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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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.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.