Watson's captain's picks want redemption in Scotland

By Rex HoggardSeptember 3, 2014, 1:28 am

NEW YORK – Where players like Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson see redemption, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson can sense an edge, however slight and subtle.

If the U.S. side is going to end a road game victory drought that extends back more than two decades it will be this psychological distinction that will lift them over the paper lions in Scotland.

An often-repeated sentiment during Tuesday’s captain’s picks announcement from Studio 8H at 30 Rock, atonement, be it for the 2012 meltdown at Medinah or the mudslide in ’10 at Celtic Manor, seems to be a singular focus for players and captain.

“Redemption is going to be a strong word among the players,” said Mahan, who was announced as Watson’s second selection. “Europe has flat out kicked our butt in recent years.”

Simpson, who was a member of the ’12 team that booted a 10-6 advantage heading into Sunday’s singles play, echoed those comments, “It was a week I’ll never forget. It was a week we were playing so well we knew we were going to win,” he said.

And Bradley, whose pain from the last matches ran so deep he has yet to unpack his bag for the week, “We’re always trying to fight and keep it down, but that (loss) is always there,” he said.

Watson played along, fanning the competitive flames in search of an advantage, a spark, maybe even a ploy, to wrest the U.S. team out of a slide that has included seven loses in the last nine matches.

“Every player in this team will go in there thinking about Medinah. They will know, I don’t have to tell them,” the captain said. “I know how it hurt me. I watched it and for three days I had a big hole in my stomach.”

While Bradley, the American side’s answer to Ian Poulter, and Mahan, whose victory at last month’s Barclays likely pushed him over the top, seemed to be the proverbial low-hanging fruit for captain Tom, Simpson’s selection is sure to draw scrutiny in the weeks leading up to the matches.

Watson admitted that he came to the conclusion Simpson was the right man for the final pick over the likes of Chris Kirk, Bill Haas and Brandt Snedeker early Tuesday when he glanced down at the litany statistics from past matches.

“I looked down and saw 5 and 4, and just kept thinking 5 and 4, 5 and 4, 5 and 4,” said Watson, referring to Simpson and Bubba Watson’s Day 2 four-ball victory over Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari.

There were other factors involved, including Simpson’s PGA Tour record last fall and his vocal desire to make the team, but it was that match, which seemed to stem a European rally, that convinced Watson he needed to be on that team.

Armchair captains will question why Kirk didn’t get the pick. The would-be Ryder Cup rookie outplayed world No. 1, and European anchor, Rory McIlroy over the final 36 holes last week at TPC Boston to win the Deutsche Bank Championship and he has gained more World Ranking points over the last 12 months (163) than all of the other potential picks.

“Webb was the toughest of the decisions. He had some good play and some bad play lately,” Watson said. “There were other people in the mix. I even thought about Brooks Koepka. I did a lot of scouting. People have to realize that (Kirk’s play at the Deutsche Bank Championship) is a snapshot. You have to look at the total package and the total picture.”

When the PGA of America named Watson captain of this year’s matches it was clear they were eyeing a leader with an outside-the-box mentality, and one could argue his picks fall into that category considering that Bradley was 13th on the U.S. point list, Simpson was 15th and Mahan completed the automatic selection process ranked 25th.

By comparison, in 2012 then-captain Davis Love III selected Jim Furyk (No. 11 on the point list), Brandt Snedeker (No. 13) and Dustin Johnson (No. 15); while Corey Pavin went with Tiger Woods (No. 12), Stewart Cink (No. 14) and Rickie Fowler (No. 20).

Even Paul Azinger, the maverick who overhauled the selection system in 2008, didn’t color as far outside the lines as Watson when he selected Steve Stricker (No. 10), Hunter Mahan (No. 13), J.B. Holmes (No. 18) and Chad Campbell (No. 21).

But this is, after all, the same captain who made Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins his picks in 1993 when the veterans were 22nd and 32nd, respectively, on the U.S. point list.

If these matches follow the same path as they did in ’93, the last time the U.S. won a Ryder Cup on European soil, Watson’s selections will be remembered as inspired. If not, the second-guessing will likely begin with his picks. They always do.

But on Tuesday in the heart of Manhattan as each player talked about redemption, Watson saw a reason to be optimistic.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

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

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''