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U.S. rides perfect storm to blowout Prez Cup win

By Rex HoggardOctober 2, 2017, 1:00 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – It was the perfect storm.

As a fall evening slipped away and the most anticlimactic Sunday competition since Tiger Woods took a 10-stroke lead into the final round of the 2000 U.S. Open came to a close, the final score only told a part of the story as the Americans celebrated a 19-11 victory over the International team at the Presidents Cup.

It wasn’t nearly that close.

After three days of utter domination, the U.S. came out predictably and understandably flat on Sunday, dropping four of the first five singles matches after losing just two full points in the four team sessions.

After coming within two holes of closing out the Internationals on Saturday, the greatest American team in a generation only managed to win 4 ½ of 12 points, but on this the record books will be skewed.

A decade from now, observers will note that the Internationals lost by eight points, but that won’t even begin to paint an accurate picture of the 2017 matches.

International captain Nick Price called the U.S. dozen a juggernaut, while U.S. frontman Steve Stricker said his crew reminded him of the American team that finally stopped the European domination of the Ryder Cup in 2008 at Valhalla, only better.

The talent amassed on the red, white and blue side was undeniable, with the U.S. team featuring three of this year’s four major winners and four of the world’s top-eight ranked players. The American side was deep - deep like the 1992 U.S. Dream Team - and it was always going to be a long shot for an International team that hasn’t won since Bill Clinton was the nation’s chief executive; but in retrospect the bigger advantage went to current form, which weighed heavily in the Americans' favor.


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Eleven of the 12 Americans played last week’s Tour Championship, as telling a sign as any that Stricker would have no problem going with a “next man up” mentality. In fact, if there was a hole in the U.S. lineup, it was Phil Mickelson, who was one of Stricker’s two captain’s picks

“This team was just an amazing bunch of guys, amazing performance. Everybody was on great form. For us to have 11 guys in the Tour Championship; everybody except Phil Mickelson was at East Lake,” Matt Kuchar cracked, a not-so-subtle jab at Mickelson (who went 3-0-1). “It was like, how many times does it happen that you get 11 out of 12? If it was only for Phil, we would have had 12 of 12, but Phil was not there.”

The Americans nearly swept the opening foursomes session, winning 3 ½ of five points, won four of five matches on Day 2, and lost just a single outright team match in Saturday’s two sessions.

“We played maybe the most on-form United States team that I can remember,” said Adam Scott, the elder statesman of the International team.

The Americans also enjoyed immediate chemistry. There will likely be volumes written about this team, which promises to carry the U.S. flag for years to come, and why they gel so seamlessly. There are natural friendships, like Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, who are South Florida neighbors and emerged this week as a new power pairing. There are compatible personalities, like Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who added a new chapter to an already impressive legacy. There are bona fide fits, like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, whose power game paired perfectly in the fourball format.

But most of all there was talent. So much talent.

“This was one of the best putting teams I've ever seen,” said Woods, one of Stricker’s assistant captains. “I know that they are young, they are talented, hit the ball a long way, but in the end, look at how many more putts we made. Probably from [Nos.] 15 to 18, it was pretty impressive to watch.”

And, finally, this U.S. team had its perfect captain.

Stricker was serious and subdued and kept things exceedingly simple for his players. Where Fred Couples, who captained the U.S. team to victories at three consecutive Presidents Cup, kept things relaxed; Stricker seemed to embrace an edgy aggressiveness while maintaining a quiet and conservative demeanor.

Win each session was Stricker’s simple message and he maintained that Darwinian drive even as the Americans faced a 14 1/2 to 3 1/2 point advantage heading into Sunday singles. He didn’t complicate things, didn’t overthink pairings or attempt to reinvent an already productive wheel following the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s victory last year at Hazeltine National.

“We’d be the stupidest guys on earth if we split up [Jordan] Spieth and [Patrick] Reed, [Justin Thomas] and Rickie [Fowler],” Stricker reasoned. “That’s not the thing to do.”

It’s a commonly held notion that captains receive far too much credit in victory and a disproportionate share of blame in defeat, and some might argue that it would have been difficult for any captain to mishandle this Murder’s Row; but there’s no denying that Stricker’s style was a perfect fit for this team.

“He's just such a great leader. He's a quiet leader but he's a really good leader and we all respect him. We all trust him,” Dustin Johnson said. “It really has been an amazing week playing for captain Stricker. I think we would all agree that he's been an amazing captain this week. We all love playing for him.”

Whether this team goes down as the best ever depends on what they do going forward, and Sunday’s post-match news conference included its share of questions about next year’s Ryder Cup, but for an American side that not that long ago went searching for answers with a task force, it was a victory on many levels.

Those dark days seemed like a lifetime ago as the Americans boarded the ferry back to Manhattan and a celebration that promised to spill well into Monday morning.

Sunday’s swing toward the Internationals will blur the historical significance of the U.S. domination at Liberty National. Although the winning margin was not a record, the performance was unquestionably record breaking.

It was the perfect storm.

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How FedExCup has changed Ryder Cup prep

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:56 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The improved play of the U.S. Ryder Cup team might be attributed to more than just youthful exuberance or camaraderie.

Phil Mickelson said the PGA Tour schedule is also a factor.

Mickelson argued this week that the advent of the FedExCup playoffs, in 2007, has contributed to the Americans’ better results in the biennial matches. Save for the disastrous blowout in 2014 at Gleneagles, the Americans have either won or been locked in a tight match with the Europeans.

“I think the FedExCup is a big asset for us,” Mickelson said. “In the past, we’ve had six weeks off in between our last competition and the Ryder Cup. This year, although we might be tired, we might have had a long stretch, our games are much sharper because of our consistent play week-in and week-out heading into this event.”

When presented with Mickelson’s theory, Justin Rose, the new FedExCup champion, countered by saying that the Europeans are the fresher team this week – and that could be more important during such a stressful event.

Seventeen of the 24 players here were in East Lake for the Tour Championship, meaning they not only played the minimum number of events for PGA Tour membership, but also played in at least three of the four playoff events.

Some of the European players, however, have remained loyal to their home tour and taken more time off. Henrik Stenson missed a few events to rest his ailing elbow. Sergio Garcia didn’t play for four weeks. And even Rose has adjusted his schedule during the latter part of the season, to make sure that he was as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup. That meant skipping the pro-am in Boston and flying in on Thursday night, on the eve of the tournament, and reducing his number of practice rounds.

“It’s interesting,” Rose said. “They might feel like they are playing their way in and our guys are going to have a bit of gas in the tank. We’ll have to evaluate it on Sunday, but I’m hoping our strategy is going to be the one that pays off in the long run.”

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Rose hoping for FedEx/Ryder Cup party on Sunday

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:41 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Justin Rose is hoping for the biggest party of all on Sunday night.

With the quick turnaround with the Ryder Cup, the newly crowned FedExCup champion hasn’t had much time to celebrate his season-long title that he earned Sunday at the Tour Championship.

“The FedExCup, for me, it finished on the plane,” Rose said Wednesday. “I enjoyed the plane ride over, but once I landed in Paris, I was one of 12 guys. I didn’t want it to carry over into this week. This week is about another job to do.”

Rose said his Ryder Cup teammates have resorted to the usual tactics – “Apparently all the drinks are on my tab this week,” he joked – but just as Team USA may have used a boost with Tiger Woods winning, the Europeans can take confidence in having the FedExCup champion on their side.

As for any premature celebrations, Rose said: “I can shelve that for another week or so. I will certainly enjoy it. It’s kind of a season-long title that you really want to enjoy. But I’d like to maybe start that party on Sunday night and here for the right reasons, because of this week.”

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Even as youngest Euro, Rahm has no trouble fitting in

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:30 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Many times Ryder Cup rookies are seen but not heard, blending into the background while the veterans lead.

Jon Rahm is not one of those rookies.

The youngest player on the European Ryder Cup team – by three years – the gregarious 23-year-old has been particularly active in the team’s group chat.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at Jon’s input into it,” said Rory McIlroy, who will likely be paired with Rahm at some point at Le Golf National.

“To see how much he wants this and how he cares about the Ryder Cup and how proud he is to be European and Spanish and to really be a part of this, it’s been really cool to see. I wasn’t quite as vocal in my first Ryder Cup as he’s been, but I wasn’t as good a player my first Ryder Cup as he is.”

Rahm seemed surprised that his healthy amount of input caught McIlroy’s attention – “I’m just being myself,” he said – but he quickly has learned how to fit in with the rest of his teammates.

By poking fun at himself.

After a Tuesday practice round with McIlroy during which he said he was outdriven by about 50 yards, Rahm retired to the physio table for some acupuncture treatment.

“Because of jetlag, I was completely asleep,” Rahm said. “So Rory, he decided it was a perfect time to take a picture of me in my underwear and post it in the chat and say I couldn’t handle him hitting it past me every single drive. Obviously you have to protect yourself and respond to something like that, and I said whatever came to mind.”

With Rahm’s passion and outgoing nature, he’s sure to be one of Europe’s most vocal players, even as the least experienced.

“At first I was a little bit hesitant on what to say,” he said. “I didn’t want to piss anybody off, but once I realized what the tone was going to be, within 30 seconds, OK, here we go, it’s pretty much freewheel to say what you want to anybody, which is obviously a great thing because we all have a lot of fun.”

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Slump over? Sergio had 'very positive week' in Portugal

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:14 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Sergio Garcia’s late commitment to the Portugal Masters may have given him the boost he needed for the Ryder Cup.

After failing to qualify for the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs, Garcia told European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn that he’d add the European Tour event in Portugal if he were selected to the team as a wildcard pick.

Garcia made good on his promise, and last week he tied for seventh – his best worldwide finish since March.

“I was very pleased the way I played,” he said. “I think I played very, very nicely throughout the whole week, which was nice. It felt like it was a very positive week.”

There hadn’t been many positive weeks throughout the year for Garcia, who has slipped from 10th to 28th in the world rankings. The 2017 Masters champion missed the cut in all four majors and struggled with inconsistency.

Still, Garcia was selected to the European team, and Bjorn often cited Garcia’s intangibles – his familiarity with foursomes, his presence in the team room – in justifying his pick.

Even Garcia conceded Wednesday that his selection had more to do with experience than form.

“That’s probably, to be totally honest, one of the reasons why the vice captains and the captain decided to have me on the team,” he said, “not only for what I can bring on the golf course, but what I can bring outside.”

Garcia may have found the spark that his game desperately needed. Six of his past eight rounds have been in the 60s, and he has shot a combined 27 under par during those two starts.