Couples: U.S. needs less task force, more fun

By Will GrayOctober 30, 2014, 3:55 pm

The weeks following the American's Ryder Cup loss have sparked speculation on two fronts: what went wrong last month and who will be tapped to fix it in 2016?

Fred Couples' name has been discussed as a solution to the latter, and Wednesday at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship he offered a variety of opinions on the former.

Couples, 55, captained three straight victorious Presidents Cup squads, in 2009, '11 and '13. He also played on five Ryder Cup teams and served as an assistant captain to Davis Love III during the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah. According to Couples, the creation of an 11-person task force in the wake of Gleneagles is a sign of overkill.

"I don't think anyone should panic. I don't think we need a task force. I don't think we need the PGA of America straining about this," he told reporters at the season's final Champions Tour stop. "What I really think they need is to get players that have been on a lot of these teams to get a feel for what kind of captain they need."

Tom Watson wasn't the right fit, as his hard-line stance alienated some players and his questionable lineup decisions led to a five-point defeat. Couples believes one of his best traits as a potential captain is relating to the 12 players in his team room, something he feels Watson failed to do.

"I just think by watching, he didn't cradle his boys enough, and that's what they need," he said.

Couples also believes that Watson made a critical error by sitting Phil Mickelson for both sessions during Saturday's play, when the Europeans stretched its lead from two points to four heading into Sunday's singles matches - and it's one that he would not repeat as captain.

"I know one thing, I will play Phil Mickelson on Saturday of the next Ryder Cup if he's on the team. That was the only thing I could see that maybe you could say that Tom, something happened there," Couples said. "Because we lost three and a half to a half (in the afternoon session), and I guarantee you it was because Phil wasn't out there playing. I guarantee it."

The task force assembled by the PGA of America has yet to meet, but Couples' track record as the Presidents Cup captain has made him a top candidate to lead the Americans at Hazeltine in 2016. He stated that he would welcome the nomination as captain, but added that the job may not be quite as difficult, or involved, as some contend.

"I think anyone would love to be the Ryder Cup captain. I particularly don't think it's really that hard to do, I really don't," he said. "I keep hearing it's a two-year process. Well, what would I do right now? I don't even know who's going to be on the Presidents Cup team, let alone the Ryder Cup team. So I could go have dinner with Rickie Fowler for two straight years and tell him everything, and then he might not make it.

"So I think it's all - it's just a little bit much. We need a little more fun and that comes with winning."

Couples noted that the Presidents Cup is "easier" to captain than the Ryder Cup because the Ryder Cup requires more difficult lineup decisions. Citing the successful partnership of Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson that developed in the months leading up to Gleneagles, he believes that the Europeans currently have an edge because of their commitment to teams and lineup decisions regardless of individual match outcomes.

"I think the easiest part is just really not panicking," he said. "You've got to have your teams ready and just get points, and it's not easy to do. They make it look easy because they're winning and their formula, whatever it might be, is not because they're closer and they're friendlier to each other. That's the biggest crazy thing ever.

"Every team I've been on has been phenomenal, and I'm sure every team Europe's ever had has been phenomenal. They just win, so it looks easier."

Couples even offered the argument that the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain doesn't necessarily need to be a golfer.

"He doesn't need to know anything about golf," said Couples, who noted he received advice as Presidents Cup captain from former MLB manager Joe Torre and NBA star Michael Jordan. "They all have their teachers, they're all cooked food, they all have an incredible hotel room, they all have caddies, they all know the course and they go out and play. I can't tell them anything on the golf course. What am I going to tell them, it's a cut 5-iron or this putt breaks to the left?"

As the focus continues to shift away from 2014 and toward 2016, Couples' candidacy will likely only grow - and the main reason for that is clear, even to him.

"The one thing that I see personally with me is I don't intimidate any of the players," he said. "I don't make them nervous, I make them relaxed because I'm just another guy."

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.


Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”