Tom tasked with leading another trailing team to victory

By Rex HoggardSeptember 27, 2014, 6:40 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Paul McGinley has a template. Tom Watson needs a timeout.

The European side has a poster inside its team room that reads, “We will be the rock when the storm comes.” The U.S. is desperately trying not to sink like a rock.

With one day remaining in the Old Tom experiment, this is no time to start driving the golf cart from the back seat. That time will come.

Before that moment of reckoning, however, Watson & Co. have one more session to do what the last four U.S. teams have been unable to do - win an away game Ryder Cup.

It won’t be easy. Not after another poor foursomes performance on Saturday afternoon that leaves the U.S. side trailing, 10-6. At this point the red, white and blue’s best hope may be 12 faulty alarm clocks in the Gleneagles hotel.

After a spirited rally early on Saturday in fourball play, the U.S. cut the Continent’s lead to one point, but for the second consecutive day, the Europeans nearly swept the foursomes session, 3 1/2 to 1/2. Whatever comeback the Americans can muster on Sunday would be historic, right there with Brookline in 1999 and the Euro's two years ago at Medinah.

The last time an American team won a singles session by that margin (8 1/2 points), Ben Crenshaw was calling the shots and the U.S. team’s best tandem this week, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, were in elementary school.

“I have to give credit to the Europeans in the afternoons, yesterday afternoon and this afternoon, they performed the best,” Watson said. “You might think that it's a given that the Europeans are going to win, but I sure as hell don't.”

Maybe things would be different if FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel wasn’t back home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., with a newborn; and Chris Kirk wasn’t in Athens, Ga., attending the Georgia-Tennessee game.

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Maybe the U.S. wouldn’t be in this position if Tiger Woods wasn’t in Jupiter, Fla., nursing a back injury and Dustin Johnson wasn’t wherever DJ is these days nursing a battered psyche.

But on Saturday there were no excuses. Say what you will about the U.S. teams of late, but they don’t do excuses.

“We are going to come out strong as a team tomorrow and put this afternoon behind us, because as a team it wasn't what we were looking for,” Spieth said.

Whatever Watson’s master plan has been this week, it has gone wildly off script, what with rookies Reed and Spieth delivering nearly half of the U.S. team’s points (2 1/2) and Phil Mickelson being benched for a full day at the Ryder Cup for the first time in his career.

But of all Watson’s decisions that will be picked apart in the coming days, sitting Lefty won’t be one of them. During Friday’s foursomes action, Mickelson and Bradley - who were perfect as a team at the 2012 Ryder Cup - were 3 over par for 16 holes and lost to Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson, 3 and 2.

“I want our team to win. Whatever we have to do is all I care about,” said Mickelson, who is the first American player to participate in 10 Ryder Cups.

What the U.S. team must do on Sunday is exceedingly simple. The only motivational speaker the Americans need on Saturday night is Dave Stockton Sr., explaining that 100 percent of all putts that don’t get to the hole don’t go in.

America’s dozen have largely putted like Old Tom not Young Tom, leaving clutch putt after clutch putt short, and this isn’t about Gleneagles’ slower green speeds.

It’s not the golf course superintendent that has stymied the U.S. team seven out of the last nine matches, it’s guys named Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson who have combined for more European points this week than all five of the U.S. side’s major champions (Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk and Bradley) combined.

Want to know what McGinley’s secret template is? Make putts.

Europe doesn’t make every putt, just the ones that matter. Like that 2 footer that Reed – who may not be a top-5 player yet, but he’s certainly among Watson’s top 5 this week – hammered through the break at the 16th hole late Saturday on his way to a halve against McIlroy and Sergio Garcia; or any of the putts that Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker have missed on their numerous trips to the 18th green this week.

Watson’s team still has life, and stranger things have happened on a Ryder Cup Sunday (see Medinah, 2012). But it will take a Brookline-like charge, a reality that doesn’t escape even the team’s youngest.

“We all believe that it's possible,” Spieth said. “Brookline was 10-6 (after two days), Medinah was 10-6 the other way. Hopefully we get some good pairings and some guys out early to go make a move. But we're ready.”

Twenty-one years ago Watson led another U.S. team onto the singles pitch with a deficit and delivered a victory, America’s last on foreign soil. On that Sunday the U.S. won 7 1/2 of 12 points in the final frame to win by two.

Old Tom will have to do it again, just better.

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Two-time champ Bubba fires 63 at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 7:20 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Amid a resurgent season that has already included a pair of wins, it only makes sense that Bubba Watson is back in contention at the Travelers Championship.

TPC River Highlands has been one of Watson’s favorite haunts over the years; it’s a layout where the southpaw’s creative approach is often rewarded. This is where he burst into tears after earning his first PGA Tour victory in 2010, and this is where he beat Paul Casey in a playoff to again lift the trophy in 2015.

He’ll once again have a late weekend tee time after firing a 7-under 63 during the second round, tying the low score of the week and moving to within three shots of Brian Harman’s 10-under total.

“Little bit less wind, little more confidence on the ball-striking, and I made putts,” Watson said. “The key is making putts. When you start making putts, that’s where you’re going to score a decent number.”

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Watson was well down the standings after opening with an even-par 70, a round that included three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine to negate progress he had made earlier in the day. But he ran into no such struggles the second time around, adding six birdies to an eagle on the par-5 13th hole when he hit his approach shot from 229 yards to within 18 inches of the hole.

The difference, according to Watson, was between the ears.

“Yesterday I was just thinking about some negative stuff instead of focusing on my target and focusing on the shot at hand,” Watson said. “I was focusing on hitting to the bunker, or focusing on, ‘Water is over here, so hit it over here.’ Just things like that, just things that you can’t do around the golf course.”

