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No simple answers for routed Internationals

By Will GrayOctober 2, 2017, 12:47 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Sitting on the far side of the dais and surrounded by an International team that just endured a four-day drubbing at the Presidents Cup, Ernie Els struggled for answers.

Brought in as an assistant captain and seen by many, including current captain Nick Price, as the probable skipper for the 2019 event in Australia, he will likely be tasked with turning around a trend that only grew more lopsided this week in the shadow of Lady Liberty.

“The future of the cup is important. We want to have it as competitive as we can,” Els said. “So we have to go back to the drawing board.”

It’s a common goal, one shared by the other 16 men sitting at the podium who at times seemed helpless in the face of an American juggernaut that won 19-11 and nearly clinched the biennial matches a full day in advance. The International team’s overall record now drops to 1-10-1, and 21 years will have passed since their lone victory the next time the cup is up for grabs at Royal Melbourne.

In all likelihood, it’s also a goal shared by many PGA Tour executives. This event, after all, is the Tour’s property, created as a complement to the PGA of America-run Ryder Cup. Blowouts like the one seen this week do little to alter the perception that this event pales in comparison to the high-octane spectacle played in the even-numbered years.

But while the goal is shared by several parties, creating productive change for the International squad is easier said than done.

Consider the uphill battle Price faced simply to get the total points trimmed from 34 to 30. It took nearly two years of lobbying to Tour officials before the change was administered for the 2015 matches, leading to a narrow American victory. It appeared to be a step in the right direction for an event desperate to create any hint of a truly back-and-forth rivalry.

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But this week at Liberty National, the cup could have been contested across three points or 30, and the outcome likely wouldn’t have wavered. The Americans were the better team, playing the better golf, from the first man on the roster to the 12th.

“I think we went up against one of the best teams that’s been put forward,” said Adam Scott, who has now been on eight squads without tasting team victory. “I think we have to do even more before we play again in two years.”

What’s more daunting for the likes of Els, Price, Scott and others is the fact that this U.S. team likely won’t slow down anytime soon. The youthful nucleus of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler have decades ahead of them and should only gain more experience and poise in the intervening years.

The International core, by comparison, is only getting older. Scott will be 39 for the matches at Royal Melbourne while veterans like Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman will all be on the wrong side of 35.

Reflecting on his third straight loss as captain, Price went back to familiar refrains: shortening the available points, putting lineups in secretly rather than allowing captains to plot one matchup at a time.

“We play these team events every second year, and the U.S. team plays every year. So they are a little bit more, I don’t want to say prepared, but they kind of – there’s not as big surprises on their team,” Price said. “I think to put pairings together with a very diverse group as we have, is our challenge.”

Unfortunately for Price, or whoever takes the earpiece from him, that challenge likely won’t get any easier in the coming years. The language barriers in play, especially with Hideki Matsuyama who struggled this week despite being the top-ranked player on his team, won’t disappear overnight.

The depth issues aren’t going away, either. While all 12 on this year’s team are PGA Tour regulars, captain’s pick contenders like Hideto Tanihara and Yuta Ikeda play most of their golf elsewhere, making it difficult to rely on any qualification system beyond the Official World Golf Rankings.

While the Americans have promising prospects on the horizon like Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Ollie Schniederjans, the International cupboard seems much more sparse in comparison. It’s unlikely that any of the players ranked in the top 100 left off this year’s squad – a diverse group that includes guys like Haotong Li, Byeong-Hun An and Dylan Frittelli – would have done much to slow down the American onslaught.

“That’s the hardest task for us, new guys in and out every two years with less and less experience in this kind of format is hard,” Scott said. “We struggled in the team aspect of the matches this week. But we also played maybe the most on-form United States team that I can remember.”

Team golf tends to be a cyclical venture, and after the competition closed many compared the current International struggles to those faced by U.S. Ryder Cup teams earlier this century. But there is no infrastructure in place to create an International task force, nor could they easily identify one singular factor that might unite a diverse contingent in the face of an opponent that seems only to be growing stronger.

As a result, a table full of players and assistants sat next to Price and talked about the need for change and reform, the ethereal desire to make this thing competitive after yet another lopsided loss. But they also struggled to pinpoint the concrete factors that might spark formative change.

At one point, Els was again asked what could be done to turn around the fate of the Internationals. But before he could answer, Scott cut him off.

“Win,” Scott said.

Perhaps it is that simple. But the Internationals won’t get another crack at the cup for two more years, and right now they certainly seem further from victory than they appeared to be when they first boarded a ferry for Liberty National.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.

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Notah: Driver is Tiger's No. 1 pre-Masters concern

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 5:49 pm

Tiger Woods mounted a Sunday charge at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, sending shockwaves through Bay Hill when it looked as though he might finally claim PGA Tour victory No. 80.

But the charge came to an end at the par-5 16th, where Woods had missed wide-right three days in a row before going OB-left on Sunday en route to bogey.

Woods’ API performance featured just a handful of drivers each day, as firm and fast conditions allowed him to make frequent use of a 2-iron off the tee.

That strategy led to a second top-5 finish in as many weeks, but if Woods wants to win again, if he wants claim another major, he is going to sort out his issues with the big stick.

A guest Monday morning on the Dan Patrick Show, Golf Channel’s Notah Begay believes the driver will be a focus for Woods in his pre-Masters preparation.

“Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver. … Any time he has to turn a shot right to left with trouble on the left, he struggles a little bit,” Begay said.

“Off the sixth tee, off the ninth tee, there was some errant shots. And then we saw the really horrible tee shot yesterday at 16. He talked about in the post-round comments. He just didn’t commit to a shot, and the worst thing that a professional athlete can do to themselves to compromise performance is not commit.

“And so he made a terrible swing, and that’s the miss that is really difficult for him to recover from, because the majority of his misses are out to the right. So, when you eliminate one half of the golf course, you can really make your way around … a lot easier. When you have a two-way miss going, which sometimes creeps into his driver, it really makes it difficult to take out some of the trouble that you’re looking at when you’re standing on the tee box.

“So he has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”

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McIlroy trails only Woods in Masters betting odds

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 5:47 pm

After rallying for victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy is once again among the betting favorites for the upcoming Masters.

McIlroy was available at 16/1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook last week, listed behind six other players. But after his three-shot win at Bay Hill, his odds were trimmed to 10/1, leaving him behind only betting favorite Tiger Woods.

Next month will mark McIlroy's fourth opportunity to close out the final leg of the career Grand Slam by slipping into a green jacket. Here's a look at the current betting odds, with the first round only 17 days away:

8/1: Tiger Woods

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas

14/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose

16/1: Jason Day, Jon Rahm

18/1: Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson

25/1: Paul Casey, Bubba Watson

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama

40/1: Henrik Stenson, Marc Leishman

50/1: Alex Noren

60/1: Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Tyrrell Hatton, Thomas Pieters

80/1: Branden Grace, Brian Harman, Tony Finau, Charley Hoffman, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay

100/1: Zach Johnson, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner