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Premature celebrations aren't premature

By Rex HoggardOctober 1, 2017, 12:16 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – With 1,300 fans crowded in around the first tee at Liberty National it was impossible to see the scoreboard at the 12th Presidents Cup, but you really didn’t need to see the math to know the moment.

U.S. captain Steve Stricker could have marched two of his assistants – Tiger Woods and Davis Love III, one rehabbing from back surgery and the other inching toward retirement, being the popular choices – onto the tee for the afternoon fourball session and they really wouldn’t have changed what everyone crowded around the opening hole already knew.

This thing is over. Had been for some time.

It was over before the final team matches set out on a blustery afternoon along the Hudson River, and the U.S. side’s fourball performance, a 3-1 frame that extended the home side’s lead to 14 ½ to 3 ½, only put an exclamation point on a competition that had long ago turned ugly for the Rest of the World.

From the chants of the capacity crowd that echoed across the former toxic dump to the smiles on the faces of Stricker and his assistants, this was a blowout of historic proportions.

It took a heroic effort from India’s Anirban Lahiri, who birdied the 16th and 17th holes to hold off Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell, to keep the U.S. from closing out the Internationals on Saturday, which has never happened at either the Ryder or Presidents cups.

But then you didn’t need to see a scoreboard to know this thing had gotten out of hand. You could hear it. You could see it etched into the knowing grins of the Americans.

Rickie Fowler charged into the grandstands surrounding the first tee to lead the celebration, and Kevin Kisner followed him like he’d just cleared the hedges at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium – it was more celebration than competition at this point. Perhaps it was a bit premature, but it was perfectly understandable given the U.S. team’s performance.

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The Americans high-fived and fist-pumped and performed strangely pre-rehearsed celebrations, while the Internationals mulled about with all the excitement of a wake, or maybe the awkwardness of a high school reunion would be more apropos considering the reintroduction that’s required every two years for the Rest of the World.

Adam Scott slumped into the shotgun seat of a golf cart stone faced, ½Hadwin marched down the 16th fairway as the afternoon session was winding down, hands stuffed deep into his pockets and hat pulled low – his own green mile of sorts.

“We've just come up against a juggernaut of an American team that has not put a foot wrong, it seems like, in three days,” said International captain Nick Price. “They have had all the momentum and we've had nothing.”

There were countless haymaker moments on Saturday at Liberty National. With their match all square against the American powerhouse of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, Marc Leishman and Jason Day watched the U.S. tandem play their last four holes in 3 under – in foursomes – and never saw the 16th tee.

After dropping the morning session (3 ½ to ½), it must have felt like piling on for the likes of Hideki Matsuyama when he hit his approach shot at the first in the afternoon fourball session to birdie range with his opponents, Daniel Berger and Justin Thomas, both in trouble off the tee. Berger, playing in bare feet from a creek, toe-hooked his approach to tap-in range to halve the hole.

The look on Matsuyama’s normally stoic face spoke volumes.

“I legitimately thought we were going to have to get another captain out here to carry [Berger’s] stones around,” Thomas laughed following the duo’s 3-and-2 victory.

It was all a scene so unsightly one would half expect Lady Liberty, just some 1,000 yards from the layout’s posh clubhouse, to turn away in disgust. The Washington Generals had better results against the Harlem Globetrotters.

Four hours after the fourball frame began, the day’s final match reached the 18th tee and Fowler, who’d sat out the afternoon session, wandered up with a cup of coffee. The entire episode was sobering considering the extent of the American dominance.

The U.S. was denied the closeout, by Lahiri no less, a player who failed to earn even a half point in the matches two years ago in South Korea, but that didn’t stem the celebration.

Well on their way to the most lopsided defeat in match history, there was no solace to be found for the Internationals, just a genuine appreciation.

“I mean, there's no weaknesses in any of their pairings,” Price marveled. “They just get things done when they need to, and that's the difference.”

In 1947, the U.S. Ryder Cup team boat-raced Great Britain, 11-1, in Portland, Ore. Ben Hogan was the American captain and was probably angry he didn’t get the shutout. But unlike the Hawk, Stricker is the subdued compass of this U.S. team, and he didn’t have any interest in changing his message on the eve of Sunday’s walk regardless of how forgone the outcome may be.

“Take care of business tomorrow, to win the session,” Stricker said of his Sunday message to his team. “It's different playing with a big lead like we have, the message is it's not over yet.”

Stricker hasn’t missed on much this week, but on this he’s off the mark – the 12th Presidents Cup is over, he just hasn’t joined the celebration yet.

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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

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Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”