Fresh Faces at Valhalla

By Associated PressMay 20, 2008, 4:00 pm
The question comes up every other year in the months leading to the Ryder Cup.
It is an American perspective, offered by someone who has been involved in the matches every year since 1993. He will notice a group of Europeans on the putting green or the practice range, then turn and whisper, Whos their Peter Baker?
Translation: Which player hardly anyone knows will morph into a major champion at the Ryder Cup?
Baker won three times in his 20 years on the European Tour and only once finished in the top 10 on the Order of Merit. His best result in a major was a tie for 14th at Royal Birkdale in 1998. Then again, he played in only 16 majors. His best season came in 1993, when he won twice in Europe and qualified for his first and only Ryder Cup team.
But this was before GOLF CHANNEL was around to televise the European Tour, so even the most die-hard American golf fans knew next to nothing about the Englishman until September at The Belfry. Baker won three of his four matches, including a singles victory over U.S. stalwart Corey Pavin.
Another of his victims that week was Paul Azinger, now the U.S. captain, who was asked the same question Tuesday with a twist.
Could the next Peter Baker turn out to be an American?
Its possible we could have eight fresh faces, Azinger said. Our Peter Baker could be Anthony Kim.
Ryder Cup aside, there is a slow but sure changing of the guard in American golf.
Tiger Woods is still atop the mountain, and it could take years to reach him even with the most experienced sherpas. Phil Mickelson might be getting slightly taller from all that stretching, but he isnt going anywhere soon.
The fresh blood includes players like Kim, a 22-year-old who showed his firepower this month by winning the Wachovia Championship with by five shots with a record score. It includes Brandt Snedeker, who flirted with 59 as a rookie, won in Greensboro and showed plenty of panache in his wild final round at the Masters.
Boo Weekley has game to go with his homespun charm. J.B. Holmes won for the second time in his career at the FBR Open and is just outside the top eight in U.S. qualifying. Sean OHair and D.J. Trahan, both in their 20s, now have two PGA TOUR victories.
Weve had a turnover in American golf, Mickelson said. Weve had turnover the last few years. I think that weve got a lot of good, young players that are going to make the team this year, and I think that last years Presidents Cup team had a real energy boost from those young players who were energetic and enthused and motivated to play well. I think well have, hopefully, the same thing on this years Ryder Cup team.
Not to be forgotten is that Azinger, who directed the PGA of America to overhaul the qualifying system, now has four captains picks. European players expect him to go with experience, something Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington predicted a few weeks ago when asked which team was likely to have more rookies.
Probably ours, just purely by the fact that Zinger has got four picks and he can pick experience if he wants, Westwood said. Which he will probably do.
But Azinger is unpredictable. He showed a glimpse of that last year when asked whom he would take as two picks if he were captain of the Presidents Cup. He offered Holmes and Bubba Watson, with instructions to hit driver on every hole except for the par 3s.
Azinger wants the hot hand. No experience required, only trophies.
Hal Sutton said it took a generation to get into this mess, and it will take a generation to get out of it, Azinger said.
The mess is the Americans paltry record in an exhibition they once owned. Europe has captured the Ryder Cup eight of the last 11 times, including record margins (18 1/2 -9 1/2 ) the last two matches.
Theyve won five of the last six, and the one you win was a miracle comeback, Azinger said, referring to Brookline in 1999. Maybe were at the beginning of the generation that gets us out. I feel like the selection process we have now puts the right guys on the team. Its going to be really difficult to make the team and not win.
Even with new faces in American golf, Europe might have an even greater wealth of talent in the pipeline.
Justin Rose is likely to make his first Ryder Cup team, with Martin Kaymer, Nick Dougherty and Graeme McDowell in decent position heading into the summer. Britain is intrigued by a pair of pups named Rory McIlroy and Oliver Fisher.
There are no more Peter Bakers in the Ryder Cup. No surprises.
Part of that is more awareness of global golf, and the fact so many European players are making at least a half-dozen trips to America each year for majors or World Golf Championships.
Besides, Baker was merely a symbol.
Rookies didnt carry Europe to all those victories. Dating to 1995, rookies contributed 19 percent of Europes total points, while U.S. rookies contributed about 30 percent.
Baker was symbolic of the European rookies who always seemed to deliver the crucial point'Philip Walton with the winning putt on the 18th green at Oak Hill in 1995; Phillip Price beating Mickelson in singles at The Belfry in 2002, followed by Paul McGinleys cup-clinching putt; David Howells clutch 6-iron on the 17th hole at Oakland Hills that turned back a U.S. rally in 2004.
Thats what Azinger wants on his side.
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    List takes Thomas to 18 putting with a wedge

    By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 7:57 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – As he walked off the sixth tee on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Luke List “swiped” his putter into what he thought was a bush. It was a wall.