Watson was also a runner-up in 2012 here in addition to his two wins, and he has racked up nearly $3.5 million in earnings in 11 prior appearances. Once again thinking the right thoughts on one of his favorite tracks, he’s potentially 36 holes away from his third win since February.

“Obviously around here I feel pretty comfortable,” Watson said. “I can hit some shots around here, and I’ve made it work throughout some of the years.”

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Only putting is holding McIlroy back

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:48 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Through two rounds of the Travelers Championship, the tee shots are towering and the approaches are accurate for Rory McIlroy. Now he just needs the putter to heat up.

McIlroy started to show signs of life during the second round last week at Shinnecock Hills before missing the cut, and after putting in some extra work honing his swing over the weekend, his tee-to-green game is worth boasting about at the halfway point at TPC River Highlands.

McIlroy has missed only five greens in regulation through two rounds, barely breaking a sweat en route to rounds of 64 and 69 that left him at 7 under. He’s within striking distance heading into the weekend, three shots behind Brian Harman, but might be topping the standings with a more cooperative putter.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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“I felt like I left a few out there,” McIlroy said. “I felt like I had a lot of good putts that just didn’t go in. I started them on line, did everything I needed to do, and it’s just one of those days where they were sliding by the edges.”

McIlroy took 32 putts to complete his second round, including a three-putt on No. 7 for his only bogey of the day and another three-putt on No. 13 that turned an eagle opportunity into a par. Already with a win under his belt this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he knocked in putts from all directions during a final-round 64, McIlroy feels confident that he might be only a few rolls away from having another shot to contend in his second career trip to the Hartford-area stop.

“I think if I can put the ball in the fairway and hit my irons as good as I have been over the first couple of days, I’ll give myself a lot of chances for birdies,” McIlroy said. “It’s just about converting them and taking the opportunities when they present themselves.”

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Rosaforte Report: Toski lively, singing and ready to go home

By Tim RosaforteJune 22, 2018, 6:41 pm

Bob Toski sounded pretty good for a man near death last week. When we spoke on Friday, the 91-year-old teaching legend and former PGA Tour leading money winner was alive and feeling well. Especially when he was talking about giving lessons, swinging a golf club again, and going down to the piano bar at Arturo’s near his home in Boca Raton, Fla., to sing his favorite song, “Sentimental Journey."

“It’s been quite a journey,” Toski said in total bliss. “But I’m going home tomorrow.”

Going back 10 days, to June 12, Toski suffered a severe heart attack that had him on life support, in critical condition, at a hospital not far from the South Florida golf community where he’s pro emeritus at St. Andrews.

He opened 15 minutes on the phone on Friday by asking how much he owed me for the publicity he got during the U.S. Open. Typical Toski. His heart may have skipped a beat, but he hadn’t.

At no more than 120 pounds, still larger than life.

Bob Toski from his hospital bed in South Florida

“This is the mouse,” he said when asked to confirm it really was him on the phone. “The Mighty Mouse.”

We were laughing now, but there was a moment one night during “Live From the U.S. Open” when I got a message from the Boca hospital which sounded grim (hospital staff used a defibrillator on him six times during his stay). That’s when one of the friends by his side texted me and said it would be just like “Tosk” to sit up straight and ask everybody what was going on.

Essentially, that’s what happened. And now here he was on the phone, cracking off one-liners, talking about Brooks Koepka’s win at Shinnecock, giving his take on the USGA and course setup, asking how much I’d been playing, and giving his love to everybody at “The Channel.”

He invited me down for a lesson at St. Andrews and dinner at Arturos. “In a month’s time,” he said, “I’ll be ready to go.”

He sounded ready right now, singing a line from his favorite song, from his hospital bed in the happiest of voices, “Gotta set my heart at ease.”

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Spieth fades with 3-over 73: 'It's just golf'

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:10 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – After finding nothing but positives for his first five trips around the course, Jordan Spieth finally suffered a setback at TPC River Highlands.

Spieth won the Travelers Championship last year in his tournament debut, and he quickly bounced back from a missed cut at Shinnecock Hills by firing a 7-under 63 in the opening round this week to take a share of the lead. Out early during the second round with a chance to move even further into red figures amid calm conditions, he instead went the other way.

Undone by a triple bogey on the par-5 13th hole, Spieth was 5 over for his first 14 holes and needed an eagle on the par-5 sixth hole for the second straight day simply to salvage a 3-over 73. The score knocked him back to 4 under for the week and six shots behind Brian Harman.

Despite finding three fewer fairways, three fewer greens in regulation and taking five more putts than he did in the opening round, Spieth still put a positive spin on a lackluster result.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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“I actually felt like I had better control of my golf swing than I did yesterday. I really struggled with my swing yesterday and I kind of got some good breaks,” Spieth said. “It’s just golf. It’s kind of like yesterday I got three or four shots extra out of the round, and today I lost three or four based on how I felt.”

Spieth was happy with his opening-round effort, but even after finishing late in the day he still went straight to the driving range that lines the ninth fairway at TPC River Highlands – not exactly standard behavior after grabbing a share of the lead.

“So it’s not like things are on,” he said. “Sometimes it can get disguised by rounds, but it’s not far off. It really is close.”

Spieth has lamented a lack of quality chances to win this year, which he has previously described as being within six shots of the lead heading into the final round. He’ll have some work to do to meet that mark this weekend in defense of his title, as his round hit a snag on No. 13, his fourth hole of the morning, when he pulled his tee shot out of bounds and then hit his subsequent approach into the water.

“For whatever reason, it’s a large fairway but it’s always just killed me,” Spieth said. “I don’t know what it is about the hole, but that hole I get on the tee and for whatever reason I struggle. … I just hit a bad shot at the wrong time there.”