#AskLav: European RC team better on paper, real life

By Ryan LavnerAugust 28, 2014, 3:00 pm

Even Tom Watson concedes that the European Ryder Cup team is the clear favorite heading into Gleneagles. 

The question then is by how much.

If you’ve strapped on a helmet and read comment sections or social media in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen predictions calling for everything from a U.S. loss by nightfall Saturday to an upset for the ages. 

Both captains will round out their 12-man rosters in separate nationally televised announcements on Tuesday (both live on Golf Channel!), but let’s be honest – a Hunter Mahan here or a Lee Westwood there won’t swing the outcome of these matches. To paraphrase a line from the great NFL coach Denny Green, these teams are who we think they are.

So let’s break it down on paper (where, you might have been reminded, no matches have ever been won): 

BEST PLAYER 

U.S.: Jim Furyk

Europe: Rory McIlroy 

Advantage: Europe

Furyk has been a human ATM this year and he’s finished outside the top 20 only once since March, but … the aging warrior hasn’t won since 2010, he has a terrible record in this event (9-17-1, including a demoralizing singles loss in 2012) and he’s failed to close out his last eight chances on Tour. Oy. Rory, meanwhile, assumes Tiger’s role as the biggest name at the Ryder Cup. He’s in great form, he’ll be sent out in all five matches, and if he gets on a roll Europe will win in a rout.   


CAPTAIN 

U.S.: Tom Watson

Europe: Paul McGinley 

Advantage: Europe

Watson is worshipped in Scotland and he has the Hall of Fame credentials, but you don’t hear any American team members shrieking, “Let’s win this one for Tom!”, like you might for other legends like Arnie or Jack. Fact is, McGinley is closer to his players – in both age and action. 


BENCH/CAPTAIN’S PICKS (note: three players per side selected Tuesday

U.S.: Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan, Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson, Brendon Todd, Ryan Moore, Bill Haas

Europe: Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Stephen Gallacher, Miguel Angel Jimenez

Advantage: U.S.

The best of all these options (American or European) is Mahan, who has three consecutive top-15s, including the Barclays win, though it should be noted that the other Team USA hopefuls have shown glimpses over the past month as well. There are many more unknowns on the European side. Poulter may be a Ryder Cup hero, but he won’t intimidate anyone if he continues to play this poorly; since the U.S. Open, he has three MCs and two other finishes outside the top 50. Westwood and Donald both have struggled mightily as well, opening the door for a player such as Gallacher, a Scotsman with an intriguing history at Gleneagles. 


X-FACTOR 

U.S.: Bubba Watson

Europe: Martin Kaymer

Advantage: U.S.

Bubba knows he’ll be under the microscope after the way he handled less-than-ideal conditions at Valhalla. With a reputation as a fair-weather player, he can sway a lot of opinions if he successfully bashes his way around Gleneagles – with a smile on his face. As for Kaymer, which guy are we going to see: The one who won the U.S. Open by eight, or the one who doesn’t have a top 10 since? 


BIGGEST QUESTION MARK

U.S.: Patrick Reed

Europe: Victor Dubuisson 

Advantage: U.S.

Slowly growing convinced that P-Reed will be America’s best player at Gleneagles. He’s a match-play dynamo (6-0 at NCAAs), he’s aggressive and he’s fiery, and he won’t be the least bit intimidated playing in a hostile arena. In fact, he relishes that environment. Put him with a similarly combustible partner – say, Rickie or Jordan Spieth – and one of the game’s most polarizing talents has an opportunity to win over a lot of fans. Dubuisson also fits in this category because, well, not even his teammates know what to expect in a few weeks.


BEST POTENTIAL PARTNERSHIP

U.S.: Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler

Europe: Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia

Advantage: Europe

Phil and Rickie are frequent practice-round partners and they put on a show Sunday at the PGA, but Watson likely will send out Mickelson with Bradley – at least early. Even their high-fiving, behind-smacking theatrics wouldn’t be enough to stop a Rory-Sergio tag team. It’d surprise little if that duo went 4-0 in team play.


