Internationals need more than rallies to defeat U.S.

By Rex HoggardOctober 4, 2013, 12:48 am

DUBLIN, Ohio – As moral victories go, this one carries some street cred.

Before Mother Nature intervened and dumped nearly an inch of rain on muddy Muirfield Village, the Internationals were dug into a hole that threatened to make the next three days of the Presidents Cup as enticing as an intrasquad soccer match.

Down in all six matches shortly before the weather-warning horn sent players and patrons scrambling for cover, Nick Price’s crew clawed its way back into relevancy and escaped what was shaping up to be another black Thursday.

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With apologies to the International faithful, we don’t play for participation ribbons and it’s best to leave the moral victories to high school football teams and debate teams.

The Internationals need more than a good showing if they are going to end two decades of hopelessness, and Thursday’s opening fourball session needed to be better than 3 ½ to 2 ½.

The U.S. hadn’t won a fourball session at the biennial match since 2003. It’s why Price – along with Greg Norman and Ernie Els – pleaded with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to change the opening-day format to best ball instead of alternate shot.

It could have been worse, but it needed to be better.

“Nick just told us to stay patient,” said Graham DeLaet, who along with Jason Day rallied from a three-hole deficit through six holes to stun Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker, 1 up. “We were playing well, they were playing really well, but we knew we just needed to play our game.”

Unfortunately for DeLaet, the Internationals’ “game” hasn’t been up to the task in this bout.

While Price’s seven rookies bask in the glow of their Thursday fortunes, the captain and his veterans know what awaits in Friday’s six foursome matches.

The name may change, but not the competitive essentials.

To explain the International team’s struggles at the Presidents Cup, look no further than the American side’s struggles in the Ryder Cup.

The U.S holds a commanding 7-1-1 lead in the Presidents Cup. Over roughly that same period of time, with roughly the same team, America is 2-7-0 in the Ryder Cup, and for roughly the same reasons. Foursomes play and poor putting are the primary Achilles’ heels for both perennial punching bags.

The Internationals have not won a foursomes session since Day 1 in 2003, and last time around at Royal Melbourne in 2011, the U.S. won by four points and outplayed the home team 8-3 in foursomes play.

Similarly, just once in the last five matches (2012) has the U.S. team won the foursome portion of the competition at the Ryder Cup and is 1-4 in that span.

The week’s red, white and blue squad also enjoys the game’s most red-hot putters at the moment, the other side of the team competition coin.

America’s top six putters according to the Tour’s strokes gained-putting statistic are better than the International side’s best, Day who ranks 29th and trails Steve Stricker (second), Brandt Snedeker (fourth), Phil Mickelson (sixth), Tiger Woods (22nd), Matt Kuchar (25th) and Hunter Mahan (27th).

If that sounds familiar, consider that at last year’s Ryder Cup Luke Donald (No. 3) and Sergio Garcia (No. 26) were statistically among the top seven putters at Medinah.

Whether it is the Americans in even-numbered years, or the Internationals in odd years, neither the reason nor the outcome is a mystery. And it may be too much to expect a Rest of the World brainstorming session late Thursday to reach an epiphany. The answer to the International woes can be found in the clichéd Tour fallback position – play, and putt, better.

“It’s no secret, is there? It's just about playing some good golf,” said Adam Scott, who halved his match against Bill Haas and Webb Simpson playing with Hideki Matsuyama. “I think everyone's feeling pretty confident after this afternoon the way they played the last 10, 12 holes, whatever we had left out there. Take some of that confidence into tomorrow.”

Thursday’s comeback was nice, but it wasn’t the cure. Price & Co. are still running uphill and when the captains named virtually the same teams for Friday’s foursome play – U.S. captain Fred Couples switched two of his teams while Price went with the status quo – the subtext was clear.

Couples may play the role of disengaged leader, but his motives were transparent – if the Internationals are going to end the U.S. reign they will have to do so only by cutting into the core of America’s dominance and win a foursome session.

Momentum can be a powerful platform particularly in these team gatherings (see Ryder Cup, 2012), but the anxiety was clear in Price’s voice when asked how he intended to break the U.S. stranglehold in the foursome frame.

“It has been very hard for us in foursomes, it’s the hardest format,” the captain said. “But individuals have got to get together and spur each other on. You can only do so much. I am not going to lose faith in those teams.”

The Internationals positioned Day 1’s rally as a moral victory, but if they are going to score their first proper triumph since 1998 they will need more than that.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)