second start back. Stud.

Bryson (+3%): When The Machine operates properly, he’s one of the best ball-strikers in the world. Yes, he’s still painfully slow, but there’s no denying his talent – his runner-up against a star-studded field should help him tremendously.

Laura Davies (+2%): Fifty-four years old and nursing an Achilles injury, she turned back the clock with one of the coolest performances of the young season, on any tour. She’s still got tons of game.


Henrik Stenson (-1%): Maybe he’s just destined to go winless at Bay Hill. In the past four years, he’s had three excellent chances to win there and came away empty-handed each time.

Rickie (-2%): Hanging near the lead, Fowler closed his third round bogey-double, then shot 74 in the final round to drop out of the top 10. Sigh.  

P-Reed (-3%): His whiny protest to a rules official about a free drop – “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth” – got even juicier when the Ryder Cup partners were drawn in the same group at the Match Play. Get your popcorn ready.

Ted Potter Jr. (-5%): His impressive victory at Pebble Beach over DJ, Phil and J-Day is looking more and more like a fluke each week. He’s now missed four consecutive cuts.

Fan behavior (-7%): Another week, another player complaining about increasingly hostile spectators. The Tour has (frustratingly) remained quiet on the issue, but the tipping point will come when one of these dopes affects the outcome on the 72nd hole.

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Ranking the top 10 performers in this WGC-Dell Match Play

By John AntoniniMarch 20, 2018, 12:30 pm

It’s fitting that the PGA Tour’s version of March Madness is held at the same time as the world’s most famous win-and-advance, bracket-busting event. Like the NCAA’s Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, golf’s not-quite-one-and-done grind held this week at Austin (Texas) CC requires a similar formula for success. To advance at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play golfers, like hoopsters, must stay in the moment, read the opponent, and maintain the advantage. The Match Play also requires a steely resolve not necessary for the PGA Tour’s weekly 72-hole marathons. 

Although a rule change instituted in 2015, allowing for pool play during the first three days of the Match Play, took the luster away from the knock-out aspect of the tournament – Henrik Stenson says it’s why he skips the event – winning remains the key component. Since 2015, every player who reached the championship match was 3-0 in pool play. Winning, it seems, breeds winning.

So who are the tournament’s best match-play winners?

First, a few parameters: Although we take into consideration performances in other match-play tournaments, such as the Ryder Cup or the NCAA Championship, the focus of this exercise falls on the Dell Technologies Match Play. So to be considered for our top 10 a player must have a winning record in this tournament. That eliminates Justin Thomas, whose fine play in last year’s Presidents Cup can’t offset his 1-5-0 record in two Match Play appearances.

Second, we’re interested in recent history, giving priority to the last few years. Ian Poulter might be one of the greatest performers in tournament history, but he hasn’t played this event since 2015 or been on a Ryder Cup team since 2014. Thus, he’ll join Thomas on the sidelines.

Finally, to be on this list, you have to be playing this week. There’s no sense telling you how great a match-play performer Justin Rose or Rickie Fowler might be if you won’t see them play the format until the Ryder Cup.

Here’s our top 10 list of best match-play performers playing in this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

1. Rory McIlroy: Prior to last year’s Match Play, McIlroy identified ruthlessness, selfishness and pride as the key facets as to why he’s so good in this format. “I'm too proud to be beaten,” he said. “I won't let anyone get up on me. I think too much of myself to let anyone do that to me.” McIlroy has a career record of 23-9-2 in the Match Play and is 12-3-2 the last three years. He won in 2015 and lost in the semifinals in 2016, and he’s in pretty good form coming off his API triumph. Factor in his winning record in all three formats of play in the Ryder Cup and you should agree that match play is a perfect fit for McIlroy’s personality.

2. Jason Day: Day is a two-time winner of the Match Play (2014, 2016) and his career record of 21-9-0 is better than it looks, because he was given three losses when he withdrew during the first round of last year’s tournament to be with his ailing mother. In the last six Match Plays, Day is 5-0 against players in our top 10, including a 1-up win over McIlroy in the semifinals in 2016. Day ranks second because Rory has played better in all recent match-play competitions, and ultimately we can’t forgive Day’s underwhelming play in the last two Presidents Cups (1-7-2 record).

