International side needs a game changer for a captain

By Rex HoggardOctober 14, 2009, 8:44 pm

Late last Sunday in the NorCal gloom captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman addressed what some in the press corps consider a foregone conclusion – an encore performance 23 months from now in Australia’s sand belt.

For Couples, the chance to score America’s first outright victory south of the Equator is as compelling as any reason to keep the text messaging lines open with Camp Ponte Vedra Beach, to say nothing of another all-access week hanging with Michael Jordan.

“Hell, yeah, I would do it again. Would I be picked again? I have no idea, but I certainly wouldn't turn it down,” said Couples, who padded an already impressive Presidents Cup record (9-5-2 as a player) with Sunday’s 19 ½ to 14 ½ rout of the “Rest of the World.” “(This was) way better than any golf tournament, ever. It was that much fun.”

And why wouldn’t Boom Boom be amenable to a sequel? He’s got a Tiger Woods/Steve Stricker pairing that swept the team frame and Phil Mickelson who looked as if he could have paired with Jordan for a point last week.

In baseball parlance, American captains now have two staff aces and a five-game series – good odds against an off-form International team or the Bronx Bombers.

Norman’s return trip to the skipper’s chair, however, is not so obvious.

The Australian seemed willing following last week’s matches and sentimentality would favor another Shark sighting in 2011 at Royal Melbourne, where he is a member. But can Presidents Cup officials continue to dole out honorary captaincies for an event that is in desperate need of some competitive parity?

With a few notable exceptions – Tim Clark, Ryo Ishikawa and Ernie Els – the World squad debunked the most worn-out cliché in all of sports. Turns out there is an “I” in team, at least for the International squad.

Robert Allenby blamed Anthony Kim’s social life, the crowds, the 49ers’ pedestrian defense and San Francisco’s marine layer, everything except his own play, for his dismal Sunday showing.

Els claimed it is geography that has landed the International side in a 1-6-1 hole at the odd-year matches, noting that the world side is undefeated in the two matches (Australia and South Africa) played outside the friendly confines of North America.

Yet both players seemed to miss the Great White Elephant, eh . . . Shark, in the room.

Maybe Sunday’s outcome was inevitable given the current form of the World side. Maybe Woods and Stricker and Mickelson were three haymakers too much. Or maybe Norman was too concerned with his wine business and a pending divorce and a faulty cell phone to make a difference.

They say captains – be they of the Ryder, Presidents or Walker cup variety – are like football coaches: too much blame when a team loses and too much credit when they win.

But recent history suggests a creative and determined captain can be a game changer. Paul Azinger was at Valhalla, Ian Woosnam was at the 2006 Ryder Cup and Couples was last week.

Azinger never hit a shot at Valhalla, but he created an air of invincibility among 12 Americans at an event that had gone to the European side in five of the six previous matches. And he did it without Woods, no less. Ditto for Woosnam in Ireland, where he rallied the team behind Darren Clarke with an “us against them” battle cry.

Although Couples’ captaincy was much different from either Azinger or Woosnam, it created a carefree atmosphere that encouraged players to embrace the pressure of these international gatherings, not hide from it.

Jordan's presence in the team room was criticized by some, yet his impact on the overall product was undeniable. For four days 12 independent contractors moved as one, not easily accomplished particularly with competing personalities that don’t always mesh.

“One of the things that I hear all the time is that the U.S. team is not a team. You know, and the one thing that I saw from Day 1 that I walked into this is that these guys get along. They are more or less a team than even in my professional sport,” Jordan said. “When guys don't win and other guys do win, it's not about wearing it on their sleeves or rubbing it in their face. It's about bringing that guy up.”

Word on the Harding Park street was the International team room was every bit as loose as the U.S. cabin. They had a Ping-Pong table, Wii, and all manner of adult beverages. Yet something was missing that goes beyond the International’s hammer-handed play in foursomes.

With the talent margins so thin between the teams at the Presidents and Ryder cups, captains are increasingly becoming the game changers. Gone are the days when a figurehead can toss out golf balls and announce, “Play hard boys.”

Els said it’s time for the Internationals to “go back to the drawing board.” In practical terms that means a captain who will color outside the lines in search of victory.

Among the short list of possible International game changers is Ian Baker-Finch, a four-time assistant captain, and Frank Nobilo, Norman’s No. 2 last week. In the name of full disclosure, Nobilo is a Golf Channel colleague, yet his day job has nothing to do with his ability to captain.

For much of the week Norman conceded the ability to give advice to Nobilo; the New Zealander knows the players and their games and has a mind that plays faster than Rory Sabbatini.

Of course, if the Tour is only interested in moral victories, Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin will probably be available by then.

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Watch: Tiger makes 6 birdies, 1 amazing par in Rd. 3

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 4:10 pm

Tiger Woods started the third round of The Open at even par, having made seven birdies and seven bogeys over the first 36 holes at Carnoustie.

Following three pars to start on Saturday, Woods went on a birdie binge.

No. 1 came with this putt at the par-4 fourth.

No. 2 with this two-putt at the par-5 sixth.

No. 3 thanks to this 30-footer at the par-4 ninth.

No. 4 after nearly jarring his approach shot on the par-4 10th.

No. 5 when he almost drove the green at the par-4 11th and two-putted, from just off the green, from 95 feet.

And No. 6, which gave him a share of the lead, came courtesy another two-putt at the par-5 14th.

Woods bogeyed the par-3 16th to drop out of the lead and almost dropped - at least - one more shot at the par-4 18th. But his tee shot got a lucky bounce and he turned his good fortune into a par.

Woods shot 5-under 66 and finished the day at 5 under par.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 21, 2018, 4:05 pm

Tiger Woods made six birdies and one bogey on Saturday for a 5-under 66 in the third round of The Open. We're tracking him as he vies for major No. 15.

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Rose's Saturday 64 matches Carnoustie Open record

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 1:03 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose needed to sink a 14-foot putt on the final hole Friday just to make the cut on the number at The Open.

Freewheeling when he came to the course Saturday, Rose tied the lowest score ever recorded in an Open at Carnoustie.

Entering the weekend nine shots off the lead, the world No. 3 carded a bogey-free, 7-under 64 to at least make things interesting. It won’t be known for several hours how many shots Rose will be behind, but his back-nine 30 gives him an opportunity, if the wind blows 25 mph Sunday as forecast, to challenge the leaders.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

After all, Paul Lawrie was 10 shots back entering the final round here in 1999.

“I think the birdie on 18 last night freed me up, and I’m just very happy to be out on this golf course and not down the road somewhere else this morning,” said Rose, who is at 4-under 209. “So that might have been part of the shift in mindset today. I had nothing to lose from that point of view.”

Rose’s 64 matched Steve Stricker and Richard Green’s record score at Carnoustie (2007).

It also was Rose’s career-low round in a major.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 12:20 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Saturday, Day 3 (Times ET)

4:30-7AM (Watch): Sunny skies and birdies were on the menu early in Round 3, as Justin Rose made his way around Carnoustie in 64 strokes. Click here or on the image below to watch.

Friday, Day 2 (Times ET)

8:20AM-3PM (Watch): As the skies cleared on Friday afternoon, defending champion Jordan Spieth made a run to try and regain the claret jug. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

1:30-8:20AM (Watch): On a rainy Friday morning at Carnoustie, Rory McIlroy shot 69 to reach 4 under, while Zach Johnson fired a 67 for the early lead. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter and Cameron Smith.

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.