Golfs Greatest Spectacle

By Randall MellOctober 4, 2010, 11:53 pm

Ryder Cup

NEWPORT, Wales – This is why the Ryder Cup is more than golf’s best event.

This is why it’s the game’s most riveting spectacle.

After the Europeans held off a magnificent American charge to win Monday, thousands of fans swarmed Graeme McDowell as he left the 17th green at Celtic Manor. That's where he defeated Hunter Mahan to win the vital final point in the final pairing in a thrilling finish that ranks among the best in the 83-year history of the competition. They swarmed him in raucous delight and paraded all the way to the clubhouse.

“It’s incredible,” Lee Westwood said in the aftermath of Europe’s 14 ½-13½ victory against the Americans. “It’s gotten out of control, but you can’t blame people. It’s been one of those Ryder Cups that’s had everything.”

Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell clinched the Ryder Cup for Europe. (Getty Images)

And he meant everything.

Through a difficult week, through two days of showers that brought more than half the rainfall the Usk Valley typically sees in the entire month of October, through more than 12 hours of rain delays, through downpours that ignited an American raingear controversy, this terrific Ryder Cup finish made all the trouble worth enduring.

This extra day, this ending, this heart-thumping closing act made the trek through the muck worth the journey and the wait for the spectators who kept showing up. It also reminded us what sets the Ryder Cup apart.

“I can safely say I have never felt this nervous before on a golf course in my life,” McDowell said.

This is the man who held off Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els in the final round to win the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June.

“I’ve never cried after losing, other than at the Ryder Cup,” American Jim Furyk said.

Mahan’s eyes glistened afterward. He wiped his left eye after being asked about the final chip he chunked in front of the 17th green, the shot that cruelly will be remembered as the one that lost this Ryder Cup. He couldn’t give an answer but PGA officials provided quotes later.

“You feel like you’re playing for everybody,” Mahan said.

It was a day so compelling nobody in the crowd of 35,000 seemed to want to leave when it was over. They stayed around to celebrate Europe's fourth victory in the last five Ryder Cups.

You don’t see scenes like this at major championships. You don’t see the depth of emotions stirring players and fans alike at the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open or PGA Championship. You don’t see so much winning and losing, so much joy and misery packed into one day of golf like the final day of a Ryder Cup.

Atop the balcony in front of the Celtic Manor resort, McDowell led the traditional champagne celebration, shaking bottles before shooting sprays of the sweet stuff onto the crowd below. His fellow countryman, Rory McIlroy, barely old enough to drink the stuff, stiffened when somebody dumped an entire bottle over his head, filling his thick, curly mop of black hair with sparkling suds. Then McIlroy leaned over the balcony like a gorgeous, shaggy dog and shook his head, spraying the fans below.

Somebody winged a cap into the crowd, then a warm-up jacket. Comically, a pair of pants came floating down next. Somebody threw a golf shoe, then another shoe, then a shoe filled with champagne.

Miguel Angel Jimenez came out in a sport jacket and a full-size Spanish flag fashioned as a necktie while puffing one of his giant cigars.

Westwood, who hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in the eight weeks he’s been rehabilitating his torn left calf muscle, wasn’t going to waste the stuff. He lifted a bottle in the air to salute the crowd, then threw his head back and started guzzling.

Down three points to the Europeans starting singles play, a daunting margin in Ryder Cup play, the Americans mounted a brilliant charge.

Despite Europe’s strong start Monday, with eight European flags flying over 12 of the matches, the United States kept attacking, kept turning matches around.

Dustin Johnson officially started the American charge, giving the Americans their first point by routing Martin Kaymer, the German who won the PGA Championship that ended so bitterly and controversially for Johnson six weeks ago. Johnson felt like he should have been in the playoff Kaymer won at Whistling Straits. Johnson looked like he would have won it Monday, closing with four consecutive birdies to beat Kaymer 6 and 4.

Moments after Johnson’s point registered, Steve Stricker closed out his match, beating Europe’s best player, Westwood, 2 and 1.

Results from the 38th Ryder Cup

Session 1 Fourballs
Session 2 Foursomes
Session 3 Foursomes
Session 3 Fourballs
Session 4 Singles

Tiger Woods looked like, well, Tiger Woods. He played like even if he loses the No. 1 ranking this fall, he’s close to finding the form that will win it back. He played like he’s still going to blow past Jack Nicklaus on his way to setting the record for major championships. He played like he wanted to shut us all up with a 4-and-3 thumping of Francesco Molinari. Woods holed a shot from 133 yards for eagle. He made seven birdies and an eagle in a performance that rivaled any he’s delivered at the height of his powers. He was 9 under over 15 holes.

Phil Mickelson delivered, too. He ended his streak of four consecutive Ryder Cup singles losses defeating Peter Hanson 4 and 2.

It all paved the way to an American finish that looked like it might be remembered with USA’s improbable come-from-behind victory at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., in 1999.

“There were a lot of points where I thought we weren’t going to win this,” Westwood said.

American rookie Rickie Fowler, a captain’s pick, put that thought in the entire European team’s head with the blows he delivered in a clutch finish. In a hole, 4 down with six holes to play against Edoardo Molinari, Fowler showed why his teammates rave about his unflappable nature. He birdied the final four holes under intense pressure. With his back against the wall, 2 down with two holes to play, the 21-year-old silenced the giant European crowds by rolling in an 18-foot birdie at the 17th. At the 18th, with European players and wives crowding the green waiting to celebrate Molinari’s victory, Fowler rolled in another 18-footer to halve the match.

“That’s why we picked him,” said Davis Love III, an American assistant captain. “There’s a star player who said he should be our first pick.”

With Woods playing behind him, Fowler said he was inspired at the 14th tee. That’s where he turned around and watched Woods.

“The point that turned me around in my match, or got me pumped up, was when I saw Tiger make that putt on the 13th from about 50 feet and walk it in,” Fowler said. “That kind of gave me a little extra life.”

Improbably, with American Zach Johnson’s victory tying this Ryder Cup 13½ to 13½, the day was down to Mahan vs. McDowell in the anchor match.

Mahan fought himself from 3 down with six holes to go to 1 down at the 16th tee. That’s where McDowell showed the nerve that won him the U.S. Open. He poured in a 12-foot putt for birdie to go 2 up again with two holes remaining.

“I had a massive amount of emotions going through my head,” McDowell said. “I was imagining winning, I was imagining losing in the same breath.”

This wild, wondrous day will always be remembered for what happened in the final act at the 17th hole, a 211-yard par 3.

After McDowell hit the right side of the green, Mahan made a poor, awkward pass. His shot parachuted 20 feet short of the green.

With what must have felt like the entire population of Wales watching, plus all his teammates and European opponents, Mahan set up over a chip shot that embodied everything wonderful and horrible about the Ryder Cup for the players who decide it. If you love golf, your hands were sweating just watching Mahan take the club back. And your heart might have skipped when he stabbed at the ball, chunking his chip, barely getting his ball to the fringe. His long putt for par curled away and this long, wild Ryder Cup was over.

There were sad moments for American golf fans, but many terrific moments to savor in a competition played as intensely as it is fairly.

The saddest thought is that we’ll have to wait two more years to see it played again.

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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the Nelson's future ...

If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray

On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta

On golf and gambling ...

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.