Tiger, Steve matchup gets thrown out early

By Rex HoggardNovember 16, 2011, 2:54 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – You’ve heard of the “Thrilla in Manila?” The “Rumble in the Jungle?” Well, this has all the trappings of the “Duel Down Under.” The “Sandbelt Skirmish.” The “Blue at Black Rock.”

Leave your golf clap at home, this is not your father’s Presidents Cup. Not with Tiger vs. Stevie . . . eh, make that Scottie atop the marquee. Not with the title bout everyone wanted looming on Day 1 at Royal Melbourne.

The golf world wanted Tiger Woods and Steve Sricker vs. Adam Scott and the guy paired with Adam Scott – K.J. Choi for those scoring at home – and captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman happily obliged. What follows promises to have all the buzz of a heavyweight tilt that Las Vegas would be proud of.

So much so one half expects a microphone to drop from the clear Australian skies above venerable Royal Melbourne’s first tee Thursday afternoon and iconic announcer Michael Buffer to bark, “Let’s get ready to rumble.”

Just the way Couples and Norman wanted it.

Not that either skipper would admit to such a contrived conclusion. On Wednesday at Royal Melbourne the captains told anyone that would listen that the match of the year was little more than happenstance, pure cosmic tumblers stuff.

“It’s great for the tournament,” Norman said. “It needed to play out the way it played out. There was no premeditation. . . . If we have to defuse anything and get this over and done with wouldn’t you rather do it early instead of it coming down to the Sunday singles?”

As for Couples, “we did not plan anything.”

Sounds good, but the way the chess-match pairings session went down it seemed the captains had no interest in avoiding the high-profile elephant in the Royal Melbourne room. There was no prearranged quid pro quo. There didn’t need to be.

As the winning captain from 2009 Couples deferred the first team selection to Norman, just like he did at Harding Park, and waited patiently as the “Shark” marched out his team.

“I put in (assistant captains Frank) Nobilo and (Tim) Clark,” the Shark smiled.

Then came the formalities, or undercards depending on one’s point of view:

Bubba Watson-Webb Simpson versus Ryo Ishikawa-Ernie Els; Bill Haas-Nick Watney against Geoff Ogilvy-Charl Schwartzel; Dustin Johnson-Matt Kuchar playing Aaron Baddeley-Jason Day; Phil Mickelson-Jim Furyk against Retief Goosen-Robert Allenby; Hunter Mahan-David Toms versus K.T. Kim-Y.E. Yang . . .

“Who is left?” American assistant captain Jay Haas deadpanned, as if anyone in the Southern Hemisphere with even a passing interest in this week’s matches didn’t know.

For three weeks Woods and his former caddie Stevie Williams had been dancing around and toward this inevitable clash, ever since the Kiwi, who now loops for Scott, caused a firestorm with a racial slur directed at Woods.

This wasn’t so much a conspiracy as it was an inevitable conclusion. Officials at last week’s Australian Open ducked the issue, foregoing a possible Woods-Scott pairing in the run-up to this week’s matches. Norman and Couples had no such reservations.

“It needed to be done,” Norman said.

This will not be the first time Woods and Scott have played against each Other at the biennial matches. The Aussie is 1-1 against Woods following foursome matches in 2007, which he lost, and 2005, which he won with Woods paired with Couples no less.

It will, however, be the first time Woods has played with Scott since he and Williams split earlier this summer. It was always going to be a headline, but Williams’ comments in Shanghai during the WGC-HSBC Champions just made it a front-page 70-point job.

This much is certain about Woods: he catalogs slights, either real or perceived, and pulls on an internal bulletin board for extra motivation. Sending him out in the anchor position with Scott and the litany of Williams’ subtext only promises to give Red Shirt that much more incentive.

When asked if Woods requested the mano-a-mano pairing, assistant captain John Cook’s answer was clear and convincing: “He doesn’t care. There was no discussion, all he wanted to do is go out first or last.”

Although he said he had no great interest in a Woods-Scott clash, Couples had plenty of opportunities to send his uber-pairing of Woods and Stricker out against someone not named Scott. Maybe it was a fluke, a competitive anomaly with no regard for TV ratings or popular opinion.

Either way, it was a move so savvy even iconic promoter Don King would have been proud.

“You know, there's more to this thing than where you slot the players. Like Greg said, and we were right here, we were writing down cards and it's just the way it felt, and I think it would be worse if we hid this deal,” Couples said. “It's not just Adam Scott and Tiger Woods. There's 22 other players here.”

Fair enough. But the “Thrilla in Manila” was all about Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. The “Rumble in the Jungle” had Ali and George Foreman. And the “Duel Down Under” is all about Woods and Scott. Well, Woods, Scott and Williams.


Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Wednesday 9PM-2AM, Thursday 7:30PM-2AM, Friday 3PM-2AM and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern of architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.