Moore throws kink into already-established pods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2016, 8:55 pm

ATLANTA – With the final piece of Davis Love III’s Ryder Cup team in place, it’s time to get to the important stuff.

As difficult as Sunday night’s final pick was for the American captain, the bigger challenge in the coming days will be to fit the U.S. puzzle together in a way that ends Europe’s dominance in the matches.

That heavy lifting has already started.

“We know who is going to be playing with who, when they’re going to be playing, what matches,” Mickelson said earlier this month.

The blueprint has been in place for weeks, if not months, and is based on a similar “pods” system to the one used by Paul Azinger in 2008, when the U.S. last won the Ryder Cup.

The reason behind the pods is to provide continuity for players and a clear plan long before Love’s dozen arrived at Hazeltine National. The groups will offer a glimpse into how the Americans plan to pair for the team portion of the competition.

Although players gave little insight into potential pairings as they left East Lake bound for Haziltine, based on various sources and historical pairings, one pod will likely include Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

Spieth and Reed were one of the few bright spots for the U.S. team in 2014 in Scotland, going 2-0-1 including a Day 1 four-ball victory over European stalwart Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher. Breaking up that duo would be unlikely.

“Maybe it's because we just want to beat each other. Maybe it's because we both feel like we're good match play players and we can feed off of each other's games,” Spieth said when asked why he and Reed played so well together.

“We both believe in each other on the greens, which is really important in a best-ball scenario and an alternate-shot scenario. If you feel like the pressure's off on getting proximity as close as you may feel for yourself, it relieves a lot of the tee to green pressure.”

The second pod will likely include Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker, Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler.

Mickelson historically likes to pair with younger players, feeding off the energy his partner brings to the matches, and he would be a good fit with Fowler; although it seems more likely Love will send Walker and Fowler out early and leave Lefty, who will probably be limited to the four-ball sessions, to team with Snedeker.

Walker and Fowler went 0-1-3 together at Gleneagles and also played well together for two days at last year’s Presidents Cup, dropping a close Day 2 four-ball match on their way to a 1-1 record.

The most interesting and entertaining potential pod will be the game’s ultimate power threesome of Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and Brooks Koepka, a group that ranks first, second and 19th, respectively, on the PGA Tour in driving distance.

Johnson and Koepka work with the same swing coach, Claude Harmon, and play similar games, but then the selection process suggests none of that matters.

Bubba Watson seemed to be the favorite to land Love’s final captain’s pick until Ryan Moore took Rory McIlroy to the wire at East Lake. While most agree Moore was the right pick, he’s probably not an ideal fit with the bombers and will require some late adjustments from Team USA.

Love has made no secret of his use of statistics to prepare for this week’s matches, but the science will probably stop when it comes to his team pairings.

Imagine the scene on Sunday night with Love and vice captains Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods huddled around a card table – a surreal image, indeed – mixing and matching index cards with players’ names on them in an attempt to produce the best possible teams and flexibility.

There are no statistics to quantify how one player will interact under Ryder Cup pressure with another.

“It’s all about chemistry of the two players, it doesn’t matter to me if one’s a long hitter and one’s a short hitter,” said Butch Harmon, the swing coach for roughly one-third of the U.S. team.

“It’s about how they get along because at one point in time something is going to go wrong out there and if you got a guy that you bond well with and you’re good with, you can hit it off the world and the other guy will just put his arm around him and say, ‘Who cares, we’re 1 down. Let’s go get them on the next hole.”

Perhaps the most telling forewarning of the mystical bond required to create a successful team came at the 2004 Ryder Cup when captain Hal Sutton sent Woods and Mickelson out in Friday’s first match. They lost, 2 and 1, to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington. Sutton compounded the miscue in the next session with the same result, a loss to Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood.

“Look at Oakland Hills with Phil and Tiger, they weren’t even talking to each other,” Harmon said. “That was a disaster.”

But then even friends don’t always add up to much-needed points.

Dustin Johnson and Mickelson are regular Tuesday practice round partners and long-time friends, but in 2012 in Wales the duo was rolled over in the two opening team sessions, 3 and 2.

“I think I can partner well with pretty much anyone, except for Phil. Me and him don't partner well together. We play well against each other,” Johnson said. “I love Phil, and we're great friends, but we have a lot more fun when we're playing against each other, not as partners.”

Of course, all of the science and psychology can’t replace the most central element of any competition – good play.

“It’s as simple as a guy who plays good golf,” said Kuchar when asked what makes a good partner. “A good partner is a guy who hits it on the green, hits it on the fairway and makes putts.”

Love and his company of committed vice captains will leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of perfection, but ultimately it’s the play, not the pairings, that will decide the 41st Ryder Cup.

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What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.

1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.

4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.

7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”

Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  

Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.

The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.  

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."