Azinger's insight into the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team

By Rex HoggardAugust 9, 2014, 5:00 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – For U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, this year’s matches are shaping up to being a rebuilding year.

In order, Dustin Johnson announced an indefinite “leave of absence” from golf for personal reasons; Matt Kuchar, who was also a virtual lock to make the team that will travel to Scotland in September, withdrew from this week’s PGA Championship with an ailing back; and Jason Dufner, who at eighth on the U.S. points list was a leading candidate to either qualify or possibly receive one of Watson’s three captain’s picks, walked off Valhalla mid-round with a neck injury on Thursday.

Add to that Tiger Woods’ miserable week, both physically and competitively, and Watson’s options seem wildly limited.

But where some see lost opportunities, Paul Azinger – the last U.S. captain to lead a team to victory in 2008 at Valhalla – sees an embarrassment of riches.

On Saturday at Valhalla, ’Zinger settled in for a rainy morning of war room talk with With the only proviso that Watson still has three weeks before he finds himself on the clock and because of that much can change, Captain Paul dissected this year’s team, much like he did in ’08, and offered his picks.

“It’s not fair to make picks now because you have three weeks to watch. It’s counter intuitive to say, ‘This is who I’d pick now.’ You have to pick who is red hot after you have three weeks to watch,” Azinger said.

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With that footnote, Azinger went back to the formula he used in ’08 and said he would give ownership to the players who qualify for the team and allow them to make the picks.

In ’08, for example, Chad Campbell, who was 21st on the U.S. points list, was one of Azinger’s four picks despite a less-then-stellar run-up to the selection date (missed cut at the PGA, T-65 at The Barclays and T-7 at the Deutsche Bank Championship).

“I’d let them pick because that’s what lets them get invested, that gets them really engaged,” he said. “I didn’t pick (Campbell). They had three players they could have picked. (Steve) Stricker, Stewart Cink and Ben Curtis picked Chad Campbell. They were invested in him and Campbell was so invested in them.”

If the U.S. team’s 16 ½ to 11 ½ victory in ’08 isn’t evidence enough, Azinger’s players from the Valhalla team seem to be the ultimate arbiters of the success of the captain’s plan.

“Few captains, if any, have had an impact on the team and the result as much as he did,” said Hunter Mahan, one of Azinger’s picks in ’08. “He did so much work beforehand that when we got here he told us, ‘Here are your teams.’ He had a huge impact on that week because he could. At the Ryder Cup they give him an opportunity to put (his) mark on it and he put his stamp on it.”

As Azinger studied the current team, which will be solidified after Sunday’s final round, he quickly pieced together potential “pods,” the system he used in ’08 and explained in his book “Cracking the Code.”

Once those pods are set – Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk and Jimmy Walker, for example – Azinger said he would give them a list of possible picks that would join their pod and they could make the choice.

Pushed for who he would pick off the current list, however, Azinger quickly ran through the list of potential candidates.

Spoiler alert: Azinger would not pick Woods.

“I’m not pickin’ Tiger; he’s hurt,” he said.

With the assumption that Phil Mickelson – who is currently 10th on the points list, one spot outside the automatic qualifiers and currently tied for seventh at the PGA – will qualify for the matches, Azinger’s first pick went to Keegan Bradley.

“He loves the Ryder Cup and (the Europeans) are going to be out to get him because of the way he played the last time,” Azinger said, noting that Bradley went 3-0 paired with Mickelson at the matches in 2012.

Although Bradley missed the cut at the PGA, he is 11th on the points list and tied for fourth (WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and The Greenbrier Classic) in two of his last four events.

After that, Azinger said he would swoon all the way to 38th on the point list and select Stricker, which seems a little awkward considering his status as a vice-captain for Watson’s team but a reasonable selection since the part-timer player is tied for ninth this week at Valhalla.

“He brings a calm and steadiness that is just valuable,” he said of the three-time Ryder Cup player.

And finally, Azinger didn’t hesitate before selecting Ryan Moore. Although Moore would be playing in his first Ryder Cup he checks off all the important boxes.

“He is a (U.S.) Amateur champion, he’s a match-play player and he’s got a lot of heart and a lot of guts. He doesn’t have any scars from Ryder Cups past,” Azinger said.

Moore also follows the mold of picking the hot player, having finished in the top 10 in three of his last four starts, and is currently tied for 38th place at Valhalla. As for his status as a rookie, Azinger considers that a bonus.

“I want rookies, dude,” Azinger laughed. “I want rookies who are unscarred and playing well. That’s how I would be thinking. I want to take a bunch of rookies in there, put a chip on their shoulder and go William Wallace on their ass.”

With a large smile etched into his face Azinger added, “You can write that down,” and then set out under skies that were finally starting to clear. For a brief moment, the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s chances seemed a little less gloomy.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1