Getty Images

Presidents Cup needs a boost - badly

By Rex HoggardSeptember 27, 2017, 10:02 pm

JERSEY CITY, N.J.– The views will be breathtaking and the crowds, if even the most conservative estimates are reached, will be rowdy and ready when the Presidents Cup begins on Thursday at Liberty National.

If there’s one constant in this neck of the tri-state area, success depends on three elements – location, location, location.

It’s why the PGA Tour enthusiastically embraced the concept of a “City Cup.” Liberty National may not have been the most popular course among Tour types, but it is unquestionably prime real estate with sweeping views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline awaiting around every dogleg.

Unfortunately, idyllic views and raucous fans are only a single element of a successful competition, no matter the sport. The play on the field will ultimately dictate the success or failure of the 12th Presidents Cup. It’s why you play, and why Nick Price, the loquacious three-time International captain, talks like this is his side’s final stand.

“I’d like to think that Korea was a turning point. It was like a Wednesday, a hump day, in the Presidents Cup,” said Price, referencing, as he has regularly, the one-point loss his team endured two years ago in South Korea. “We’ve struggled, struggled, struggled, and now all of a sudden is it going to take off? That’s what we’re all hoping for. Is it going to be the competition we all want to play in and compete for?”

This is not a death notice. There will be a Presidents Cup in 2019 and ’21 and ’23. The Tour is far too invested in the biennial matches to let them go quietly, but it seems the matches have reached a tipping point and not just for Price and the International side.

On some level, the Presidents Cup suffers by comparison; always shoved into the shadow of the Ryder Cup, which itself was transformed from a one-sided affair by the American victory last year at Hazeltine National.

Presidents Cup: Articles, video and photos

The Ryder Cup is the benchmark for all other team competitions, with each edition bigger and more compelling than the last. The U.S. loss in 2012 at Medinah set record attendance records, which were summarily broken by the mass of humanity that ringed the course last year in Minnesota.

Players spend two years thinking about the Ryder Cup, answering questions about the Ryder Cup, fixating on the Ryder Cup. Just last week at the Tour Championship, England’s Paul Casey, who isn’t even eligible to play next year’s event, was asked about the 2018 matches in Paris.

Even those involved in this week’s matches concede, the Presidents Cup is a victim of association and the unrealistic expectations that the Ryder Cup creates.

 “This doesn't have the same sense of hostility as the Ryder Cup and I think some people think outside of Europe and America, that because of that, it's less important,” International assistant captain Tony Johnstone said. “You can't fast-track tradition and heritage and I think the Presidents Cup is getting there, and it's just going to grow and grow and grow.”

Perhaps this week’s event, energized by the venue, is bound for bigger and better finishes. But the only way that happens is if the Internationals can do what few outside the blue and gold team room think is possible – win.

International futility has now reached 1-9-1 in the matches and other than the ’15 bout, five of the last six U.S. victories have been by three or more points, which is a statistical blowout in these kinds of team events.

All one needs to see to get a feel for the International team’s road ahead are Thursday’s foursome matches. In the day’s second match, Adam Scott, who didn’t advance past the second playoff event this year, and Jhonattan Vegas, a rookie, will play Dustin Johnson, a four-time winner this year on Tour, and Matt Kuchar, who is playing his eighth U.S. team event this week.

Match 3 doesn’t look any better for the away team, with rookies Si Woo Kim and Emiliano Grillo set to play Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who proved unstoppable at last year’s Ryder Cup.

Every two years, the European Ryder Cup team receives an unexpected boost from a player most U.S. fans couldn’t pick out of a line up (see Pieters, Thomas 2016 Ryder Cup). It’s hard to look down Price’s scorecard and see a surprising savior this week.

On Tuesday, Phil Mickelson – who has played in every Presidents Cup – was asked if, for the good of the event, it may be better if the International team were to win this week’s matches. The competitive DNA of Lefty would never allow that kind of altruistic thinking, but there was a telling pause before he answered.

“I don't think so, no,” Mickelson said. “We're not there yet, no. We feel it. We know once the door opens how good the players are on the International team that could lead to more losses, so we've got to continue to be ready, play sharp, and play our best because if you look at the talent on the International team, it is strong and it is deep, and if we open the door and give them an opportunity, it will bite us.”

That would be the answer one would expect. Although technically an exhibition, players at this level have no interest in participation medals. But the question remains valid, if not now then when?

Price and his eclectic dozen need a win, the event needs a win, and not even the most picturesque panorama can change that competitive reality.

Getty Images

Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''

Full-field scores from the Sanford International

Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

Getty Images

Glover (64) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

Getty Images

Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

Getty Images

McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”