Euros in early hole, but swing momentum by day's end

By Randall MellOctober 1, 2016, 12:55 am

CHASKA, Minn. – The Europeans can take a punch.

And, boy, can they counter punch.

Rory McIlroy showed that with his wild roundhouse punch celebration after burying a 20-foot eagle putt at the 16th hole that helped put the Euros get back in this Ryder Cup.

The Europeans didn’t just get throttled 4-0 by the Americans in the morning foursomes at Hazeltine Golf Club. The Euros felt pushed around by a rowdy, boisterous American crowd before they pushed back in afternoon fourballs to cut the U.S. lead to 5-3.

McIlroy was asked if his celebratory punch was an attempt to let the American crowd know the Europeans are unfazed.

“Yeah, for sure,” McIlroy said. “Obviously, not fazed by anything that is said by the crowd and not fazed by anything that the U.S. team throws at us.

“We were 4-nil down going into this afternoon, and I thought the whole team showed a lot of heart out there.  We played for each other. We went out there with the mindset of if we could just win this session somehow, we would be right back in it.”

McIlroy’s last putt helped him and Thomas Pieters defeat Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, 3 and 2.

McIlroy carved a 4-iron from 226 yards to 20 feet at the 16th. He was so determined to hole the eagle putt, he said he was actually thinking about how he was going to celebrate before he holed it. After the ball disappeared in the hole, he bowed one way to the crowd, then turned and bowed another way . . . and then balled up his fist and cold-cocked the air.

“It’s a hostile environment out there, and I just want everyone that's watching out there to know how much this means to us, how much it means to me personally and obviously us as a team,” McIlroy said. “And we’re not going down without a fight.”

Ryder Cup: Scoring | Live blog: Day 1 | Photo gallery

Full coverage from the Ryder Cup

The Americans looked ready to turn this into a laugher sweeping the foursome session, but the European turnaround was stunning. They won every fourball match except one, with Americans Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka rolling over Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer, 5 and 4.

McIlroy heard some fans rooting against, rooting for him to hit bad shots, but no European faced a tougher time Friday than Willett.

With his brother, Pete, penning an article back in England that ridiculed American fans as “fat, stupid, greedy, classless bastards,” Willett found himself booed at the first tee in his first Ryder Cup appearance. His brother’s rant on American eating habits, including their love of hot dogs, became a popular topic among fans following Willett in fourballs.

This from a man at the third tee: “Danny, you’re brother’s an idiot!”

This from a man in the gallery at the sixth fairway: “I love hot dogs and I drink pissy beer! I’m literally the guy your brother was writing about!”

And this from a woman in the bleachers behind the sixth green: “I fill my fat, jelly face with hot dogs. Don’t let it bother you.”

Hazeltine is packed with crowds estimated at more than 50,000, and like Willett, McIlroy heard fans rooting for him to hit bad shots.

“I'm all for people cheering for their team as much as they possibly can,” McIlroy said. “That was a little disappointing in my eyes, that that happened. But again, it's a minority of people, and you know, most people out there are being respectful and respectful of the etiquette of our game of golf.

“As we say, we want this Ryder Cup to be played in very sportsman like conduct, and a sportsmanlike conduct that the great late Arnold Palmer would be very proud of.”

While the Americans may take a 5-3 lead into Saturday, the Europeans take terrific momentum.

“They showed a massive amount, in my opinion, of desire and the fight in them to get themselves right back into it again,” European captain Darren Clarke said.

With Sergio Garcia inspired by his teaming with fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello, with Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose’s Olympic-like effort and with McIlroy launching missiles with big-hitting partner Pieters, the Euros rejuvenated themselves playing their own balls.

“The mood in the team room just there was quite buoyant and definitely feels like there was a shift in momentum,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully, we can carry that into tomorrow morning.”

The Americans also took a 5-3 lead into Saturday the last time the Ryder Cup was played on American soil. Back in 2012, the Euros made a historic Sunday comeback to win.

The Euros have overcome first-day deficits in two of the last three beatings they’ve put on the Americans.

Stenson and Rose helped swing momentum back Europe’s way in the leadoff fourballs match.

They routed the dynamic duo of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, 5 and 4, after getting whipped by them in the morning.

“It makes it sweet when you beat the guys you lost to in the morning,” Stenson said.

Stenson and Rose teamed to birdie seven of the first 11 holes.

The Spaniards have been a formidable part of Europe’s rise to power in the Ryder Cup, and they were an integral part of Europe’s rally on Friday.

Garcia and Cabrera Bello won the first hole and never trailed the rest of the way, defeating J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore, 3 and 2. Garcia’s putter was on fire. He made three consecutive birdies on the back nine, five on the day. Making his first Ryder Cup appearance, Cabrera Bello birdied the first hole to jump start the tandem.

“I love this,” Garcia said of the Ryder Cup. “This is very special for me. Sorry, I said that the wrong way. This is very special for us. Rafa was a rock out there. He gave me so much confidence to go for shots and putts.”

The Euros will be looking to build on their momentum change to battle the Americans and the home-field advantage the Euros are finding so challenging.

Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

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

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

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.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

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.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

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.