U.S. doesn't agree with underdog label

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2014, 6:52 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – On this the wise guys seem to have a consensus – the U.S. Ryder Cup team is a distinct underdog in this week’s matches.

Just don’t tell any of the American players.

“I don’t see it that way,” Zach Johnson said. “In ’12 it was the other way around, with the U.S. team having the advantage, so it’s irrelevant.”

It was a common theme among the players who spoke to the media on Tuesday at Gleneagles. So much so, one could almost hear the affable Herm Edwards glaring down and explaining, “You play to win the game.”

While captain Tom Watson’s dozen may eschew the role of underdog, that doesn’t change the perception held by many on both sides of the transatlantic divide that a U.S. victory on Sunday would be a surprise.

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While the line varies, bookmakers in the United Kingdom have the Europeans as clear 4-to-6 favorites. In fact, the odds for a one-point American triumph (12 to 1) are better than a three-point European victory (8 to 1).

But then the Europeans have come by their advantage honestly. The Continent has won seven of the last nine matches and the last time the American side won an away game (1993), half of the U.S. team was in elementary school.

There is also the issue that for the second time in seven years the American team is without this generation’s best player (Tiger Woods) and arguably the U.S. team’s most intimidating player (Dustin Johnson).

Conversely, the European team will be led by the current world No. 1 in Rory McIlroy and the winners of three of this season’s four major championships.

“The European team is loaded,” Watson conceded. “But when the matches start at 7:35 [a.m.] on Friday morning, there's going to be quality of play going on. We'll just see who wins.”

European captain Paul McGinley also surprised some American players when they showed up and thought Mike Davis had set up the course for this week’s matches, complete with 8-inch-deep rough and narrow fairways that looked more like a U.S. Open venue than one of the historic Open Championship rota layouts.

It may be the American national championship but the USGA philosophy seems to favor players from the Continent considering four of the last five U.S. Open winners are European.

With three days to go before play begins, the second-guessing has also started over Watson’s captain’s picks. While Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson may have been inspired choices on Sept. 2, when Watson announced his selections, Billy Horschel’s magical FedEx Cup finish, not to mention Chris Kirk’s season, has stirred armchair captains everywhere.

Even Bubba Watson, who some have labeled the U.S. player with the biggest target on his back, has been scrutinized for his 3-5-0 Ryder Cup record, prompting a few to question if it should be the other Watson (Tom) hitting meaningful golf shots this week.

But if these 40th matches have the feel of a nine-point rout, like the 18 1/2-to-9 1/2 loss the U.S. suffered at The K Club in 2006, McGinley doesn’t see it.

“The bottom line is, this is a very, very strong American team,” he said. “The favorite tag or not favorite tag is irrelevant as far as I'm concerned. We're going to have to play really well to win this Ryder Cup. I certainly won't be underestimating this American team or Tom.”

And as underestimated teams always do, the U.S. side is viewing the perceived role as a slight, a bulletin board filled with reasons to prove those who see the actual play as a formality wrong.

“The underdog role is one that's kind of fun, to be honest with you. When I went up against Nick Faldo in my first Ryder Cup, there wasn't one person that expected me to beat Nick Faldo that day,” said Jim Furyk, who defeated Faldo in Sunday singles in 1997, 3 and 2. “The underdog role is great. You have everything to win and nothing to lose. I never really looked at it as an intimidation.”

On Tuesday, McGinley planned to have Sir Alex Ferguson, a former Manchester United manager, speak to his team. When asked if he planned to bring in an inspirational speaker this week Watson smiled, “I’ve already given them some talks.”

As a Plan B, Watson may want to track down Joe Namath to speak to his team this week because if the “paper” underdogs pull off a victory it may be the biggest upset since Broadway Joe led his New York Jets to the title at Super Bowl III.

Just don’t tell the American players.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.