Here come the Yanks

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2011, 7:51 pm

SANDWHICH, England – One of the most demanding days in major championship golf begat what promises to be the most volatile grand slam finale in recent memory that will ultimately be decided, as it always is at the game’s oldest tilt, by another fearsome forecast.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Darren Clarke still leads, the front-running Ulsterman almost a cliché following an effortless 69 on a day that defied even the most high-tech rain gear. His one-stroke advantage will dominate the headlines on this side of the Atlantic, but the subtext to Sunday’s showdown will be what is shaping up to be an American revival.

Relegated in some circles to Dodo-like extinction, American golf has become the Washington Generals to the Globetrotters of late – pay-for-play punch lines that have been relegated to sixth-man status by the four corners of the map.

There was last year’s one-point mud wrestling loss at The Ryder Cup, a world ranking that features just four Americans in the top 10 and a grand slam drought that stretches back to last year’s Masters. On the baseball diamond 1-for-5 gets one optioned to Single-A Peoria. On the golf course, or more to the point in the golf media, it’s a reason to second guess the college system, the PGA Tour, lucrative contracts and global warming.

But if perception is indeed reality, Saturday’s slog through the worst weather this side of Muirfield in 2002 was nothing less than a step in the right direction for the red, white and blue.

The leaderboard at the 140th Open Championship has more American flags than a Fourth of July celebration. All total, six of the top 10 are American, including primary contender Dustin Johnson who powered his way through a throat infection and over much of Royal St. George’s pitfalls for a day’s-best 68 which was matched only by fellow American Rickie Fowler.

“Apparently the death of American golf has been greatly exaggerated,” Joe Ogilvie tweeted from half a world away.

There are no guarantees that the United States can get off the grand slam schneid, particularly considering Clarke’s commanding performance, but there is reason to be optimistic.

Not that any members of the U.S. contingent were overly concerned with the perceived slump.

“The European Tour guys have been playing well, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Americans,” said Johnson, who will head out in Sunday’s final group at a major for the third time in the last five grand slam gatherings.

Problem? What problem?

At least that’s been the collective take. 

“I guess we need to play better,” Glover said on Friday. On Saturday, they did.

After Johnson and Fowler, who is tied for third place three shots back, sits Glover (73), a resurgent Anthony Kim (70) and a refreshingly optimistic Phil Mickelson, who turned a round of sixty-something into a 71 with a collection of missed putts.

Still, Lefty is only five back at an event that has been the professional equivalent of advanced math. He has just a single top 10 in 17 Open tries, had broken 70 just once in his last 10 rounds and arrived on the southeast English coast with a new game plan – play this Open like it was his first.

“There’s nothing more exciting than on Sunday having a chance in a major,” Mickelson said. “I know that I’m not leading, but I’m also right there. To me that is so much fun, and I’m excited. I feel like it’s my first time over here.”

We’ve heard, for some time now, that this Continental shift is nothing more than a natural cycle, but on Saturday the Americans were more concerned with the cyclone that buffeted the English coast.

In what many called the worst conditions they’ve ever played in the day’s scoring average ballooned to 74.69. Long-hitting Gary Woodland made an 8 at the par-5 14th and yet still sounded like a man who had just gotten away with something.

Trevor Immelman needed six towels, 10 gloves and 72 strokes to round his wet and wild 18 on Saturday and considered himself one of the fortunate ones. “That could easily be the worst conditions I’ve ever played in,” he offered without a hint of hyperbole.

Even Old Tom Morris, eh . . . Watson, a veteran of 34 Opens who defied time and the torrent with a 72, called Saturday’s slop the worst he’s seen since that raw day in ’02 at Muirfield. We’ll take his word for it.

Even more concerning, particularly for those holding out hope for an American winner, was a forecast for Sunday that looked frighteningly similar to Saturday’s ordeal.

“A lot of blank faces coming off the golf course wondering what the English summer is all about,” is how Englishman Paul Casey summed up Saturday’s action.

Whether the American slide is real or a media-driven perception doesn’t matter, not when Clarke, raised and recently returned to Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush links, is playing like Samuel Ryder’s chalice is waiting for him on Sunday and the weatherman is churning out carbon-copy forecasts for the finish.

On this home-field advantage goes to the Ulsterman with webbed feet and a wide smile. But there was still plenty of optimism, if not for American golf than for the overall outcome.

“What are you laughing about?” Watson asked the assembled scribes after his round. “You just love to see us pros suffer.”

Maybe, but we also love a good story. And right now the transatlantic scuffle is the best tale in town.

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Fisher becomes first in Euro Tour history to shoot 59

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 21, 2018, 11:29 am

There’s never been a sub-60 score on the European Tour, and Oliver Fisher almost went two strokes better Friday at the Portugal Masters.

Fisher’s 40-footer on the final green burned the edge, but he tapped in the short par putt to record the first 59 in tour history.   

“It feels great,” he said after getting sprayed with champagne. “It was in the back of my mind all day.”

It didn’t look like it.

The 287th-ranked player in the world, Fisher made 10 birdies, an eagle and seven pars during his magical round.

All of the other major pro tours have produced a 59 – nine times on the PGA Tour; once on the LPGA – but this was the first time that a player on the European Tour broke the sub-60 barrier. (There have been 19 rounds of 60.) Earlier this year, at the Scottish Open, Brandon Stone narrowly missed an 8-footer on the final green during the final round. This tournament has produced a few chances, as well, with both Scott Jamieson and Nicolas Colsaerts coming up just short over the past few years.

