The Matchmaker

By Rex HoggardSeptember 9, 2010, 12:01 am

Ryder CupNow that Corey Pavin has made his captain’s picks, here comes the hard part.

With apologies to those who got the “It’s not you, it’s me” call from U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin late Monday, the four wildcard picks were largely low-hanging fruit. “Away games” are mean, soul-searching affairs and the U.S. team room already had its quota of rookies.

If Rickie Fowler is an investment in the U.S. side’s future, Pavin’s other three picks are about the here and now. Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink have all weathered the unfriendly confines of overseas Ryder Cups, and when the phone calls had to be made, that mattered.

Now Pavin must play matchmaker if he has any chance to nix an overseas Cup drought that spans nearly two decades. The heroics of Valhalla aside, the last time an American team stole one on Continental turf was in 1993 at The Belfry.

That’s 17 years. Cicadas don’t simmer for that long.

To put the ’93 matches in perspective, Davis Love III, one of Pavin’s assistant captains this time around who is being groomed for his own turn in the big chair, was a Ryder Cup rookie and 51-year-old Raymond Floyd, a captain’s pick and the oldest competitor in match history, helped secure victory with an emotional singles win over José Maria Olazábal.

Corey Pavin
With Corey Pavin's picks made, the American Ryder Cup team is set. (Getty Images)

Outside of Wrigleyville, it may be sport’s most omnipresent schneid.

For those who base their concept of pressure on Saturday afternoons, Celtic Manor is akin to “The Swamp” or “Death Valley” in terms of what Pavin’s dozen can expect, and no one knows the rigors of the away game better than Woods.

Three of Woods’ five Ryder Cups have been played in front of hostile crowds and the American anchor has traditionally pulled the home team’s top player, which only serves to intensify the partisan atmosphere. He knows there’s only one way to survive the European punchbowl.

“You want to play well enough to make the crowd go quiet,” Woods said.

Johnson tried to hush the 13th man at the K Club but had little luck. In his defense Johnson had the misfortune of drawing Darren Clarke, the emotional core of the European team whose wife had recently passed away, in his Sunday singles match in 2006.

“I didn’t know what to expect and when I got to the first tee the crowd went bonkers,” said Johnson, a rookie in ’06 who lost to Clarke, 3 and 2. “When I handed him that putt on the 16th (hole) I got emotional for him. It stunk, I wanted to win the match but the golf gods were not on my side.”

The golf gods, to say nothing of Colin Montgomerie, will have similar options in Wales. Among Monty’s crowd pleasing options will be the all-Northern Irish duo of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, the all-sibling tandem of Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, and the all-England choice of Lee Westwood, who is fresh from a calf injury and will likely play the role of on-course captain for the Euros.

Whether Pavin – whose style so far seems to be twofold: take few risks and say even less – burrows from 2008 captain Paul Azinger’s highly successful “pods” system or plods his own course remains to be seen, but his ability to mix and match his dozen, along with his group’s putting fortunes, will likely decide the outcome.

On Tuesday Pavin said, “nothing is set in stone” as far as possible pairings, but history suggests there are some combinations he’s already penciled into the lineup card.

The 1991 matches at Kiawah were the last time the U.S. won the foursomes frame, going 6-1 on the way to a rousing one-point victory, and the American side has a Mendoza Line-like record since then, going 4-10-4 in alternate shot the last two decades.

To stem that trend Pavin will send Woods and Steve Stricker out early and often. The duo swept foursomes and four-ball play last year at the Presidents Cup, going 2-0 in alternate shot.

A Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler marriage also seems in the cards. Lefty savors youthful projects, teaming well with Anthony Kim in 2008 at Valhalla, another energized cup rookie, and Sean O’Hair last year at Harding Park.

The options become less obvious after that, but Jim Furyk was undefeated in foursomes play in 2008 and would mesh well with the likes of a veteran such as Zach Johnson or Stewart Cink.

In this case less really is more. The danger of over thinking the pairings is what gave us that Woods-Mickelson 0-fer Friday experiment at the 2004 matches.

For Pavin, the heavy lifting has already been done by Azinger in 2008 and Freddie Couples last year at Harding Park. Whether he was paying attention remains to be seen.

Getty Images

McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

Getty Images

Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.