Unconventional U.S. captures Presidents Cup

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2011, 9:01 am

MELBOURNE, Australia – It’s called an Aussie “hook turn,” a white-knuckle, precarious kind of thing that somehow produces order from anarchy.

That’s what International captain Greg Norman had in mind when he front-loaded his Sunday card – dart into traffic from the far lane against a red light and beat the odds. Beat history.

He needed points, fast, and more than a little help from the American side of the Presidents Cup draw.

Early on a windswept Sunday the International ride remained unscathed. By the time the trailing matches reached the turn Norman’s grand plan was staying to script. The home side was up big in the first four matches and leading or all square in four of the next eight.

The problem with the “hook turn,” however, is the law of diminishing returns. Despite the Internationals' hot start, despite closing the gap to 14-16, the oncoming American traffic proved too much for Norman & Co.

For the second consecutive Presidents Cup, Tiger Woods secured the winning point for the United States, dismantling Aaron Baddeley, 4 and 3, in his most commanding performance of the week, and becoming the first captain’s pick to clinch.

“A lot of people have asked why I picked him and how he was going to play,” U.S. captain Fred Couples said. “I think he showed himself that his swing is back and he’s healthy, and that’s more important to me.”

Hoggard: Grading players, captains

Match by match: Singles recaps

Couples answered Norman’s quick-start strategy with a more balanced lineup weighted with veterans late in his card in hopes of undercutting any potential International rally. In order American staples Jim Furyk, David Toms, Woods and Steve Stricker closed out the ninth Presidents Cup, a week that began, fittingly enough, with an unlikely pair of American rookies leading the way.

If Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, Presidents Cup first-timers who led the way in team play with a 3-0 start, made a statement at Royal Melbourne, Woods at least made progress.

For the week he was 2-3-0, matching his worst Presidents Cup record since his rookie start in 1998, and opened with the most lopsided loss in match history, a 7-and-6 hammering by Adam Scott and K.J. Choi.

In between he scratched out his lone team win, a 1-up decision in Saturday’s morning foursome session, and left little doubt in his singles match, making five birdies in 11 holes and closing out the Aussie rookie, 4 and 3.

Through three 'seasons' and as many different winds, Woods navigated the classic layout with near-flawless ball-striking and a faulty grasp of the pitched putting surfaces. On Sunday, following a putting tip from Stricker before his round, he added the missing element.

Woods rolled in birdie putts of 4, 17, 21, 17, 4 and 2 feet on Nos. 2, 5, 6, 10, 11 and 15, respectively – nearly matching his birdie total (eight) for the week. The man who played 16 holes without a lead, or a birdie, never trailed on Sunday and halted what would have been the first Sunday comeback in Presidents Cup history.

“I'm very pleased with the progress I've made with Sean (Foley) and it's finally paying off under pressure. It held up nicely last week at the (Australian) Open and it held up nicely this week,” Woods said.

That the Americans entered Sunday’s final frame with a 13-9 lead largely without the services of Woods is only the tip of one of the most curious Cups.

Simpson and Watson played the perfect leadoff men, blanking the Internationals in three consecutive sessions, while Furyk and Phil Mickelson, who had assumed the role of mentor in recent Cups, also opened with a 3-0 week.

“I have a feeling (Mickelson) probably asked to play with me because I felt like he could get a lot out of me,” said Furyk, the only player to post a 5-0 record at Royal Melbourne. “He’s got a great leadership quality in these events. I struggled this year and he kind of took me under his wing and kind of boosted my confidence.”

In Sunday singles Lefty played like he needed a partner, conceding his first three holes to Adam Scott and three-putting from 5 ½ feet to go 4 down. By the time the Australian finally closed Mickelson out, 2 and 1, the Cup was virtually decided.

If Norman’s Sunday plan fell short, Couples’ collection of victories large and small seemed more of the happenstance variety. On Tuesday night Mickelson and Furyk surprised the captain with their request to play together, and sending a pair of rookies out in the first foursome match – as Watson and Simpson requested – blatantly violates every captain’s conventional wisdom.

If Paul Azinger’s victory at the 2008 Ryder Cup was calculating, Couples’ second consecutive Presidents Cup triumph was, by every measure, by committee.

The “players’ captain” was more interested in going with the flow than finding the perfect formula. Note to future captains – this is not brain surgery.

“One thing we have done in the last four years is, you know, I have Tiger and Phil and Stricker and Jimmy, in the team room making every decision,” Couples said. “We're a team. I'm the captain but we are a team all day long all week long. I'm not telling Jim Furyk when to play and what slot to be in. And then they give me all the information on the younger players, too. So it worked out really well in San Francisco, and it worked out well here.”

For the week Couples defied conventional wisdom and the Americans defied the odds on a layout that was billed as a friendly-confines advantage for the Internationals. To play Royal Melbourne, the pundits figured, you needed experience, the one thing the Americans had no way of gaining.

It’s why Norman burned one of his captain’s picks on Robert Allenby, languishing at 69th in the World Golf Ranking and a decade removed from his last Tour title, but the Australian had history at Royal Melbourne.

For the week Allenby didn’t earn a point while the Americans plowed through even more articles of faith.

“I’ve been so impressed with the way the Americans have adapted to the conditions,” assistant International captain Frank Nobilo said. “You wouldn’t think that. This is supposed to be our home course, but they’ve adapted very well.”

It was in Sunday’s second-to-last group where Couples plowed through the ultimate Cup dogma.

With the U.S. just five points shy of victory, some viewed Woods’ penultimate spot on the Sunday card as an attempt to “hide” a player who had struggled mightily on Royal Melbourne’s greens and posted a 1-3-0 record in team play. To Couples he was an insurance policy.

Where the world saw a liability still rediscovering a putting touch that’s been MIA for two calendars, Couples saw a backstop that would stem the tide if need be, regardless of form or recent history.

In Melbourne’s maze of congested streets the “hook turn” works, against all odds and any reasonable regard for personal safety. At Royal Melbourne it was a maneuver of a different type that extended the Americans' hold on the Presidents Cup to seven matches – the U-turn.

Getty Images

Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

Getty Images

Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

Getty Images

Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

Getty Images

Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.