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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Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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Azinger to replace Miller as lead NBC golf analyst

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 22, 2018, 11:00 am

Major champion and former U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger has been named lead golf analyst for NBC Sports beginning in 2019, replacing Johnny Miller, who announced his retirement last week.

Azinger, 58, will assume the role following Miller’s final event, the Jan. 31-Feb. 3 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Azinger’s playing career included 12 PGA Tour victories highlighted by his victory at the 1993 PGA Championship. He has worked since 2005 as an analyst for multiple television outlets, and in 2008 he successfully captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team to its first win in nine years.

Azinger will regularly appear during all four days of tournament coverage on Golf Channel and NBC when on assignment. His first event as lead analyst will be the WGC-Mexico Championship, played Feb. 21-24.

“I have great admiration for both the quality of NBC Sports’ coverage and commitment to great storytelling, as well as the network’s deep commitment to the game I love,” Azinger said. “It is a great honor to cover a tremendous slate of PGA Tour and marquee events, including The Players, The Open, Ryder Cup and Tokyo (2020) Olympics.”

In addition to offering his views from some of the biggest events of the year, Azinger will also contribute to various instructional, documentary and news platforms on Golf Channel. He will retain his current roles broadcasting the Masters for the BBC and the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open for Fox Sports.

Azinger was selected to replace Miller, 71, who last week announced plans to end an iconic career after nearly 30 years in the booth.

“Following Johnny Miller is a tall order,” said Golf Channel executive vice president Molly Solomon. “However, we’re confident in Paul’s ability to serve our viewers with candor and sharp insight, pulling from his decorated professional golf career and extensive broadcast experience.”

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Austin wins Champions tour's playoff opener

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:35 pm

RICHMOND, Va. -- Woody Austin knew Bernhard Langer was lurking throughout the final nine holes, and he did just enough to hold him off.

Austin shot a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke victory Sunday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Langer, the defending tournament champion and series points leader, made the turn one shot off the lead, but eight straight pars kept him from ever gaining a share of the lead. Austin's birdie from 6 feet on the closing hole allowed him to hang on for the victory.

''It seemed like he couldn't quite get it over the hump,'' Austin said about Langer, who also birdied No. 18. ''I'm not going to feel bad for the guy. The guy's kind of had things go his way for the last 12 years. Now he sees what it's like to have it happen.''

The 54-year-old Austin finished with an 11-under total for three rounds at The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course. He won his fourth senior title and first since 2016, and said windy and cool conditions that made scoring difficult played to his advantage.

''I was happy to see it. I really enjoy a difficult test,'' he said. ''... I enjoy even par meaning something. That's my game.''

Langer closed with a 70. The winner last week in North Carolina, the 61-year-old German star made consecutive birdies to finish the front nine, but had several birdie putts slide by on the back.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

''I made a couple important ones and then I missed a couple important ones, especially the one on 16,'' Langer said. ''I hit three really good shots and had about a 6-footer, something like that, and I just didn't hit it hard enough. It broke away.''

Austin dropped a stroke behind Jay Haas and Stephen Ames with a bogey on the par-3 14th. He got that back with a birdie from about 5 feet on the par-4 15th and then got some good fortune on the final hole when his firmly struck chip hit the flag and stopped about 6 feet away.

''I always say usually the person that wins gets a break on Sunday,'' he said. ''That was my break.''

The 64-year-old Haas, the second-round leader after a 65, had a 74 to tie for third with Fran Quinn (69) and Kent Jones (70) at 9 under. Haas was bidding to become the oldest winner in the history of the tour for players 50 and older.

''Disappointed, for sure,'' Haas said. ''Not going to get many more opportunities like this, but it gives me hope, too, that I can still do it.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 move on to the Invesco QQQ Championship next week in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

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After Further Review: American success stories

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 8:35 pm

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

On the global nature of Koepka's rise to No. 1 ...

Brooks Koepka is an American superstar, and a two-time winner of his national open. But his rise to world No. 1 in, of all places, South Korea, emphasizes the circuitous, global path he took to the top.

After winning the CJ Cup by four shots, Koepka was quick to remind reporters that he made his first-ever start as a pro in Switzerland back in 2012. He cracked the top 500 for the first time with a win in Spain, and he broke into the top 100 after a good week in the Netherlands.

Koepka languished on the developmental Challenge Tour for a year before earning a promotion to the European Tour, and he didn’t make a splash in the States until contending at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

It’s a testament to Koepka’s adaptability and raw talent that he can handle the heights of Crans-Montana as well as the slopes of Shinnecock Hills or rough of Nine Bridges. And as the scene shifts to China next week, it highlights the global nature of today’s game – and the fact that the best in the world can rise to the occasion on any continent. - Will Gray

On the resurgence of American women  ...

American women are on a nice roll again. Danielle Kang’s victory Sunday at the Buick LPGA Shanghai was the third by an American over the last five events. Plus, Annie Park and Marina Alex, emerging American talents looking for their second victories this season, tied for second. So did American Brittany Altomare. Two years ago, Americans won just twice, their fewest victories in a single season in LPGA history. Overall, women from the United States have won seven times this season.

The Americans are making their move with Stacy Lewis on maternity leave and with Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world, still looking for her first victory this year. Yes, the South Koreans have won nine times this season, but with four LPGA events remaining in 2018 the Americans actually have a chance to be the winningest nation in women’s golf this year. With all the grief they’ve received the last few years, that would be a significant feat. - Randall Mell