Slow start has Stanford in danger of early NCAA exit

By Ryan LavnerMay 28, 2016, 10:35 pm

EUGENE, Ore. – At this time last week, it was No. 1-ranked Alabama that was reeling.

Now, it’s top-ranked Stanford’s turn on the men’s side – and the Cardinal are in even more dire shape.

Arguably the hottest team in the country entering NCAAs, with three consecutive team titles (including at the loaded Pac-12s and regionals), Stanford is at 26-over 586, last among the late-early starters. The Cardinal are in need of a low round Sunday, or else their season will come to a surprising end.

“I thought the guys would play a little bit today,” coach Conrad Ray said, “but that’s the nature of the beast. You just don’t quite know what you’re going to get.”

But no one expected it’d be this much of a struggle at Eugene Country Club.

Player of the Year contender Maverick McNealy shot rounds of 76-71 and was outside the top 100 individually when he finished his round. Three other Stanford players are 8 over or worse after two days.

“There’s not much point thinking right now that it’s done, that it’s over,” said senior David Boote, who leads the team at 2-over 142. “We’ve just got to knuckle down and hope it pays off.”

The clock is ticking for Stanford.

The 30-team field is trimmed to the top 15 after 54 holes. It’s a cut line that Alabama, the No. 1-ranked women’s team, didn’t expect to worry about last week either, until the Crimson Tide rallied on Day 3 to make the cut. They eventually finished 15th and didn’t advance to match play.

At this point, the Cardinal would do well to play all four stroke-play rounds. They’re 23 shots off the lead.

“It’s disappointing the first two days,” McNealy said, “but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. We all gave our best efforts and prepared the best we knew how.

“If it’s just one more day and we don’t get the job done, I think we’re going to have to sit back and think about why we played like this, what made us play this way.”


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Stanford’s players have already provided a few clues.

The players who are most successful at tree-lined Eugene Country Club are those who drive it long and straight. That’s especially true for the men’s championship, with the rough getting longer, the greens getting firmer and the pins getting tucked closer to the edges. 

“This golf course rewards length off the tee and straightness,” Ray said, “and if you don’t have one or the other, you’re going to be in trouble.”

Stanford has two players with above-average length – No. 5 man Jeffrey Swegle, who broke his driver a few days before leaving for NCAAs, and McNealy, one of the nation’s best players – but as a whole, it is one of the shorter squads. 

McNealy won three times in the fall but hasn’t been as sharp throughout the spring season. The strengths of his game are iron play and mid-range putting – his game is an 8-iron to 15 feet and he makes the putt – but he hasn’t converted those opportunities with the same frequency. His preparation for NCAAs hasn’t been ideal, either: He got sick before the second round of regionals (where he finished second) and also spent two and a half days in Fort Worth earlier this week for the Hogan Award ceremony.

“A golf course like this will expose you if you’re not 100 percent on,” he said.

The best team score through two rounds is even par, but Stanford likely needs a 5- or 6-under round Sunday to avoid heading home early – again. The Cardinal reached the semifinals in 2014, on the strength of NCAA individual champion Cameron Wilson and Patrick Rodgers, but in their other four appearances since 2011, they’ve finished no better than 19th.  

“I think our guys have high expectations,” Ray said, “but at the end of the day there’s got to be a little grind-it-out, and I think that’s what a week like this does for you.”

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.