The Game of Risk

By Randall MellSeptember 7, 2010, 10:25 pm
LEMONT, Ill. – Rickie Fowler is a gamble.

He’s as much a captain's risk as he is a captain's pick.

There’s no way around it.

He’s a PGA Tour rookie who has never won a professional event.
Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler is the first U.S. captain's pick never to have won a PGA Tour event. (Getty Images)
You can be sure European fans are well aware that no American’s ever taken that resume to the first tee of the Ryder Cup in what is billed as golf’s most intense event.

That makes Fowler the boldest American captain’s pick in the history of the matches.

He seems destined to meet one of two spectacular extremes Oct. 1-3 at Celtic Manor in Wales. He seems destined to blossom or melt down.

A rookie on that stage? Is there any middle ground when you make your debut in the seventh game of the World Series? Because that’s what the Ryder Cup is like. It isn’t anything like golf’s major championships, where confidence and pressure build to a Sunday back-nine rush. The Ryder Cup is searing heat before the first shot is hit. It’s about winning and losing from the first hole. It’s about triumph and failure every hole. It’s about a player feeling as if he is lifting his team and country with every shot ... or letting them down. It's the kind of pressure that made American Mark Calcavecchia weep after he melted down and began hyperventilating at Kiawah Island in 1991.

“People tell you that you will be as nervous as you have ever been on the first tee of the Ryder Cup, and you say, `Nah.’ ... but you are that nervous,” American J.B. Holmes said of his Ryder Cup debut two years ago at Valhalla.

And that was a home game for Holmes.

The nature of the Ryder Cup stage is what makes Fowler a glorious gamble and a wondrous risk.

So is the fact that so many of his American teammates don’t see his selection as a particularly large gamble or risk at all.

American Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin polled his eight automatic qualifiers before he made his captain’s picks. He wanted to know who they liked. He even polled his first three captain’s picks, asking Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink who they liked before he named Fowler. Pavin wouldn’t have chosen Fowler if there were reservations within his newly formed team.

“I’m not surprised Rickie was a captain’s pick,” said Matt Kuchar, one of eight Americans who made the team on points. “I think he was a consensus pick. I think we all see Rickie as a guy who isn’t afraid of anything, as a 20-year-old with a whole lot of talent who’s got a bit of a swagger and plays with the feeling he’s bulletproof.”

Johnson also pointed to Fowler’s attitude when asked what he liked about the selection.

“His youth, the way he goes about his business, could be a good thing for the team,” Johnson said.

Fowler’s confidence and passion figure to collide dramatically with all that Ryder Cup history and pressure. It’s what makes Fowler the most compelling American storyline going into this Ryder Cup, more compelling than how Woods will fare.

Is Fowler being pushed out onto the this stage too early? Or is he just what this American team needs? Pavin had to be asking himself those questions before pulling the trigger on the former All-American from Oklahoma State.

Fowler was the blinding flash and spark Tuesday in the otherwise sedate unveiling of Pavin’s four picks.

Pavin didn’t take the safe path selecting Fowler in an announcement fittingly made at the New York Stock Exchange. Pavin made a giant investment in the future of American golf. He went all in on his belief Fowler will return a giant dividend as a can’t-miss blue-chip stock.

On a day when Woods was made a captain’s pick for the first time, Fowler practically upstaged that news. Fowler was all the buzz on the driving range at the BMW Championship.

You could hear the excitement Fowler generated in Sean Foley’s voice in the parking lot behind the practice range at Cog Hill. You could hear it after Foley hopped out of a car and spotted young European sensation Rory McIlroy.

Foley, who knows something about being a hot topic as Woods’ new swing coach, slapped McIlroy in a hearty embrace and immediately asked him what he suspects McIlroy will be asked a lot of over the next three weeks.  

“Are we going to see Rickie take on Rory in the Ryder Cup?” Foley asked McIlroy. “I think everyone wants to know that.”

In other words, are we going to see the future of American golf take on the future of European golf?

You can argue McIlroy’s time has already arrived with his breakthrough on American soil in his victory at Quail Hollow this year and his European Tour breakthrough victory a year ago.

Fowler, who’s shown spectacular potential, has yet to prove he’s a winner at all in the professional ranks. In 30 PGA Tour starts, though, he’s finished among the top-10 nearly a quarter of the time, with three second-place finishes, one of those in a sudden-death playoff loss.

Still, Fowler’s vast potential trumps his record in this selection.

McIlroy huddled with Fowler Tuesday afternoon near the equipment trucks behind the practice range at Cog Hill. McIlroy knows Fowler’s passion for national team events. Fowler was 4-0 helping the Americans beat Great Britian/Ireland in the Walker Cup matches last year. He’s 7-1 overall in Walker Cup play. Three years ago, Fowler teamed with Billy Horschel to defeat McIlroy and Jonny Caldwell, 2 and 1, in an alternate-shot match in Northern Ireland.

“Rickie’s a really good competitor,” McIlroy said. “He’s really good under pressure. He holes a lot of putts, and he isn’t a guy who is going to let down. He just keeps going. That’s a very good thing in the Ryder Cup.”

Zach Johnson got a close-up look at Fowler’s game under pressure at the British Open at St. Andrews this year. They were paired together in the third round. Fowler shot 71 to Johnson’s 74.

“You hear all the hype, but you never know until you see the player in person,” said Damon Green, Johnson’s caddie. “I watched Rickie, and my reaction was, 'Wow.’ He played fearlessly. I think he was bogey free that day. He drove the ball really well, just a very solid player, very impressive. I could see why there was so much hype.”

If Fowler doesn’t win the BMW Championship this week or the Tour Championship in two weeks, his most important victories as a pro will come at the Ryder Cup in three weeks. Perhaps his most devastating losses, too.

That’s what makes him such a compelling gamble and risk.
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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.