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The road from Gleneagles 2014 to Paris 2018

By Rex HoggardOctober 2, 2017, 10:00 pm

JERSETY CITY, N.J. – When Phil Mickelson took the microphone on that cold night in 2014 at the Ryder Cup in Scotland, some felt his comments had crossed a line and he’d unfairly called out then-U.S. captain Tom Watson.

Late Sunday at Liberty National, Mickelson sat at another post-match interview table, and although he declined to connect the dots, it was impossible not to watch the U.S. team’s domination of the International side and not see a byproduct of that stand Lefty took three years ago.

“You don't get a performance like we had this week without that little something extra, that little special something, and these guys brought it out in each other,” Mickelson said.

The U.S. has dominated the Presidents Cup for nearly two decades, but the 12th edition was something altogether different. The home team came within one match of closing out the Internationals on Saturday, previously unfathomable, and needed just a single point on Sunday to win the cup.

The outcome wasn’t nearly as close as the final margin of victory, 19-11, suggested.

The U.S. team bonded off the course, fit together seamlessly during the team sessions and responded to every move that captain Steve Stricker made. There’s no ignoring the level of young talent that has emerged on the American side or the natural friendships that some thought had been missing, but hidden behind the playful jabs and confident swagger is a comfort that can, at least in part, be traced back to that figurative pulpit Mickelson ascended to at Gleneagles.

Video: Can U.S. take dominating team to Paris in 2018?

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The U.S. team, at both the Ryder and Presidents cup, has become more unified, more organized and more focused thanks to the continuity that was born from Mickelson’s moment and the actions of the Ryder Cup task force.

The players were given a voice in who and how to lead and from that has emerged a better U.S. team.

 “You can look at Tiger [Woods] and Davis [Love III] and Freddie [Couples] and I, Jay Haas fit in there great, Tom Lehman fit in last year. You’re looking for guys who have a lot of experience, who buy into what we are trying to accomplish and we’re trying to get a lot of symmetry for the guys on the golf course,” said Jim Furyk, one of Stricker’s four assistant captains. “You’ll see a lot of the same guys next year when we announce the assistants for Paris.”

As the U.S. team headed back to Manhattan and what promised to be a raucous victory celebration, Furyk’s mind understandably drifted to next year’s Ryder Cup, where he will lead an American team in search of its first win on European soil since 1993.

Among the changes ushered in by the Ryder Cup task force was a legacy concept for captains. Future captains, like Furyk last year at Hazeltine National, are now brought into the process early as assistants to learn the nuances of modern leadership; and former captains, like Lehman in ’16, are added to provide historical context.

However inadvertently or organically, this concept has crossed over into the Presidents Cup.

“I’m interested in seeing who is going to be the next Presidents Cup captain. If he’s not in this group we might want to look to include him and make sure he’s part of it to make sure that symmetry lasts from year to year,” Furyk said.

For years, observers would whisper about the European playbook for the Ryder Cup, a notion that took on a life of its own when Paul McGinley led the Continent to victory in ’14. Although Furyk fended off the idea the U.S. now has a similar “blueprint,” there’s no doubt that U.S. captains for both the Presidents and Ryder cup have embraced a general outline – from grouping players in pods based on potential pairings and personalities to how captain’s picks are vetted.

Video: Mickelson's critical comments at 2014 Ryder Cup

There was a time when the U.S. side looked at the Presidents Cup as a liability, a biennial distraction that somehow took away from the intensity of the Ryder Cup and led to competitive complacency. Now, however, it’s a chance to foster continuity and give players – particularly five of the American team’s six rookies at Liberty National – a taste of team intensity.

In practical terms for Furyk, that meant evaluating established players and partnerships as well as sizing up potential newcomers on next year’s team.

“It was good getting to know a lot of the players that I didn’t know,” he said. “Matchups, pairings, personalities. We had five guys on this team that had never played on one and I thought they all played great and we learned a lot about their strengths and what they’re good at.”

