#AskLav: Will Ryder captains' age help or hurt U.S.?

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 13, 2014, 3:50 pm

Welcome to another installment of the #AskLav mailbag, where each week we follow Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup motto: Age is just a number.

Guess we’ll find out if that’s really true come September. 

When the matches get underway at Gleneagles, Watson and his two assistants, Andy North and Raymond Floyd, will be a combined 201 years old. Two. Hundred. One. 

Potentially, Floyd, at age 72, would be more than 50 years older than Jordan Spieth, who turns 21 in July.

That’s not a generational gap. It’s a generational canyon. 

Watson, of course, hopes that his players will be inspired to tee it up for two legends who have been there and done that, who have earned their respect and trust, who have competed valiantly not only for themselves but also their teammates and their country.

But there’s another, less desirable scenario: The players will tune out the captains – not unlike a teen listening to his grandfather drone on about war stories – and the experience sours early.

One thing is certain, though: If the U.S. wins on foreign soil for the first time in more than two decades, it proves the PGA’s old-timey experiment was a success and opens the door for other outside-the-box captains. 

But, hey, the clock is ticking on this mailbag, too. Let’s dive into your questions: 

 

 

Instagram#AskLav: Does Jimmy Walker have what it takes to add his name to the list of major champions? – Bobby Terwilliger, via Instagram

That’s the big question now, right? It’s nice that J-Walk can win events like the Frys and Sony and Pebble, but how will he fare in those Big Events, the ones on which legacies are built? Consider this: Walker, age 35, has competed in just SIX career majors. No Masters appearances. Just two U.S. Opens berths, and not since 2002. Only one British Open (MC). And three PGAs (two MCs with a T-21). Heck, he’s only been in The Players field four times and has just one WGC under his belt (T-46 last November). It’s unfair to hold that against Walker, of course – with three wins in his last eight starts, it’s clear that he has elevated his game to new heights. For this late bloomer, the WGC at Doral will be a good benchmark of how high he can soar. 


Instagram#AskLav: Where did Jimmy Walker come from? And how is he winning all these tournaments out of nowhere? – Brett Brewster, via Instagram

So, um, I’m assuming you didn’t follow Walker back in 2004, when he was the Nationwide Tour Player of the Year? OK, fair enough. He didn’t record his first top-10 in a PGA Tour event until 2009, didn’t crack the top 50 in earnings until 2012, and last year recorded his first runner-up finish, at The Greenbrier. The turning point came last April, when he began working with swing coach Butch Harmon. Walker proved a quick learner, posting career bests in driving distance and greens hit in 2013 and finishing 36th in the FedEx Cup. Already his $3.6 million in earnings through eight starts is nearly as much as he banked in 2012 and ’13 combined. This guy is for real. 


 

 

Woah! Hyperbole alert. Cheyenne seems like a sweet girl with a beautiful swing and even better bloodlines, but let’s not forget: The 23-year-old earned less than $6,000 in three LPGA starts last year, finished 78th on the Ladies European Tour Order of Merit and then couldn’t secure her tour card here through Q-School. No doubt, she could be a game-changer for women’s golf … someday. Tiger had two dismal season-opening events, and all of a sudden he’s toast in the majors? Come on. 


Instagram#AskLav: Is Cheyenne Woods single? – Roc O’Connor, via Instagram

I’m not sure what kind of shady operation you think we’re running here …


Instagram#AskLav: Cheyenne, will you be my valentine? – Brad Haberkorn, via Instagram

Stop it. You’re scaring her.


Instagram#AskLav: Who’s your fantasy pick this week at Riviera? – Beautiful Golf Courses, via Instagram

A real question! At this point, it seems unwise to pick against Jimmy Walker, what with that 3-for-8 start and all. Other solid picks this week: Dustin Johnson, who has finished no worse than sixth in three starts this season; Keegan Bradley, who prior to a MC at the Phoenix Open had 11 top-25s in his last 13 starts and lost in a playoff here in 2012; and Bill Haas, who has three consecutive top-15s at Riviera, including the victory in ’12. But what do I know? I’m only, ahem, fourth on Golf Channel’s expert leaderboard. 


