Final U.S. pick better in theory than practice

By Rex HoggardSeptember 22, 2016, 11:12 pm

ATLANTA – This wasn’t some nip/tuck job. The U.S. Ryder Cup task force didn’t set out to tinker around the edges in the hopes that all the American side needed was a nudge in the right direction to change it’s competitive misfortunes.

This was billed as a complete overhaul, an outright demolition deal to right a ship that’s been adrift for the better part of two decades.

Out with the old process of cronyism, in with a new vision designed to build a legacy and a winning formula.

The rebuilt selection process may not have been the most important part of that transformation to the players and captain, but it has certainly been the most publicized. Captain Davis Love III made his first three picks after the BMW Championship, a week later than normal, and held the last selection for Sunday night after the Tour Championship.

The 12th selection has been dubbed in most circles the "Billy Horschel pick," after the colorful Floridian won the 2014 BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedEx Cup, yet wasn’t on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

The captain and committee members wanted the hot hand, and waiting until the 11th hour was the best way to assure that. This week’s finale was meant to be, essentially, a 72-hole, one-spot qualifier for the U.S. team.

In theory, if one of the dozen Americans in the Tour Championship field who aren’t currently on the U.S. team won at East Lake, his Sunday celebration would include a trophy, a big check (maybe two depending on his FedEx Cup fortunes) and a ticket to Hazeltine.

That plan began to fray at the edges, however, when just three of those potential picks – Bubba Watson, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger – were invited up to Hazeltine on Monday for a private workout.

Sources say a fourth player, Ryan Moore, was also invited to the practice session, but declined, citing a need to be rested for the finale. Following the logic of the Horschel rule, wouldn’t all 12 potential picks deserve an invitation?

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Things became even more cloudy on Thursday as players completed their rounds at East Lake and were asked about their Ryder Cup chances.

“I think Davis knows [the last pick],” said Berger, who struggled on Day 1 to a 4-over 74. “He has a really good idea who he wants to pick and maybe if someone plays really well like Justin Thomas or myself, but I mean it’s tough to leave the No. 7 player in the world (Watson) off the team. I don’t see that happening.”

Realistically, if none of the dozen would-be Ryder Cuppers do anything special at East Lake, it stands to reason that Watson would be the default candidate, but even that scenario doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

“Davis said it's all about strategies and different things. It's not about my play. It's not about anybody's play,” said Watson, whose opening 72 left him tied for 15th in the 30-man field. “The only thing I know that he told me, and he's told everybody, is that it's about who matches up well. I don't know what that means. I don't know if it's about partners. If a guy matches up better with two people or a guy matches up better with three people.”

A day earlier, Brandt Snedeker, who was among the eight qualifiers for this year’s team, suggested a similar school of thought.

“It's not going to come down to who plays great this week. It's not going to come down to that at all,” Snedeker said. “It's going to come down to who Davis feels comfortable with and guys he trusts and wants on that team. It will be a collective effort.”

If Sunday’s big reveal wasn’t contingent on what transpires this week in Atlanta, as so many now seem to think is the case, why did we wait? Why have a task force? Why claim this time will be different?

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of match play and the unique pressures of the Ryder Cup will tell you the key to pairing players is chemistry. Forget about who plays what brand of golf ball or a certain style of play; the important part is to find a duo that can weather the inevitable hard times and move on.

Perhaps Love already has his 12th man earmarked for next week based on that type of chemistry and the pretense of this week’s drama is just a chance to cast an illusion, but then why invite any of the potential picks to Hazeltine on Monday?

In an odd way, sending those three to Hazeltine was counterproductive, if not for the Ryder Cup then perhaps for the players who could have probably gone without the added pressure.

“It definitely makes you want to be there a little more, which makes your expectations a little higher for this week knowing I have to play really, really well,” Berger said.

Thomas, who opened with a 68 on Thursday and is tied for seventh place, has attended three Ryder Cups as a spectator but was taken back by how much this week’s trip impacted him.

“I really wanted to play. I couldn’t want to play any more, but that pretty much made me want to play even more,” Thomas said. “To be in there and playing the golf course and just playing with the guys, whether they end up being my teammates or not, they're all friends of mine. It was pretty cool.”

As for the players who didn’t get the practice session invitation, that could have also sent the wrong message, as evidenced by Kevin Kisner’s response when he was asked if he was offended that he’d not gotten the chance. “Probably, yeah,” he replied.

Pre-Ryder Cup criticism often rings hollow because it’s the outcome that will ultimately decide who made the right moves. But if the changes – the changes the players and captains lobbied for – weren’t needed, weren’t taken advantage of, then what was it all for?

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Z. Johnson looks to end victory drought at Valero

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 10:45 pm

Nearly three years after his most recent victory, Zach Johnson has a chance to get back into the winner's circle at the Valero Texas Open.

Johnson started the third round at TPC San Antonio with a share of the lead, and he maintained that position after closing out a 4-under 68 with a birdie on the final hole. At 13 under, he is tied for the lead with Andrew Landry and one shot clear of Trey Mullinax as he looks to win for the first time since The Open in 2015.

"Different wind today. Misjudged some numbers, misjudged some wind, made some bad swings, all of the above," Johnson told reporters. "But truthfully, I mean my short game was actually pretty good, my putting was great. I missed some putts but I hit some really good ones, hit some lines and I gave myself opportunities, especially on the back side."

Johnson started slowly, making the turn in even-par 36, before carding four birdies on the inward half. It was a microcosm of his week at TPC San Antonio, where Johnson is even through three trips across the front nine but has played the back nine in 13 under while picking up more than six strokes on the field in strokes gained: putting.

Johnson won this event in both 2008 and 2009 when it was held at nearby La Cantera, but he has only cracked the top 10 once since it shifted venues in 2010. But facing off in the final group against two players who have yet to win on the PGA Tour, the veteran hopes to capitalize on his back-nine prowess this week in order to deliver career win No. 13.

"I've got to do exactly what I did on the back side, and that was give myself opportunities on every hole," Johnson said. "I'm putting great, I'm seeing the lines well, my caddie's reading the greens well. So it's just a matter of committing and executing down the stretch."

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Mullinax fires course-record 62 at Valero

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 9:01 pm

Trey Mullinax surged into contention during the third round of the Valero Texas Open, shooting a 10-under 62 that set a new course record on the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio.

Mullinax started the day seven shots off the pace, but his sizzling round left him alone in third place through 54 holes, one shot off the lead. The former Alabama standout caught fire on the back nine, shooting a 7-under 29 despite a bogey after chip-ins for eagle on No. 14 and birdie on No. 16 to go along with an eagle on the home hole.

"It's probably one of the best rounds I've ever had," Mullinax told reporters. "To go out there and shoot 62 on a hard golf course is really good."

Mullinax appeared headed for a missed cut after a 74 in the opening round, but he bounced back with a second-round 68 to earn a weekend tee time and his third-round score broke the previous course record of 63 held by multiple players.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

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The 25-year-old finished 137th in FedExCup points last season, leaving him with only conditional status this season. His lone top-10 finish of the year came at the Valspar Championship, where he survived a Monday qualifier and went on to tie for eighth, and this marks only his third start since the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February.

"Obviously I would like to play a little more, but the tournaments I get in, I'm really excited about playing golf," Mullinax said. "I've loved every start I've gotten, and I'm very thankful to be in the position I'm in."

Mullinax holed a putt to clinch a national title for the Crimson Tide in 2014, and he finished T-9 at last year's U.S. Open at Erin Hills. But success has been fleeting among the professional ranks, meaning Sunday's opportunity to notch a career-best finish or breakthrough victory is nothing short of enticing.

"I'm sure you'll be nervous," Mullinax said. "To have a chance to win or just go play good golf is what I came here for, so that's what I'm going to do."

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Quiros maintains one-shot lead through 54 in Morocco

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 7:46 pm

RABAT, Morocco - A birdie on the last hole gave Alvaro Quiros a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Trophee Hassan II.

Quiros' birdie on No. 18 allowed the Spanish golfer to sign for an even-par 72 on Saturday to stay at 7-under par overall and clear of four players in second place.

South African pair Erik van Rooyen and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, France's Alexander Levy, and Finland's Mikko Ilonen were just a shot behind at 6 under heading into the final day at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Rabat.

Quiros is a seven-time winner on the European Tour, but went six years without a victory until last year with his triumph at the Rocco Forte Open in Italy.

Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II

He's seeking a wire-to-wire victory in Morocco after sharing the first-round lead with Bradley Dredge before taking it outright on Day 2.

Quiros had an on-off day in the third round - he said it was ''suddenly great shot, suddenly not so good'' - and carded four birdies and four bogeys to come out even and still hold on to his lead.

Van Rooyen shot 71, Bezuidenhout 68, Levy a 69, and Ilonen the best round of the week so far with his 6-under 66.

Ilonen had seven birdies and just a single bogey - on his first hole - to leap 23 places up the leaderboard and into contention for a first tour title since 2014 when he won the World Match Play Championship.

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M. Jutanugarn eyeing first win with L.A. Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:50 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn took the lead into the weekend at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open in her latest bid to join younger sister Ariya as an LPGA winner.

Moriya Jutanugarn shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Friday at Wilshire Country Club to get to 8-under 134 in the LPGA Tour's first event in Los Angeles since 2005. The 23-year-old from Thailand started fast with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-3 fourth and added two more on the par-4 11th and par-5 13th.

Ariya Jutanugarn has seven LPGA victories.

Marina Alex was second after a 68.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

So Yeon Ryu was 6 under after a 69, and fellow South Korean players Inbee Park(71) and Eun-Hee Ji (69). Park was the first-round leader at 66. Lexi Thompsonwas 3 under after a 71.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng followed her opening 74 with a 67 to get to 1 under.

Ariya Jutanugarn (71) was even par, and Michelle Wie (70) was 1 over. Brooke Henderson, the Canadian star who won last week in Hawaii, had a 79 to miss the cut.