A Captains Dilemma

By Rex HoggardAugust 8, 2010, 3:12 am

PGA of AmericaAKRON, Ohio – There are three basic tenets to a successful Ryder Cup captaincy – avoid really bad pairings (Hal Sutton in 2004), really bad shirts (Ben Crenshaw in 1999) and really bad circumstances (Tom Lehman in 2006).

That is, of course, unless you’re Corey Pavin and you find yourself being backed into a really bad corner.

If Freddie Couples’ 2009 Presidents Cup stint was characterized by a “captain cool” atmosphere, Pavin’s early calling card may be something along the lines of “captain come on.”

No? Consider Pavin’s options as the matches close in on the scrappy captain with an American star in Tiger Woods who appears either unable or unwilling to make this year’s squad.

Forget Saturday’s 75 from Woods at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, his worst round ever at Firestone. It is, by and large, the status quo for a season that has many more valleys than peaks.

Captain Corey plans to huddle with Woods next week at Whistling Straits for a meeting that promises to be largely one-sided. At ninth on the U.S. points list, the best player of his generation, perhaps of all time, certainly has the resume to justify a captain’s pick.

That is, of course, if he even needs a freebie. His record at the PGA Championship (four victories and eight top 10s) is impossible to ignore and we’ve watched him do more with less before (see Open, 2008 U.S.). Woods and Pavin also have time on their side. The captain’s picks are not made until Sept. 7 and a lot can change in four weeks.

Whether the world No. 1 has any interest in making the hop to Wales for a week full of pomp and team play is the more important question.

On Wednesday Woods was asked whether he would want to be a captain’s pick if it came to that: “I'm planning on playing my way into the team,” Woods said sternly.

Asked a second time and the response was even more chilly, “I'm planning on playing my way into the team.”

Tough to read between so few lines, but as early as June’s Memorial tournament, Woods and Steve Stricker, who paired together so successfully last year at Harding Park, talked about this year’s matches.

“For sure he can help the team and I hope I’m his partner again,” Stricker said. “He’s as tough a competitor as anyone and I can’t imagine him sitting at home.”

Stricker would know, he teamed with Woods last year to secure four points for the American side and was paired with him more in 2009 than any other player. But that was a different time, a different Tiger.

The man who is currently placed third from last among a field of 80 players in Ohio seems to be missing some of the cache or confidence that lifted him to 14 Grand Slam tilts.

For Pavin, however, his hands are tied. To not make Woods a captain’s pick, even a Woods who is firing on six of eight cylinders, would ignite immediate second guessing from the media. Woods, a true competitor despite his current form, could provide Pavin with political cover by publically declining a spot, although Stricker can’t imagine that scenario.

“If he’s outside the top 8 (automatic qualifying) and (Pavin) asked him to be a pick I imagine he would do it,” Stricker said. “He’s trying to rebuild an image and I don’t think that would be a good way to start.”

Besides, among the players currently on the outside looking to be one of four picks (Nos. 10 Hunter Mahan, 11 Ricky Barnes and 12 Ben Crane) it’s hard to make an argument that Woods is not deserving.

So it is with both player and captain backed into a corner the odds of Woods not being on the Air American charter bound for Wales later this year seems about as slim as his title chances at Firestone.

Still, that does little to help Pavin.

Given Woods’ current status on the FedEx Cup points list, 111th and fading, it is not a stretch to imagine a first-round Playoff exit, which would create a three-week competitive void before the matches and likely only exacerbate his playing problems.

And deepen the corner Pavin now finds his back against.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, given how his career has unfolded, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Ahead by four, No. 1 ranking within Koepka's grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One behind overnight leader Scott Piercy to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Best of the rest: Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama and Emiliano Grillo signed for 66. Casey went seven straight holes without a par, Matusyama was bogey-free, and Grillo did all his damage on the back nine after nine consecutive pars on the front.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.

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Watch: Koepka flies ball 330 yards, drives green

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 20, 2018, 4:44 am

It's a good thing par doesn't actually matter in tournament play, because if it did, the PGA Tour would have to consider 350-yard par-3s, and even those might not stop Brooks Koeopka.

Already ahead by two during Saturday's third round at the CJ Cup in South Korea, Koepka drove the green at the par-4 14th, carrying his ball 330 yards to the front edge.

The back-to-back U.S. Open champ would go on to two-putt for birdie and push his lead to three.

... The USGA is going to try that 350-yard par-3 idea, isn't it?