3. Dustin Johnson: The defending champion deserves kudos for his 12-3-0 record in the last three Match Plays. Johnson was so overwhelming a year ago, that he never trailed at any point during the week. His raw power and self-confidence are an intimidating combination. “It's amazing how he's able to keep cool the entire round,” said Jon Rahm after losing to Johnson in the 2017 final. “It amazes me. He's just a perfect, complete player."

4. Louis Oosthuizen: It’s hard to believe someone with the nickname Shrek could have a killer instinct, but you can’t argue with the results. Oosthuizen is 15-4-0 in the Match Play since 2014, losing in the championship match to Day in 2016, and reaching the quarterfinals two other times. He also has been the International team’s best player in the last two Presidents Cups, with a combined record of 6-2-2, including a 1-0-1 mark against Patrick Reed in singles.

5. Patrick Reed: Perhaps golf’s best current team performer, Reed’s fist-pumping, finger-waving singles victory over McIlroy in the 2016 Ryder Cup is what legends are made of. Reed is 10-4-4 in Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup play, and was 6-0 in match-play competition for Augusta University during the NCAA Championship. But although he excels in team formats, his performance in this week’s event leaves us wanting. Reed has advanced out of pool play just once in three years, and ultimately his 6-5-1 record keeps him out of our top four.

6. Jon Rahm: The latest in a long line of great Spanish match-play performers, Rahm appears to be a worthy successor to Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia. He’s such a young pro that there’s not much to go on other than his 6-1 record in 2017, where he took Johnson to the 18th hole before losing in the finals. He won two matches in the 2014 U.S. Amateur and reached the quarterfinals in 2015.

7. Rafael Cabrera-Bello: If Rahm is not Spain’s next match-play hero, perhaps it’s this 33-year-old star. A latecomer to the world golf scene compared to his Spanish compatriots, who all blossomed in their early 20s, the Canary Islands native is a worthy performer. He was unbeaten (2-0-1) in his first Ryder Cup in 2016, and has an 8-4-1 record in four Match Plays, including a 3-and-2 victory over McIlroy in the 2016 consolation match. He also reached the semifinals of the 2012 Volvo World Match Play.

8. Phil Mickelson: After a four-year absence from the Match Play, Mickelson barely missed advancing out of pool play in 2016 and reached the quarterfinals in 2017. A perennial member of U.S. Cup teams, he has an incredible 10-2-3 combined Presidents and Ryder Cup record since 2014 with a 3-0-1 mark in singles.

9. Jordan Spieth: He’s here because of his 9-4-1 record in the Match Play, his two U.S. Junior Amateur victories and because he beat Thomas in the 2012 NCAA Championship. So we’ll conveniently forget that he’s 0-5-0 in singles play in the Presidents and Ryder Cups.

10. Paul Casey: A two-time runner-up in the Match Play (2009, 2010), Casey is 7-4-1 (including a conceded loss) since pool play began. 

Others of note: Matt Kuchar’s career record is even better than Casey’s (21-8-2), but he’s just a pedestrian 4-4-2 since 2015. … Thomas Pieters doesn’t qualify for the top 10 because he’s just 2-2-2 in the Match Play, but he was 4-1 as a Ryder Cup rookie in 2016 and beat Spieth in 2012 and Thomas in 2013 during the NCAA Championship. … Like Pieters, keep an eye on Kiradech Aphibarnrat. He’s only 2-2-0 in the Match Play, but two of his four European Tour victories are of the match-play variety (2015 Paul Lawrie, 2018 World Super 6 Perth).

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First Look: WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play groups

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 2:20 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Although professional golf’s version of March Madness is considered just plain maddening in some circles following the switch to round-robin play three years ago, it’s still one of the game’s most compelling weeks after a steady diet of stroke play.

With this week’s lineup having been set Monday night via a blind draw, we take a deep dive into WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play bracketology (current world golf rankings in parentheses):

Pool play will begin Wednesday, with the winner from each of the 16 groups advancing to knockout play beginning Saturday:

Group 1: (1) Dustin Johnson, (32) Kevin Kisner, (38) Adam Hadwin, (52) Bernd Wiesberger

Teeing off: This sounds like the beginning of a joke that’s made the rounds at the United Nations, but what do you get when a pair of South Carolinians, a Canadian and an Austrian walk onto the first tee? Group 1 and what, on paper, looks like it could be the week’s most lopsided pod with the world No. 1, who never trailed on his way to victory last year, poised to pick up where he left off.

Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas, (21) Francesco Molinari, (48) Patton Kizzire, (60) Luke List

Teeing off: This isn’t exactly an Iron Bowl rematch, but having Thomas (Alabama) and Kizzire (Auburn) in the same group seems to be pandering to the Southeastern Conference crowd.

Group 3: (3) Jon Rahm, (28) Kiradech Aphibarnrat, (43) Chez Reavie, (63) Keegan Bradley

Teeing off: The Asian John Daly (aka Aphibarnrat) will have his hands full with Rahm, who lost the championship match to Johnson last year; while Bradley may be this group’s Cinderella after making a late push to qualify for the Match Play.

Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth, (19) Patrick Reed, (34) Haotong Li, (49) Charl Schwartzel

Teeing off: This may be the week’s most awkward pairing, with Spieth and Reed turning what has been one of the United States' most successful tandems (they are 7-2-2 as partners in Presidents and Ryder Cup play) into an early-week highlight. It will be “shhh” vs. “Go Get that.”

Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama, (30) Patrick Cantlay, (46) Cameron Smith, (53) Yusaku Miyazato

Teeing off: Cantlay could be the Tour’s most reserved player, Smith isn’t much more outspoken and Matsuyama and Miyazato speak limited English. This will be the quietest pod, and it’ll have nothing to do with gamesmanship.

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Group 6: (6) Rory McIlroy, (18) Brian Harman, (44) Jhonattan Vegas, (51) Peter Uihlein

Teeing off: We're going to declare this the “group of death,” with McIlroy coming off a commanding victory last week at Bay Hill and Harman being one of the Tour’s most gritty competitors.

Group 7: (7) Sergio Garcia, (20) Xander Schauffele, (41) Dylan Frittelli, (62) Shubankhar Sharma

Teeing off: Three weeks ago, Phil Mickelson confused Sharma for a member of the media when he tried to introduce himself at the WGC-Mexico Championship. As a public service announcement: it’s SHAR-ma. You may be hearing it a lot this week.

Group 8: (8) Jason Day, (25) Louis Oosthuizen, (42) Jason Dufner, (56) James Hahn

Teeing off: This pod has a Presidents Cup flair to it, but Day and Oosthuizen should hope for a better outcome considering the International side’s awful record in the biennial bout.

Group 9: (9) Tommy Fleetwood, (26) Daniel Berger, (33) Kevin Chappell, (58) Ian Poulter

Teeing off: We showed up in Austin and a Ryder Cup broke out. Fleetwood is all but a lock to make this year’s European team, and fellow Englishman Poulter (23-14) has forged a career on his match-play prowess. For Berger and Chappell, who both played last year’s Presidents Cup, it’s a chance to impress U.S. captain Jim Furyk.

Group 10: (10) Paul Casey, (31) Matthew Fitzpatrick, (45) Kyle Stanley, (51) Russell Henley

Teeing off: Casey has a stellar record at the Match Play (23-13-1) and having finally ended his victory drought two weeks ago at the Valspar Championship the Englishman could likely seal his Ryder Cup fate with a solid week at Austin Country Club.

Group 11: (11) Marc Leishman, (23) Branden Grace, (35) Bubba Watson, (64) Suri

Teeing off: The best part of March Madness is the potential upsets, and while Suri, the last man in the field, isn’t exactly UMBC over Virginia, don’t be surprised if the little-known player from St. Augustine, Fla., stuns some big names this week.

Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton, (22) Charley Hoffman, (36) Brendan Steele, (55) Alexander Levy

Teeing off: If Levy hopes to make the European Ryder Cup team he should consider this his audition. That is if captain Thomas Bjorn is watching.

Group 13: (13) Alex Noren, (29) Tony Finau, (39) Thomas Pieters, (61) Kevin Na

Teeing off:  Finau and Pieters have the firepower to play with anyone in the field and Noren’s record the last few months has been impressive, but Na looks like one of those Princeton teams who can wear down anyone.

