U.S. dominates another Presidents Cup

By Rex HoggardOctober 6, 2013, 10:57 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – The exhibition felt more like another evisceration.

Too vivid?

How about this: Despite some truly inspired performances by International captain Nick Price’s team, the only time the American team found itself in harm’s way over four damp days was when a wayward squirrel named Sammy crashed the team room.

As hard as Price & Co. planned and plodded to make this Presidents Cup a game, this wasn’t a fair fight. It hasn’t been for some time, but a fitful week of starts and stops at muddy Muirfield Village proved to be the latest indication of the event’s lack of relevance.

“This is a pretty tall order,” an emotional Price allowed after the final foursomes collapse set up the singles formality on Sunday. “I just hope the golfing gods are on our side this afternoon.”

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It’s not a higher power that has rendered this biennial bash a non-story. That liability rests on PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s shoulders.

Earlier this year Price, former captain Greg Norman and future captain Ernie Els pleaded with Finchem to give the Internationals a fighting chance and reduce the number of foursome and fourball matches, the idea being fewer team bouts would favor the Rest of the World’s perceived lack of depth.

Instead, Finchem allowed for a format change – this year’s event started with a fourball session instead of foursomes, with which the Internationals have struggled – and the United States rolled to an 18 ½ to 15 ½ victory to improve to 8-1-1 in the matches.

And it really wasn’t that close.

Don’t get it twisted – the Internationals fought. They fought like a wild squirrel trapped in an assistant captain’s golf cart. But when Round 4 play finally ended early Sunday the visiting team was down 14-8 and the home side needed to win just four of the 12 singles matches to keep the cup.

It would have been the largest comeback in Presidents Cup, or Ryder Cup, history. The Internationals needed a Medinah-like miracle and then some. But then the Europeans only had to dig themselves out of a four-point hole and they had Ian Poulter.

For Davis Love III, last year’s Ryder Cup captain and an assistant this time for Fred Couples, the déjà vu was impossible to ignore.

“We flashed back last night,” Love said. “It was me and Fred and Jay (Haas) and Tiger (Woods) and Phil (Mickelson) and Hunter (Mahan) talking about how we were going to do the pairings. It was hard for me all week because I felt so bad about it. It was like, here’s what we said we were going to do at Medinah, we know now.”

Lesson learned.

Mahan, in the singles leadoff position, set the tone, quickly dispatching surprise rookie standout Hideki Matsuyama, 3 and 2, and Jason Dufner added another point when he beat another newcomer, Brendon De Jonge, 4 and 3.

There were tense moments after the Internationals won four of the first six matches. Couples, who is notoriously low key, may even have felt nervous with five matches remaining on the course. The math was straightforward: If the International team won the final five matches they would force a tie.

“I must have asked 500 times, ‘How are we getting this fourth point?’” Couples said.

The answer? Tiger Woods. Who else?

Sent out in the ninth spot, it seemed unlikely the world No. 1’s point would count, but shortly after a particularly forceful swing at the 15th hole nearly sent Woods to his knees with back pain, it became clear his point would be pivotal.

Woods took a 1-up lead when little-known Richard Sterne hit into the grandstand at the 16th hole, then calmly two-putted from 36 feet at the last to secure the winning point for the third consecutive Presidents Cup.

“I was just trying to hang on,” said Woods, who found a new partner at Muirfield Village in the form of Matt Kuchar. “The problem was, I knew I wasn't feeling good, and if I happened to mess up 18 and we had to continue playing until it's been decided. I was like, 'I really don't want to play anymore. Just can I win, can I halve this last hole, somehow?' And it ended up being that way.”

This marks the fifth consecutive match that the Internationals failed to finish closer than three points to the Americans and the title drought has now been run to 15 years.

It wasn’t all gloom and doom for the Internationals. A pair of young stars emerged in Graham DeLaet – think Poulter without the wardrobe stipend – and Matsuyama and two long-term potential power pairings in DeLaet and Jason Day and Matsuyama and Adam Scott.

Combined, those four players contributed 11 points and considering his team included seven rookies and little room to hide any weaknesses, Price’s post-match assessment was only slightly less dark than the gray skies that blanketed Muirfield Village for most of the week.

“Our rally this week in a couple of the sessions, and particularly today, showed how much fight we've all got in us,” Price said. “We all wanted this badly, but 9 ½ (points, what his team needed to win the cup in the singles session) is almost an unobtainable task.”

Even Els, whose inevitable turn at captain seems certain to wait considering his play at this week’s matches (3-2-0), allowed for a glimmer of hope the next time the Rest of the World meets America’s best in 2015 in Korea. “It’s closer than you think,” he said.

Perhaps, but from 30,000 feet this still has all the markings of a homecoming game for the United States.

If International captains past and present really want to turn the tide in the biennial blowout they may want to make another run at Finchem in an attempt to increase the number of singles matches. The U.S. has won just one of the last three Sunday singles sessions at the Presidents Cup and we all know America’s singles record in the Ryder Cup.

But on Sunday, Medinah and The Meltdown felt like another lifetime for the Americans.

Relaxed, if not rested, the U.S. side responded to nearly every move Couples made at Muirfield Village, the byproduct of the captain’s laid-back lead and a six-point advantage heading into the final frame.

Media types always want to know why the U.S. team plays so well at the Presidents Cup but tightens like an ailing Achilles’ at the Ryder Cup. The answer could be found in Mickelson’s mood Sunday as players marched out to end the muddy marathon.

“This morning everybody was worried about when their tee times were and Phil comes in and says, ‘I tell you what. I’m going last and I don’t want my point to count,’” Love said. “You guys get out there and win this thing. I want to come giggling down the fairway.”

Like clockwork, only the Americans were giggling at the Presidents Cup.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

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First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.