America's Ryder Cup future depends on new blood

By Randall MellOctober 30, 2014, 5:06 pm

The first thing the American Ryder Cup task force should look at is the one thing Tom Watson got right.

Watson’s boldest move wasn’t benching Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for all of Saturday in the United States’ loss in Scotland last month. It was seeing that the next generation of young stars is the best hope American has in cleaning up this Ryder Cup mess.

Watson’s boldest move was pairing rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

His next boldest move was sending them off first and second in Sunday singles with Rickie Fowler right behind them.

Watson was desperate at that point, but maybe it took being there for him to finally see the real solution was investing in the fresh, new faces before him. Not just young faces, but new blood, like 35-year-old Jimmy Walker, who played well in Scotland.

So with this new wraparound PGA Tour season already rolling, the hope for an American Ryder Cup turnaround may ride more on what fresh, new faces step up this season than on anything the PGA of America’s task forces does.

There’s this little international team event known as the Presidents Cup that will serve as a nice warm up next year for evolving American talent with an eye toward the 2016 Ryder Cup. Will Chris Kirk continue to develop and make the U.S. Presidents Cup team? He’s 29. Will Billy Horschel? He’s 27.

The Presidents Cup will be staged at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in Incheon in October of next year. With the PGA Tour beginning its fall Asian swing at the CIMB Classic this week, it’s a good time to look at which up-and-comers may be best equipped to try and make their first U.S. team when the Americans return to Asia for the Presidents Cup next year.

The candidates:

• Billy Horschel, 27 – The FedEx Cup champion wants to parlay his confidence and momentum from the playoffs into success on larger stages. He has soared to No. 13 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He’s the highest ranked American who hasn’t made a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team. His FedEx Cup playoff victories at the BMW Championship and Tour Championship in September portend greater success.

• Chris Kirk, 29 – Watson skipped over him making his captain’s picks, which ought to provide an extra dose of motivation for Kirk to try to qualify for the American Presidents Cup team on points. There’s a long, long way to go, but he’s fourth on the points list heading to the CIMB Classic. With Kirk at No. 23 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Horschel is the only American who ranks ahead of him who hasn’t made a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team.

• Brooks Koepka, 24 –Maybe all that experience earning his stripes on the European Tour and Challenge Tour will bring some other Euro mojo with him. Koepka has a flair for the dramatic, winning his PGA Tour card the hard way earlier this year. He tied for fourth at the U.S. Open, winning his PGA Tour card through non-member winnings. He tied for 15th at the PGA Championship.

• Russell Henley, 25 –There are flashes of the spectacular in this guy, who won in his PGA Tour rookie debut, breaking the Sony Open scoring record by four shots. He beat an all-star field, including Rory McIlroy in a four-man playoff, in winning the Honda Classic in the spring.

• Harris English, 25 – With victories in each of the last two seasons and seven top-10 finishes a year ago, English is an emerging young talent looking to take another step up in class this season. He’s a big hitter who hits a lot of greens and makes a lot of putts. It’s a formidable combination.

• Gary Woodland, 30 –The big hitting two-time PGA Tour winner is steadily climbing his way back into the game's big picture.

• Morgan Hoffmann, 25 – Was that improbable FedEx Cup charge - going from No. 124 before the playoffs to inside the top 30 at the Tour Championship - a precursor to a swifter, greater climb this season?

There is other promise in the talents of Brendon Todd, Ben Martin, Erik Compton, Robert Streb, Brian Harman, Matt Every and Kevin Chappell. This early start to the wraparound season is an opportunity for these guys to follow Jimmy Walker’s lead last year and make early impressions.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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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."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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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."