Love's picks resemble the past, with eye on the future

By Rex HoggardSeptember 12, 2016, 6:30 pm

“We’re laying the foundation.”

It’s become a common refrain, with Davis Love III telling anyone who would listen that the Ryder Cup – this Ryder Cup – is only the beginning.

This is about the next four Ryder Cups, not four captain’s picks – that’s the mission statement, the marching orders dictated by last year’s task force.

Those who dissect these sorts of things will look at Love’s first three picks and will see a new team that looks a lot like the old team. Rickie Fowler, who was also a pick in 2010 when he went 0-1-2; J.B. Holmes, a ’08 pick (2-0-1); and Matt Kuchar received the nod on Monday.

If some have confused a new outlook for a new team, consider that only Brooks Koepka, who qualified for the U.S. squad on points, has never played in the biennial matches. The task force, which has evolved into a committee, gave Love a blank canvas; but Captain America’s initial picks had the look of a paint-by-numbers project.

There were no double-takes, no surprises on Monday at Hazeltine National. If not the status quo, Love at the least adhered to a familiar formula of taking players that mesh well in the team room and match up with the existing team.

The task force didn’t create an autocracy, and Love is no Bill Belichick, although the captain did spend some time recently with the aloof New England head coach. The U.S. side wanted a players’ coach and got Pete Carroll.

But Love is not just a golf cart driver. According to various sources, the U.S. captain made the final call on the first three of his four picks – you know, leadership stuff that transpired behind closed doors.

“There was not a consensus early,” Love said of Monday’s picks. “We went back and forth on a lot of great players and it was a tough decision.”

For the record, Love went with Nos. 9, 11 and 12 on the U.S. Ryder Cup point list, which ended on Aug. 21. Again, that’s not exactly the outside-the-box dynamic some had been anticipating. But then Love and company weren’t brought together to make headlines in September, they were charged with turning around the United States’ fortunes in the matches in 2016 and beyond.

The U.S. hasn’t won back-to-back Ryder Cups since 1991-93, and is in danger of dropping its fourth consecutive this year, which has never happened.

The 41st Ryder Cup is about changing the culture, not the narrative of a never-ending news cycle.

“We got a new ownership. We changed the front office and started over again,” Love said. “[The PGA of America] gave us a voice. They are listening to the players. Not just for this year, but for the future.”

Love’s vice captains are either former or future captains, not the normal eclectic collection of friends and family; and the focus has been on treating the matches like one would a major. The “next man up” concept has been designed to give every vice captain and player a detailed plan for every conceivable scenario for this year and onward.

“You don't want to get too tied up in the results, but certainly what we're looking at is, are we able to play our best golf,” said Phil Mickelson, who has become something of a de facto vice captain for the U.S. team.

If Love’s three picks don’t exactly have the look of change, know that the real differences this time around will be much more subtle, but if everything goes to plan no less dramatic.

Whether this new culture results in a victory this year isn’t as relevant as what the impact will be on future matches.

“We have a lot more arrows in our quiver than we’ve had,” Love said. “We just need to fix a couple things. Get everyone on the same page, have a little continuity and consistency. We gain an advantage in everything we’ve been doing the last year, year and a half.”

For now, the instant analysis and hot takes must be deferred until after this year’s matches, if not the next five matches. The point of the task force, Love has argued, is to build a winning legacy, not a big enough lead heading into Sunday’s single matches to avoid another meltdown like the one that cost the U.S. team at Medinah four years ago.

But after dropping eight of the last 10 matches to Europe, Love and the Americans should not count on an endless honeymoon.

Rebuilding years may work in places like San Diego – honestly, the Padres haven’t been relevant in October since George W. Bush resided in the White House – but the American golf fan is generally not the patient type.

While Love and his fellow task force members may be taking a 30,000-foot view of the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s transformation, nothing brings out the worst in fans than a loss, particularly a loss after all apparent options have been exhausted.

A member of last year’s U.S. Ryder Cup task force recently asked who should get the credit for the changes the group has initiated? While well intentioned, your scribe couldn’t help but wonder who would get the blame?

