Couples: Coolest night of my life

By Randall MellMay 7, 2013, 1:28 am

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – So many mountaintops.

So many different paths leading to them.

Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Willie Park Jr., Ken Schofield and Ken Venturi carved distinctive careers climbing their way to one of golf’s most majestic peaks Monday as the newest class of inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame at the World Golf Village.

Couples, 53, got to the top of the game with a swing as deceptively powerful as his personality.

With an effortless, silky move that belies the strength that earned him the nickname “Boom Boom,” Couples played his way to 15 PGA Tour titles, including the Masters in 1992 and two Players Championships (1984, ’96). He was the first American to go to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Photos: World Golf Hall of Fame induction

Videos: Couples | Monty | Nantz on Venturi

Couples, though, won hearts even more easily than he won trophies, and he showed why in a clever and emotional speech that was classic “Freddie Speak.”

The induction’s importance to Couples was clear in his final words and on his face as he left the stage.

“Thanks for sending a kid from Seattle to the Hall of Fame,” Couples said. “This is the coolest night of my life.”

That final sentence left him in tears.

With his movie-star looks, his easy, unaffected manner, Couples became one of the most popular players of his generation. His appeal radiated beyond his record. He made his fame winning as the coolest guy in golf.

“Every woman wants to be with Fred Couples, every man wants to be Fred Couples,” Montgomerie said before Monday’s ceremony began.

CBS’ Jim Nantz, who was Couples' teammate at the University of Houston, put the sentiment in other words.

“Fred’s the coolest, most casual, and one of the most gifted players the game has ever known,” Nantz said. “The cool thing? He’s never tried to be cool. It’s always been Fred just trying to be Fred.”

Couples set the table after taking the stage to a standing ovation.

“There’s a big question,” Couples said. “How did I get here?”

Couples proceeded to explain that he was 9 years old growing up in Seattle when he caddied for Steve Dallas, his older brother’s friend. Dallas gave Couples a small set of clubs “from some supermarket” with a plastic driver and set of 5-, 7- and 9-irons and a putter, all in a canvas golf bag. Couples took his game to Jefferson Park and “played every day.”

Before he set out to the course every morning with his bag slung around his shoulder, Couples’ mother would give him $5. It was enough for the $3.50 green fees with $1.50 left for a hamburger and a Coke. He joked the daily allowance miffed his sister, Cindy.

“I got an allowance of 35 bucks a week,” Couples said. “She got, I think, $8 a week. But all mine was spent at Jefferson Park.”

Couples choked up briefly in his speech, saying he was 14 when he was inspired to another level watching a mesmerizing pro give a clinic in Seattle.

“The gentleman’s name is Lee Trevino, who has been a mentor and someone I love,” Couples said.

Montgomerie, 49, started his climb to the top growing up in Scotland.

“I started playing at the grand old age of 5 in Troon, Scotland,” Montgomerie told the Hall of Fame gathering. “Mind you, in Troon, that's about all you do.”

Montgomerie was a force on the European Tour, winning 31 events and eight Order of Merit titles, including seven in a row (1993-99). No British player has won more European Tour titles.

“In many ways, Colin Montgomerie is the European Tour,” European Tour Chief Executive George O’Grady said. “He brought drive, passion and commitment to the game, but more than anything, he brought leadership.”

Montgomerie never won a major championship, but he was a Ryder Cup star.

“The Ryder Cup is really Europe’s second major,” Schofield said.

With a stellar 20-9-7 record, Montgomerie helped Europe win five of the eight Ryder Cups in which he played. He was never beaten in singles (6-0-2).

“I hate to lose,” Montgomerie said in his Hall of Fame news conference before the ceremony. “I had a dramatic fear of losing.”

Despite all his success as a player, Montgomerie said his proudest achievement was leading Europe to a Ryder Cup victory as the team captain at Celtic Manor in 2010.

Venturi, 81, won 14 PGA Tour titles with the highlight of his career coming in his victory at the U.S. Open at Congressional in 1964. In 100-degree temperatures, with heat exhaustion plaguing him, Venturi staggered to the win over 36 holes on the final day. He would make another mark on the game as a CBS golf analyst for 35 years.

Unable to attend the induction ceremony, Venturi is recovering from surgery and an infection in his spine. He is hospitalized in Palm Springs, Calif. Nantz spoke for Venturi.

“I love Ken Venturi as a friend and a mentor, and I'm heartbroken he's not standing here right now,” Nantz said. “I think most people know, Kenny has been ill for some time now. He's been in the hospital out in Palm Springs for two months. However, I'm going to tell you, the prognosis is still good. He can get through this. I really believe it in my heart.”

Venturi’s son, Matt, said his father is eager to accept a World Golf Hall of Fame offer to make his speech next year.

