Whatever the reason, the Internationals have life

By Rex HoggardOctober 10, 2015, 12:58 pm

INCHEON, South Korea – However the Presidents Cup arrived at its compelling crossroads, be it fewer points or Phil Mickelson’s pointed comments, it now appears to be worth the price of admission.

The United States may well turn the 11th edition into another boat race on Sunday with 12 singles matches looming, but the foundation for fireworks that Nick Price envisioned when he lobbied for the current format at least delivered a one-point margin of error with the U.S. clinging to a 9 ½ to 8 ½ advantage.

And Mickelson’s ill-advised jab at the Internationals on Friday following a rules infraction that cost he and Zach Johnson a one-hole penalty didn't hirt either. “I feel like we spotted the Internationals’ best team [Jason Day and Adam Scott] two holes and they still couldn't beat us. Just saying,” Mickelson said.

Whatever the tonic, the one-point U.S. lead is the closest these matches have been through three days since the teams finished Saturday knotted at 11 points apiece in 2005; and since those matches, the two sides have split singles play with 30 points each.

“This is what we all came here for, for it to be exciting tomorrow,” said Price, who is taking his second turn as the International captain.

It could have been even closer but for the Internationals' inability to hold a lead in the morning foursome session when Day and Charl Schwartzel blew a 3-up advantage at the turn to lose to Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth on the last hole. Sangmoon Bae and Hideki Matsuyama, likewise, split their match with Bill Haas and Matt Kuchar after leading early.

But the matinee matches largely went to script, with the two sides splitting the session thanks to continued solid play from the South African duo of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace as well as Bae and Matsuyama.

Bae and Matsuyama combined to post 10 birdies in 13 holes for a 6-and-5 victory over Jimmy Walker and Chris Kirk that included three consecutive birdies for Bae at the turn.

“That was one of the best matches I’ve ever played,” said Bae, who has provided a hometown spark for a gallery that has largely avoided partisanship.

The South Africans, Oosthuizen and Grace, were able to slip past the American power two-ball of J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson with a chip-in birdie at the 16th hole, becoming the first International team to go 4-0-0.

American captain Jay Haas’ counter came by way of Spieth, who could have beaten the International tandem of Day and Schwartzel single-handedly in the afternoon with eight birdies in 16 holes after combining for just two birdies during Friday’s fourball session when paired with Johnson.

Despite that timely play from all the familiar places and the advantage on the scoreboard, it was the rest of the world that seemed to be in charge after starting the week by dropping four of five foursome matches on Thursday.

“To me, it kind of feels like we're losing just because of what's gone on the last two days,” Zach Johnson said. “But our first day was substantial. That was a big day, a lot of positives.”

Much of that renewed vigor from the International team room could be traced to a format change this year that reduced the total number of points from 34 to 30, a move that Price argued would make the matches more competitive.

But then pinning the Internationals’ inspired play only on new math is a disservice to what has been the side’s most competitive start in a decade.

“I think the points change is huge. But these guys have played phenomenally well,” Price said. “It's both [the players and the new point structure], honestly. I can't actually single out one particular thing.”

While the reasons for the International side’s biennial swoon remain a mystery - from the challenges of getting 12 professionals from seven countries to play under one flag to a general lack of depth - in simplest terms, the rest of the world simply needed to play better.

That was Price’s message to his dozen on Thursday night after the Americans blitzed the home team, 4-1, in the opening session. Since then, the Internationals have outscored the United States, 5 ½ to 7 ½, and turned what has been a formality for more than a decade into an opportunity.

An International victory would be historic. No team that began the singles frame trailing has gone on to win the cup, but for the first time the rest of the world can envision a favorable ending that wouldn’t require either a classic comeback or collapse.

For Price and his dozen, it doesn’t matter whether it’s been Mickelson’s bulletin board miscue or the event’s new math or simply more putts dropping, the result has been a psychological shift that is impossible to ignore.

“We need to win this. This is massive for us. We need this tournament to be competitive and keep the Presidents Cup alive,” Oosthuizen said.

It’s hard to imagine the Presidents Cup is on life support, but Oosthuizen’s point is valid, because for the first time in a long time, neither are the International’s title hopes going into Sunday.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry