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Rosaforte Report: Recalling an epic Presidents Cup

By Tim RosaforteMarch 12, 2018, 7:17 pm

In this week's Rosaforte Report, the reported selection of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els as Presidents Cup captains for 2019 evokes memories of their putting duel in South Africa in 2003; Peter Kostis talks about Paul Casey and the virtue of aggressiveness; Patrick Reed justifies his sartorial homage to Tiger Woods and Liezl Els reflects on a decade of raising money for autism research.

There were no pretenses to Ernie Els being in the team room for the International side in last year’s Presidents Cup. Els told me at Liberty National last fall that he would like to follow in Nick Price’s footsteps and become the next International captain.

“I’m up for it,” Els said. “It would be a dream job.”

Making it even more of a dream is that Els gets to match strategies with Tiger Woods, his opponent in the all-time greatest moment in Presidents Cup history – their epic putting duel at Fancourt, South Africa, in 2003. The score was tied, 17-17, when Woods and Els began a sudden-death playoff. They halved the first two holes, and daylight was fading when Woods sank a 15-footer and Els dropped a 6-footer on top of him for another halve. Captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player decided to let the competition end in a tie.

While Els, who brings mojo with three victories and a course record (60) to Royal Melbourne. was a lock for his captainship, there is some second-guessing over Woods' selection. With a second-place finish on Sunday at the Valspar Championship in only his fourth tournament after back fusion surgery, it is foreseeable that Woods could make the 2019 team. Potentially, that could make Woods the first playing captain since Hale Irwin went 2-1 in a 20-12 victory over the Internationals at Robert Trent Jones GC in 1994.

As Nick Price’s protégé, Els brings cachet as a hall of famer and experience in eight Presidents Cups. Like Price, he’s extremely popular among his peers.

“Like Pricey, he’s a players guy. He mixes with all of us,” said fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen. “I think he will be an amazing captain.”

Els told me that remaining current with players is important, and to that end he will be playing more of an international schedule over the next two years as part of the education process with new players. As Els said about last year’s Presidents Cup, spending time “with the boys,” looking at the competition more as a captain than a competitor for the first time, “was quite an education.”

CASEY GOES FOR IT: Analytics have become a way that teachers teach and players play in this era of hitting shots and plotting strategy by the numbers. When Peter Kostis sat down with Paul Casey in the offseason, the conversation wasn’t so much about proximity to the hole as it was proximity to victory.

“You could even call it stupid aggressive,” Kostis said. “Confidence can paper over mistakes.”

It says something that Casey is the current leader in consecutive cuts made on the PGA Tour with 27. It also says something that Casey went 150 starts without a win on the PGA Tour until Sunday’s victory in the Valspar Championship.

The point Kostis made is that it’s more difficult to win in 2018 than it was in 2010 or even 2000, the sweet spots in Tiger Woods’ career. And as Woods was shown on Sunday at Innisbrook, playing to the fat part of the green will produce second-place finishes, but not victories like the one that Casey pulled off with a final-round 65.

As Kostis told me on Sunday, playing this type of golf required the highest levels of short game and putting, but it pays off. Casey was third in the field in strokes gained around the green.

“It’s a different game now in order to get in the winner’s circle,” Kostis said. “Somebody is going to play all out, hit the shots they need, posting the low score and they get the W.”

RED SUITS REED: There’s been some social media banter about Patrick Reed wearing Tiger colors and his Nike logo in the final round of the Valspar, as if it were sacrilegious. It turned out more than coincidental when they finished on the same number (275) and the same place (T-2).

Reed has been wearing Tiger colors since junior golf; he always thought it was cool to wear black pants and a red shirt on Sunday.

There’s also some karma in it. The first time he wore the red and black in a Tiger pairing was in the second round of the 2014 Hero World Challenge, when he shot 63. That performance and the way he played in Tiger’s pod at the 2016 Ryder Cup, were enough to justify the homage to Woods.

Reed was also justifying the Nike contract that pays him enough that he can afford to be a free agent in the golf equipment marketplace.

Reed has struggled since his epic battle with Rory McIlroy at Hazeltine. Before that, he won five times from 2013-2016, rising to No. 7 in the world – the closest he’s come to the days of comparing himself to a top-five player in the world after winning at Doral in 2014. It’s now been 24 starts without a win, but he worked on his game hard in the offseason and could emerge as one of Tiger’s partners for the Ryder Cup in Paris if he keeps trending.

“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” Reed said Sunday after his best finish since a second in last year’s PGA Championship. “But at the end of the day, back in contention, having a chance to win a golf tournament is always fun.”

TEN YEARS OF AUTISM FUNDRAISING: Els was busy on Monday, working on a passion of his, and it wasn’t related to his new role as Presidents Cup captain. Ten years ago at the Valspar Championship, Els told the world that his son, Ben, had autism. He’s been working ever since raising money for the Els Center for Autism in Jupiter.

“Ernie was more than ready to have that discussion,” said his wife, Liezl. “He was the one sharing that. He knew it was time to share.”

Luminaries such as McIlroy, Price and Nicklaus were in attendance, pushing the fundraising to over $10 million in the decade since going public.

“For us it’s been such an unbelievable journey the last 10 years,” Liezl said. “It was such a struggle in the beginning to convince people, without land or a building, what we had in mind.”

What stands today is a 26-acre campus that features a fully staffed upper and lower school. And they wouldn’t have built the upper school unless Rickie Fowler made a $1 million hole-in-one in 2016 that kept the project going.

“It’s been a fulfilling and rewarding 10 years,” Liezl said. “The parents, the kids, the progress, and how grateful they are to have a facility like this that the kids can attend. We’re very proud of it and happy for all the happy faces we see.”

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Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''

Full-field scores from the Sanford International

Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

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Glover (64) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

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Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

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McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”