Schofield, 67, one of three Scots inducted Monday, became the European Tour’s executive director in 1975 and reigned until 2004, a time of unprecedented growth for the tour. When Schofield came aboard, the European Tour schedule featured just 17 events. There were 45 on the schedule when he retired. He also oversaw the creation of the European Challenge Tour and the European Senior Tour.

Schofield also steered the European Tour toward global expansion, opening doors that would lead the tour to Africa and Asia. Schofield took the tour off the continent for the first time in 1982 with the start of the Tunisian Open.

Schofield credited rising European stars such as Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam and Montgomerie for helping him build the tour.

“To be nominated through the lifetime achievement category into the Hall is the proudest moment of my professional career,” Schofield said.

Park Jr., a Scot who died in 1925, won the British Open twice. He’s the son of World Golf Hall of Famer Willie Park Sr., who won four British Opens, including the inaugural championship in 1860. A pioneer in club and ball design, Park Jr. made his mark beyond that of a player. He was also an architect and writer.

“Think families, and you think of Davis Love, father and son; the Harmons, Claude and his precocious progeny,” said John Hopkins, The Times of London golf writer who presented Park for the family. “You think of the Allisses, Percy and Peter. Perhaps you think of Old and Young Tom Morris and Willie Park Sr. and Jr., the Montagues and the Capulets of their time, at least as far as their rivalries were concerned.

“The Morrises won more Opens than the Parks, eight to six, but in challenge matches between the two families, it was the Parks who gained the upper hand.”

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Woods moves into top 25 in U.S. Ryder Cup race

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

After another strong tournament finish, Tiger Woods continued his rapid ascent through the U.S. Ryder Cup standings.

Woods was named as one of Jim Furyk's vice captains last month, but the possibility that he'll be playing instead of driving a cart - or perhaps pulling double duty - continues to increase. Woods' T-5 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational helped him jump eight more spots in the U.S. points race, up to No. 24.

Bryson DeChambeau, who finished alone in second place behind Rory McIlroy, made the biggest jump of the week by going from No. 56 to No. 15.

The top eight following the PGA Championship will automatically qualify for Paris, and that part of the standings remained unchanged after Bay Hill. Here's a look at the top names:

1. Justin Thomas

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Brooks Koepka

4. Phil Mickelson

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Matt Kuchar

7. Brian Harman

8. Patrick Reed


9. Rickie Fowler

10. Gary Woodland

11. Bubba Watson

12. Chez Reavie

Here's a look at the European race, where McIlroy made a big move with his victory at Bay Hill. The top four from the European Points list and the top four from the World Points list in August will all qualify automatically, with captain Thomas Bjorn adding four picks:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Ross Fisher

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Tommy Fleetwood

3. Rory McIlroy

4. Sergio Garcia

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Monday Scramble: Who's the (Masters) man?

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 3:00 pm

Rory McIlroy stars at Bay Hill, Tiger Woods stumbles late, the Masters favorites take shape, Inbee Park wins again and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Rory McIlroy is back, and not a moment too soon, with the Masters now just two and a half weeks away.

After dealing with a nagging rib injury and slumping for the better part of the past two years, McIlroy reminded everyone of his awe-inspiring talent at Bay Hill, playing fearlessly and making five birdies in the last six holes to leave a star-studded field in the dust.

Two mental tweaks (to his backswing and putting stroke) have McIlroy feeling as though it’s 2014 all over again. That’s the year he won two majors, and if he can roll the rock like he did at Bay Hill, he’ll be a force at the Masters.

Suddenly, the thought of him capturing the career Grand Slam this year doesn't seem so far-fetched.

1. Today, Brad Faxon’s phone number is getting passed around like the flu.

First he helped Gary Woodland with his putting stroke during the offseason, turning the big hitter into the Phoenix Open champion.

And then he turned his attention to Rory McIlroy, who spent three hours with Faxon in South Florida last Monday. McIlroy was totally lost on the greens, requiring 39 putts in an embarrassing second round at the Valspar Championship, but with Faxon he flipped a switch, feeling less rigid over the ball and more reactive with his stroke.

The result? The best putting performance of McIlroy's career, as he needed just 100 putts to shoot 18 under.

Golfweek reported that by the time McIlroy’s final putt dropped – a 25-footer, of course – Faxon had already been contacted by three other former major champions.

One thing’s for sure: His rate just went up.

2. The completeness of McIlroy’s game at Bay Hill was breathtaking.

He led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Said Justin Rose, his final-round playing competitor: “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

3. Wrote more about McIlroy here on Sunday night, but the Arnold Palmer connections were a little eerie.

4. Tiger Woods rolls into the Masters with 10 consecutive rounds of even par or better – and, yes, even a sense that he could have earned a victory or two.