    List’s putter bent slightly, which meant he wasn’t allowed to employ it the rest of the round. Using a wedge to putt, he lost his opening-day match to Justin Thomas, 2 down.

    “Stupid on my part,” List said. “I'll get the club fixed and go on to my next two matches.”

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

    WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

    Despite his putting disadvantage, List pushed Thomas to the 18th hole thanks to birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16, which included a chip-in from 18 feet at 15. Thomas was 3 up with four holes to play and managed to birdie the last, but it was far from stress-free.

    “I was thinking about it, how bad that would hurt if I couldn't get it done,” Thomas said. “He hit some great putts and he made some good ones when he needed to.”

    The situation also prompted Thomas to change his strategy on the greens, with not nearly as many conceded putts as normal.

    “He putted probably two or three putts I wouldn't have made him putt with a putter,” Thomas said. “[No. 13] was a short putt he's probably going to make. It had a lot of break. But 12, that putt was 2 feet straight uphill. But I was like he's got a wedge, so I'm going to make him putt it.”

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    Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 7:45 pm

    Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

    Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
    (1) D. Johnson (2) J. Thomas: 1-0-0 (3) J. Rahm (4) J. Spieth
    (32) K. Kisner (21) F. Molinari: 1-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed
    (38) A. Hadwin
    (48) P. Kizzire: 0-1-0 (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li
    (52) B. Wiesberger
    (60) L. List: 0-1-0 (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel
    Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
    (5) H. Matsuyama: 1-0-0 (6) R. McIlroy (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day
    (30) P. Cantlay: 0-1-0
    (18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen
    (46) C. Smith: 1-0-0 (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner
    (53) Y. Miyazato: 0-1-0 (51) P. Uihlein (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn
    Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
    (9) T. Fleetwood (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman (12) T. Hatton: 1-0-0
    (26) D. Berger (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
    (33) K. Chappell (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson (36) B. Steele: 1-0-0
    (58) I. Poulter (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
    Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
    (13) A. Noren: 1-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson (15) P. Perez: 0-1-0 (16) M. Kuchar
    (29) T. Finau (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-0 (27) R. Fisher
    (39) T. Pieters (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson: 0-1-0 (47) Y. Ikeda
    (61) K. Na: 0-1-0 (59) C. Howell III (50) S.W. Kim: 0-1-0 (54) Z. Johnson
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    Hot Seat: The driver is burning Tiger

    By Randall MellMarch 21, 2018, 6:51 pm

    The men’s first major championship of the year is two weeks away, the women’s just a week away.

    Here’s our Hot Seat lineup with the approach of the Masters and the ANA Inspiration in mind:

    Smoking carbon composites – Tiger Woods

    Woods is the betting favorite to win the Masters in most sportsbooks, and while his game is coming together quickly, he won’t be the experts’ pick without getting his driver under control.

    The driver looks like the last piece Woods needs to once more become the favorite wherever he goes.

    Right now, though, there’s an open wound that needs to be cauterized before he heads to Augusta National.

    That double-cross Woods blew into someone’s backyard along the 16th hole Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational came from a reservoir of uncertainty that his driver continues to create. 

    Woods has come a long way with his driver. When he pulls it out of the bag, it isn’t like he’s ripping a bandage off anymore, not the way it was three and four years ago. Still, he doesn’t pull that club with the same relish Rory McIlroy does, or Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, for that matter. Physically and psychologically, they’ve got an advantage on him until he does. 

    Woods did not qualify for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, so he’s got extra time to address his biggest shortcoming.

    “Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver,” Golf Channel’s Notah Begay said earlier this week. “Tiger 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.”

    Dustin Johnson at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship.

    Smoldering Tex Mex Tango – Dustin Johnson

    The world No. 1 is playing just fine enough since his victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at year’s start. He’s just been overshadowed by the brilliance of a lot of fellow stars.

    With McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas all winning in the last month, with Woods stepping up his game, Johnson has been quietly toiling toward the Masters.

    Johnson has won 10 times since Woods' last victory, and yet Woods is the 8-to-1 favorite to win the Masters.

    Johnson, McIlroy and Thomas are listed at 10-to-1 by the Westgate Las Vegas SportsBook.

    It doesn’t rankle Johnson.

    “It’s fine with me,” he said Tuesday. “He’s playing pretty well.”

    Even as the defending champ this week at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Johnson isn’t center stage, not with McIlroy marching into town off his dominant finish at the API.

    Flying relatively under the radar might seem like a comfortable position for a world No. 1, but he won’t stay atop the world rankings for long flying under the radar.

    Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.

    Rolex Ranking Roast – Shanshan Feng

    The women’s Rolex world No. 1 enters the week at the Kia Classic trying to hold off a strong field with the ANA Inspiration looming next week.

