McGinley's plan pays dividends for Europe

By Randall MellSeptember 28, 2014, 9:06 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Europe’s Thomas Bjorn didn’t notice the chill of the autopsy room with the corpse no longer there.

Bjorn didn’t notice as he galloped through the doors with Jamie Donaldson perched on his back, with Donaldson giggling and whipping him like a racehorse. He didn’t notice with Lee Westwood popping a champagne bottle and all his teammates parading in behind him, their respective national flags wrapped around their necks like scarves.

The Europeans marched into the Gleneagles media room after Sunday’s 16½ to 11½ victory unaware that the cold, dead form of the U.S. Ryder Cup effort had just been carved open there in a most gruesome dissection of what was wrong with the American team.

They didn’t know their sixth thumping of the United States in their last seven tries had led Tom Watson’s captaincy to be carved up in front of the world’s media in that very room just minutes before. They didn’t know until European captain Paul McGinley was asked in the news conference if he could explain why he got it right and Watson got it wrong.

In fact, McGinley was told that he got his plan so right that it inspired “an extraordinary attack” on Watson by his own team in the very seats the Euros were now sitting upon.

The media watching the Euros parade in were witness to Phil Mickelson’s recitation of what was right with the ’08 U.S. team that won in Valhalla, with Mickelson’s answer not so subtly exposing what he felt was wrong with the American team under Watson’s leadership.

There was no other way to interpret Mickelson explaining how U.S. captain Paul Azinger got everyone “invested” in his plan that week and “invested” in each other, and how the United States needed to “get back to that formula” because “nobody was in on any decision” this week.

Welcome to the post-mortem, Capt. McGinley.

“I’m sorry to hear that, if that’s the case,” McGinley said. “I have huge respect for Tom Watson.”

McGinley has made no secret that Watson was his boyhood hero, and that’s what made McGinley’s leadership style so powerfully poignant this week.

McGinley’s career as a player paled in comparison to Watson’s, with Watson winning twice as many majors (8) as McGinley won European Tour titles (4). Yet McGinley proved twice the captain Watson was this week in so many people’s eyes. Without any malice intended, McGinley’s style stood in such stark contrast to Watson’s. McGinley inadvertently exposed Watson’s shortcomings in the minds of Mickelson and others.

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In other words, McGinley was everything Watson wasn’t this week, with the final score dictating that final assessment.

Watson, 65, was old school, more Vince Lombardi than Norman Vincent Peale.

McGinley was, well, let Sergio Garcia explain the conversation he had with Bjorn this week: “Thomas was mentioning that he strongly feels that Paul is the new wave of captains. A lot more modern, every detail, it was right there. He thought of everything this week. It was amazing.”

Garcia, Bjorn, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and all the European players took turns raving about McGinley and how he created this architectural construct for winning, an atmosphere of trust that the Euros call their “template.”

“I couldn’t criticize his captaincy at any point this week,” Westwood said.

If the Americans want a meticulous, comprehensive new American Ryder Cup plan, the PGA of America might want to start by creating a covert operations division. They might want to start by slipping a deep cover operative into Ireland to steal McGinley’s black book. It’s a compilation of notes he has kept as a player on three Ryder Cup teams, as a vice captain on two Ryder Cup teams and as a captain on two Seve Trophy teams.

“Paul McGinley has been absolutely immense this week,” McIlroy said. “He has left no stone unturned. He's just been fantastic. Everything’s been tied in, from speeches that he's made, to the people that he got in to talk to us, to the imagery in our team room.”

The Euros praised McGinley not just for his plan, but his ability to communicate it to them, to connect them all to his vision, or as McGinley keeps calling it, the “template” that makes the European Ryder Cup effort work.

How did he “invest” players in his plan?

McGinley knew very little about Frenchman Victor Dubuisson when the Frenchman cracked into the European Ryder Cup picture late last year. With Dubuisson’s reputation as enigmatic, a bit of a mystery, McGinley flew to the Eurasia Cup in March specifically to get to know him.

Once they connected, once he got a feel for Dubuisson’s personality, McGinley went to work on McDowell, because he believed McDowell would be the perfect Ryder Cup guide for the French rookie.

He shared that plan with McDowell, and the pair went 2-0 together this week.

McGinley knew Jamie Donaldson. He captained him at the Seve Trophy, and he believed Lee Westwood would be the perfect guide for the English rookie. They were 2-1 this week.

McGinley teamed Ian Poulter with Scottish rookie Stephen Gallacher this week. That pairing didn’t work, with the duo getting crushed, but McGinley let his players know he was always working contingencies, always thinking about next steps.

“You have a skeleton plan,” McGinley said earlier in the week. “Nothing is written in stone. You don't ever write things in stone, and you have to react, and if you're not able to react, you've got a problem. As captain, I've been planning all week long. This is why you don't see a lot of me on the golf course. I'm plotting our next move.”

McGinley always seemed to be one step ahead of Watson.

There were also McGinley’s messages, themes built to address challenges he anticipated the Europeans facing. He shared those with players on their journey to Gleneagles and reinforced them with inspirational slogans and pictures tied to his themes.

“Everything I've been doing this week as captain has been working towards three or four key messages,” McGinley said on Saturday. “I’ll share that more on Sunday when we’re all done.”

McGinley knew Watson was selling the Americans on storming Gleneagles for redemption.

So, McGinley sold the Europeans on the virtue of being a rock, and then he followed that up posting an inspirational photograph just outside the team room, an image of rock being pounded in a storm on some European shoreline.

“We will be the rock when the storm arrives,” was the inscription on the poster.

Those themes didn’t fall on deaf ears. When asked Sunday night if he was ready to reveal what specific messages he was feeding his team all week, he asked the players to reveal them. As if on cue, they began shouting them out.

“Be the rock,” Rose said.

“Complacency,” McIlroy said.

“Wave after wave,” McDowell said.

“Concentration,” McIlroy said.

“Attitude,” they all shouted.

When McGinley invited Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United soccer legend, to speak to his team this week, he didn’t do it randomly. He shaped the message with Ferguson. He shaped it with the themes he was building upon.

McGinley didn’t just invest his players in his plan. He invested his vice captains and caddies.

“He has been so methodical,” Garcia said. “Every single aspect that he needed to touch on, he did.”

It’s a winning template even the American players sounded willing to buy into, something more on the lines of what Azinger brought than what Watson did.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

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Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''