He finished in a tie for fifth at Bay Hill, the first time he’s had consecutive top-5 finishes on Tour since May 2013.

He’s MILES ahead of where most of us thought he’d be when he came back at the Hero.

“If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments,” he said, “I would have taken that in a heartbeat.” 

5. And so, if we’re maintaining the proper perspective, what comes next is nitpicking of the highest variety.

But here goes: Woods had yet another questionable final round when in the hunt.

At the Honda, Woods made a little bit of a run, playing the first eight holes in 3 under to create a buzz at PGA National. Then he immediately bogeyed the ninth, and instead of one last vintage finishing kick, he rinsed his tee shot on 15, bogeyed 16 and carded an even-par round of 70 to finish outside the top 10.

At the Valspar, he made more progress, going off in the penultimate pairing on Sunday. Even though he played conservatively, because he wasn’t sharp with his irons, he still had a chance to force a playoff on the 72nd hole. Then he took 2-iron off the tee, leaving him a 185-yard approach, and left his long birdie putt to tie about 2 feet SHORT.

At Bay Hill, he pulled within a shot of the lead as he stepped up to the par-5 16th. He had missed right during the previous three rounds, but he still made birdie each time. On Sunday, uncommitted with the driver, he shockingly pulled his tee shot left, out of bounds, leading to a deflating bogey. He dropped a shot on the next hole, too, and did well just to save par on the last.

All of the physical tools are there for Woods to succeed, but his last three starts suggest there’s a mental hurdle for him to overcome, as well.

He needs to relearn how to win.

6. Once again, Woods’ short game carried him to success at Bay Hill.

He finished the week ranked inside the top 10 in both strokes gained-putting (eighth) and around the green (second). He missed only one of his 64 chances inside 10 feet.

His long game raised plenty of red flags, however. Of the 77 players who made the cut, he was 71st in strokes gained-off the tee.

Yes, Augusta is more accommodating than most venues, but the world’s best players – Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rory, Jon Rahm – all use their driver as a weapon. Woods isn’t there, yet.

7. Woods apparently has shown enough to become the betting favorite for the Masters, with 8-1 odds. He’s ahead of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and McIlroy, all of whom are listed at 10-1.

Two weeks out, here’s one man’s list of the top five favorites:

1. Justin Rose

2. Phil Mickelson

3. Justin Thomas

4. Rory McIlroy

5. Dustin Johnson

8. Bryson DeChambeau didn’t back down in the final round.

Playing in a final group for the first time on Tour, and facing a bevy of stars, DeChambeau eagled the 16th hole to pull within a shot of the lead and eventually finished solo second.

To win the John Deere last July, he made six birdies on the back nine. His inward 33 at Bay Hill wasn’t enough to overtake McIlroy, but the 24-year-old said he’ll take plenty of confidence into the Masters.

“Ultimately it kind of stinks, but at the same point in time I’m happy with where my game’s at,” he said. “Finishing second out here is not an easy task with all of these great players, and this is, honestly, my first time being in the big thick of things with a lot of guys. So it was great to be comfortable out here and to actually make a couple clutch putts.”  

9. As for Henrik Stenson, it was another close call at Arnie’s Place.

The 54-hole leader shot a second consecutive 71 on the weekend and got lapped. It was his sixth top-15 finish there in his past seven starts.

10. Woods and Ernie Els were named captains for the 2019 Presidents Cup … 21 months ahead of time.

That was the most curious aspect of this announcement. Not that Woods and Els were going to lead their respective teams – it was a natural progression in their careers – but rather, why now?

The matches won’t be played for nearly two years. Woods is just beginning to reassert himself as a contender, not a ceremonial figure. And it was made during the late Arnold Palmer’s event, with a stacked field assembled and only three weeks until the Masters.

Couldn’t this have waited until, like, late April?

11. The most interesting note to come out of the news conference was this: That Woods was the one who approached PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about becoming the 2019 captain.

That phone call was preceded by a group chat with Woods, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Fred Couples and Davis Love III, when it became clear that Woods was next in line, in keeping with the succession plan Team USA is trying to push through the Ryder Cup committee.

So Woods called Monahan to ask about the possibility.

“Silence,” Woods said, “and then he said, ‘Yeah, we might be able to work that out.'”

12. Inbee Park continues to impress.

Nineteen wins. Seven majors. An Olympic gold medal. Qualifying for the Hall of Fame at age 27.

Her latest feat was a runaway win at the Founders Cup, the first domestic stop on the LPGA schedule.

13. And Lydia Ko continues to struggle.

She entered the week ranked outside the top 80 in driving distance, accuracy and greens hit, and she didn’t do anything to improve those numbers, missing the cut in Phoenix after rounds of 74-73.

