Watson under fire after benching red-hot rookies

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2014, 7:30 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Second-guessing Ryder Cup captains is as much a part of the gig as pimped out golf carts and awkward speeches, but the scrutiny that is sure to descend on Tom Watson after Day 1 at Gleneagles comes with a healthy dollop of cosmic irony.

Consider that two years ago Davis Love III, the man who shouldered a disproportionate amount of the blame at Medinah, was blasted for sitting the juggernaut of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for Saturday’s fourball session.

On Friday, Watson came under fire for letting the high-profile duo play in the afternoon matches.

Sure, Mickelson and Bradley beat Europe’s first line, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, in the morning fourball session, but it wasn’t pretty. In that match Lefty was wayward with his driver, missing crucial fairways at Nos. 5, 7 and 8, and Bradley was nervous. Which is to say Bradley was Bradley.

You don’t have to hold the captain’s title to know that is not a recipe for alternate-shot success.

The move was compounded by Watson’s decision to bench rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who had boat-raced match play magician Ian Poulter and Scotland's own Stephen Gallacher in the morning.

The hyper-analysis that will follow in the wake of the U.S. team’s foursomes faux pas on a blustery day, a 3 ½ to ½ point rout that turned the tide for Europe, is sure to fixate on that theme, however premature and unfounded it may be.

It’s part of the job description and certainly relevant considering America’s three rookies went undefeated on Day 1.

The third rookie, Jimmy Walker, holed a crucial 6-foot putt at the 18th hole in his morning match alongside Rickie Fowler to eke out a half point after the duo had trailed Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer for 17 holes.

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“I take the blame for that,” Watson said of the decision to bench Spieth and Reed, who cruised to a 5-and-4 victory in the morning. “I assessed that even though they won in the morning, that there maybe was a better fourball (pairing) for the afternoon. That decision not to play them was a hard decision to make. I had some doubt in making that decision, but my gut feeling said that was the right decision to make.”

It’s not in Old Tom’s nature to lean on rookies, which is peculiar considering it was his three rookies at the 1993 matches that were instrumental in delivering America’s last overseas victory.

These matches are not over despite Europe’s 5-3 lead. If Medinah taught the U.S. side anything it was that. But if America is going to make a game of this (and future matches) it may be time to eschew the long-held belief that experience is king at the biennial slugfest.

In 2008 it was rookie Anthony Kim who inspired Mickelson and helped deliver America’s last Ryder Cup victory. Two years ago it was then-first timer Bradley who filled that roll, and the two went undefeated in team play.

This is not an indictment of America’s veterans. Mickelson’s resume was Hall-of-Fame ready regardless of his 15-19-6 record in the Ryder Cup; and Jim Furyk’s legendary longevity is beyond reproach despite an inexplicable 9-18-4 mark in the matches.

But if seven losses in the last nine matches have taught the PGA of America anything, it is that there is only painful association with some memories.

But the PGA went with Watson – who at 65 was a dramatic break from the traditional captain’s mold – when they probably should have gone the other way on the generational scale.

One could imagine on Friday afternoon Billy Horschel stewing because Watson sat him for the afternoon session. But Watson didn’t pick Horschel, who would have been another energetic rookie. He also didn't pick Chris Kirk. Instead he opted for the “experience” of Webb Simpson, Hunter Mahan and Bradley, who combined to go 1-3-0 on Friday.

Experience didn’t deliver on Day 1, it was the rookies who produced two of America’s three points. It was the energetic indifference of youth that kept things from getting out of hand.

It took a haymaker from Europe’s best to deny Fowler and Walker America’s only full point in the afternoon. McIlroy and Garcia – who are ranked first and third in the world, respectively – birdied the last three holes to secure the half point and ignite the partisan crowd.

The rookies would never second-guess their captain. That’s not what rookies do.

“It's not our call. The captain is Tom and Tom is going to do what he needs to do,” Walker said. “I'm not second-guessing anything he's doing. I don't think Rickie is going to do that or anybody is going to do that. We are going to go play when we're told and that's what we told him.”

To be fair it’s best to let the matches play out before the arm-chair captains take the stage, but Watson’s reluctance to rely on youth is becoming a troublesome trend.

Last month at the PGA Championship, 2008 captain Paul Azinger was perusing the list of potential captain’s picks when he was asked if he had any problem selecting a first-timer.

“I want rookies, dude,” Azinger laughed at the time. “I want rookies who are unscarred and playing well. That’s how I would be thinking. I want to take a bunch of rookies in there, put a chip on their shoulder and go William Wallace on their ass.”

After a tough Friday at Gleneagles the chip is firmly planted on the entire U.S. team’s shoulder. If only Watson would let the rookies loose.

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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.”

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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 played a six-hole stretch in 6 under and shot an 8-under 64 in breezy conditions Saturday to take the lead at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook began the run at La Quinta Country Club with birdies on Nos. 4-5, eagled the sixth and added birdies on No. 7 and 9 to make the turn in 6-under 30.

After a bogey on the 10th, he birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 15 and saved par on the 18th with a 20-footer to take a 19-under 197 total into the final round on PGA West's Stadium Course. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player is making his first start in the event. He won at Sea Island in November for his first PGA Tour title.

Fellow former Razorbacks star Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were a stroke back. Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 on the Stadium Course. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. They are both winless on the PGA Tour.

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Jon Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium Course to reach 17 under. The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3, 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.

Scott Piercy also was two strokes back after a 66 at the Stadium.

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 PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, and Harkins shot 68 on the Stadium Course.

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 Course 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. The Southern California recruit had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over for the week.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.