The Cup Comes Back to Europe
But then it happened. One of the biggest shockers in the 75-year history of the Ryder Cup.
Phil Mickelson, a man bred in match-play manner, flawless in singles competition, lost to Phillip Price, a point-less rookie.
The match was the fulcrum on which the 34th edition of the Ryder Cup swung into the Europeans hands.
Having started the day at eight points apiece, the Europeans won, 15 - 12.
It was always going to be close. And we won it. We won it, Torrance said while trying to fight back tears. All I did was lead them to the water and they drank copiously.
Torrances Sunday strategy of playing his top players first in the singles matches paid off handsomely in the form of a 17-inch gold chalice. His European team engulfed the Americans early, and got some surprising results late.
Price won the fifth, sixth and seventh holes to take a 3-up lead on the worlds No. 2 ranked player. Mickelson won the ninth to cut his deficit, but the 35-year-old Welshman, ranked 119th in the world, stuck his approach shot at 10 to two feet to reclaim his 3-up advantage.
Price saved par from 12 feet to keep his lead, and did the same with a birdie from seven feet at 13.
Mickelson tried to mount a comeback, sinking a six-footer for birdie at 15 to get 2-down. But Price made a 20-foot downhill birdie at the next to seal the surreal victory.
Mickelson, along with Tiger Woods, were supposed to be the Americans' safety net should the Cup come down to the end. But as it was, Woods' disppointing half with Jesper Parnevik was of no consequence.
Prices 3-and-2 win gave the Europeans a 13 - 10 lead. Niclas Fasth then earned a half against Paul Azinger, who holed his bunker shot for birdie at the last to avoid defeat.
It was Irishman Paul McGinley who put the Europeans over the top with his half against Jim Furyk. The Ryder Cup rookie sank a 10-foot par putt at 18 to send his team, and nearly 50,000 fans, into a frenzy.
It marked the first time the Europeans won the singles portion of the Matches since 1995, at Oak Hill, when they also captured the Cup. The only other occasion when theyve won the one-on-one session since incorporating the continent as a whole, in 1979, was 1985 at The Belfry.
Since winning for the first time in 28 years in 85, the oft-viewed underdogs have now won or retained the Cup six of the last nine competitions.
They also vanquished the lingering memory of the last Ryder Cup at Brookline, when they blew a four-point lead heading into Sunday. That day the U.S. won the first six singles matches to turn the tide and win the event.
Like three years ago, television viewers could barely keep the pace this Sunday. Every time directors cut from one hole to another, pixels emanated from the site of a European stuffing an approach shot to five feet, or holing a putt from 20.
Captain Curtis Strange and his 12 Americans must have thought they were in Bizarro Brookline ' a reverse world, one where a strangers imperfections are perfect in the eyes of the host.
In '99, then U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw stacked his line-up early, letting his horses run out of the gates in order to make up the deficit. They did just that, flooding the scoreboard in American red.
This time the strategy was the same ' for Torrance. And the scoreboard was awash in a sea of European blue.
The home team won five of the first eight matches, and halved another.
Colin Montgomerie went out first Sunday, facing Scott Hoch. He earned a half with Hoch in the 1997 singles at Valderrama; though, the overall outcome had already been decided in Europes favor.
This time it was up to Montgomerie to set the tone, which he did. He birdied the first, was 3-up by the turn, and won 5-and-4. He made six birdies in his 14 holes played.
Ive played six of these singles, Montgomerie said. Thats by far the best Ive played.
The next match in was that of Padraig Harrington and Mark Calcavecchia. The Irishman also thumped the American, 5-and-4.
It was Europe 10, America 8. Immediately thereafter, it was 11-8, as Bernhard Langer defeated Hal Sutton, 4-and-3.
We wanted to win the first six matches out here and take the pressure off the others, Langer said.
They werent quite able to that. Sergio Garcia led David Toms, 2-up through nine holes, when, as he had done all week, he went for the green off the tee at the short par-4 10th. His ball finished right of the green, but his chip shot didnt trickle down the slope to the hole. Garcia made par, while Toms made birdie after laying up in the fairway.
Toms went on to win 13 and 14 to take the lead, and won, 1-up, when Garcia hit his tee shot in the water on 18.
Europe 11, America 9.
David Duval and Darren Clarke traded birdies at 17 to keep their match all square. They then both badly missed the green at the last. Clarke pitched his third to within concession range, and Duval made an imperative eight-footer to halve the hole and the match.
Europe 11 , America 9 .
Thomas Bjorn defeated Stewart Cink, 2-and-1, when Cink made bogey on the par-5 17th. And Scott Verplank topped Lee Westwood, 2-and-1, to keep the margin between the two teams at 2.
After Price made it 13 - 10, Azinger stole a half from Fasth, reviving memories of his 1993 Memorial triumph when his bunker hole-out defeated the late Payne Stewart.
But McGinley officially ended it, making the final two matches for pride alone.
Davis Love III and Pierre Fulke agreed on a half. Woods bogeyed the last to give Parnevik a half.
Love and Fulke were tied on the 18th when Garcia came running down the fairway to hug Fulke's caddie and celebrate. At that point Love had had enough, and asked an official and Fulke for a half, which he was awarded.
'They won, it was over, it's hard not to celebrate,' Love said of Garcia's actions. 'It just was not the way to finish the match.'
Perhaps some fodder when the 2004 Ryder Cup takes place at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Full coverage of the 34th Ryder Cup Matches
Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions
The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”
For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.
There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.
“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”
But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.
Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”
“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”
Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.
“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”
It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.
Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”
The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”
You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.
How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?
“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.
Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.
The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.
Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.
Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.
“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”
It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.
Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.
The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.
Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week
Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.
That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.
Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.
From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.
Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.
She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.
She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.
“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”
Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.
With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.
The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.
She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.
The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.
One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge
Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.
Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.
Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:
Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.
Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.
Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.
Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.
David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.
DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.
The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.
''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''
In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.
''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''
The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.
''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.