My 2016 moment: Reed-Rory singles match

By Ryan LavnerDecember 20, 2016, 6:00 pm

This won’t surprise you, but owning a national-media credential has its advantages. Flash area, locker room and range access? Yeah, it all helps us do our jobs. But to me, the single-greatest perk is being able to walk inside the ropes (not least because, as one of the vertically challenged, it’s a chore to watch among the masses).

Never was this more evident than at this year’s Ryder Cup, and the Sunday singles match between Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy. The first eight holes of that showdown are My Moment of 2016.

There were 12 matches that day, 24 players, but it seemed like all eyes were on the Reed-McIlroy opener. And for good reason. A day earlier, Reed had seemingly dragged Jordan Spieth across the finish line in their Saturday fourballs match, making seven birdies and an eagle to dispatch Europe’s best team. And McIlroy, one of the most amiable superstars in sports, was every bit as animated as Reed, confronting a beer-soaked spectator who told him to, well, we can’t print that here; barking the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” after fans tried to tweak him about his ex-fiancée; and even bowing to the crowd after a match-clinching eagle, as if to say, “You’re welcome for the show.”

That 11:04 a.m. pairing was what everyone wanted, and so dozens of media types (hey, who said print was dead?) waited on the first tee.

Normally at the Ryder Cup, I walk around the course with a radio stuffed in my left ear – it keeps me informed with so many other matches going on simultaneously. But there was no need for the background noise that day. Either Reed would win, setting the tone for a U.S. rout, or McIlroy would beat the Americans’ heart and soul, paving the way for yet another European comeback.

What happened those next two hours, those first eight holes, was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced on a golf course. If they weren’t going to beat each other with birdies, it looked as if they might just settle the score with a steel-cage match.

Posnanski: Rory vs. Reed: Good times never seemed so good

Everyone recalls the eighth hole, of course, but there were plenty of memorable interactions before then. Reed won the fifth after driving the green and pouring in an 8-footer for eagle. On the next hole, he sank a short putt, then mocked McIlroy’s bow to the crowd and wagged his finger. McIlroy never saw the gesture, but it wasn’t lost on those following the match, including two interested European observers.

“Did you see that s—?” pop star Niall Horan said, as he and vice captain Ian Poulter headed down the hill toward the seventh tee.

“Yeah,” replied Poulter, who then rattled off a few expletives of his own.

McIlroy and Reed matched birdies on the seventh, but the antics continued, as McIlroy stood defiantly on the green and shushed the crowd. (Seriously, the NFL would have had a field day with these demonstrative celebrations.)

Funny, but there was a slight letdown after both players hit their tee shots on the eighth. McIlroy was well short, about 50 feet, prompting more jeers from the crowd. Reed wasn’t tight either, but he had a better look from about 25 feet. They were the worst shots they’d hit it about an hour.

As I stood next to the grandstand behind the eighth green, there already was a sense of foreboding as McIlroy lined up the putt.

“This is going down,” a fan in the first row grumbled.

And it did, spectacularly, as McIlroy’s birdie bomb touched off a wild celebration. He shook with exhilaration, cupped his right hand to his ear and screamed, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Sure, there were some appreciative cheers, but the boos were so loud you’d have thought the Yankees’ closer had just served up a three-run homer to the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth.

“Let’s go, Reed!” the same fan now hollered. “F— that!”

Unfazed, Reed whacked his putt up the hill and into the cup. He turned toward McIlroy, extended his right hand and, in a moment that was forever immortalized, wagged his index finger, Dikembe Mutombo style. No, no, no. The ground shook, $8 beers flew through the air, and McIlroy could only laugh at the absurdity of it all. He waited for Reed behind the green – not to slug him, thankfully, but to offer a fist bump and a pat on the back. It was a truce.

“It’s over,” I told a golf-writing colleague as we floated toward the ninth tee. “That’s as good as it’ll get.”

And unfortunately, it was. After going a combined 9 under in a four-hole span, their play petered out from there. “We just played normal golf,” Reed would say later. I headed back toward the media tent at the turn, and the duo combined for only a few more birdies, the last coming on the 18th green, where Reed closed out the match with an 8-footer and unleashed one more crazed “Come on!” The teeming crowds roared once last time, a satisfying end to an epic duel – and the best few hours I’ve ever spent inside the ropes.

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Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.