 

 

Honestly, it’s difficult to generate much excitement when the host course won’t be completed until summer 2015 and the format looks like the World Golf Championships-South America edition. Ideally, tournament officials would have implemented some element of match play into the competition – a 36- or 54-hole stroke-play qualifier, followed by a match-play knockout bracket. As currently constituted, it seems like just another 72-hole big-time tournament, with medals awaiting the top 3 on the leaderboard. 


 

 

As I mentioned earlier, you can’t fault the guys who haven’t been given the opportunity – or, frankly, played well enough – to put themselves in a position to compete in the WGCs and majors. Walker, as he’s shown in the past few months, is absolutely ready to take the next step and win one of the events with a huge purse and loaded field. Reed doesn’t even have 50 Tour starts under his belt, let alone any big-tourney experience. But he’s a legit sleeper pick to go deep in next week’s Match Play – the ultra-aggressive player went 6-0 at the NCAAs in college. His major prospects, long-term, depend on how well he can control his tee ball. In 2013, he ranked 157th on Tour in driving accuracy. That won’t get it done at a difficult venue. 


Instagram#AskLav: How do I become a writer for Golf Channel? – Dien, via Instagram 

Write every day. Read even more. Study the sport. But please, don’t take my job. 


 

 

Tiger. His worst career start as a pro was the product of rust more than anything else. This upcoming Florida swing will tell us all we need to about the state of his game heading into the year’s first major. And don’t forget: He has finished sixth or better in eight of his last nine starts at Augusta.

Phil, as usual, is a more unpredictable case. At his season opener in Abu Dhabi, he extolled the virtues of his new driver that he was hitting longer and straighter than ever before. Yet so far in 2014, he ranks 133rd and 114th in driving distance and accuracy, respectively, though those numbers figure to improve (maybe) when his back is 100 percent. More troubling is his putting. It’s a small sample size, of course, but he’s currently 122nd on Tour, and he’s coming off what he said was his worst putting performance in a year and a half. 


Instagram#AskLav: What are the odds of multiple Oklahoma State guys winning titles? Hunter Mahan, CH3, Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein, Morgan Hoffmann … Seems like there is some major talent out of Stillwater – Ryan Loudon, via Instagram

In order of most likely: Mahan, Howell, Uihlein, Fowler, Hoffmann. 

Mahan, winless since April 2012, has finished T-4 and sixth in his last two starts, respectively, while Howell has a Tour-best five top 10s this season and is way too talented to have only two titles (and none since 2007). Uihlein absolutely could win on the U.S. tour this year, provided he gets enough opportunities.


Instagram#AskLav: Why hasn’t Rickie Fowler been performing as well as his competitors who are the same age as him? It has been a very popular few years to see 20-year-olds on top, but Rickie Fowler hasn’t been up there lately. – Brian O’Malley, via Instagram

Right now, he’s simply not playing as well as Jordan Spieth and Harris English and Patrick Reed and the rest of the early-20s brigade. He has just one top 25 in five starts this season – indeed, that 2012 victory at Quail Hollow seems like a loooong time ago – but he’s been working recently with Butch Harmon. Swing changes take time. Rickie said he doesn’t want to be known simply as a one-hit wonder with Crayola clothes. The guess here is that he’ll get it sorted out with Butch and factor again soon. 


 

 

The Masters is the right answer. Always. Every year it delivers. A close second will be the U.S. Open, where there will be so much hype with Phil looking to complete the career grand slam and win that elusive major at the place where all the heartache began, and Tiger looking to improve on his other top-3 finishes at Pinehurst, and the back-to-back Opens with the women. Fun times ahead for golf fans.


Instagram#AskLav: What’s wrong with Bubba under pressure? – Nate Anderson, via Instagram

Yes, the dude plays golf like he has red ants in his socks, but how quickly you have forgotten that hook out of the trees at Augusta. Didn’t have any problem closing there, right?

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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.