Said Cristie Kerr, who was paired with Ko for the first two rounds: “Her game’s not in good shape. She seemed a little lost.”

Bryson DeChambeau in the first round of the 2017 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

DeChambeau is smart, very smart, something that was reinforced yet again Saturday night at Bay Hill.

He was talking about his recent back injury when he went Full Bryson:

“Well it was the QL and that really got inflamed for me,” he explained. “It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working, my illiacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of overworking, if you want to get technical on that.”

No. We don’t want to get technical on that.

We’re sportswriters. We’re barely college-educated. Just spelling those medical terms was difficult enough. 

So how about a translation?

“Pretty much my lower back was hurting and I rested it,” he said. “How about that?”

Yes, much better. Thanks. 

This week's award winners ... 

You Know You’re a Baller When …: Laura Davies. Now 54 years old, and nursing an Achilles injury, she turned back the clock with a sweet 63 that put her in position to become the LPGA’s oldest winner (by eight years!). She eventually tied for second, her best finish on tour in a decade.

Growing Trend?: WGC-Match Play. Five players will skip this week’s event in Austin, and that number could grow next spring, with the event awkwardly positioned just two weeks before the Masters and following a busy stretch that includes Riviera, Mexico, Honda, Bay Hill and The Players.

Name of the Game: Sergio Garcia’s baby. He and wife Angela named their baby girl “Azalea,” after the lovely flowers at Augusta National and, perhaps, after the par-5 13th hole, where Garcia made a crucial par en route to his breakthrough major. What, no love for “Tea Olive”?  

More Fan Complaints: Rory. After the third round, McIlroy suggested that the PGA Tour should consider curbing alcohol sales at events. More and more players are complaining about fan behavior, but it seems the only way something will change is if a spectator costs a player a tournament on the 72nd hole.  

So, This is Awkward: Grayson Murray and Ben An. We’re guessing not many words were exchanging in this Sunday pairing, not after Murray went scorched earth on Twitter last year during their infamous world-ranking debate.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Kiradech Aphibarnrat. All of the usual contenders hit, so we had to look further down the list and find the disappointing Barnrat. With two wins in his last four starts, and T-6s in each of his past two appearances at Bay Hill, he was a trendy sleeper pick this week. Instead, he shot rounds of 73-74 to miss the cut. Sigh.

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Luiten (wrist) withdraws from WGC-Match Play

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 2:38 pm

Joost Luiten was one of the last men to qualify for this week's WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, but he's the first one out of the tournament after withdrawing because of a wrist injury.

Luiten, who won the European Tour's Oman Open in February, posted on Instagram about his withdrawal and also wrote a lengthy explanation in Dutch on his website.

"Very disappointed to say that I have to withdraw from the WGC Dell Match Play because of a wrist injury," Luiten wrote. "Gutted because I love playing match play! I will be back strong."

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Luiten explained that the injury is on his left wrist, which was previously operated on in 2010. The exact cause is unknown, but he started to experience pain while at home in the Netherlands the week before the WGC-Mexico Championship.

Luiten went on to play in Mexico City, finishing T-37, and he tied for ninth the following week at the Hero Indian Open. But his wrist pain continued to increase, and when it didn't respond to treatment over the weekend he decided to withdraw.

Luiten will now be replaced in the field by world No. 72 Julian Suri. Bill Haas is now first alternate, while Brandt Snedeker is second alternate.

Golf Channel will air a live selection show from 7:30 to 9 p.m. ET Monday to determine the four-player pods in Austin, with round-robin matches beginning Wednesday.

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Rory inside OWGR top 10; Tiger near top 100

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 2:20 pm

Rory McIlroy is back inside the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking after rallying to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

McIlroy shot a final-round 64 at Bay Hill to race past Henrik Stenson and Bryson DeChambeau for a three-shot victory, his first on the PGA Tour in nearly 18 months. As a result, he jumped six spots to No. 7 in the latest rankings, his highest position since October.

DeChambeau finished alone in second place, jumping 34 spots to No. 61 in the world. Justin Rose remained No. 5 after finishing third, while Henrik Stenson moved up one spot to No. 14 after finishing fourth.

Tiger Woods finished T-5, his third top-12 result in as many starts. As a result he's up another 44 spots to No. 105, his best ranking since April 2015. Woods, who started the year ranked No. 656, was 388th before a runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship.

The top 50 in next week's world rankings will qualify for the upcoming Masters, meaning there are 13 players currently in the field for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play who could sew up an invite to Augusta National with a strong finish in Austin, including No. 47 Chez Reavie and No. 50 Cam Smith.

Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1 for another week, followed by Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Rose. Hideki Matsuyama remains at No. 6, with McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia rounding out the top 10.