U.S. completes the task, wins emotional Ryder Cup

By Ryan LavnerOctober 3, 2016, 12:59 am

CHASKA, Minn. – A U.S. Ryder Cup team that has spent the better part of two decades finding new and interesting ways to produce the same demoralizing result now owns a system, a blueprint and, most importantly, a dominant victory.

In task-force meetings, conference calls and late-night group chats, they envisioned what this glorious day would look like.

And so it looked like Tiger Woods, striding onto the range, hands stuffed into the pockets of his USA team windbreaker, to give Jordan Spieth a knowing nod and Patrick Reed a final fist bump. It wasn’t so much the words that were exchanged; it was the belief instilled in the players from knowing that Woods – THE Tiger Woods, the legend these 20-somethings grew up idolizing – expressed supreme confidence in their games. They couldn’t help but puff out their chests.

It looked like Phil Mickelson, the de facto playing captain, a veteran of 11 consecutive cups, giving dog tags to the team with the words “2016 Hazeltine” and “The Beginning” engraved on each side. Less than 24 hours later, he was skying six inches off the ground, celebrating his 10th and final birdie of the day.

It looked like Ryan Moore, the controversial 11th-hour pick, earning the deciding point of this 17-11 blowout and collapsing into his captain’s arms.

And it looked like this: a news conference with 12 players, five assistants and one captain, popping champagne bottles and giggling at inside jokes.

“This team has been questioned and beat up for a long time,” Love said, “and I’m proud of the way they came together and the way they played and the way they represented their country.”

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Unlike two years ago, there was no animosity, no agenda at the presser. At Gleneagles, Mickelson torpedoed the captaincy of Tom Watson and set in motion the process of revamping the U.S. Ryder Cup efforts. What has transpired since then has either been ingenious or overkill, depending on whom you ask, but it created a tense week in which only a victory would be deemed a success.

“The pressure started,” Mickelson said with a smirk, “when some dumbass opened his big mouth two years ago in the media center.”

But Mickelson’s intention was to create a more inclusive approach to the Ryder Cup, and in that respect he was wildly successful. Here at Hazeltine, it was all hands on deck. Everyone had a say – after all, it was Woods’ overriding decision to send Reed and Spieth out together for a fourth session that gave the Americans a three-point cushion heading into the final day.

Still, there was a level of uneasiness about the lead.

Buoying the European team was what happened just four years ago at Medinah. With Love at the helm, the Americans squandered a 10-6 lead on the final day, only adding to the Americans’ woes in this event since 1999.

But there would be no repeat on Sunday. Not even close. Because even with a roster that included the Masters champion, Open winner, Olympic gold medalist and FedEx Cup champion, this was clearly a rebuilding year for the Europeans. Captain Darren Clarke had little choice but to frontload his singles lineup with his five stars, hoping an early barrage of blue flags would inspire the inexperienced back-end.

Off first were both teams’ most pugnacious talents, Reed and Rory McIlroy, and they put on an electric performance in front of crowds 20 deep in spots. The duo combined for eight birdies and an eagle on the front nine before fading on the back nine, unable to sustain the same type of energy, like two heavyweight champions battling into the 12th round. But leave it to Reed, hoarse from screaming, “Come on!” and “Let’s go!” for the past three days, to summon one last outburst, rolling in a 10-footer on the last to knock out McIlroy, 1 up. They exchanged pleasantries, but McIlroy was ticked after what had become a contentious week of trash-talking with fans. Walking off the green, he chucked his putter at his bag.

“Getting that big point at the beginning,” vice captain Steve Stricker said, “that settled a lot of guys down. They see the red on the board and they feel comfortable and they start to roll.”

The Americans needed only 5 ½ points to reclaim the cup, and the celebration began with three matches still on the course.

One of the many reasons for the Americans’ repeated failures in this event was the disappearing acts by their top players, but that didn’t happen this year. For the second consecutive cup, Reed starred for the U.S., going 4-1. Mickelson, often blamed for the past two decades of futility, posted a 2-1-1 record and matched Sergio Garcia with 10 birdies to halve his match. Rickie Fowler handed Rose his first singles loss. Fittingly, the decisive point was secured by Moore, who was only added to the team last Sunday in one of the biggest changes implemented by the task force.

Every U.S. player earned at least one point – the first time that’s happened since 1975.

“This was a team effort,” Love said.

And the 13th man was the home crowd, as an estimated 50,000 fans turned through the gates Sunday. Cheering the action on video boards, they created an incredible arena – “That’s what fueled us,” Zach Johnson said – but also turned Hazeltine into an Oakland Raiders game, with the occasional over-served heckler. Fearful of an incident that could overshadow the matches, the PGA issued several announcements Sunday, reminding fans to show more decorum. This put the Americans in a tricky spot – they desperately needed the home-course advantage, but they clearly were uncomfortable with the treatment of the beleaguered Europeans. Although McIlroy thrived off the antagonistic crowd – he admittedly expended too much energy and wore down Sunday – the hostile environment overwhelmed a few of Europe’s inexperienced players. Four team members ended the week without a point.  

Add it all up, and it was the Americans’ largest margin of victory since 1981.

“The American Ryder Cup team deserved to win this Ryder Cup,” Clarke said.

All week, Clarke and Co. said they were humbled by the American approach, which had seemingly copied their ideas of legacy and cohesion. The U.S. invited past captains into the team room, underscoring the “Ryder Cup family” theme that was so prevalent at Hazeltine.

“The environment that we were put in today, and this week, brought out some of their best golf that I’ve ever seen from them,” Mickelson said. “It was truly a remarkable thing to watch, and it’s a fun thing to be a part of.”

And so there was one final scene from the glorious day that was just like they all envisioned. It took place on the elevated walkway, where Brandt Snedeker and Johnson led a lively rendition of the trendy soccer chant – “I believe that we won!” – and Jimmy Walker, with a plastic cup in his right hand, poured champagne onto the delirious fans below, and a caddie screamed, “The best team maybe ever assembled!”

Spieth and Fowler started cheers of “Pat-rick Reed! Pat-rick Reed!”, and Reed danced to the beat, thrusting his arms like he’d done so many times this week. A few moments later, Mickelson emerged and pretended to pour out the champagne, only to pull back the bottle and take a swig himself.

Finally, the captain appeared. After two years of hype and unrelenting pressure, Love extended his left fist in triumph, and the crowd roared. It was, perhaps, a new beginning.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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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, and Hideto Tanihara.

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

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“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 more than three 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."