Liberty National was Furyk’s third turn as an American assistant and, under a loosely defined legacy program, it won’t be his last. It’s all part of the foundation of passing experiences and lessons from captain to captain.

What he learned last week was that the U.S. side appears to have entered a new golden age of team relevance. From Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who improved their combined Ryder and Presidents cup record together to 8-1-3, to Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, who paired perfectly in their first match together, the American dominance sent a very clear transatlantic message.

“I'd love to have these 12 on our team next year,” Furyk said. “I really would like them to enjoy what they did this week, soak it all in, have fun with it. A month from now we'll get to work and we'll start getting ready for Paris.”

Furyk knows as well as anyone that Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace aren’t Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, and Liberty National wasn’t Le Golf National, site of next year’s matches in France.

The U.S. team may have made it look easy, but the odds and history will still be stacked against them in Paris. It’s why the continuity that was born from Mickelson’s monologue three years ago in Scotland is more important now than ever.

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Tiger can't commit, goes OB on 16: 'That’s on me'

By Will GrayMarch 18, 2018, 11:05 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Standing on the 16th tee with the leaders in sight and the roars of the crowd still ringing in his ears, Tiger Woods contemplated three different options for his most critical tee shot of the week.

He couldn’t decide on any of them, and as a result deposited his chances of winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational into a backyard adjacent to the fairway.

Woods was only one shot back through 15 holes, but with the leaders well behind him on the course he knew he needed at least a birdie on the par-5 16th to keep pace. Instead, he pulled his tee shot left and out of bounds, leading to an untimely and costly bogey on the easiest hole on the course.

“I was caught,” Woods said. “I couldn’t decide what I was going to do.”

In Woods’ mind, he had three options: “fit” a driver left to right with the shape of the fairway, “bomb it over the top” of the dogleg or just hit a 3-wood “straight away.” He opted for the driver, but after missing right the first three days he sent his ball sailing left.

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“I bailed out and hit a bad shot,” Woods said. “And that’s on me for not committing.”

Woods went on to bogey the next hole, but after a par save on No. 18 he finished the week in a tie for fifth at 10 under for his third straight top-12 finish. Given the sizzling close of Rory McIlroy, an eagle on 16 likely would have still left him looking up at the Ulsterman on the leaderboard.

“Even though I got up there, I just knew I needed to keep making birdies,” Woods said. “Those guys had so many holes behind me, where I just birdied the same holes and so if they made birdie on those holes, I would have to keep going. I got to 16, I figure I’ve got to play the last three holes in 3 under to have a chance and probably force a playoff. And maybe that wouldn’t have been good enough the way Rory is playing back there.”

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McIlroy (64) storms to Arnold Palmer victory

By Nick MentaMarch 18, 2018, 10:48 pm

Rory McIlroy fired a bogey-free, final-round 64, birdied the 72nd hole in Tiger-esque fashion and stormed to a three-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how Rory ended his winless drought, and how the aforementioned Woods made a Sunday charge before collapsing late:

Leaderboard: McIlroy (-18), Bryson DeChambeau (-15), Justin Rose (-14), Henrik Stenson (-13), Woods (-10), Ryan Moore (-10)

What it means: This is McIlroy’s 14th PGA Tour victory and his first worldwide win since Sept. 25th, 2016. That was the day he walked away from East Lake with both the Tour Championship and the FedExCup. It was also the day Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87. With the win, McIlroy reasserts himself as a force following a winless 2017 in which he was plagued by a nagging rib injury. The four-time major winner will make one more start at next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and then make his way to Augusta National, where he looks to complete the career Grand Slam.

Round of the day: Two back to start the final round, McIlroy made his eight birdies in bunches. He circled three of his last four holes on the front nine – Nos. 6, 7 and 9 – to make the turn in 3-under 33 and work his way into the mix. Following three pars at 10-12, he caught fire, ripping off five birdies in his final six holes. He took the outright lead at 14, chipped in at 15, and sealed the deal at 18.

