We Can All Relate to Clarke

By Kraig KannApril 22, 2005, 4:00 pm
First of all, each of us who follows the professional tours for a living has some favorites. We hope not to make it obvious, and we dont usually publicize the list.
In this case, however, Im happy to tell you that Darren Clarke is one of my guys. Hes obviously a jolly good fellow and a lot of fun to be around ' even if just for a few minutes.
Darren Clarke
Darren Clarke has 13 worldwide wins to his credit.
A couple of years back, Darren decided to re-create himself in hopes of taking his game to the next level. You know ' replace the long nights in the pub with his good friend Mr. Guinness with even longer nights in the gym with Mr. Trainer.
Clarke worked harder on his body than he did anything else. I know. I saw it first-hand in a hotel gym outside Thousand Oaks, Calif., during the week of the Target World Challenge. It was December and while most players were taking the holidays off, Clarke was pouring sweat like the man behind the bar had become accustomed to pouring him fresh pints.
I watched, and we talked a bit in between crunches, medicine ball tosses, weights and cardio. His trainer worked him out harder than an infant works at a new teething ring and I found out just how much his boys Tyrone and Conor and wife Heather (whos been battling cancer) mean in the grand scheme of things.
Clarke likes The Golf Channel more than you can imagine. Fact was - he wore me out with excitement about how TGC was headed to the UK given that he couldnt get us on his current satellite system. It was great, and given that I was actually working out a bit as well, we sort of joined together in a bond toward better fitness. (I just havent gone with the plaid pants as yet.) His fitness craze actually cost him a wardrobe of some 200 shirts and 100 pants but gave him a fresh mind and a chance to visit a tailor for the new wardrobe he now sports on course.
His worldwide victories (13) and good standing in Ryder Cup play (4 teams) over the years speaks the absolute truth about his level of ability.
Yet, last weekend at Harbour Town, Clarke turned a two day total of 130 and a huge lead into a Saturday ' Sunday of 149 and a huge collapse. Watching Clarke go from 14 under to 5 under faster than the new-look Clarke could run up the famed lighthouse was unbelievable.
I asked myself where it came from. We talked about it on the 'Sprint Post Game' Sunday night. Clarke himself said he couldnt believe what hed just done.
Cmon. Weve all done it. One thing goes wrong and everything goes wrong after.
A few weeks ago I was out at Orlandos Grand Cypress Resort playing like a champ from the tips (they made me) with a few Nationwide Tour card-holding friends. I get to the par 4 ninth at 1 over with a more-than-respectable 37 in the cards. Great drive. And then I see too much of the water and lose my focus on playing smart. One visit to the lake later and its a 39, followed up by a 43 and Im left to tell my friends about just how often I can find a way to shoot 82.
Then, just a few days ago, I rush to my home course and without hitting a ball on the range I proceed to three-putt my way to back-to-back bogeys right out of the gate. Seven holes later Ive rebounded to shoot 39. OK, things are good.
Then we get held up at the turn for 30 minutes by among others a mild-mannered club employee whos skipping around and had come to the first (we started at 10) from the 15th. This makes me furious and I spend the next handful of minutes questioning the pro shops practice that morning. Double bogey, double bogey at 1 and 2 and Im in full Darren Clarke mode.
The good news, if there is any, is that I rebound for a back nine 41 and post 80.
Heres the deal. Im a registered 7 handicap whos posted rounds of 74 on more than a few occasions. But as my cohort on the 'Sprint Post Game' Brian Hewitt and I talk about ' the problem with being a 7 is that while youre good enough to go low, youre also not quite good enough to fight off the demons that take you into the 80sway into the 80s. Ive got the cards to prove it.
Funny thing was, that as things were going so Darren Clarke wrong the other day during my double-double stretch, I was honestly thinking about Clarke and what he must have felt like trying to hold on to what had gone so, so right.
Weve all been there. And while its easy to think of Clarke and say things like Wow ' hes got 13 worldwide wins and been a Ryder Cup hero? Its also what we love about this game so much.
Clarke ' while easily one of the games top 20 players ' has the ability to be just like the rest of us. Hes not always immune to the pressure. Hes not able to beat off the demons with his rescue club.
If you watched the 'Sprint Post Game' on Sunday, you know that Clarke went straight into the media center after fatting his chance to win. He faced the questions and he answered the questions with the same honest bewilderment that we all feel on the course sometimes. That was impressive.
I was a big Darren Clarke fan before Sunday at the MCI Heritage. Now, after listening to Clarke ' and living his Sunday world for myself this week, Im a huge fan.
By the way, Clarke shot 1 under Thursday at the Shell Houston Open with one birdie and NO bogeys. Not a single one.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
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Stock Watch: Park rises again, under the radar

By Ryan LavnerMarch 20, 2018, 12:48 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, 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.