Presidents Cup picks both logical and questionable

By Rex HoggardSeptember 6, 2017, 9:35 pm

Headlines will focus on Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker’s decision to burn a captain’s pick on a 47-year-old now four years removed from his last PGA Tour victory, but the truly curious news won’t elicit nearly as much interest.

While Stricker’s call to pick Mickelson may be the sexy topic, it likely won’t impact the outcome of the Presidents Cup. After winning the last eight matches, good-guy Stricker could have picked his pal and assistant captain Tiger Woods, whose golf activity is currently limited to chipping and putting, and the U.S. would still be the heavy favorites to make it nine consecutive wins.

No, the most curious portion of Wednesday’s announcement was how Nick Price, the three-time captain of the International team, put the final pieces of his eclectic team together.

For Price, this year’s picks weren’t that much different than previous matches, a zero-sum game of filling in holes and shoring up alliances, either real or perceived.

For the outspoken International skipper, it’s turned into a biennial chess match featuring vastly different cultures and languages. The International squad will take the field in three weeks at Liberty National in New Jersey under one flag, but in reality Price’s team will include players from eight different countries who speak five different primary languages.

While Stricker was able to fixate primarily on how his potential picks were playing, Price had to look beyond the scorecard and consider the best way to fit his global puzzle together.

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Team records: Full International Ryder Cup roster

Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo was an easy choice. The second-year PGA Tour player was 11th on the points list and finished the qualifying process with a tie for 22nd on Monday at TPC Boston that was greater than the sum of its parts.

Not only did Grillo have the pressure of qualifying for Price’s team hanging over him, he also needed a solid week at the Dell Technologies Championship just to secure his start at the BMW Championship.

“The first pick, Grillo, was pretty comprehensive. All of the guys, the captains and players, agreed. This guy was someone who was on our radar for last year and this year,” Price said. “We’re so happy he’s going to play on our team.”

Grillo also would seem to be a good partner for Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas. The two share a common language and many dinners together while out on Tour.

Not so obvious was Price’s decision to pick India’s Anirban Lahiri, who is arguably one of golf’s most genuine and enjoyable people. But camaraderie and team room hijinks don’t win matches.

At the 2015 matches in South Korea, Lahiri was the only player on Price’s team who failed to win even a half-point, and his play this season hasn’t exactly been a study in consistency.

Although he has two top-10 finishes on Tour this season, the first came nearly a year ago at the CIMB Classic in October and the second came in June when he finished runner-up to Jason Dufner. In his last six starts, Lahiri has three missed cuts and his best finish is a tie for 28th.

“He brings a lot to the team room. He’s got a very positive personality,” Price said of Lahiri, who was 16th on the International points list. “There were many reasons, but the big reason for us is he plays full-time on the U.S. tour.”

But beyond his pedestrian play, the bigger issue for Price is who he plans to pair Lahiri with during the team sessions. In ’15, he lost matches paired with Thongchai Jaidee, who didn’t qualify for this year’s team, and Adam Scott.

On paper, there is a flow to Price’s team. The Australians – Jason Day, Scott and Marc Leishman – would be interchangeable partners, as would the South Africans, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace.

 Perhaps Lahiri could fit with Canada’s Adam Hadwin or South Korea’s Si Woo Kim, but what of Hideki Matsuyama, the International’s side top-ranked player and the most crucial element of any potential upset.

If Price’s team, which pushed the U.S. side to the final hole of the final match in ’15, is going to win they will need a big week from Matsuyama, and yet there’s no obvious choice for a partner.

Some suggested Japan’s Hideto Tanihara, who finished 12th on the points list, was a likely pick for just this reason. Tanihara and Matsuyama get along well, and the 38-year-old proved this year at the WGC- Dell Technologies Match Play his potential worth.

Tanihara upset Jordan Spieth, 4 and 2, in Round 1 and added victories over Paul Casey and Ross Fisher after advancing out of group play before dropping a close match in the semifinals, 1 up, to eventual champion Dustin Johnson.

“We looked hard at Tanihara,” Price said. “He played well at the Match Play, but outside of that he hadn’t really played well this year. That was sort of the one time he did play well in the Match Play.

“Hideki is such a versatile player, he can play with anyone. I felt that it was the wrong way to make a pick [based on being a countryman], I wanted to pick a guy on merit.”

Price may see something in Lahiri that’s not in the statistics. After his sub-par performance in the last matches, there will certainly be a desire to redeem himself and Lahiri is a popular addition to the team room.

But in the global Jenga game of getting 12 players to play for one flag, picking Lahiri appears to check off one box while leaving a collection of unanswered questions.

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.

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Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.

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''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.

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With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.

Seeking awards sweep, Park 1 off lead

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:03 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park made a strong start in her bid to make LPGA history with an epic sweep of the year’s major awards.

Park opened the CME Group Tour Championship Thursday with a 5-under-par 67, moving her a shot off the lead.

Park is looking to join Nancy Lopez as the only players to win the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park has already clinched the Rookie of the Year Award.

Park, 24, can also walk away with the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot.

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Nobody has ever swept all those awards.

There’s even more for Park to claim. She can also take back the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. She’s No. 2, just two hundredths of a point behind Shanshan Feng.

“I think the course suits my game really well,” Park said through a translator. “I think I can play well in the next rounds.”

Park played the course just once before Thursday’s start, in Wednesday’s pro-am.

The reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park won twice this year. She also won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open this summer.