International Crowd is Back on Leaderboard

By Associated PressApril 9, 2004, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Friday was English as a Second Language Day at the Masters.
Not quite seven years after Tiger Woods made the locals forget how often players from the rest of the world left town wearing green jackets, there was no mistaking the message posted on the leaderboard at the end of the second round: The international crowd is back.
Four of the first five names atop it belonged, in order, to golfers born in South Africa, the Czech Republic, Spain and South Korea.
'The best players,' said Alex Cejka, whose second straight round of 70 left him trailing leader Justin Rose by two strokes, 'want to be where the best players are.'
And during the first full week in April, they're always at Augusta National.
No tournament places a greater premium on precision, imaginative flair and the short game, and none is as likely to reward the kind of hunger that refuses to settle for second best. Guys like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson fit that bill of particulars. But they grew old and until Woods' emergence in 1997, precious few other Americans on the PGA Tour did.
Tiger has won three of the seven Masters since, and good buddy Mark O'Meara added a fourth, giving the home crowd a 4-3 edge. But go back to 1980, when Spaniard Seve Ballesteros became only the second non-American to win the Masters (and the first since three-time champion Gary Player), and it's 13-11 the other way.
And in the 10 years preceding Woods' breakthrough win, led by a cadre of Europeans known as the 'Big Six,' the out-of-towners posted an even more impressive 7-3 margin, including four straight from 1988-91.
Like a lot of people, Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal believed that run was the result of more creative players being developed on the other side of the Atlantic. Because the weather is rougher during the season over there and the courses not nearly as groomed, Olazabal said most international players were forced to develop better short games. But he doesn't think that explains this latest rush to the top of the board by the overseas contingent.
'In those years, we were really good around the greens and maybe the other players, especially the U.S. players, just catch up to us in that department on this golf course,' said Olazabal, who is tied for second.
Numbers might help explain it, since this year's field of 93 includes the largest international contingent ever -- 43 golfers -- and ties the record for most countries represented -- 19, including the People's Republic of China for the first time.
But that doesn't cover the resurgence completely, either. More likely, it's the same thing that's been drawing people to these shores some 250 years before there was a decent golf course on this side of the pond -- a hunger to succeed.
Rose, the young Englishman who was born in South Africa, was supposed to be the next big thing in the game after finishing fourth in the 1998 British Open as a 17-year-old. Instead, soon after launching his pro career, he missed 21 straight cuts and lost his father.
'Not to say that leading a major is easy,' Rose said, 'but I think I'm lucky in a lot of ways that, at age 23, I feel like I can draw on a couple of things that have happened to me going into the weekend.'
Likewise for Cejka, a German citizen born in what used to be communist Czechoslovakia. At age 9, his father took him on a trip out of the country and at some point they swam across a river and into Germany to gain their freedom. Maybe that's why flying a golf ball across Rae's Creek doesn't seem so daunting.
'I think they would shoot us if they catch us, but I don't know' Cejka recalled. 'It was Communism. Nobody was allowed to get out.'
No such dangers prevented K.J. Choi from seeking his fame and fortune. But as the son of a rice farmer in South Korea, he wasn't exposed to the game until he was 16 or the kind of topflight teaching professionals available at courses all over the United States. But Choi bought a Nicklaus instructional book, strung together hour after hour of practice, traveled to a land where he didn't know the language, customs or food, and somehow won two PGA Tour events.
Already the first South Korean to do so, Choi is tied with Phil Mickelson for fourth place heading into the weekend. His next target is to become the first of his countrymen ever to win a major.
'I can't even imagine what the reaction of the Korean people will be, but it will be great,' he said through an interpreter. 'Some of them, perhaps, will even skip a meal.'
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    Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

    Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

    “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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    The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

    “The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

    The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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    Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

    There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

    That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

    Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

    Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

    “We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

    But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

    The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

    That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

    Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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    Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

    “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

    While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

    For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

    “I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

    But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

    Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

    They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

    “I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

     Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

    “Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

    Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

    It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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    Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

    By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

    We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

    But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

    One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

    It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

    And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

    Hey, whatever works.

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    Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

    By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

    Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

    The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

    “I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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    Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

    “I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”