Captain Am-error-ca

By Rex HoggardNovember 4, 2011, 4:05 pm

In this week’s edition, the PGA Tour gets an injection of new talent courtesy the Nationwide Tour, Yani Tseng gets her chance at history and Fred Couples gets a rare “missed cut” for his missed opportunity.

Who says the silly season is all fun and games?

Made Cut

Class acts. Note to PGA Tour: This is how a Tour Championship is supposed to feel. Sunday’s big finish at the Nationwide Tour finale left no unanswered questions, unlike the primary circuit’s closing frame at East Lake, and produced an avalanche of compelling storylines heading into 2012.

Billy Hurley III, the U.S. Navy lieutenant turned Tour card holder, held on to the final spot on the money list and will begin his Tour career where he ended his Navy resume – in Honolulu at the Sony Open.

Two-time heart-transplant recipient Erik Compton can try on a long awaited new title – Tour member; and 42-year-old Ken Duke won the finale to crack the top 25 and earn a return trip to the Tour.

The cream of the ’11 class, however, may be Jason Kokrak. Sure the 26-year-old is crazy long (his 318-yard average led the Nationwide Tour) but there is a compelling softer side to this prospect.

“Everybody talks about how far he hits it,” Kokrak’s father, Kenny, said last Saturday, “but he’s got a great short game. He works so hard at it.”

Think a John Daly crunchy shell around a Luke Donald-like soft center. We call it the mash-mallow.

Tiger Woods. Some will interpret the comments from “Red Shirt” this week in Asia as an excuse, but the world No. 56 made an interesting point when asked to reflect on the last year.

“You look at everyone’s career, you have these ebbs and flows,” said Woods, who turns 36 in December. “We don’t play well all the time.”

If that sounds like a plea, consider the career of Jack Nicklaus, who Woods will forever be measured against. In 1979 the Golden Bear was 39 and a year removed from being named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, yet he played just 12 events, failed to win a Tour event for the first time since he turned pro in ’62 and finished 71st in earnings. The next season Nicklaus won two majors (Nos. 16 and 17).

It remains to be seen if Woods’ next move is a “flow” but history suggests we should withhold judgment until all the votes are counted.

Tweet of the week I: @bencranegolf “Met prime minister of Malaysia. Good dude. He pretty much just wanted to know how to swing it like a boomerang-a-tang.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Yani Tseng. Call it a publicity stunt. Call it a pipe dream. Whatever you dub it, the one thing you can’t call Tseng’s flirtation with the PGA Tour is unwarranted. Eleven worldwide victories this season and two major championships is enough to open any door.

It’s just the Trump International layout in Puerto Rico may not be the best venue for Tseng to go next level. It’s long (7,569 yards) and often wet and the tournament is played opposite the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

If Tseng wants to take her shot against the men she should do so on her terms on a course that offers her the best chance for success (Harbour Town in South Carolina, Colonial in Texas and Riviera in California immediately come to mind). Tseng has earned the right to test her game against the Tour’s best without any asterisks (opposite-field event) or excuses.

Player Advisory Council. If Luke Donald considered the Tour’s move to delay the release of this year’s ballot for Player of the Year “sketchy,” news that the ballot will not include nominees for the Comeback Player of the Year award is downright stupefying.

The Tour decided to make the CPOY award an optional honor after Steve Stricker won it in back-to-back years and in 2009 the 16-member PAC, which nominates players for the year-ending awards, decided there wasn’t a reclamation project worth recognizing.

But the move to forgo this year’s comeback award has flummoxed many who point to the progress that players like Aaron Baddeley, David Toms and Harrison Frazar made in 2011.

Baddeley began the year ranked 271st, won the Northern Trust Open and finished third at the Tour Championship to earn a spot on Greg Norman’s Presidents Cup team; Toms had slipped outside the top 100 before finishing 2-1 at The Players and Colonial, respectively; and Frazar emerged from hip surgery in 2010 to win the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Maybe that’s not exactly Cinderella stuff, but that PAC is one tough crowd.

Tweet of the week II: @southpaw444 (Steve Flesch) “Stricker has them (Comeback Player of the Year awards) all up in Madison (Wis.). None left!”

Missed Cut

Faux WGCs. Despite the Tour’s attempt to include results from this week’s HSBC Champions in the Player of the Year voting there is no escaping the feeling that the China stop is a WGC in name only.

Three years into the WGC experiment the event still does not award official Tour money, small print that at least partially explains poor attendance from the American contingent.

China was a bold move to put the “World” back in the WGCs, but unless something changes – either a dramatic makeover of the Tour schedule or a date swap for Shanghai – the faux World Golf Championship will never get the respect it deserves.

Fred Couples. Golf’s “Most Interesting Man” is already 1-0 as a Presidents Cup captain and is making things interesting this week at the Champions Tour finale. But as the matches inch closer it seems Captain America missed his chance to nurture a future Presidents Cup prospect and assure the U.S. side doesn’t have to play shorthanded at Royal Melbourne.

When asked on Wednesday if he considered offering Keegan Bradley, who was bypassed for a captain’s pick, a special role on the American team, like that enjoyed by Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer at recent Ryder Cups, Couples said he didn’t think that was appropriate.

“Sergio asked to be there. They didn’t call Sergio. If Keegan were to call me I would fall down backwards to have him there,” Couples told

Kaymer, who was passed over by European captain Nick Faldo for the 2008 Ryder Cup matches but was included as a special assistant at Valhalla, seems a more apropos comparison.

Perhaps Bradley has no interest in carrying a walkie-talkie in Australia. Sadly, we’ll never know.

Tweet of the week III: @WestwoodLee “First-round 69, four behind playing partner (Bradley). The U.S. must have a really good team for the Presidents Cup if he’s not on it!”

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.

1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.

4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.

7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”

Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  

Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.

The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.  

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.