    The top seven players in the world rankings, and 11 of the top 12, are at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

    Feng has quietly reigned atop the world rankings for 19 consecutive weeks, holding off bids to overtake her by No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 So Yeon Ryu and No. 4 Sung Hyun Park.

    They’ve all been close enough in world ranking average this year to take the top spot, but Feng isn’t backing down. She’s winless so far this this year, but she has finished fifth or better in two of her three starts.

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    Match-by-match: 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 1

    By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 6:32 pm

    Here is how things played out on Day 1 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play:

    Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas def. (60) Luke List, 2 up: In perhaps the most entertaining match of the morning, Thomas edged List in a rematch of last month's Honda Classic playoff despite List spending much of the round putting with a wedge after bending his putter. Thomas was 3 up with four to play before List pushed the match the distance.

    Group 2: (21) Francesco Molinari def. (48) Patton Kizzire, 3 and 1: Molinari turned a tight match into a victory thanks to a few timely errors from Kizzire. Pars on Nos. 14 and 17 were good enough to win the hole for Molinari, with the latter sealing his victory and moving him a step closer to a potential winner-take-all battle with Thomas on Friday.

    Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth def. (49) Charl Schwartzel, 2 and 1: The top seed in the group scored an early point in a battle between former Masters champs. Spieth never trailed and took control of the match with three straight wins on Nos. 12-14.

    Group 4: (19) Patrick Reed def. (34) Haotong Li, 3 and 2: Reed's much-anticipated match with Spieth is still two days away, but he dispatched of Li in his opener by winning the opening hole and never trailing the rest of the way. Li got to within one of Reed after 10 holes but the American won three of the next five to separate.

    Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama def. (53) Yusaku Miyazato, 2 and 1: This all-Japanese battle went to the group's top seed, as Matsuyama poured in a birdie on the par-3 17th to close out the match. Miyazato got off to a strong start, holding a 2-up lead through six holes, before Matsuyama turned the tables with two birdies over the next three holes.

    Group 5: (46) Cameron Smith def. (30) Patrick Cantlay, 2 up: Smith never trailed in the match, but it turned into a closer contest than it appeared when the Aussie held a 3-up lead with four holes to play. Uihlein won the next two holes, but he couldn't get any closer as Smith earned a critical victory as he looks to earn a Masters spot by staying in the top 50 in the world rankings after this week.

    Group 8: (8) Jason Day def. (56) James Hahn, 4 and 2: Day is a former winner of this event, and he separated from Hahn on the back nine to score an early point. Hahn offered a concession on No. 13 to fall 3 down, then conceded again on No. 16 to close the match.

    Group 9: (58) Ian Poulter def. (9) Tommy Fleetwood, 3 and 2: The match between Englishman went to the veteran, as Poulter took his putter from the 2012 Ryder Cup out of the closet and put it to quick use. Fleetwood won only two holes during the match, none after the eighth hole, and he now faces the prospect of early elimination as the group's top seed.

    Group 9: (33) Kevin Chappell def. (26) Daniel Berger, 3 and 2: Chappell and Berger were Presidents Cup teammates in the fall, but the opener went to Chappell. Berger won the 13th hole to draw all square, but Chappell reeled off three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16 in response to close out the match.

    Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton def. (55) Alexander Levy, 3 and 2: Hatton won the opening hole with a par and never trailed the rest of the way. Levy's win on the eighth hole proved to be his only victory of the day, as Hatton barely had to break a sweat after building a 3-up lead through five holes.

    Group 12: (36) Brendan Steele def. (22) Charley Hoffman, 1 up: Steele never trailed in the match and at one point held a 4-up lead, but coming down the stretch it took everything he had to keep Hoffman at bay. Hoffman won four in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 13-17, but a par on the final hole was enough to give Steele the full point.

    Group 13: (61) Kevin Na def. (13) Alex Noren, 4 and 2: The biggest upset from the early matches came here, as Na turned a close contest into a blowout. The two men were all square after 11 holes, but Na won three of the next four and then closed out the match when Noren conceded on the par-5 16th.

    Group 13: (29) Tony Finau def. (39) Thomas Pieters, 2 and 1: Two of the longest hitters in the field squared off in this tilt, with Finau notching a full point despite losing two of the first three holes. The American birdied the 15th to take a 2-up lead, then closed out Pieters with a par on the 17th hole.

    Group 15: (15) Pat Perez vs. (50) Si Woo Kim, halved: The first match of the day ended up in a draw, as the top seed rallied from a deficit to salvage half a point. Kim won three of the first six holes and held a 3-up lead with seven holes to go, but Perez fought back with four birdies over the next six holes to draw even.

    Group 15: (24) Gary Woodland vs. (37) Webb Simpson, halved: This group remains entirely up for grabs since nothing was decided on the opening day. Woodland took a 3-up lead at the turn, but Simpson rallied by winning four of the next seven holes, including a birdie on No. 17 that brought him back to all square for the first time since the third hole.