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Punch Shot: Post-Masters questions, Rory to Tiger

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 10, 2018, 1:30 pm

After a little bit of time to soak it all in, writers Ryan Lavner and Will Gray answer the biggest questions to emerge from the 82nd Masters, ranging from the champion to those who left Augusta National very disappointed.

GRAY: The 2018 Masters is officially in the books, and Patrick Reed has a new addition to his wardrobe. Not exactly how most of us expected the week to play out, but Ryan what was your biggest takeaway from seven days on the grounds in Augusta?

LAVNER: A lot to unpack, but I was shocked by the reaction to Reed's win. I get that he's not the most popular champion in history, but it was stunning to hear people outwardly root against him, and to barely acknowledge his good shots, when he clearly played the best last week.

GRAY: Certainly a subdued scene around the 72nd green, but, bell to bell, Reed certainly played the best. His final-round effort was, let's say, scrappy, but it proved to be just what he needed to get a three-shot lead across the finish line. We both know he wasn't short on confidence before last week, so where's the ceiling on Captain America?

LAVNER: He shouldn't have as much self-imposed pressure, he has a world-class short game and he has learned how to hit a cut. It's easy to see him picking off another one.

GRAY: The helicopter finish, while effective, is hard to un-see. Let's switch gears and discuss Rory. He said all the right things Saturday night, then seemed entirely out of sorts from his opening tee shot on Sunday. What are we to make of his latest Masters near-miss, and will he ever join Reed in the champions' locker room?

LAVNER: Rory attempted to divert attention from his career Grand Slam pursuit, but he didn't fool anyone. Augusta is clearly in his head, and the way he lost Sunday may do even more damage than his 2011 collapse.

GRAY: 2011 left a sizeable mark, but I tend to agree. Rory seems to have all the pieces and now boasts five straight top-10s at Augusta, but the magnitude of getting only one shot at the final leg each year will only continue to grow. As Weiskopf, Norman and Els can attest, there are no guaranteed spots at the Champions Dinner.

On a brighter note, Jordan Spieth appears to have eviscerated any lingering demons that lurked around Amen Corner from two years ago. What was your reaction to his final-round charge?

LAVNER: I'm sure he'd like to have the tee shot back on 18, but he had to walk away knowing that he's realistically going to get another ... dozen? ... opportunities to win there. He and Augusta were made for each other.

I was more surprised by his comments that he avoided leaderboards all day. If you're the head coach, don't you want to know the score in the fourth quarter?

GRAY: Totally agree. You and I both know that there are parts of that course – I'm thinking 11 green and 14 tee – where you have to actively work to avoid seeing a board. The "I'm just here for fun" logic is all well and good for the first six holes, but even Spieth and Greller seemed to sense that something magical was still in play. Had Reed dropped a shot coming in, we would be talking about how Spieth played 18 for years to come.

LAVNER: In any event, he finished one back of Rickie Fowler, who, for the first time in ages, played a stout final round with the spotlight on him. This felt like a turning point to me, especially with Shinnecock on deck. What say you?

GRAY: The most surprising aspect may have been how pedestrian the round felt for the first two hours, only to have Fowler go unconscious with the flip of a switch. I'm more convinced than ever that his major win is a matter of when, not if, and with three top-10s in the last five U.S. Opens he'll surely make the short list for Shinnecock.

Let's talk 40-somethings. Who comes away from Augusta more disappointed: Tiger or Phil?

LAVNER: Phil, because he was in some of the best form of his career. What a buzzkill for a guy running out of chances. For as surprisingly good as Tiger looked over the past few months, he clearly still had issues off the tee and with his irons. And guess what happened at Augusta? He was out of position off the tee, and he had poor distance control with his irons. He's just not there -- yet.

GRAY: I'm not sure I've seen Phil look sadder post-Winged Foot than he did Saturday, soaking wet and decked out in rain gear after making a triple with a whiff, resigned to 35 more holes of meaningless golf.

But when it comes to Tiger, this has to be glass half full ... right? Sure, he never really contended and didn't break par until Sunday. And as you noted, he was all over the map. But he still did enough to make the cut and finish in the middle of the pack without anything close to the control he had in Tampa and Orlando.

LAVNER: Anyone who suggests that the Masters was a setback for Tiger has lost sight of the big picture. It was his first time making a major cut in three years. To take the next step and contend, though, he needs to tighten up his ball-striking. And I bet he does over the next few months.

GRAY: And the gym, Lav. Don't forget that he's going to spend some more time in the gym.

Ok, let's end it on this note: next April, Patrick Reed is putting the green jacket on...?