Group 14: (14) Phil Mickelson, (17) Rafael Cabrera-Bello, (40) Sotashi Kodaira, (59) Charles Howell III

Teeing off: Mickelson has been rejuvenated by his victory at the last World Golf Championship, Cabrera Bello is poised to earn a spot on this year’s European Ryder Cup team and Howell is playing some of the best golf of his career. Note to Kodaira, don’t try to introduce yourself to Lefty before your match. 

Group 15: (15) Pat Perez, (24) Gary Woodland, (37) Webb Simpson, (50) Si Woo Kim

Teeing off: Perez explained that during a practice round on Monday he was talking trash with Branden Grace. Not sure Kim will be down for some trash talking, but it would certainly be entertaining and probably a little confusing for him.

Group 16: (16) Matt Kuchar, (27) Ross Fisher, (47) Yuta Ikeda, (54) Zach Johnson

Teeing off: If any of these matches comes down to a tie, may we suggest officials go to a sudden-death ping-pong match. No one can compete with Kuchar on a table, but it would be must-see TV nonetheless.

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Randall's Rant: Hey, loudmouth, you're not funny

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 10:30 pm

Dear misguided soul:

You know who you are.

You’re “that guy.”

You’re that guy following around Rory McIloy and yelling “Erica” at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

There was something creepy in the nature of your bid to get in McIlroy’s head, in the way you hid in the shadows all day. Bringing a guy’s wife into the fray that way, it’s as funny as heavy breathing on the other end of a phone call.

You’re that guy telling Justin Thomas you hope he hits it in the water at the Honda Classic.

There are a million folks invested in seeing if Thomas can muster all the skills he has honed devoting himself to being the best in the world, and you’re wanting to dictate the tournament’s outcome. Yeah, that’s what we all came out to see, if the angry guy living in his mother’s basement can make a difference in the world. Can’t-miss TV.

You’re that guy who is still screaming “Mashed Potatoes” at the crack of a tee shot or “Get in the Hole” with the stroke of a putt.

Amusing to you, maybe, but as funny as a fart in an elevator to the rest of us.

As a growing fraternity of golf fans, you “guys” need a shirt. It could say, “I’m that guy” on one side and “Phi Kappa Baba Booey” on the other.

I know, from outside of golf, this sounds like a stodgy old geezer screaming “Get off my lawn.” That’s not right, though. It’s more like “Stop puking on my lawn.”

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Because McIlroy is right, in the growing number of incidents players seem to be dealing with now, it’s probably the liquor talking.

The Phoenix Open is golf’s drunken uncle, but he isn’t just visiting on the holiday now. He’s moving in.

What’s a sport to do?

McIlroy suggested limiting liquor sales at tournaments, restricting alcohol consumption to beer.

I don’t know, when the beer’s talking, it sounds a lot like the liquor talking to me, just a different dialect.

From the outside, this push-back from players makes them sound like spoiled country club kids who can’t handle the rough-and-tumble playgrounds outside their prim little bailiwick. This isn’t really about social traditions, though. It’s about competition.

It’s been said here before, and it’s worth repeating, golf isn’t like baseball, basketball or football. Screaming in a player’s backswing isn’t like screaming at a pitcher, free-throw shooter or field-goal kicker. A singular comment breaking the silence in golf is more like a football fan sneaking onto the sidelines and tripping a receiver racing toward the end zone.

Imagine the outrage if that happened in an NFL game.

So, really, what is golf to do?

Equip marshals with tasers? Muzzle folks leaving the beer tent? Prohibit alcohol sales at tournaments?

While the first proposition would make for good TV, it probably wouldn’t be good for growing the sport.

So, it’s a tough question, but golf’s governing bodies should know by now that drunken fans can’t read those “Quiet Please!” signs that marshals wave. There will have to be better enforcement (short of tasers and muzzles).

There’s another thing about all of this, too. Tiger Woods is bringing such a broader fan base to the game again, with his resurgence. Some of today’s younger players, they didn’t experience all that came with his ascendance his first time around. Or they didn’t get the full dose of Tigermania when they were coming up.

This is no knock on Tigermania. It’s great for the game, but there are challenges bringing new fans into the sport and keeping them in the sport.

So if you’re “that guy,” welcome to our lawn, just don’t leave your lunch on it, please.