U.S. hopes minor Ryder Cup tweaks yield major results

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 9, 2017, 2:02 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Jim Furyk is used to starting his year at Pebble Beach, but Wednesday felt like the first day of school.

Catching up. Meeting newcomers. Shaking hands. Receiving congratulations.

“I felt like I was running for mayor,” he said.

It’s his new normal as U.S. Ryder Cup captain.

The good vibes from the Americans’ blowout last fall at Hazeltine are still evident as Furyk passes the one-month checkpoint of his captaincy. Even with the matches 19 months away, the questions surrounding the U.S. team are less about its recent futility and more about whether this is the start of a dominant run.

Furyk uses many of the same buzzwords as his predecessor, Davis Love III – process, system, program, succession – but listening to him speak Wednesday at Pebble Beach, you can’t help but get the sense that Team USA finally knows what it’s doing.

After an era of one-off captains, Furyk is following the blueprint left for him. Which is smart. The system works. They have proof. But his two minor tweaks to the selection process, announced Wednesday, have put the Americans in an even stronger position as they attempt to end a 25-year drought overseas.

The first is a seemingly small change to the points structure. Last year, the majors were worth double points, with players receiving two points for every $1,000 earned at the Grand Slam events. With total purses skyrocketing (the U.S. Open now offers a record $12 million), players can make significant jumps in the standings just by finishing in the top 10.

Here’s an example: Daniel Summerhays finished third at last year’s PGA. He earned $680,000, or 1,360 Ryder Cup points. Daniel Berger won the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He earned $1,116,000, but because it was a regular Tour event, it translated to only 1,116 Ryder Cup points – or 244 less than Summerhays.

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Which performance was more impressive, a third at a major or a Tour title?

“I really value winning,” Furyk said. “I want the guys that hit shots down the stretch, that have the guts, the fortitude, the game to win golf tournaments.

The second change was the timing of the Ryder Cup picks.

No longer will the decision come down to the last minute, with an announcement after the Tour Championship. In 2018, Furyk will name three of his captain’s picks after the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston, then save the “hot-hand pick” for after the BMW, the third FedEx Cup playoff event.

Sure, it allows the final selection two weeks to prepare for the Ryder Cup, but it also gives him a chance to bond with his new teammates.

Before making the decision, Furyk solicited opinions from several team members, including Jordan Spieth.

“I think the changes are well done,” Spieth said. “I think they’re just going to be helpful going forward.” 

Moving the deadline a week earlier eliminates some of the playoff awkwardness, with players unsure of where they stood, with each week feeling like an audition. The weekly melodrama produced chuckles from players across the pond, frustration from those already on the team, and middling golf from those vying for the final spot.

Ultimately, the process worked, and the right player emerged, with Ryan Moore losing in a playoff at the Tour Championship, then going 2-1 in his debut at Hazeltine. But it won’t be repeated, not with an away Ryder Cup.

“It’s obvious that we can’t wait until after the Tour Championship to make a pick,” Furyk said. “We have passports, travel to Europe, and I feel like the timing, we probably want to get it done a little earlier and not put those guys through that at the Tour Championship again.

“I think it’s wise, as well, for the captains to be discussing pairings the night before we leave, rather than who our next captain’s pick is going to be.”

There’s some risk involved here. There’s a chance now that the hottest player will be left home. Would Moore have been taken with the final pick if the decision had been made after the BMW, not the Tour Championship? Probably not. But one of Furyk’s tasks is to put his players in the best position to succeed, and this eliminates an unnecessary distraction. Players will have ample opportunity – two years – to make a statement to the committee.

PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua said small changes such as these can be expected every two years. They’re not starting over anymore. They’re evolving.

“No matter how well you play or how good things seem, there’s always ways to improve,” Furyk said. “We have got things back on the rails and headed in the right direction. But the idea is to grow, to get better.

“To go back and re-invent the wheel, to break everything down and start over is not the way to go. But to keep building on the momentum we have right now is the goal.”

And that starts with these two moves. The Americans haven’t won on foreign soil since 1993, but thanks to Furyk and Co., they’ve never had a better chance to reverse the trend.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry