Caddie Cowan set for 10th Ryder Cup
The competition is as intense as ever. The biggest difference might be his suitcase.
“We got next to nothing back then – a couple of sweat shirts, I think,” Cowan said. “We certainly get treated better than we did at my first one. Now we get all kinds of clothes. We fly over on the charter. They pay us nicely. Some guys say it isn’t enough, but I think it’s enough. The competition … there’s nothing like it.”
No other American brings as much experience to the matches as Cowan, and few have seen so much through so many players. Jim Furyk, his current boss, will be the fourth player for whom Cowan has caddied at the Ryder Cup.
He was on the bag for Peter Jacobsen in 1985 at The Belfry and for Fred Couples four years later (Couples hired Joe LaCava the following season). Jacobsen returned to the Ryder Cup in 1995, and Cowan worked for Tiger Woods at Valderrama in 1997. This will be his fifth consecutive Ryder Cup working for Furyk.
The biggest regret is playing on only two winning teams – the comeback at Brookline in 1999, and last time at Valhalla.
His favorite memory was two years ago at Valhalla, when Furyk won the cup-clinching point on the 17th hole, the matching ending with a handshake when Miguel Angel Jimenez conceded Furyk a short par putt.
“It was a matter of circumstances, but having Jim actually be the clincher, that was pretty much a nice memory – a thrill,” he said.
As for the worst?
Cowan went back to the 18th hole at The Belfry in 1989, when Couples was in a pivotal match against Christy O’Connor Jr. All square on the 18th, with Couples having blasted a 300-yard drive, O’Connor hit 2-iron to about 3 1/2 feet for a birdie he never had to putt.
“One of the most phenomenal shots in the history of the game,” Cowan said. “Freddie had a 9-iron and flared it out to the right. I felt awful for him. That was probably my worst memory, although I got to witness one of the greatest shots in the history of the competition.”
That wasn’t the only stunning loss. Cowan was with Woods when the world’s No. 1 player lost to Costantino Rocca in 1997. And he was with Furyk when Paul McGinley made a 6-foot par in 2002 at The Belfry to halve the match and give Europe the outright victory.
As for the most bizarre moment, consider a fourballs match between Jacobsen and Brad Faxon against Seve Ballesteros and David Gilford at Oak Hill in 1995.
Thinking that Faxon was in for par, Jacobsen rapped his long birdie putt about 4 feet beyond the hole and picked it up. Only then did he realize Faxon had taken a penalty drop from behind a willow tree in the fairway.
“That might be my worst memory, now that I think about it,” Cowan said. “I don’t even want to go into it.”
But he’ll go to Celtic Manor looking forward to these matches as much as he did 25 years ago.
“It’s always been an intense competition,” he said. “I guess just like the rest of the world of golf, it’s gotten bigger. But it’s the same intensity. The players treat it the same way.”
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: The race for PGA Tour player of the year has only widened since the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Matt Kuchar’s win at The Barclays was a reminder how consistently well he has played this year. He is leading the PGA Tour money list and has the lowest adjusted scoring average.
Dustin Johnson is getting more attention with his victory at Cog Hill. That’s his second win, along with a chance at two majors. The notion of a “sympathy vote” for Whistling Straits is silly. What resonates with players is not that Johnson failed to win, but that he put himself in position to win. Johnson and Phil Mickelson are the only players this year to be in serious contention on the back nine of two majors.
A win at the Tour Championship by Mickelson, Johnson, Kuchar, Steve Stricker or Ernie Els might wrap it up. Don’t forget that Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk and Justin Rose also have two wins.
Meanwhile, the PGA of America’s award is based on points and shows just how close this is. Stricker is atop the standings with 52 points, followed by Mickelson and Matt Kuchar at 50 points, and Els at 47 points.
Kuchar nudged ahead of Stricker for the Vardon Trophy last night, although that might not be decided at the Tour Championship. Kuchar is likely to play a Fall Series event or two, while Stricker is likely to strap a bow over his shoulder and go looking for deer.
HUNTER’S RIBS: Hunter Mahan makes it sound as though his pre-round routine is eat, stretch, hit balls and pop his ribs into place.
Mahan appeared to show discomfort in his back during the third round of the BMW Championship. He revealed after the round that a couple of ribs on the lower left side were out – and that this wasn’t the first time it happened.
“It happens almost every week, but this time it was in a little different place,” Mahan said. “It’s usually a little higher up. This one was a little low. Usually, it doesn’t hurt that much.”
Mahan said the ribs popped out of place when he drew a deep breath.
He said all this in such a matter-of-fact manner that when someone asked if it would affect the Ryder Cup, he laughed. Then, he tried to figure out where to put himself on the list if the Ryder Cup had an injury report like in the NFL.
“Doubtful. No, questionable,” he said. “Isn’t Tom Brady always questionable?”
MASTERS: Kevin Streelman and Jeff Overton are among five players in the Tour Championship who will be making their Masters debut next April. What sets them apart is that they have yet to win on the PGA Tour.
Streelman is getting a lot of attention for only having one good week against a strong field to get to East Lake.
As for being without a tour victory and going to the Masters. It happens more than one might think. There were six PGA Tour members at Augusta National who had never won on tour – John Merrick, Ricky Barnes, Kevin Na, Marc Leishman, Steve Marino and Jason Dufner.
There were five such players each of the previous two years.
DIVOTS: The Tour Championship will only have 25 of the top 50 players in the world ranking, and six of the top 10. … Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan are the only players to reach the Tour Championship all four years of the FedEx Cup. … The LPGA does not resume until the week after the Ryder Cup.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Since securing a spot on his first Ryder Cup team, Jeff Overton has not finished in the top 50 and has a scoring average of 72.8 in his past four tournaments.
FINAL WORD: “I was beating myself up. I wasn’t playing against anyone else, I was only playing against myself. And that’s probably worse than playing against everybody else.” – Robert Allenby on his bid to make the Tour Championship.
CIMB champ Leishman hopes to improve on CJ runner-up
Marc Leishman is back in Korea with momentum on his side, hoping to fare a little better than a year ago.
Leishman nearly took home the trophy in the inaugural CJ Cup, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Justin Thomas. But the Aussie put his approach into the water on the second extra hole, allowing Thomas to wrap up the win a few minutes later.
"Excited to be back in Korea. I have a lot of good memories here at this golf course," Leishman told reporters. "Hopefully I can play well again and go one better than last year."
Leishman's playoff loss kick-started a strong opening stretch to his wraparound season, but he closed it without a victory. That drought ended in emphatic fashion last week, as he cruised to a five-shot win at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia for his fourth career PGA Tour win and his third since March 2017.
Leishman told reporters last week in Malaysia that before the week started, his driving was so crooked that he feared his equipment reps might need to add a few golf balls to his locker. Instead, he found his groove en route to shooting 26 under par at TPC Kuala Lumpur and leaving the field in his wake.
"Golf's a funny game. It can change very quickly from bad to good or from good to bad," Leishman said. "It was certainly a goal of mine to win this season, and to win my first event of the season is great. Also to be going back to Maui puts me in a different frame of mind for the whole year. For a lot of reasons, I'm really happy with what last week brought."
Leishman played on the Korean PGA Tour in 2006 while getting his pro career off the ground, but even with that experience he expects a learning curve while going from the steamy conditions of Malaysia to the cool and wet climate that has greeted players this week on Jeju Island.
"It's a big adjustment going from so hot and humid last week to fairly cold and hopefully not wet, but it was wet this morning," Leishman said. "The ball goes different distances, your body's not quite as loose as what it is when it's hot. Just little things like that that you have to adjust to."
Bowditch eyes same fusion surgery as Tiger
After struggling through a couple lean years on the course, Steven Bowditch is ready to go under the knife.
Bowditch has won twice on the PGA Tour, and the Aussie was a member of the International Team at the 2015 Presidents Cup in South Korea. But his game fell apart shortly thereafter, as Bowditch has made just two cuts in his last 40 starts dating back to July 2016 while putting up some eye-popping scores.
Bowditch's exemption for his win at the 2015 AT&T Byron Nelson expired in August 2017, and he spent last season without full-time status on Tour for the first time since 2010. He made eight starts, notably finding a caddie via Twitter search before missing the cut at the John Deere Classic in July.
But the 35-year-old revealed Tuesday that his on-course struggles have been tied to some health concerns that have been difficult to pinpoint. Having finally received the appropriate diagnosis, he is preparing for a spinal fusion surgery next month between the L5 and S1 vertebrae - the same two that Tiger Woods successfully fused last year:
For those that have been asking what has happened to me..... turns out I really do have pars defect . I threw together a quick statement for anyone who wants to take a read. pic.twitter.com/bWdKSbyEp6— bowdo (@bowdo83) October 16, 2018
Bowditch's estimate of a "late 2019" return likely means he'll miss the entire 2018-19 season. When he returns he would do so with past champion status based on his wins, which also included the 2014 Valero Texas Open.
Thomas, Koepka grouped as both vie for No. 1 in Korea
The PGA Tour remains in Asia this week, where another star-studded field is gathered for a no-cut event. Here's a look at some of the marquee, early-round groupings at the CJ Cup in South Korea, where Justin Thomas will look to retain his title as the tournament's lone champion with the action getting started Wednesday night for American viewers (all times ET):
7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im
Thomas won the inaugural edition of this event last year in a playoff, and he returns to defend his title with hopes of supplanting idle Dustin Johnson as world No. 1. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Koepka, who is making his first start since being named PGA Tour Player of the Year and, like Thomas, could move to world No. 1. Rounding out the group is Im, a Korean native who went wire-to-wire leading the Web.com Tour money list in 2018 and nearly won his first event as a PGA Tour member in Napa.
8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els
Leishman lost to Thomas in overtime at this event last year, but he returns to Jeju Island with plenty of momentum after dusting the field last week en route to a five-shot win at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. Joining him will be Kim, who won the 2017 Players Championship and will have plenty of support from the Korean fans, and Els, playing this week on a sponsor invite as he continues to keep an eye on potential stars for the Presidents Cup team he will captain next year.
8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama
They're two Aussies who teamed on plenty of Presidents Cup squads and have both reached the top of the world rankings, and now they'll play together for the first two rounds in Korea. Day is making his first start since East Lake, while Scott made a rare appearance at the Japan Open last week where he tied for 50th. Rounding out the trio will be Matsuyama, another Presidents Cup fixture who tied for fourth at the Tour Championship to end last season.
8:35 p.m. Wednesday, 7:25 p.m. Thursday: Kevin Tway, Austin Cook, Xander Schauffele
Tway finished T-27 last week in Malaysia in his first start as a PGA Tour winner, having taken the trophy two weeks ago in Napa. He'll be joined in Korea by Cook, who contended throughout last week en route to a T-13 finish, and Schauffele, the former Rookie of the Year who shot 65-68 over the weekend in Kuala Lumpur.
Stock Watch: It's still Miller time
Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.
Johnny (+10%): A polarizing figure to the end, Miller was the rare candid and uncompromising voice in the chummy world of pro golf. Paul Azinger (the reported successor) has a big seat to fill in the booth.
Marc Leishman (+8%): Few can light up a board like Leish, who went 26 under at the CIMB without breaking a sweat. With that beautiful, high fade and his streaky putter, he will continue to be a major breakthrough candidate for 2019.
Eddie Pepperell (+6%): Is there a more fun cat in all of golf? He won ugly on a nasty day at the British Masters, delivered some more money quotes afterward, and now has two Euro Tour titles (and two runners-up!) this season and a ’19 Masters invite upcoming.
Bernhard Langer (+5%): A “quiet” season is still two wins, but at age 61 he’s started to fall off the pace to catch Hale Irwin’s record 45 wins. (He’s seven back.) This is an important playoff run for Langer.
Jordan Spieth (+3%): He got that strength-of-schedule requirement out of the way early by adding the Vegas event to his calendar – the first time he’s teed it up domestically in the fall. This has been such a bizarre year, it wouldn’t surprise at all if he comes out and grabs a slump-busting W.
Shubhankar Sharma (-1%): Just 22, he still needs to learn how to win – and he will. The Sunday 74 in Mexico and closing 72 in Malaysia will be critical learning experiences for the rising star from India.
Tour tracks (-2%): What a contrast, seeing PGA Tour types tearing up a nondescript course in Malaysia (with a dozen players 19 under or better) while Justin Rose and Co. battled a firm and bouncy Walton Heath that surrendered only two 72-hole scores lower than 5 under. Hmmm.
Green-reading materials (-5%): Good luck enforcing the new rule that limits images to a scale of 3/8 inch to 5 yards, and allows only handwritten notes from a player or caddie. The books still grind pace of play to a halt and reduce the skill involved in reading a green, so why not ban them altogether?
Tiger vs. Phil (-7%): There have been wrong turns at seemingly every corner: No fans or local kids on-site; no undercard matches; not on network TV; not under the lights; not for their own cash; no charitable aspect; not played 15 years earlier. What a missed opportunity. All of it.