LAVNER: Begrudgingly, he'll help his Ryder Cup partner into the jacket: Spieth in 2019.

GRAY: You stole my answer, but I don't care because I've learned not to bet against Spieth at Augusta. If anything, seeing Reed at the head of the dinner table Tuesday night should prove to be ample motivation.

LAVNER: I've got a feeling Reed might serve crow at next year's Champions Dinner.

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U.S. captures Junior Ryder Cup

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 26, 2018, 12:29 am

The U.S. defeated Europe, 12 ½ to 11 ½, in the Junior Ryder Cup at Golf Disneyland at Disneyland Paris.

Rachel Heck, 16, of Memphis, Tenn., clinched the winning half-point on the 18th hole with a 12-foot birdie putt that halved her match with Annabell Fuller, 16, of England.

"It was the most incredible experience of my life," said Heck, a Stanford commit who last week made the cut in her second LPGA major, the Evian Masters.

Michael Thorbjornsen, 16, of Wellesley, Mass., the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, drove the green on the 315-yard 18th hole, the ball stopping within 5 feet of the pin. His eagle putt completed 2-up win over 15-year-old Spaniard David Puig and ensured that the U.S. would retain the Junior Ryder Cup, as the defending champion needs only a tie (12 points) to maintain possession of the trophy.

Singles results

Match 1 - Lucy Li (USA) def. Amanda Linner (EUR), 4 and 3

Match 2 — Rasmus Hojgaard (EUR) def. William Moll (USA), 1 up

Match 3 —  Ingrid Lindblad (EUR) halved Rose Zhang (USA)

Match 4 – Nicolai Hojgaard (USA) def. Canon Claycomb (USA), 4 and 2

Match 5 — Yealimi Noh (USA) def. Emma Spitz (EUR), 3 and 2

Match 6 —  Ricky Castillo (USA) def. Eduard Rousaud Sabate (EUR), 3 and 1

Match 7 – Emilie Alba-Paltrinieri (EUR) def. Erica Shepherd (USA), 2 up

Match 8 — Michael Thorbjornsen (USA) def. David Puig (EUR), 2 up

Match 9 – Alessia Nobilio (EUR) def. Alexa Pano (USA), 2 and 1

Match 10 —  Robin Tiger Williams (EUR) def. Cole Ponich (USA), 2 and 1

Match 11 – Annabell Fuller (EUR) halved Rachel Heck (USA)

Match 12 — Conor Gough (EUR) def. Akshay Bhatia (USA), 1 up


TOUR Championship Final Round Becomes Most-Watched FedExCup Playoffs Telecast Ever and Most-Watched PGA TOUR Telecast of 2018

By Golf Channel Public RelationsSeptember 25, 2018, 6:48 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., (Sept. 25, 2018) – NBC Sports Group’s final round coverage of the TOUR Championship on Sunday (3:00-6:19 p.m. ET) garnered a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 7.8 million average viewers, as Tiger Woods claimed his 80th career victory, and his first in five years. The telecast’s TAD was up 212% vs. 2017 (2.5m). Television viewership posted 7.18 million average viewers, up 192% YOY (2.46m) and a 4.45 U.S. household rating, up 178% vs. 2017 (1.60). It also becomes the most-watched telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs (2007-2018) and the most-watched PGA TOUR telecast in 2018 (excludes majors).

Coverage peaked from 5:45-6 p.m. ET with 10.84 million average viewers as Woods finished his TOUR Championship-winning round and Justin Rose sealed his season-long victory as the FedExCup champion. The peak viewership number trails only the Masters (16.84m) and PGA Championship (12.39m) in 2018. The extended coverage window (1:30-6:19 p.m. ET) drew 5.89 million average viewers and a 3.69 U.S. household rating to become the most-watched and highest-rated TOUR Championship telecast on record (1991-2018).

Sunday’s final round saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (+561% year-over-year), and becomes NBC Sports’ most-streamed Sunday round (excluding majors) on record (2013-’18).

Sunday’s lead-in coverage on Golf Channel (11:54 a.m.-1:25 p.m. ET) also garnered a Total Audience Delivery of 829K average viewers and posted a .56 U.S. household rating, becoming the most-watched and highest rated lead-in telecast of the TOUR Championship ever (2007-2018). Golf Channel was the No. 2 Sports Network during this window and No. 7 out of all Nielsen-rated cable networks during that span.