THE OUTCOME

Anything can happen with professional athletes over three days in unpredictable Scottish weather, of course, but we’re unofficially setting the over/under for the Europeans’ margin of victory at 4.5. 


 

 

 

 

What’s not to like about the FedEx Cup playoffs? It is four weeks of elite fields on great golf courses at a time of year when more people are concerned with their fantasy football drafts than PGA Tour leaderboards. That said, enough head-scratching elements remain that keep the playoffs from cracking the crowded mainstream sports landscape:

1.) Points breakdown. How are the playoffs worth FIVE times the points of a regular-season event? By winning The Barclays, Mahan received the same number of points as if he’d also captured the Farmers Insurance Open, Honda Classic, Houston Open, Colonial and Quicken Loans National. Stuart Appleby didn’t have a top 10 since March, but by leading The Barclays on Sunday he was projected to move to No. 1 – ahead of Rory, Jimmy and Bubba. It’s hilariously lopsided. 

2.) No punishment for skipping events. A tough rule to enforce, particularly when there are four events in a row like 2014 (on top of an already hectic late-summer schedule), but there is no deterrent for top players to skip an event. The New England Patriots’ players are probably tired too, but they can’t just skip the divisional round. This is a bad look for golf’s so-called postseason.  

3.) A more compelling Tour Championship. The competition, not the money, should be the point of emphasis. A $10 million bonus might be life-changing cash for you and me, but for the Tour’s superstars it’s merely a cool reward for a nice season. Ditch the monotonous 72-hole format in favor of a 36-hole qualifier, then a win-or-go-home match-play bracket on the weekend for the top eight … with the $10 million on the line. That’d be must-see TV. 


 

 

FedEx Cup titles by Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker or Martin Kaymer would make the conversation a lot more interesting, but right now Rory McIlroy leads the race by a rather substantial margin. He’s No. 1 in the Tour’s strokes gained category, No. 1 in birdie average, No. 1 in scoring and No. 3 in the all-around ranking. Everyone remembers the three wins in a row (including two majors), but he’s also been in the top 25 in all 14 of his starts. Compare that to a player like, say, Kaymer, whose only two top-10s this calendar year have been victories. 


 

 

See the top of this mailbag for a 722-word answer. Abridged version: The Americans have a chance, but they’ll have to play out of their minds – and the Europeans will have to sleepwalk. 


 

 

Didn’t specify which side, so here are Captain Lavner’s picks for both the Americans and Europeans:

U.S.: Bradley, Snedeker, Mahan. All three have Ryder Cup experience; all three have shown good form in the past month; and it never hurts to have an above-average (Bradley) and excellent (Sneds) putter on the bench. Throw in the revenge factor for Mahan, given what transpired during his last Ryder Cup overseas, and this trio should inject some passion into the proceedings.  

Europe: Westwood, Poulter, Donald. The first two are locks, but keep a close eye on both Donald (Boston) and Gallacher (Italy) this week. If one plays well and the other falters, that should seal their fates. Gallacher, who lives 40 kilometers from Gleneagles and lost in a playoff there last year, needs a T-2 finish in the Euro Tour event to bump G-Mac for the last automatic spot. If that happens, you can bet Donald will be the odd man out. 


 

 

The rare college golf question! Love it. I’m filling out my preseason top 5 as I type this, and the Longhorns are safely among that company. Texas’ roster is one that every agent can love – a who’s who of can’t-miss junior prospects who comprise the year’s most compelling team to watch. From Beau Hossler (who led the U.S. Open at 17) to 2013 U.S. Junior champion Scottie Scheffler to 2014 U.S. Publinx runner-up Doug Ghim, this is a team with national-title aspirations, and for good reason. Make sure to check GolfChannel.com on Tuesday, Sept. 8 for the rollout of our college preview, including stories, rankings and watch lists.


 

 

Of course! Just giving the (seven) people what they want. 

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.