Honeymoon over for Tiger-Stricker pairing

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 29, 2012, 1:25 am

MEDINAH, Ill. – The spark that was supposed to propel Tiger Woods to an improbable comeback victory – or at least a half point – occurred on the 16th hole, as you probably know, since your TV sets at home likely shook because of the roar.

At the time, the once-unbeatable team of Woods and Steve Stricker were 2 down to world No. 3 Lee Westwood and a lanky, awesomely talented Belgian named Nicolas Colsaerts, who was playing in his first Ryder Cup. Already on Friday the U.S. pair had lost in morning foursomes, a defeat so uninspiring that it led many to wonder if Woods should sit out a session for the first time in his career.

That seemed a distant memory, however, as Woods faced a slippery 25-foot putt on the 16th at Medinah. He barely touched his putt, the ball picking up speed as it rolled down the slope, and eventually it rammed into the back of the cup for a vintage birdie-3. One down.

Unlike some of his other memorable moments, Woods didn’t scream or pump his fist when the putt dropped. Instead, he simply pointed his finger in the direction of the 17th tee – onward!

This, after all, was the moment that American golf fans had been clamoring for.

Phil Mickelson, who sported a ghastly 11-17-6 record in the Ryder Cup, had gone 2-0 on Day 1, clearly reinvigorated by the stirring play of rookie Keegan Bradley. And now Woods had a chance to ensure that the Americans would not drop a full point in the afternoon session. The teeing ground at No. 17 shook.

But on that watery par-3, where everything was supposed to swing in his opponent’s favor, Colsaerts answered Woods’ tight approach by draining a 20-foot birdie from the front of the green. Woods would make his 5-foot birdie putt too, ensuring the match would indeed go the distance, but it was Colsaerts who had best seized the moment. It was a high-stakes, international game of H-O-R-S-E.

Despite a valiant charge from Woods (five back-nine birdies, seven in all), his comeback ended on a sour note. His 12-foot putt on the final green – the putt that could have secured a half point for the Americans and given his team 3 1/2 points in the afternoon – slid by on the low side. Walking up to the cup, he swatted away the ball in disgust.

It was the lone lowlight on an otherwise sterling afternoon for the U.S. team, which now leads, 5-3, heading into Saturday.

“We had a chance to go all square on the last hole,” Woods said, “and I missed it.”

In an epic anchor match that featured 17 birdies and an eagle, Colsaerts and Westwood held on to win, 1 up, and avoid an American sweep in the fourball session.

Well, no, sorry, that’s not quite accurate.

Colsaerts won, 1 up, after a near-flawless, 1-on-2 performance that rivaled any these biennial matches have ever produced. He was 7 under on his own ball through 10 holes, and he fired the stroke-play equivalent of a 10-under 62.

“It was one of the best putting rounds I’ve ever seen,” Woods said afterward.

The defeat in fading light Friday ultimately will signal the end of the Woods-Stricker Era, at least in 2012.

Tiger single-handedly kept his team in the match – as Colsaerts did his – but the more popular headline Saturday inevitably will be “Woods loses another team match,” and not “Colsaerts thwarts Woods’ late rally.”

The former is true, of course, however harsh the reality. Woods’ record in team play now stands at 9-15-1, after his oh-fer on Friday.

Tiger himself said earlier this week that he accepts blame for the past failures of the U.S. Ryder Cup team; he didn’t earn the points he needed.

He shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for this, though, especially with the U.S. leading after Day 1.

That said, it’s time for a change, for Tiger to test free agency, to find a new partner.

His partnership with Stricker was always predicated on the fact that Stricker’s steady play and otherworldly putting would make the difference. But if suddenly those putts don’t drop, if he begins to waver, what remains? Well, for this U.S. duo, four consecutive losses in team competition. Call that irreconcilable differences.

Perhaps sensing the need for change – or at least a break – Love opted to bench Woods for Saturday morning foursomes, the first time that the world No. 2 has ever sat out a session.

“We really don’t have room for guys to play five (sessions),” Love reasoned. “We don’t have enough basketballs for this team.”

Maybe so, but they do, however, have a surplus of good putters.

Pair Woods with one of them Saturday afternoon, and his disappointing Ryder Cup may be salvaged, after all.

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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.

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

“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 four 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. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."