Fisher went out in 28 at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, then made three birdies in a row to start the back nine. He tacked on another birdie on 15 to give himself a shot at history, then played the closing stretch in 1 under. On 16, he needed a 20-footer for par after leaving his tee shot well short of the flag. He two-putted for birdie on 17 and then coolly made par on the last, after his birdie try from 40 feet just missed on the left edge.

Two years ago, he arrived in Portugal needed a good result just to keep his card. He shot a final-round 64. 

On Friday, he made tour history.

“I kept that in the back of my mind, thinking things could be worse,” he said. 

To this point, Fisher had a forgettable season. Ranked 72nd in the Race to Dubai, he didn’t have a top-10 in a stroke-play event since late February. His last four results: MC-T71-MC-MC. He opened the Portugal Masters with a 71 and was in danger of missing the cut.

Now, improbably, he’s in position to score his second European Tour title, after capturing the 2011 Czech Open.

“I tried to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s not often that we get a chance to shoot a really low one.”

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Paisley (61) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Chris Paisley birdied four of the last five holes for a 10-under 61 and the first-round lead Thursday in the season-ending Tour Championship.

The South African Open winner in January for his first European Tour title, Paisley played the back nine first at Atlantic Beach Country Club, holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the par-5 18th. On the front nine, he birdied the par-3 fifth and finished with three straight birdies.

''I think just all around was really good,'' Paisley said. ''I hit it well off the tee, which gave me a lot of kind of short irons into the greens and opportunities. I hit a lot of really good iron shots close, and then a few other bonus kind of things happened where I holed the bunker shot on 18 and holed a long putt on No. 8.''

The 32-year-old Englishman missed the cuts in the first three Tour Finals events after getting into the series as a non-member PGA Tour with enough money to have placed in the top 200 in the FedEx Cup. The final card went for $40,625 last year, with Paisley needs to finish in a two-way tie for fourth or better to mathematically have a chance to secure one of the 25 PGA Tour at stake.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''The nice thing was I won early in the year in Europe,'' said Paisley, a former University of Tennessee player. ''I've got the first two Final series events locked up, I think I'm in those. I'm not guaranteed to be in Dubai yet. But I just thought we have a house over here, my wife's American, my goal is to try to get on the PGA Tour, so it was a perfect opportunity to try and do it.''

Cameron Tringale and Canadian Ben Silverman were two strokes back at 63. Tringale is tied for 83rd in the PGA Tour card race with $2,660, and Silverman is tied for 85th at $2,600.

''I hit a lot of good shots and made some good putts,'' Silverman said. ''Actually, it could have been lower, but I'm not complaining. Missed a couple putts inside 6x feet, but I'm not complaining at all, it was a great round.''

Lucas Glover was at 64 with Ben Crane, Nicholas Lindheim, Matt Every, Trevor Cone, Denny McCarthy, Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez. Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez earned PGA Tour cards as top-25 finishers on the Tour regular-season money list, and McCarthy has made $75,793 in the first three Finals events to also wrap up a card. In the race for the 25 cards, Lindholm is 19th with $35,836, Every 30th with $25,733, Glover 40th with $17,212, and Cone 59th with $8,162

The series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and Paisley and other 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. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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McIlroy likely to join PGA Tour PAC next year

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:28 pm

ATLANTA – The upside of the PGA Tour’s sweeping changes to next year’s playoff finale, along with a host of other significant changes to the schedule, seems to be more engagement in circuit policy by top players.

Jordan Spieth served on the player advisory council this season and will begin his three-year term as one of four player directors on the policy board next year, and Justin Thomas also was on this year’s PAC.

Those meetings might become even more high profile next year.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I'm not on the PAC. I'm probably going to join the PAC next year. Nice to sort of know what's going on and give your input and whatever,” Rory McIlroy said following his round on Thursday at the Tour Championship.

McIlroy said he spoke with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about the transition to a strokes-based format for the Tour Championship starting next year. Given his take on Thursday to the media it must have been an interesting conversation.

“I like it for the FedExCup. I don't necessarily think it should be an official Tour win. I don't know how the World Ranking points are going to work,” said McIlroy, who is tied for fifth after a first-round 67 at East Lake. “There's a lot of stuff that still needs to be figured out. But in terms of deciding the FedExCup, I think it's good.”

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Thomas (67) happy to feel no pain in wrist

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:03 pm

ATLANTA – When Justin Thomas arrived at East Lake he didn’t have very high expectations.

After injuring his right wrist during the final round of the BMW Championship he spent last week in south Florida getting therapy after being diagnosed with a case of tendinitis and little else.

He said he didn’t hit a full shot last week and didn’t expect much out of his game at the finale, but was pleasantly surprised with his play following an opening 67 that left him tied for fifth place and two strokes off the lead. But most of all he was pleased that he didn’t feel any pain in his wrist.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I thought that I may not be playing very well because of my preparation being able to hit as few balls as I have, but no, in terms of pain, it's not an issue,” he said.

Thomas explained that he tested the wrist earlier this week to be sure he was pain-free and conceded he considered not playing the Tour Championship in order to be as healthy as possible for next week’s Ryder Cup.

“If it would have hurt at all, I wouldn't have played,” said Thomas, who will be a rookie on this year’s U.S. team. “No. 1 most important part is my future and my career. I don't want to do anything that's going to put me out for a while. But to me, second most important is Ryder Cup. I would rather not play this week and play the Ryder Cup and be fresh and make sure I'm going to get as many points for the team as possible.”