Captain Confused

By Rex HoggardAugust 24, 2011, 9:19 pm

You know the “Most Interesting Man in the World’s” spiel by now:

Police often question him, just because they find him interesting.

Sharks have a week dedicated to him.

Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact.

He lives vicariously through himself.

And, at least for golf’s version of this magnetic alpha male, he sometimes speaks before he thinks. Or, so it seems as Fred Couples has stumbled his way through his second turn as America’s Presidents Cup captain.

This will not sit well with the masses because Boom Boom has made a career out of being above it all and is almost universally beloved whether he’s plying his trade between Tour ropes or holding court in a Charlotte, N.C., cigar bar. But when it comes to Woods being a potential Presidents Cup pick Captain America has fanned his approach – not once, but twice now.

First, Couples played his way into a corner when he said in June at Muirfield Village, “If (Woods) is not ready to play, he'll be the one to tell me, ‘Don’t waste your pick on me.’ . . . He doesn't have to prove a lot to any captain.”

That was, of course, before Woods returned from three months on the shelf, managed just six Tour rounds, only one of which was under par, and headed back to his south Florida lab in search of answers and “reps,” which apparently doesn’t mean what we thought it meant.

“It's hard for me right now to aim closer to flags or closer to where I want the ball to end up. I thought I was beyond that,” Woods said after an opening 77 on Thursday at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Last week at the Senior Players Championship Couples attempted some damage control, saying he had spoken to Woods’ manager and that they were trying to convince Woods to add to his post-PGA Championship schedule.

“He can't just show up the week before in Australia. I have made it clear that whoever I picked will be playing the (Australian Open, which Woods is committed to) the week before. But I need him to play more than just there. There's quite a few tournaments after the Tour Championship,” Couples said of the four Fall Series events that follow the FedEx Cup finale.

On Monday Woods said in a blog posted on his website that he “might add” to his Tour schedule this year, but made no guarantees. However, Woods, like many, must be wondering why he should add to his fall lineup?

When Woods missed the cut at the PGA and announced he was not adding last week’s Wyndham Championship to his agenda Couples’ decision had effectively been made for him. He will make his two captain’s picks on Sept. 26, the Monday after the Tour Championship and the mathematical truth of the situation is Woods is not qualified to play any Tour events before then.

Even if there were some sort of quid pro quo agreement between Couples and Woods that the latter add an odd fall event or two, Capt. Freddie is still confined to making his pick based on Woods’ record to date: eight events, two top 10s and a missed cut.

There is also the question of what a fall start would do for Woods, not to mention Couples.

Your correspondent contends that Woods does, eventually, scale the competitive abyss he now finds himself and rediscovers his forgotten form. But given his play at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (T-37) and PGA (missed cut) there are no guarantees that epiphany will come at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (where he won his first Tour title in 1996), the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic (which he has won twice) or the McGladrey Classic (which may be the best confidence-building fit for his game right now).

And what if Woods misses the cut at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort or Disney? What does that do for his confidence, to say nothing of Couples’ decision to skip over three basketball teams full of players to make him a pick?

Proponents of a Woods pick claim he is still the only American with enough competitive cachet to chill his opponents on the first tee. Maybe. Or maybe all the Internationals see at Royal Melbourne in November is a guy who couldn’t break par at Atlanta Athletic Club. A guy who is learning a new swing on the fly. A guy who is two calendars removed from his last Tour title.

Woods is 28th on the U.S. points list and likely to slide before Couples makes his picks. Well behind the likes of Keegan Bradley and Mark Wilson, two players who have a combined four Tour titles and a major more than Woods this year. Behind Zach Johnson, who is a combined 9-9-1 in Presidents and Ryder Cup play, and Rickie Fowler, one of the rare bright spots for the U.S. Ryder Cup team last year in Wales.

On this, Couples’ friend and next year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III is surely taking notes. When asked about Woods and captain’s picks it is best to err on the side of ambiguity. Something along the lines of, “I’d love for Tiger to be on the team, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” would seem to leave enough wiggle room.

Instead, Couples talked first, scrambled later.

Like the uber-cool “Most Interesting Man,” Couples’ words carry weight that would break a less-interesting man’s jaw; and, considering his bungling of the Woods situation, his logic is enough to twist even the most optimistic observer into a chocolate-covered pretzel.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.