Search for the perfect Presidents Cup pairings

By Rex HoggardNovember 14, 2011, 1:05 pm

SYDNEY – Like Cal Ripken Jr. for all those years in the heart of the Baltimore Orioles’ lineup, Fred Couples and Greg Norman long ago penciled in the top of their pairings sheet for next week’s Presidents Cup matches.

As long as Steve Stricker can pull himself free of the chiropractor’s chair he will join Tiger Woods on the first tee Thursday afternoon at Royal Melbourne. For the Internationals the lock of the week will be veteran Adam Scott and Jason Day, a match rookie who is the highest-ranked player on Norman’s squad.

What combination of twoballs fill in the rest of the captains’ cards, however, is still very much a work in progress.

Unlike Jack Nicklaus before him, Couples doesn’t do lists. Four-time captain Nicklaus had players write down potential partners. “Boom Boom,” taking his second turn in the captain’s chair, is more of a feel guy, which seems about right considering that pairing players together is much more art than science.

“I don’t know if there’s a science, but you have to have chemistry. You have to have a flow, kind of a rhythm about how each guy plays,” said Hunter Mahan, who will be making his third Presidents Cup start this week at Royal Melbourne.

Conventional wisdom suggests you pair players with similar games during the foursomes (alternate-shot) sessions, while the fourball (better-ball) sessions promote more diversity – aggressive players with more conservative partners – for best effect.

That thinking worked in 2003 when Nicklaus marched out the diminutive duo of David Toms and Fred Funk for Friday’s foursomes matches in South Africa and they shut down Robert Allenby and Stephen Leaney, 4 and 3.

But if mixing and matching were that easy it wouldn’t have taken U.S. captains more than a decade of experimentation to marry Woods and Stricker.

As captains huddle this week to plan, the ever-present question is whether you pair based on style of play or compatible personalities.

Jim Furyk, who has played on 13 Presidents and Ryder Cup teams and is a consensus captain in waiting, said over the years he’s learned that it’s an amalgamation of the two.

“I used to say it is style of game only. I used to say in fourball give me a guy who doesn’t play like me. A guy like Mickelson, an aggressive guy and I will knock it down the middle and play my style of game,” Furyk said. “In a foursome match-up give me a Justin Leonard or a David Toms. A guy who works his ball around the golf course like I do and hits it about the same distance.

“But I have veered away from that in recent years. Tiger and I don’t have similar styles of games and we clicked together very well in foursome matches. A lot of it has to do with the personalities.”

It was a harsh lesson famously learned by U.S. Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton at the 2004 matches when he sent Woods and Mickelson out in an uber-pairing and America’s top two ranked players went 0-for-2.

For all those who try to read tea leaves this isn’t about matching bombers with plodders or players who use the same golf ball so much as it is a study in human psychology.

“Phil and Tiger, they are two great players but they’re different,” Mahan said. “They don’t mesh. They’re oil and water. You need two guys who will mesh, have the same flow, same spirit.”

In 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger took the matching game to an intense and logical extreme, grouping his team into “pods” based on personality and the potential to play together. The result was one of America’s most spirited victories in the modern era of team competition.

Don’t expect Couples, or Norman for that matter, to be as scientific as ’Zinger, but neither needs a sports psychologist, or a reminder of Sutton’s 2004 match-play miscue, to tell them that the key to good pairings is chemistry.

“I think you can look at records when guys get paired together on the Tour and do they play well together?” David Toms said. “As superstitious as golfers are, they might be good friends but they just don’t play well together.”

It at least partially explains why Woods-Stricker seemed to work so well two years ago at Harding Park when the tandem went undefeated in team play and led the U.S. to a 19 ½-14 ½ victory. Although the two don’t spend much time together off the golf course, between the ropes there has been an obvious connection.

Chemistry may also explain The International side’s pedestrian record in the matches (the U.S. leads the series 6-1-1). Although a stronger team based on the World Golf Ranking most years, the Internationals haven’t won since 1998, the last time the matches were played at Royal Melbourne, and some contend it’s because of a lack of chemistry between players from vastly different backgrounds.

This year’s International squad features 12 players from four different countries, although the presence of five Australians may help Norman piece together this week’s puzzle.

“America plays for their flag and Europe has embraced one Europe,” said International assistant captain Frank Nobilo. “For us rugby is the No. 1 sport and it’s hard to put a kiwi, five Aussies and a two South Africans together and expect them to bond. We usually do toward the end of matches, but by then it’s normally too late.”

In many ways a captain’s role is dismissed after he makes his wild-card picks, but finding the right combination of players may be even more challenging and have a greater impact on the outcome.

“Ultimately what a captain’s trying to do is find the best five or six teams,” Furyk said. “He’s not trying to find the very best one, if that makes sense. It’s a puzzle you’re trying to put together and you’re trying to get six really good teams out there and as a player you have to realize that’s the struggle for the captain.”

For Norman and Couples it was easy filling out the top of the lineup card; now comes the hard part.

Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel beginning Monday at 6PM. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Wednesday 9PM-2AM, Thursday 7:30PM-2AM, Friday 3PM-2AM and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”