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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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”