Coffee Time for Europeans

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesIn two years, the Europeans will employ Nick Faldo as their Ryder Cup captain. The U.S might want to try Blake.
Whos Blake? Hes from downtown. From Mitch & Murray. Hes on a mission of mercy.
The 12 players on the next U.S. Ryder Cup team might not be familiar with Blake. But rest assured as soon as one of them got up to grab a cup of coffee, theyd know everything they need to know about him.
Paul Casey
It's almost coffee time for Paul Casey and the Europeans.
'PUT THAT COFFEE DOWN, he would exclaim. Coffee is for closers!
Alec Baldwin played Blake in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. He was sent in by the home office to motivate a sagging sales crew. He berates them. He belittles them. He uses more profanity than all of Samuel L. Jacksons characters combined.
Of course, this probably wouldnt work for the Americans. They wouldnt take too kindly to being treated this way. And Blake wouldnt be able to intimidate them with his $80,000 BMW or his fancy watch.
But perhaps he could at least instill in them the ABCs: Always Be Closing.
The Americans cannot close a match. The Europeans can. And thats why the Euros are in wonderful position to win this competition for the fourth time in the last five contests.
The score is 10-6, which means the home team has to only secure 4 more points to retain the Cup.
Its a similar scenario to that of seven years ago, when the Europeans led by the same margin entering the singles. They, of course, got blasted that Sunday at Brookline, with the Americans winning 8 of 12 points to earn their only win since 1995.
In 99, then U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw wagged his finger at all the doubting Thomases and famously said: Im a big believer in fate and Ive got a good feeling about this thats all Im going to say.
Lehman would like to believe in fate. He knows the similarities between this competition and that of seven years ago, including the fact that the PGA Championship was contested at Medinah on both occasions (for whatever that's worth).
'I can tell you that our team doesn't feel this is over by any stretch of the imagination,' said Lehman, who played on the '99 team and led the U.S. charge by winning the first singles match that Sunday.
'Do I have a feeling? I have a feeling that our team is going to play incredibly inspired golf tomorrow.'
But this ain't Boston. This is Ireland. This is a road game. This time, European captain Ian Woosnam isn't making the same mistakes of then captain Mark James. He has played everyone over the first two days, and he's not saving his top players for the bottom of the singles line-up.
Lehman wants to believe. This, however, he already knows: this European team is better than that European team. And, though Lehman might not admit it, this European team is better than this U.S. team.
Theyre hitting better shots; theyre making more putts; theyre holing out from off the green; theyre holing out from off the tee; they're having far more fun (which is easy to do when you're winning); theyre doing what they always seem to do.
Theyre doing everything that the Americans are not, which includes, most importantly, coming up clutch when a match is in doubt.
For a while Saturday afternoon, it looked like the U.S. might possibly crawl back into this event. They were leading three of the four foursomes matches early on. And, in the end, it was the Europeans who took 2 of the 4 points, as they have done in each of the first four sessions.
Over two days, various American teams have been leading after 14 holes and lost; leading after 15 holes and halved; leading after 15 holes and lost; all square after 16 holes and lost; and leading after 17 holes and halved ' twice.
The only U.S. team to win the 18th hole and wrest away some points was the one of rookie Zach Johnson and Chad Campbell, who were 1-down through 17 holes of their Friday foursomes and got a half-point against Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.
Campbell also teamed with rookie Vaughn Taylor in Saturdays foursomes and came back from a 1-down deficit after 16 holes to earn a half.
Its not the rookies who havent come through for the Americans; its the veterans.
The four U.S. Ryder Cup newbies have gone 1-2-4 to net 3 points. Nothing spectacular, but far from abysmal.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, the Nos. 1 and 3 players in the world, have teamed four times to go just 2-2-0. Phil Mickelson is 0-3-1. Chris DiMarco is 0-2-1. David Toms is 0-2-1.
Outside of Woods and Furyk, Scott Verplank is the only player on the U.S. team with Ryder Cup experience to earn an outright win. He did so in Saturday mornings fourball session with Johnson ' and then was left out of the afternoon foursomes.
Verplank was a captains pick and played only once ' and, despite being selected because of his accuracy, wasnt used at all during the alternate-shot format.
But dont let questionable decisions or the Americans failures denigrate what the Europeans have done thus far. They have truly been spectacular through two days.
Now, they just have to get off to a good start on Sunday. Keep the crowd in it. Dont let the front-loaded Americans steal away momentum. Keep doing what theyve been doing.
Now, they just have to close it out. Go get that coffee.
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.