Woods Stricker help put US on cusp of victory

By Rex HoggardOctober 11, 2009, 7:16 am

Presidents CupSAN FRANCISCO – It’s getting late early for the Internationals at Harding Park, to pinch a bromide from baseball’s lexicon.

For the seventh time in eight playings of this lopsided grudge match the world has spotted the United States a lead heading into Sunday’s singles fray and as the Shark will learn his fish aren’t adept at swimming up that stream.

The one-time municipal clover field will offer some faux drama on Sunday, with the world trailing the home side 12 1/2-9 1/2 and a dozen chances to narrow the gap in a format they won two years ago in Montreal.

Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker
Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker have shared many hugs this week. (Getty Images)
The Internationals will make things interesting, but as Michael Jordan told Sean O’Hair early in 23’s ongoing mentoring – a well-publicized experiment which begs the question, when and why did O’Hair become a project? – the U.S. has a Barcalounger on the International side’s head.

In many ways the eighth Presidents Cup began and ended in a span of 10 minutes before lunch had even been served.

From 22 feet at the 17th hole during Saturday’s foursome session Woods walked a birdie putt into the hole to tie his match and with his ball’s final tumble the first chill of this Presidents Cup filled the frigid air. His next swing was even better.

From 229 yards Woods roped a “full cut 3-iron” onto the closing green and into the hearts of the Internationals. It was the first time the dynamic duo of Woods and Steve Stricker had seen the 18th green and they still haven’t had to hit a putt there.

What transpired the rest of the afternoon was window dressing. The teams played to a fourball draw, leaving the United States five points shy of a sixth cup victory that will be remembered for the dominance of the U.S.S. Woods-Stricker and a charming NorCal muni.

The American uber-pairing answered the call, sweeping all comers and staking the home flag to a three-point advantage (Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin: pair Woods and Stricker early and often next year in Wales.).

“Our mentality and how we play and how we compete is exactly the same,” Woods said of his better-ball better half who jokingly said the world No. 1 ducked him in Montreal two years ago.

Stricker and Woods have never been paired together and have played on only one other cup team together (2007 Presidents Cup). In then-captain Jack Nicklaus’ defense mild mannered and man child may have seemed like a square peg and round hole. But now the hunch is history.

Saturday morning’s dramatics gave way to a Stricker putting clinic in the p.m. fourball session. The soft-spoken Midwesterner ran in birdie putts of 6 feet (third), 12 feet (fifth) and 9 feet (eighth) to put Y.E. Yang and Ryo Ishikawa out of reach early.

“It was a pleasure to watch Strick play,” Woods said. “I was cheerleading most of the day.”

Yang had said after he outdueled Woods at the PGA Championship there would be no rematch. He changed his mind at Harding Park [they will meet in singles Sunday] and may be rethinking his decision following that 4-and-2 thumping. As for Ishikawa, the Japanese Tiger Woods, he went from Bashful Prince to bashed up prince in a hurry.

Perhaps the Stricker-Woods machine should not have been a surprise. After Phil Mickelson, the Wisconsinite is the closest current thing Woods has to a competitive equal. But it is no less inspiring.

For 2 ½ sessions it appeared as if the Internationals would make a game of it, focused by an embattled captain and stirred by last-minute heroics on Thursday and Friday. But that window closed when Woods and Stricker proved once and for all that American Tour pros are neither insular nor only concerned with individual glory.

Mickelson, labeled a reluctant cup participant in the past, continued his fall revival – coming within a missed 7-footer in the Saturday gloom of sweeping his team frame for the first time with an ailing back and slightly off-form partners.

Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in our hearts and the World Golf Ranking have accounted for 7 ½ of America’s 12 ½ points and largely rendered Sunday’s 12 single bouts something of a formality.

It’s not over, at least not officially, but the Internationals have a tough climb to get over the wall here at Alcatraz National and everyone in the shivering gallery knew it. After all, they live in a state that’s made an art out of digging financial holes and know an insurmountable deficit when they see one.


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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”