U.S. players not picky when it comes to pairings

By Rex HoggardOctober 5, 2015, 12:08 pm

INCHEON, South Korea – For once, Jay Haas could use some old-fashioned self-absorbed narcissism, the kind of selfishness professional athletes are known for, and the American dozen want no part of it.

For weeks now Haas, the captain of this week’s U.S. Presidents Cup team, has tried to pick the collective’s thoughts on potential pairings for this week’s matches and more times than not the answer has been less than helpful.

“I’m glad he’s asking and I have a bit of a voice, but I would be happy with anyone,” said Jordan Spieth, the highest-ranked player on the team.

Bill Haas, Jay’s son and one of three captain’s picks (including J.B. Holmes who was a last-minute replacement for Jim Furyk), echoed those sentiments. “You’d embrace that pairing, whatever it may be. I don’t think I’d ever look at a pairing and think, you know this doesn’t suit my eye. I don’t think I’d ever say that,” he said.

While that’s exactly the kind of team attitude one would expect from a group that spends 51 weeks a year playing for the proverbial team of one, Captain Haas was looking for a little more insolence when he began polling players for potential pairings.

“To be honest, I look at it as it’s the top players in the world and I’d love to play with any of them,” Bill Haas said. “I don’t really have a preference and that’s not really what my dad wants to hear. He wants everyone to give exactly who they want to play with. He wants to hear what people think.”

Much of that unfiltered feedback is likely coming from Fred Couples, who captained the last three U.S. Presidents Cup teams, and Davis Love III, the 2014 Ryder Cup captain, who are both serving as Haas’ assistants this week.

Previous team history, either at the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup, will also be a guide for Jay Haas, but there are limitations to using past pairings.

Bill Haas, for example, has played in two Presidents Cups (2011 and ’13), but of his five partners in those matches just one, Matt Kuchar, is on this year’s team at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea.

Similarly, Spieth went 2-1 at the 2013 Presidents Cup paired with Steve Stricker, who is an assistant on this year’s team, and Jay Haas will likely look to the 22-year-old’s Ryder Cup record to find him a teammate.

“I thought Patrick [Reed] and I had some success in best ball [the duo went 2-0 in that format at last year’s Ryder Cup],” Spieth said. “There’s a chance of [Zach Johnson] or [Dustin Johnson], I’d like to play with any of them.”

Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker also played well together last year at Gleneagles, halving all four team matches and setting the stage for a sequel this week in South Korea.

But the most insight into what Captain Haas may do this week with his pairings could be gleaned from Monday’s tee sheet. Recent captains for both the Presidents and Ryder Cups have used a modified version of Paul Azinger’s “pods” system when crafting pairings and that seems to be the plan this week.

“We’re going to be paired up in kind of like pods in the practice rounds,” Bill Haas said. “If you see practice round groupings you can safely say a lot of those guys will be paired together.”

Monday’s groups in Korea included an early-morning five-some of Reed, Fowler, Walker, Dustin Johnson and Chris Kirk, which given each player’s game and team history was replete with possible pairings.

Holmes, Bubba Watson and Bill Haas were in the day’s second group, a move that could suggest a possible power four-ball pairing of the American bombers in fourball play; and Spieth, Zach Johnson and Phil Mickelson – who joined the duo at the turn – headed out last.

Johnson has a similar demeanor and game as Stricker and would be a potential foursomes partner for Spieth; while Mickelson has been teamed with younger players in recent years and is a regular practice-round partner with Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Walker, who all share the same swing coach (Butch Harmon).

Tuesday and Wednesday’s groupings will likely offer more insight into what Jay Haas has in mind for this week’s matches, but Captain America probably shouldn’t count on much selfish input from his players – at least not this week.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.