A little levity to cure Ryder Cup 'Saturday Night' fever

By Rex HoggardSeptember 2, 2014, 5:30 pm

NEW YORK – In honor of today’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s picks announcement from the home of “Saturday Night Live” at 30 Rock we go to Studio 8H for an open audition, SNL style.

Cue the late Don Pardo:  “It’s ‘Saturday Night Live,’ with Keegan Bradley, Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan, Bill Haas, Chris Kirk, Webb Simpson, Brendon Todd, Harris English. And featuring U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson.”


Keegan Bradley (Bill Hader as James Carville): “Do I think about the other potential picks? I think plenty about them and I laugh. I laugh. I laugh. We don’t always get the job we look right for. If we did Bill Haas would be the king of the snakes.”

The U.S. side’s answer to Ian Poulter went undefeated in team play paired with Phil Mickelson in 2012 and his tie for 16th at TPC Boston was his fourth top-20 finish in his last six starts. He may be more than two years removed from his last PGA Tour victory, but the U.S. side will need the fire Bradley brings to the table in Scotland.

Hunter Mahan (Justin Timberlake as the Dancing Mascot): “(Singing) All I do is win, win, win no matter. Got ball-striking on your mind, you can never get enough. And every time I step onto the course your GIR goes up … Bring it on down to Hunter-ville.”

Mahan’s victory at The Barclays to begin the playoffs was exactly the kind of late surge Paul Azinger envisioned with he lobbied the PGA of America to change the U.S. selection process in 2008. He also has plenty of Ryder Cup experience and his 3-2-3 record in the matches is impressive relative to the U.S team’s pedestrian play the last few years.

Bill Haas (Kevin Nealon as Mr. Subliminal): “I don’t know who Watson should select, pick me. I’ve never played in a Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup twice, and have never really felt that pressure, FedEx Cup champ. I guess you would want to find someone who has been consistent, haven’t missed a cut all year, and can gel with the team, my dad’s Jay.”

He capped an amazingly consistent year, a perfect 26-for-26 in cuts made, with a solid week at the Deutsche Bank Championship (T-9) and added a runner-up finish at the Wyndham Championship that will likely sway Watson in Haas’ direction. He’s also one of the Tour’s most popular members and would likely get the support of the players who are already on the team.

Chris Kirk (Jimmy Fallon): “Enjoy your stay, they all do ... ”

While Kirk played along with the “Tonight Show” lampoon following the PGA Championship – for the record, he’s taken a new head shot for next year’s Tour media guide – he didn’t give Watson anything to laugh about with his victory on Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship where he outplayed Rory McIlroy, the European team’s anchor, in a key Sunday pairing.

Unfortunately it was the would-be Ryder Cup rookie’s first top-10 since May and he will likely have to go with Plan B. “I’m planning on going to see Georgia play Tennessee that weekend. We’ll see what happens,” he smiled at TPC Boston.

Christopher Walken

Brandt Snedeker (Christopher Walken as super producer Bruce Dickinson, pictured above): “Easy guys. I put my pants on just like the rest of you, one leg at a time. Except that once I get my pants on I putt like gold. You’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more Snedeker. Don’t fear the reaper.”

This will likely test the theory that the extra time to make the captain’s picks allows a skipper to pick the players who are in form. Before the playoffs began Snedeker was among the short list of contenders to land a pick, but he missed the cut at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship and, perhaps more concerning, has struggled with the putter in recent weeks. Watson has likely spent more time with Snedeker then any other potential pick, but that may not be enough to land him a start in Scotland.

Brendon Todd (played by Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers): “You can’t pick a rookie to play in the Ryder Cup, it’s too overwhelming ... said every losing U.S. Ryder Cup captain the last two decades.”

History suggests Watson may steer clear of picking any rookies for this year’s team. This is, after all, the same captain who made Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins his picks in 1993 when the veterans were 22nd and 32nd, respectively, on the U.S. point list. But Todd, who was the hottest U.S. player for a month and half this summer, can make a compelling argument that he deserves a pick and he ranks sixth on Tour in strokes gained-putting, always a key statistic when it comes to the Ryder Cup.

Bubba Watson (Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby): “I don’t know how you can leave me off this team. I’m just a great big American winning machine and ... I’m sorry what? Already on the team. Don’t need a pick, just a partner. Wow, OK, well this is embarrassing. Go USA.”

Webb Simpson (Jason Sudeikis as coach Ted Lasso): “I miss the United Kingdom dearly and my philosophy is ‘Keep calm and get fired up.’”

Simpson’s finish on Monday at TPC Boston (T-9) was encouraging after missing the cut in two of his last four starts, but it will be his history with Bubba Watson that may land him one of the coveted picks.

Bubba Watson – who along with Patrick Reed presents a pairing challenge in the team format – is 5-2-0 when he was paired with Simpson at the 2012 Ryder Cup and 2013 Presidents Cup. In 2008, Azinger let his players decide who deserves a pick and that worked out pretty well. When it comes to Simpson, Watson – Bubba, not Tom – may be the overwhelming force.

Pan to Tom Watson (himself) sitting next to Lorne Michaels in the audience: “Live from New York, it’s the Ryder Cup captain’s picks ...”

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.