U.S. succeeding without points from Woods, Stricker

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 30, 2012, 2:30 am

MEDINAH, Ill. – Really, it’s a testament to the depth and quality of team that captain Davis Love III has assembled here at Medinah.

Tiger Woods has yet to contribute a single point for the Americans at the Ryder Cup . . . and the U.S. team still leads, 10-6, heading into Sunday singles. That pop sound you heard is just the champagne being uncorked. Keep it chilled at 38 degrees, please.

Tiger Woods, zero points. That thought once seemed inconceivable. After all, the Americans needed him. They needed his otherworldly talent. They needed his experience. They needed his flair, his spark, his doggedness.

Yet there’s a strange and undeniable feeling floating around the U.S. team room this week. Even though Woods and partner Steve Stricker dropped to 0-3 this week, thereby ensuring that they’re the only Americans who have yet to find the win column, the prevailing belief among the Americans is that they have the best team – certainly the best putters – with or without a supercharged Tiger boost.

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Said Matt Kuchar, “It’s hard to believe Tiger hasn’t gotten a point pairing up with Stricker. They make a great team. But we’ve got 12 really good players.”

Said Zach Johnson, “We have a good team. We have got chemistry. We have got camaraderie. We have talent. We want it.”

This could have been a glorious moment for Woods, and perhaps it still might. He’s 36 years old, no longer the most dominant player in the game, and at this stage in his career he’s still wildly competitive but also in the unique position in which he can be a leader, a mentor and a motivator.

This Ryder Cup, in particular, hosted on a course at which he’s won two of his 14 majors, offered Woods a chance to take a large pink eraser to one of the only blemishes – however miniscule – on his sterling resume. In Ryder Cup team play, his record entering these matches was 9-13-1, but hey, for three days he could embrace the experience (as he did last November at the Presidents Cup), and he could embrace the rookies, who have paced the Americans to the comfortable lead after four sessions.

It hasn’t quite panned out that way, of course – the whole leading with his game and his words thing – and after three fruitless sessions, it’s instructive to review Woods’ comments from this past Tuesday. When asked why the Americans have won only two of the past eight Ryder Cups, Woods said, “Well, certainly I am responsible for that because I didn’t earn the points that I was put out there for. … I needed to go get my points for my team, and I didn’t do that.”

Shockingly, he hasn’t done that at Medinah, either.

In Friday morning foursomes, both he and Stricker played miserably and lost to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose. Later that day, the U.S. pair lost again, to rookie Nicolas Colsaerts and Lee Westwood, a defeat that could easily have been dismissed by the fact that Tiger made seven birdies on the day, Stricker made nothing outside 4 feet, and Colsaerts authored one of the best Ryder Cup debuts in history, recording eight birdies and an eagle on his own ball in a 1-up victory.

Still, the once-unbeatable pair of Woods and Stricker was 0-2. Tiger was even benched for Saturday foursomes. Some suggested that he needed to test free agency and find another partner.

Yet there they were, on a sun-drenched fall afternoon, paired together in Match 3 against Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, trying to remain relevant and contribute something – anything – to the American cause.

It didn’t start in promising fashion, just as it hasn’t all week. On the opening nine Saturday, Woods and Stricker rarely walked together down the fairway – partly because Tiger was focused on sorting out his own game, also because he and his partner rarely drove it in the same direction.

Through four holes, the Americans were 3 down. At the turn, they were 4 down.

But on the back nine, Woods and Stricker combined to go 6 under – red-hot play that even included close-range birdie misses on Nos. 11 and 15 – and nearly erased a 4-down deficit.

On the par-4 finishing hole, and after a stirring halve on the par-3 17th in which both Woods and Donald hit their tee shots inside 5 feet, Stricker hit the lip on a 10-foot birdie putt that could have secured a half point.

Four years ago, a Tiger-less U.S. team won convincingly at Valhalla. And now? That 1-up defeat late Saturday afternoon ensured that Woods and Stricker would be winless as they head into Sunday singles, the only Americans who haven’t yet contributed a point – and still the scoreboard to the right side of 18 green read, U.S. 10, Europe 6.

“We fought hard,” Woods said of his fourballs loss. “Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. We gave ourselves two good looks on 18, and didn’t get it done.”

The sting from that defeat apparently would not linger. After their brief media obligations, Woods and Stricker walked together, their arms slung around the others’ shoulders, as teammates and good friends and fierce competitors who just happened to have been on the wrong side of three highly publicized matches.

Their teammates, though, have picked them up, offered them encouragement and put plenty of points on the board, because that’s what teammates do. And now, finally, after all these years, the U.S. has a team. A real team, with 12 players, each with valuable assets.

On Sunday, one of the most exhilarating days on the golf calendar, Woods will face Francesco Molinari in the anchor match.

Will the 12th match even matter? Probably not. After all, the Americans need only 4 1/2 points to win back the cup, and they could clinch long before Woods’ match reaches its conclusion.

But strangely, incredibly, that would be appropriate.

This week at Medinah, the U.S. team hasn’t needed him. 

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.