Cup Up for Grabs
As it was, it all evened out Saturday afternoon. And its all even heading to Sunday.
For the first time since the 1991 Matches at Kiawah Island the United States and Europeans are tied through two days of competition. The two squads are deadlocked at 8 points apiece in the 34th Ryder Cup.
'I think we're all pleased, not tickeled to death or happy, but pleased that we're 8-8 this week,' said U.S. captain Curtis Strange.
Woods and Love defeated Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, 1-up, when the European tandem both bogeyed the last.
The reverse happened to Hoch and Furyk, as they led Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley, 1-up, but also made a pair of bogeys at 18 to hand Europe a half.
The defending champions entered four-balls trailing the home team by a point, but won the afternoon session, 2 - 1.
With the victory, momentum has shifted the Americans' side as they have a history of manhandling their foreign counterparts in the one-on-one format.
What history? asked Thomas Bjorn. We won the singles, 7-5, at Oak Hill. It can be done. If we can win 7-5 in Americawe can win the singles here.
True they triumphed in 1995, but it is one of only two occasions when they have out-dueled the Americans head-to-head since the continent of Europe joined the competition in 1979. The other time came in 1985, here at The Belfry.
But there is some history on the Europeans side as well. The last time the U.S. won a four-ball session, and led after two days was 95 ' the year Europe won the singles and the Cup.
This European team ' with four rookies ' has a combined 7-10-6 singles record. The Americans ' with three first-timers ' has a record of 13-4-4.
I think our singles line-up is a lot stronger than people seem to realize, said Phillip Price. I think even the players who appear to not have been in form are playing a lot better than they were, like the likes of Lee (Westwood). Im playing better; Pierre Fulke is playing well. Niclas Fasth is magnificent.
'We have world-class players at the top end there, a strong line-up on the singles.'
After splitting the Saturday morning foursomes, 2-2, European captain Sam Torrance shuffled his line-up in the afternoon. The one team he kept the same was that of Garcia and Westwood, who had combined for three victories in three matches.
They faced Woods and Love, who teamed together for the first time in the morning, defeating Clarke and Thomas Bjorn, 4-and-3.
The two teams were all square entering the 277-yard, par-4 10th.
Garcia was the only player to go for the green off the tee on Day 1, and took the same route on Day 2 ' this time with a different result. His drive clipped the top of the trees that protect the green, but came to rest safely on the apron of the putting surface. Friday, his ball landed in the hazard.
With his partner dry, Westwood launched his drive over the trees and onto the green, some 18 feet from the hole. He was the first player of the week to officially reach the green off the tee.
Hitting second, both Woods and Love laid up. Neither made birdie, while Westwood cozied up his eagle effort to concession range.
'We were a little bit stumped, but I looked at him and I said, 'What do you want to do?'' Love recalled. 'He said, 'We decided we're going to lay up, so we're going to lay up.'
'And we just didn't hit good wedge shots.'
Woods birdied from seven feet at 13 to even the score, but Garcia responded with a birdie of his own at 14.
Westwood then made a 25-footer for birdie at 16, only to have Tiger roll one in on top of him from 12 feet to stay 1-down.
Love finally contributed with a birdie at 17 ' just his second of the day. And when Garcia missed from three feet, the match was again all square.
It came down to a putting contest at the last. Garcia missed his par putt from six feet. Love made his from four feet. And Westwood nervously missed his from three feet to surrender the match, 1-up.
The American bystanders stormed the green to celebrate - this time after the match was fully completed - and Garcia was seen kicking his bag in frustration.
Woods made nine birdies and one bogey for a round of 8-under 64. Love shot 70.
With the overall score tied at 7, Hoch and Furyk blew a 2-up lead with five holes to play, only to win 17 to reclaim a 1-up edge.
McGinley was the only player in the group to hit the green at 18. Hoch chipped to eight feet, while Furyk blasted his ball from a buried lie in the bunker to twice that distance.
The Irishman two-putted for par, leaving the door open for the U.S. Furyk putted first and missed. Hoch then did the same.
'It was a great note to finish on, to win that last hole, to get 8 each,' Torrance said. 'If we were behind - the last time we were behind was in '95 and we beat them in singles, so let's see if we can do it tomorrow.'
Jesper Parnevik saw his first action of the week in the afternoon. He and Niclas Fasth took a quick 3-up lead on David Duval and Calcavecchia before the Americans came storming back.
Duval birdied the eighth to cut the deficit, and then nearly drove onto the green at 10. His ball finished 25 feet from the hole in the right fringe.
Parnevik tried to reach the green off the tee, but his ball bounced off dry land and into the water. Fasth, who played safely, inexplicably spun his approach shot off the green and into the hazard, thus giving the Americans the hole ' and putting the Europeans in one.
That shot David hit on the 10th hole really turned things around, Calcavecchia said.
Calcavecchia tapped in for birdie at 13 to square the match, and Duval made a 12-foot curler at the par-3 12th to go 1-up. They went dormie-2 after another Calcavecchia birdie at 16.
Fasth birdied 17 to keep alive the hope of a half, but both teams parred 18 to give the Americans a 1-up win.
Calcavecchia and Duval each collected their first four-ball victories. Calcavecchias record improved to 1-4-0; Duval went to 1-2-1.
While those two were able to overcome a 3-down deficit, Phil Mickelson and David Toms werent as fortunate. They fell to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, 2-and-1.
The loss was the first in four pairings for Mickelson and Toms. Montgomerie is now 3-0-1 this week, having earned two wins and a half with Bernhard Langer. He hasnt trailed at any point in his four matches.
In 1999, the Americans trailed by four points after two days and came back to win. They got a guarantee from their captain, Ben Crenshaw, who had a 'feeling,' and some words of inspiration from former President George Bush that Saturday night. Bush was on hand this Saturday watching the matches with Strange.
Both captains said they will have their own ways of preparing their teams for Sunday.
'Obviosuly, I'm going to try to say something tonight to motivate them. It's a big day tomorrow,' Torrance said. 'But words of wisdom, I don't know. It will probably come from somebody else. But they're ready for it. They don't need to know anything, just who they're playing against, go to bed and think about it.'
Said Strange: 'I can't do anything other than prepare them. And do I have a feeling? Well, I have a lot of trust and I believe in these guys.'
A team must win 14 points to win the Matches. Being the reigning champions, the U.S. can retain the Cup by earning a 14-14 tie.
Full coverage of the 34th Ryder Cup Matches
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.