Demolished Down Under

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2011, 7:19 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – The most anticipated handshake since the Hatfields and McCoys decided to call it a feud begat one of the more stunning routs in recent cup history.

The title bout everyone anticipated, sealed with a handshake between Tiger Woods and his estranged former caddie Stevie Williams on the first tee, was a resounding TKO for Adam Scott and K.J. Choi over what had been America’s untouchable twosome during the last Presidents Cup-by-the-Sea.

At San Francisco’s Harding Park Woods and Steve Stricker paired to odd-couple perfection, blanking Greg Norman’s International side 4-0 in team play and being pushed to the 18th hole just once.

On Thursday at Royal Melbourne it wasn’t that Woods and Stricker lost, it was that they lost big.

The end came with Choi’s 6-footer for birdie  . . . at the 12th hole. Rope-a-doped and reeling, the two were sent to the bench well short of a “quality start,” 7-and-6 road-kill on a day that otherwise went to the U.S. side, 4-2.

Hoggard: Day 2 match-by-match predictions

Day 1 match-by-match recap

Woods hasn’t had his hat in hand that early since The Players Championship and that, of course, was due to injury. The only thing injured on Day 1 in Oz was Woods' and Stricker’s psyches.

The Harding Park honchos lost for the first time in their last five Presidents Cup matches together, and for just the second time in their last eight team pairings counting last year’s Ryder Cup.

The small print is jarring. It’s the worst team loss in Presidents Cup history and the walkover equaled the shortest match in Presidents Cup history.

Williams, the undercard in Thursday’s bout because of his checkered history with Woods and his racial comments three weeks ago directed at his old boss, didn’t stop to talk with the media following play. Had the Kiwi taken the time to chat he may well have adjusted his comment made earlier this summer following Scott’s victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. This may have been the best win of his life.

On Wednesday both captains figured it would be best to get the Woods-Scott pairing out of the way early. A little over 24 hours later it got late early for the Americans, as Yogi Berra once famously opined, with the International duo making quick work of the U.S. flagship with birdies at Nos. 2, 6, 11 and Choi’s walk-off at the 12th.

If that doesn’t exactly seem like the groundwork for a historic victory it’s because the Internationals had plenty of help. Stricker pulled his drive left at No. 2, Woods fanned his drive right at the seventh and the U.S. two-ball made three bogeys.

“K.J. and I didn't get it out of position today, which is a good thing on this golf course. They got out of position a couple of times, and you know, they didn't play their best,” Scott said. “They were a tough team last time, took a lot of points off us, so it was pleasing to get one up there.”

Maybe the bigger concern, at least for U.S. captain Fred Couples, is that Woods’ putting woes appear to have rubbed off on Striker, the unofficial boss of the American moss in recent years. Who knew that type of thing is a communicable?

“The last couple of times we went out, we have not been good. Just one of those things; we were a little off and they played great and that combination led to a lopsided defeat,” Stricker said.

Woods, however, was much more concise when asked his thoughts on his partnership with Stricker, the only two-ball on Thursday not to win a hole or even make a birdie. “It's one of those things where we got down a little bit early, tried to make up some shots and these guys were playing well,” Woods said.

Some scoffed at the hyperbole created by the Woods-Scott pairing, wisely pointing out Williams’ job is only to carry the bag, not play any of the implements contained within. The way Woods and Stricker played, the looper could have stepped in for Choi and the result may not have changed.

“Tiger and Steve did not play well today. Adam and K.J. were much better. But in the long run, you know, we have four points, and some of our young guys played extremely well,” Couples said.

The match went to Scott-Choi, and by default Williams, but style points should go to Norman. Many expected Scott to play with fellow Aussie Jason Day, including Day, but in Choi the Shark delivered an unflappable fairways-and-greens sidekick with plenty of experience playing with Woods.

“This is perfect for K.J.,” the South Korean’s swing coach, Steve Bann, said. “He could just go out and keep it in play which is what you need to do on this golf course.”

Fortunately for Couples the rest of his squad was undefeated on Thursday, with the U.S. side winning three matches and halving two for a 4-2 advantage. Captain America is not the most studied man when it comes to golf history, but no one needs to remind him that the Day 1 winner has gone on to win six of the eight Presidents Cups.

As for his uber-tandem, Boom Boom now has other plans. Woods will set out with Dustin Johnson in Friday’s second fourball match, his first Presidents Cup partner not named Stricker since 2007 at Royal Montreal, and Stricker will play with Matt Kuchar.

“We were going to do that Tuesday and Wednesday, we were going to put Tiger with Dustin in best-ball, and that's what we did and we stuck to that,” Couples said.

Perhaps, but it seems likely Woods and Stricker’s Melbourne meltdown expedited the move. The world saw the “handshake” and Couples had seen enough.

Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Thursday 5:30PM-midnight, Friday 3PM-midnight and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)

Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 8:52 pm

The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:

Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)

What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.

Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.

Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.

Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.

Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.