Best of the rest: DeChambeau made McIlroy earn it, cutting the lead to just one when he eagled the 16th hole as McIlroy was walking to the final tee. A par at 17 and a bogey at 18 netted him 68 and solo second.

Big disappointment: This is Stenson’s fourth top-five finish at this event in the last six years. The overnight leader by one, he went 71-71 over the weekend and bogeyed 18 to finish fourth.

Biggest disappointment: Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 and a tie for fifth.The eight-time API winner was minus-5 on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par.

Shot of the day: McIlroy’s birdie putt at 18.

Remind you of anything?

Quote of the day: "It means a lot. You know, the last time I won a PGA Tour event was the day Mr. Palmer passed away, so it's a little bit ironic that I come here and win. He set a great example for all of us players to try and follow in his footsteps. If everyone on Tour could handle themselves the way Arnie did, the game of golf would be in a better place. ... To be able to win his event, I wish I walked up that hill and got a handshake from him but I'm so happy to my name on that trophy." - McIlroy

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TT postscript: Masters hype builds after final-round charge

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 10:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Here are some thoughts from walking one last loop alongside Tiger Woods on another steamy afternoon at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

• What might have been. Woods transformed Bay Hill into an absolutely electric atmosphere when he started the back nine with three birdies in four holes to get within a shot of the lead. Dressed in his traditional red and black, it was a second straight Sunday where we were treated to watching him try to catch the leaders down the stretch.

• But the momentum he had built up disappeared with a single tee shot, as Woods pulled his drive on the par-5 16th out of bounds and into someone’s backyard. His chances for a ninth tournament title were effectively ended with one errant swing, as he bogeyed the easiest hole on the course and then bogeyed the next for good measure.

• While the closing stretch was disappointing, it was still another remarkable week for Woods considering where his game stood a month ago. His 3-under 69 in the final round lifted him to 10 under for the week, and he ended up in a tie for fifth. He’s now on the cusp of the top 100 in the world rankings, and he’ll head to the Masters on the heels of three straight top-12 finishes for the first time since 2008.

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• It didn’t take long after his final putt dropped for Augusta National to become a topic of conversation. Woods has played only once since 2014, and he plans to make a return trip before the season’s first major to re-acclimate himself with the course and make sure his yardage book “is still good.”

• Taking the long view on things, Woods was all smiles about his comeback that remains a work in progress. “If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments,” Woods said, “I would have taken that in a heartbeat.”

After going T-2 and T-5 in this latest fortnight, Woods will now have two weeks off before he tees it up for a chance to win his fourth green jacket, his first major since 2008 and his first tournament anywhere since 2013. Can. Not. Wait.

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Highlights: Tiger (69) makes charge, collapses

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

Tiger Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The eight-time API winner was 5 under on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par, in a tie for fifth.

"I didn't commit to it," Woods said of his drive at 16, where he attempted to fly his ball over the fairway bunkers, rather than hitting a cut or laying back. "And that's on me for not committing."

Starting five off the lead, Tiger got rolling with with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which he walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at the par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

His momentum was slowed by his first bogey of the day at No. 9, the product of an errant drive and its ensuing complications. As a result, Woods made the turn 2 under on his round, 9 under for the week, and still five off the lead, like when he started the day.

But Woods wouldn't wait long to make up for his mistake, immediately responding with another flagged iron and birdie at No. 10.

He continued his assault on Bay Hill's par-5s at the 12th, getting up and down from the sand for a birdie-4 that moved him to 11 under par, just two off the lead.

This roll at 13 giving him his third birdie in four holes, and the charge was officially on, as Woods was suddenly just a shot back.

Just when it looked like Woods was primed for a late run at his 80th PGA Tour victory, Woods stepped to the tee at the par-5 16th, where he had missed wide right three days in a row, and ripped his drive out of bounds into a backyard miles left.

He made 4 on his second ball for a bogey-6 and dropped another shot at the par-3 17th, ending his chances.