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Must-see (but maybe won't see) Ryder Cup matchups

By Rex HoggardSeptember 12, 2018, 5:50 pm

With the last pieces now firmly in place for this year’s Ryder Cup in Paris it’s time to pivot from endless speculation over potential picks and detached vetting, to possible pairings and matchups.

Although captains care little for marquee value and entertainment purposes when filling out their dance cards – opting instead for statistical similarities and individual personalities – there are no shortages of potential must-see matchups now that each side’s dozen has been fit for their uniforms.

In no particular order, we’ve concocted a list of possible matches and pairings that would make arguably the game’s most compelling competition even more entertaining.

Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson vs. whomever (fourballs):This experiment went horribly in 2004 when Hal Sutton tried it, with the uber duo going 0-2 on Day 1 at Oakland Hills, but times, and the game’s two biggest stars, have changed.

The two have started to play practice rounds together and have scheduled a made-for-TV match later this year in Las Vegas. “I hope we are teammates at the Ryder Cup,” Mickelson admitted at The Northern Trust.

Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed vs. Justin Rose-Ian Poulter (foursomes): There is no subtext here, no quirky history between this foursome that would give the match added value, just two teams that have proven to be virtually unbeatable.

Spieth and Reed have gone 4-1-1 in six Ryder Cup team matches, the second-most successful pairing for the United States, while Rose and Poulter are 4-1-0 in five team matches. These types of matches rarely live up to the hype, but this one could be as good as advertised.

Bryson DeChambeau-Bubba Watson vs. whomever (fourballs): We’re not saying there’s any potential of these two meshing into an unstoppable force; just that the chance to catch a clip of DeChambeau trying to explain his Newtonian theories on the golf swing or standard deviations to “Bubba from Bagdad (Fla.)” has the potential to be comic gold.

And if they could pair them against Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood, just for their reactions, that would be terrific.

Dustin Johnson-Brooks Koepka vs. Francesco Molinari-Alex Noren (fourballs): This is clearly an “odd couple” deal, with the long-hitting Americans taking on a pair of tactical, fairways-and-greens specialists, but it’s worth a look for several reasons.

Johnson and Koepka teamed together during the Day 2 fourball session in 2016 and got rolled, 3 and 1 (they did go 2-0-0 as a team at last year’s Presidents Cup), but everything about the duo screams better-ball heavyweights. Add to that a golf course that, by all accounts, will mitigate the U.S. power advantage and you increased intrigue.

Bryson DeChambeau vs. Jon Rahm (singles): Although the play from two of the game’s most dynamic players is sure to be worth the price of admission, what we’re really waiting for here is an inevitable meltdown.

Rahm – who had a particularly heated implosion at the U.S. Open – is fueled by emotion and the biennial matches will only magnify that (think adding jet fuel to a campfire) and DeChambeau was spotted during the PGA perched on the edge of an emotional abyss. Match play always produces explosive play and in this case probably a few explosive outbursts.

Phil Mickelson vs. Sergio Garcia (singles): Although neither veteran seems to be at their best at the moment and both needed nods from their captains to even make their teams, the history between the two provides a compelling narrative.

There’s also the added sidebar of where the duo’s Ryder Cup career is headed, with both Mickelson and Garcia often mentioned as potential captains when the matches are played at Bethpage in 2024.

Tony Finau vs. Tyrrell Hatton (singles): In the ultimate showdown between bomb-and-gouge and small-ball, this match could add much to the ongoing distance debate in golf.

Finau ranks third on the PGA Tour this season in driving distance (316.3-yard average) while Hatton ranks 83rd with a 298-yard average. They say Le Golf National is a ball-striker’s golf course and this match could prove it.

Ian Poulter vs. Tiger Woods (singles): Consider this prophetic after the Englishman famously figured in 2008, “I know I haven’t played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger.”

Poulter and Woods are ranked 34th and 21st, respectively, and both needed to be captain’s picks for this year’s matches, so it’s not exactly a clash of titans, but their history and the gallery’s response would be priceless.

Rory McIlroy vs. Patrick Reed (singles): Preferably if this could be the final match on Sunday with the outcome still in doubt that would be best and add even more drama to what would be the marquee bout of the Ryder Cup.

After the duo’s epic duel in 2016 when Reed won, 1 up, it’s hard to imagine how they top that, but it would be fun watching them try.

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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

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“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.”

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Fowler 'pain free' and tied for Tour Championship lead

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:01 pm

ATLANTA – The most important member of Team USA at next week’s Ryder Cup may be the team trainer.

Justin Thomas began the season finale nursing a case of tendonitis in his right wrist and Rickie Fowler skipped the first two playoff events after being slowed by a right oblique injury.

Neither player seemed impacted by the injuries on Thursday at the Tour Championship, with Thomas tied for fifth at 3 under and Fowler tied for the lead with Tiger Woods at 5 under par.

Current FedExCup standings

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“I needed the 2 1/2 weeks or so of just sitting around really not doing a whole lot,” said Fowler, who tied for eighth last week at the BMW Championship. “It was definitely the right call. If I would have played through the first or second playoff events, there was really no benefit, especially looking at the ultimate goal being ready for the Ryder Cup and to have a chance to be here at East Lake.”

Being rested and pain-free is a vast improvement over how he felt at the PGA Championship last month, when he underwent therapy before and after each round and had to wear tape just to play.

“It's nice to be back swinging pain-free because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with how it felt during PGA week for a continued amount of time,” said Fowler, who finished his day with a bogey-free closing nine to secure a spot in Friday’s final group with Woods.