Europeans have cause for concern despite minor deficit

By Randall MellAugust 21, 2009, 4:00 pm
2009 Solheim CupSUGAR GROVE, Ill. ' Never has a one-point lead seemed so insurmountable.
Yes, thats hyperbole, way over the top, but Europe s Alison Nicholas had to be uneasy as she rode her captains cart off the course in near darkness Friday after the first day of the Solheim Cup.
The heavily-favored Americans lead seems narrow at 4 to 3 , but sometimes scoreboards deceive, or at least hide hard truths.
While it appears the underdog Euros should be encouraged keeping it close, there are reasons for Nicholas to be concerned.
Gwladys Nocera and Becky Brewerton
Gwladys Nocera and Becky Brewerton won their afternoon foursomes match Friday. (Getty Images)
The history of these matches tell her that Europe better have a giant Saturday and build as large a lead as possible going into Sunday singles to have a chance to win.
Europe (3-7) has never won a Solheim Cup without leading going into singles.
The American depth has proven decisive in so many of these one-on-one Sunday finishes.
The United States is 16-8 in singles in the last two Solheim Cups.
The home-field advantage always weighs heaviest come Sundays in these team matches. Its never greater than during singles, the loneliest day in golf for away teams.
The Americans are 5-0 at home in the Solheim Cup.
What has to trouble Nicholas is that her big guns are shooting blanks.
Suzann Pettersen, the highest ranked player on the European squad, was sent out first Friday in the morning session and first again in the afternoon session and didnt bring home a point.
It isnt as if Nicholas sent her out with stiffs in the morning fourballs and afternoon foursomes. Pettersen teamed both sessions with Sophie Gustafson, a four-time LPGA winner and 13-time Ladies European Tour winner. They were defeated, 1 up, by Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr in fourballs and routed, 4 and 2, by Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim in foursomes.
Given Pettersens reputation and Solheim Cup record, that borders on demoralizing.
Pettersen entered this event 8-1-3 in foursomes and fourballs.
Nicholas couldnt have been encouraged by what happened to Laura Davies in the morning and to the Scottish foursomes team of Catriona Matthew and Janice Moodie in the afternoon.
Davies, whose 23 points ranks second only to Annika Sorenstam in Solheim Cup history, is in the twilight of her career, but shes still a formidable presence in the team room and an inspiration to fellow Europeans. Davies teammates couldnt have been inspired looking up at the scoreboard and seeing the Americans running up the score on her. Brittany Lincicome and Brittany Lang scored the first point in the matches beating Davies and Becky Brewerton, 5 and 4.
The team of Moodie and Matthew looked like the Euros most formidable team in the afternoon. Moodie was 6-1-1 in Solheim Cups. She was undefeated in two previous pairings with Matthew. They also teamed to finish second at the World Cup in 06.
The Scottish duo never led in its match against Paula Creamer and Juli Inkster. They were defeated, 2 and 1.
Moodies considered the feistiest European, the teams bulldog, but she was reduced to Chihuahua status with a stone-cold putter.
Yes, anything can happen this weekend, its the beauty of sport. Weve seen it in golfs biggest events all year long. We saw it last weekend with Y.E. Yang taking down Tiger Woods in the final round of the PGA Championship. When Matthew holed the last putt in the morning fourballs, a 15-foot birdie to halve a match with Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie, it lifted the spirits of the Europeans. At days end, it was the difference between the Euros trailing by a point instead of two points.
Absolutely massive, Nicholas said. That was just sensational.
American captain Beth Daniel is sticking to a plan to resting every one of her players at least one match to keep them fresh for Sunday singles on this long course. Thats something to concern the Euros, too. Daniel is confident enough in her teams depth that she sat down Kerr Friday afternoon and will sit down Creamer Saturday morning.
Still, Inkster has seen her share of golf rodeos, and she isnt discounting this European squad.
One point is nothing, Inkster said. Its very close. A lot of these matches could have gone one way or the other. The Europeans have a very long [hitting] team and this golf course really plays to their advantage.
Little known Euros Becky Brewerton, Tania Elosegui and Gwladys Nocera all earned points Friday. There's hope in the unheralded Euros producing with the big names sleeping. If Pettersen catches fire Sunday, and the little known Euros keep becoming better known, Nicholas may get her big Saturday. Anna Nordqvist and Maria Hjorth were 7 under through 15 holes in their foursomes victory against Kristy McPherson and Lincicome. They provide hope, too.
Obviously, a one-point lead isnt insurmountable, not in a year like this in golf, but history tells us it will take a special effort Saturday to set up a European upset.
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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”