 This week, NBC Sports Group will offer weeklong coverage of the biennial Ryder Cup from Le Golf National outside of Paris. Live From the Ryder Cup continues all week on Golf Channel, surrounding nearly 30 hours of NBC Sports’ Emmy-nominated live event coverage, spanning from Friday morning’s opening tee shot just after 2 a.m. ET through the clinching point on Sunday. The United States will look to retain the Ryder Cup after defeating Europe in 2016 (17-11), and aim to win for the first time on European soil in 25 years, since 1993.


-NBC Sports Group-

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Tiger Woods names his Mount Rushmore of golf

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 25, 2018, 6:29 pm
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Mickelson savoring his (likely) last road game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2018, 3:49 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Phil Mickelson lingered behind as his foursome made its way to the ninth tee during Tuesday’s practice round.

He needed the extra practice, no doubt. He’s one of just six players on the U.S. Ryder Cup team with even a modicum of knowledge about Le Golf National, but the likely reason for Lefty’s leisurely tempo was more personal.

The 2019 Ryder Cup will likely be Mickelson’s last road game as a player.

He’ll be 52 when the U.S. team pegs it up at the 2022 matches in Rome. Although there’s been players who have participated in the biennial event into their golden years – most notably Raymond Floyd who was 51 when he played the ’93 matches – given Mickelson’s play in recent years and the influx of younger players the odds are against him.

“I am aware this is most likely the last one on European soil and my last opportunity to be part of a team that would be victorious here, and that would mean a lot to me personally,” Mickelson said on Tuesday.

It’s understandable that Mickelson would want to linger a little longer in the spotlight of golf’s most intense event.

For the first time in his Ryder Cup career Mickelson needed to be a captain's pick, and he didn’t exactly roar into Paris, finishing 30th out of 30 players at last week’s Tour Championship. He’s also four months removed from his last top-10 finish on the PGA Tour.

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Although he’s reluctant to admit it for Mickelson Le Golf National looks every bit a swansong for the most accomplished U.S. Ryder Cup player of his generation.

In 11 starts at the Ryder Cup, Mickelson has a 26-16-13 record. Perhaps more telling is his 7-3-1 mark since 2012 and he holds the U.S. record for most matches played (45) and is third on the all-time list for most points won (21.5), just two shy of the record held by Billy Casper.

Mickelson’s record will always be defined by what he’s done at the Masters and not done at the U.S. Open, but his status as an anchor for two generations of American teams may never be matched.

For this U.S. team - which is trying to win a road Ryder Cup for the first time since 1993 - Lefty is wearing many hats.

“You know Phil and you know he's always trying to find a way to poke fun, trying to mess with someone,” Furyk said. “He's telling a story. Sometimes you're not sure if they are true or not. Sometimes there's little bits of pieces in each of those, but he provides some humor, provides some levity.”

But there is another side to Mickelson’s appeal in the team room. Although he’s never held the title of vice captain he’s served as a de facto member of the management for some time.

“At the right times, he understands when a team needs a kick in the butt or they need an arm around their shoulder, and he's been good in that atmosphere,” Furyk said. “He's a good speaker and good motivator, and he's been able to take some young players under his wing at times and really get a lot out of them from a partner standpoint.”

In recent years Mickelson has become something of a mentor for young players, first at the ’08 matches with Anthony Kim and again in ’12 with Keegan Bradley.

His role as a team leader in the twilight of his career can’t be overstated and will undoubtedly continue this week if Tuesday’s practice groupings are any indication, with Lefty playing with rookie Bryson DeChambeau.

As DeChambeau was finishing his press conference on Tuesday he was asked about the dynamic in the U.S. team room.

“We're going to try and do our absolute best to get the cup back,” he said.

“Keep the cup,” Lefty shouted from the back of the room, noting that the U.S. won the last Ryder Cup.

It was so Mickelson not to miss a teaching moment or a chance to send a subtle jab delivered with a wry smile.

Mickelson will also be remembered for his role in what has turned out to be an American Ryder Cup resurgence.

“Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best,” Mickelson said in the Scottish gloom at the ’14 matches. “Nobody here was in any decision.”

If Mickelson doesn’t step to the microphone in ’14 at Gleneagles in the wake of another U.S. loss and, honestly, break some china there probably wouldn’t have been a task force. Davis Love III likely wouldn’t have gotten a second turn as captain in ’16 and the U.S. is probably still mired in a victory drought.

Lefty’s Ryder Cup career is far from over. The early line is that he’ll take his turn as captain in 2024 at Bethpage Black – the People’s Champion riding in to become the People’s Captain.

Before he moves on to a new role, however, he’ll savor this week and an opportunity to win his first road game. If he wants to hang back and relish the moment so be it.