Love's picks resemble the past, with eye on the future

By Rex HoggardSeptember 12, 2016, 6:30 pm

“We’re laying the foundation.”

It’s become a common refrain, with Davis Love III telling anyone who would listen that the Ryder Cup – this Ryder Cup – is only the beginning.

This is about the next four Ryder Cups, not four captain’s picks – that’s the mission statement, the marching orders dictated by last year’s task force.

Those who dissect these sorts of things will look at Love’s first three picks and will see a new team that looks a lot like the old team. Rickie Fowler, who was also a pick in 2010 when he went 0-1-2; J.B. Holmes, a ’08 pick (2-0-1); and Matt Kuchar received the nod on Monday.

If some have confused a new outlook for a new team, consider that only Brooks Koepka, who qualified for the U.S. squad on points, has never played in the biennial matches. The task force, which has evolved into a committee, gave Love a blank canvas; but Captain America’s initial picks had the look of a paint-by-numbers project.

There were no double-takes, no surprises on Monday at Hazeltine National. If not the status quo, Love at the least adhered to a familiar formula of taking players that mesh well in the team room and match up with the existing team.

The task force didn’t create an autocracy, and Love is no Bill Belichick, although the captain did spend some time recently with the aloof New England head coach. The U.S. side wanted a players’ coach and got Pete Carroll.

But Love is not just a golf cart driver. According to various sources, the U.S. captain made the final call on the first three of his four picks – you know, leadership stuff that transpired behind closed doors.

“There was not a consensus early,” Love said of Monday’s picks. “We went back and forth on a lot of great players and it was a tough decision.”

For the record, Love went with Nos. 9, 11 and 12 on the U.S. Ryder Cup point list, which ended on Aug. 21. Again, that’s not exactly the outside-the-box dynamic some had been anticipating. But then Love and company weren’t brought together to make headlines in September, they were charged with turning around the United States’ fortunes in the matches in 2016 and beyond.

The U.S. hasn’t won back-to-back Ryder Cups since 1991-93, and is in danger of dropping its fourth consecutive this year, which has never happened.

The 41st Ryder Cup is about changing the culture, not the narrative of a never-ending news cycle.

“We got a new ownership. We changed the front office and started over again,” Love said. “[The PGA of America] gave us a voice. They are listening to the players. Not just for this year, but for the future.”

Love’s vice captains are either former or future captains, not the normal eclectic collection of friends and family; and the focus has been on treating the matches like one would a major. The “next man up” concept has been designed to give every vice captain and player a detailed plan for every conceivable scenario for this year and onward.

“You don't want to get too tied up in the results, but certainly what we're looking at is, are we able to play our best golf,” said Phil Mickelson, who has become something of a de facto vice captain for the U.S. team.

If Love’s three picks don’t exactly have the look of change, know that the real differences this time around will be much more subtle, but if everything goes to plan no less dramatic.

Whether this new culture results in a victory this year isn’t as relevant as what the impact will be on future matches.

“We have a lot more arrows in our quiver than we’ve had,” Love said. “We just need to fix a couple things. Get everyone on the same page, have a little continuity and consistency. We gain an advantage in everything we’ve been doing the last year, year and a half.”

For now, the instant analysis and hot takes must be deferred until after this year’s matches, if not the next five matches. The point of the task force, Love has argued, is to build a winning legacy, not a big enough lead heading into Sunday’s single matches to avoid another meltdown like the one that cost the U.S. team at Medinah four years ago.

But after dropping eight of the last 10 matches to Europe, Love and the Americans should not count on an endless honeymoon.

Rebuilding years may work in places like San Diego – honestly, the Padres haven’t been relevant in October since George W. Bush resided in the White House – but the American golf fan is generally not the patient type.

While Love and his fellow task force members may be taking a 30,000-foot view of the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s transformation, nothing brings out the worst in fans than a loss, particularly a loss after all apparent options have been exhausted.

A member of last year’s U.S. Ryder Cup task force recently asked who should get the credit for the changes the group has initiated? While well intentioned, your scribe couldn’t help but wonder who would get the blame?

At this point, it’s all a matter of perspective. But in three short weeks that subjectivity will be supplanted by results. Judging the task force’s relative success or failure based on a single Ryder Cup will be utterly unfair, and absolutely unavoidable.

In sports, there’s no other way.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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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.

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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.