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U.S. completely dominating Presidents Cup

By Rex HoggardSeptember 29, 2017, 11:27 pm

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – For Steve Stricker the 12th Presidents Cup is what we thought it was going to be, an embarrassment of riches.

The U.S. starters were always expected to deliver for the home side – Jordan, Patrick, Dustin and Rickie, these are the players who have emerged as the new core for future American teams. But after two days of give and take, it’s been the back half of Stricker’s lineup that has turned this year’s matches into what is shaping up to be another blowout.

In the fourth match of the day, rookies Charley Hoffman and Kevin Chappell – a captain’s pick and the last automatic qualifier, respectively – put the first American flag on the scoreboard when they boat-raced Charl Schwartzel and Anirban Lahiri, 6 and 5.

Both players sat out Thursday’s opening foursomes session and both played like they had something to prove.

“It sucks sitting, there's no question,” Hoffman said. “We are all capable out here but we definitely understood what [Stricker] wanted to do. He has a game plan and he has a mission, and our mission is to win this cup.”

But if the play of Hoffman and Chappell was a pleasant surprise, Justin Thomas’ performance has likely exceeded even his own lofty expectations.

Although most agree Thomas is a rookie in name only, there are always unknowns when country and team become a part of the competitive equation. On Day 1, Thomas – a five-time winner on the PGA Tour this season and the FedExCup champion – admitted to being nervous, but by the time he and partner Rickie Fowler wrapped up their match he’d emerged as the team’s emotional spark.

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On the 14th hole, Thomas chipped in from a greenside bunker for birdie to maintain his team’s 2-up lead. Two holes later he rattled a similar shot from a bunker off the flag before closing out the Internationals' best hope of Branden Grace and Louis Ooshtuizen, 3 and 2.

“I'm pumped that we took that team down,” Thomas said of Grace and Oosthuizen, who were undefeated in five team matches dating to the ’15 Presidents Cup. “We took it seriously today like we do every match, but it was a little bit more fun than yesterday's victory.”

And, finally, fellow rookie Kevin Kisner teamed with Phil Mickelson to claw out the day’s final point for Stricker, a flag that just an hour earlier seemed improbable and likely put the finishing touches on an overmatched and seemingly out-of-answers International team.

With the International duo of Jason Day and Marc Leishman, the side’s strongest team on paper, cruising to a 2-up lead through 10 holes, Kisner squared the match with a 30-footer for birdie at the 15th hole and Lefty, a captain’s pick, rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on the final hole to complete a dominant day.

The Internationals failed to a win a full point, the first time that’s happened since 1994, and the United States extended its lead to 8-2 for the largest advantage after two sessions.

To put the U.S. rout in context, the Americans need just 7 ½ points to win the cup with eight points available on Saturday at Liberty National. For the math-challenged, that means the event could be over before Sunday’s singles session.

“I've been on some pretty special teams. This reminds me a lot of the 2008 Ryder Cup team when we finally were able to win at Valhalla,” Stricker said. “A lot of close-knit guys there on that team, but this team is even better than that. They are young, they are explosive, they have a lot of fun with one another.”

As the International stars remained largely irrelevant, the U.S. enjoyed a boost on what is normally moving day at the biennial match. Two years ago in South Korea after tumbling into a similar Day 1 hole, the International side rallied by winning four of the fourball matches.

There was no such rally on Friday.

Even on a day when Spieth and Reed weren’t Spieth and Reed – with the U.S. pair halving their match with Hideki Matsuyama and Adam Hadwin – the American team’s commanding performance had some observers whispering about a potential 10-point rule. Or better yet, International captain Nick Price may want to suggest a revamped selection process that includes the U.S. vs. the Rest of the World and Jupiter, Fla., which is home for a large portion of the American team.

No one in the American team room is willing to get ahead of themselves at this point, but Jim Furyk, the captain of next year’s Ryder Cup squad that will travel to Paris looking to win back-to-back matches for the first time since 1993, would be forgiven if he allowed himself a moment to imagine the possibilities.

Fowler and Thomas have emerged as another pairings pillar alongside Spieth and Reed, filling out half of Furyk’s team lineups for next year, and that scenario doesn’t include the potential Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka showed in their 3-and-2 victory over Adam Scott and Jhonattan Vegas on Day 2.

“This team is a unique team from any in the past in that the talent level is high or higher than we've ever had, and the camaraderie amongst each other on and off the course is a whole different environment; that there's this great support system,” Mickelson said.

Where the U.S. team appears to be forging a foundation for future competitions, Price’s International side continues to be mired in a jigsaw puzzle of divergent personalities and cultures that just doesn’t fit together.

Even on this side of the Hudson River, the ’27 Yankees are considered the greatest team ever assembled. Stricker’s dozen may not live up to that billing just yet, but they are closing in on something truly special.

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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.”