At this point, it’s all a matter of perspective. But in three short weeks that subjectivity will be supplanted by results. Judging the task force’s relative success or failure based on a single Ryder Cup will be utterly unfair, and absolutely unavoidable.

In sports, there’s no other way.

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain fired a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

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Local favorite Yu Liu was in sole possession of seventh place after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."

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Koepka has his chance 'to earn' his way to No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:09 am

There won't need to be any wonky math involved. He won't have to settle for finally reaching the the top via some kind of mathematical reset while he's sitting at home on the couch (or more likely working out in the gym).

No, Brooks Koepka on Sunday in South Korea will have a chance to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking the way every player would most want to - with a victory.

On the strength of a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 Saturday, Koepka will enter the final round of the CJ Cup four clear of Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, with six more players five behind.

The tournament is Koepka's to lose, and so too is the No. 1 ranking. So long as Justin Thomas doesn't somehow defend his title from 12 shots back, Koepka can supplant Dustin Johnson atop the rankings with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

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"It was something I wanted to do. I always wanted to become World No. 1 in a week that I was playing," Koepka said Saturday. "I thought like I could really earn it and not have a week off where it just so happens that you bump up. No, it would be very special, and to do it here would be nice and hopefully get to world No. 1 and cap it off with a win, I don't think there would be much better."

It would be a fitting end to this breakthrough year for Koepka, who successfully defended his U.S. Open title and then added his third major victory at the PGA Championship en route to claiming the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award. Oddly enough, considering his status a three-time major winner and an impending No. 1, this would be Koepka's fifth Tour victory but only his second in a non-major; his only regular Tour win to date was his first, at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"My confidence has always been pretty high," Koepka said. "Anytime you can win three majors you're going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. To do what I've done over the last two years has been special, but I'm looking to build on that."

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Koepka ahead by four, with No. 1 ranking in his grasp

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 5:48 am

Following a closing birdie and a third-round 67 at Nine Bridges, Brooks Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy into final round of the CJ Cup. Here's how Koepka separated himself from the field in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-13), Piercy (-9), Poulter (-9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-8), Cameron Smith (-8), Jaime Lovemark (-8), Pat Perez (-8), Gary Woodland (-8), Chez Reavie (-8)

What it means: Koepka is in search of his fifth PGA Tour victory and – believe it or not – only his second non-major. The three-time major champion’s only other win came all the way back in February 2015, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. One off the lead to start the day, Koepka opened with eight straight pars and birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to take the outright lead at 10 under par. He added three more circles at 14, 17 and 18 to close out a bogey-free round of 5 under and go ahead by ahead by four. He'll be chased on Sunday by Piercy, a four-time PGA Tour winner who won the Zurich Classic earlier this year alongside Billy Horschel, and by Poulter, who ended a five-year worldwide winless drought back in April and is coming off a 2-2 performance at the Ryder Cup, with a Sunday singles victory over current world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Speaking of which, unless Justin Thomas finds a way to win this tournament from 12 back, Koepka will for the first time ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win or a solo second-place finish.

Round of the day: After contending last week at the CIMB, Shubankhar Sharma rebounded from opening rounds of 74 and 75 with a nine-birdie, 8-under 64 to move up 45 spots into a tie for 26th through 54 holes.

Best of the rest: Four players – Rafa Cabrera Bello, Ted Potter Jr., Jason Day and Brendan Steele – shot 7-under 65 Saturday. Day played his first four holes in 2 over and his final 14 in 9 under.

Biggest disappointment: The only previous winner of this event, world No. 4 Justin Thomas entered the week with a chance to take back the No. 1 ranking with a successful title defense. But rounds of 73-70-72 have him 1 under for the week. Thomas played his back nine in 1 over Saturday with six pars, a birdie, a quadruple bogey and a closing eagle.

Shot of the day: Koepka flying his tee shot 330 yards to the front edge of the green at the par-4 14th and going on to two-putt for birdie.