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Big week for U.S. Ryder Cup hopefuls at PGA

By Ryan LavnerAugust 8, 2018, 7:39 pm

ST. LOUIS – Jim Furyk won’t just be focused on his own score this week at the PGA Championship.

He’ll also pay attention to the positions of all of his Ryder Cup team hopefuls.

The PGA marks the final week of qualifying for the U.S. squad. The top 8 players on the points list after the year’s final major automatically earn a spot on the roster. Furyk will make three of his four captain’s picks in four weeks, after the conclusion of the Dell Technologies Championship outside Boston, and then his final choice will be announced after the following week’s BMW Championship.

Only four players – Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed – are guaranteed to be in Paris. Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth, Nos. 5 and 6, respectively, in the standings, have just about locked up their spots.

The other two spots are very much up for grabs.

Currently ranked seventh, Rickie Fowler has a 359-point lead over No. 8 Webb Simpson.

The winner of the PGA earns two points for every $1,000 earned (3,780 points). Everyone else who makes the cut earns 1.5 points per every $1,000 earned, which means there’s potential for plenty of volatility over four days here at Bellerive.

“It’s stressful,” Furyk said Wednesday. “It’s like there’s two scoreboards – one for playing, and one you’re getting at home checking out the guys around you. I’ve come to the PGA in the seventh or eighth spot a couple of times. You’re trying to figure out how Nos. 9, 10 and 11 played. It definitely becomes a tournament within a tournament.”

Here’s a look at the contenders:

No. 9 Bryson DeChambeau

Trails by: 49 points

Earnings he needs to beat Simpson by this week: $32,667

Skinny: Barring a total meltdown over the past month, Captain Furyk would be hard-pressed to leave DeChambeau at home. The 24-year-old won the Memorial, finished in the top 5 in three other events, and has the backing of Tiger Woods. There are some question marks, however, given his unorthodox approach, and he raised eyebrows with his back-nine implosion at the European Open. If he can’t handle the heat in a lower-tier event in Germany, how will he stand up to 50,000 screaming Europeans in Paris?

No. 10 Phil Mickelson

Trails by: 158 points

Earnings he needs to beat Simpson by this week: $105,334

Skinny: Lefty would allow Furyk more flexibility if he qualified on his own. But even if he doesn’t crack the top 8, Mickelson will be on the squad as a pick. He’s the heart and soul of the U.S. team. The form he shows in the next two weeks will determine the number of matches he plays.

No. 11 Xander Schauffele

Trails by: 514 points

Earnings he needs to beat Simpson by this week: $342,667

Skinny: The reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year had a quiet sophomore campaign until he tied for second at The Players, sixth at the U.S. Open and then played his way into the final group at Carnoustie, eventually tying for second. So that’s how he earned the majority of his points. Another strong major performance at the PGA would go a long way toward proving to Furyk that he’s ready for the big stage, and he won’t have to try hard to get the captain’s attention – they’re grouped together for the first two rounds at Bellerive.

No. 12 Matt Kuchar

Trails by: 522 points

Earnings he needs to beat Simpson by this week: $348,001

Skinny: Mr. Reliable has plenty of team experience, but 2018 has been his worst year in nearly a decade. His top-10 at The Open was just his fourth of the year, and his first since late March. If he can show any form over the next month, he’s a good bet to land one of Furyk’s captain’s picks. He’d be a steady hand when paired with an unproven rookie.

No. 13 Tony Finau

Trails by: 903 points

Earnings he needs to beat Simpson by this week: $602,001

Skinny: Like Schauffele, he’ll play the first two rounds here with Furyk, and he also got some quality time with the captain during a scouting trip to Paris before The Open. One of the longest hitters on Tour could have a field day at Charmin-soft Bellerive as he looks to improve on his underappreciated major record. He’s the only player with top-10s in the first three majors of the year, but it’s still unclear whether his brawny game is an ideal fit for a plodder’s paradise like Le Golf National.

No. 14 Kyle Stanley

Trails by: 931 points

Earnings he needs to beat Simpson by this week: $620,667

Skinny: Stanley has emerged from the abyss to challenge for an automatic spot or even a pick. Ranked 409th in the world just three years ago, he’s climbed all the way to 26th. He won last year outside D.C. and has a pair of runner-up finishes this season in big-money events – the Memorial, where he lost to DeChambeau in a playoff, and also last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Putting is his biggest weakness, however, and Ryder Cups always come down to the players who can shake in the most putts.

No. 15 Kevin Kisner

Trails by: 967 points

Earnings he needs to beat Simpson by this week: $644,667

Skinny: He could have made this a lot easier on himself had he closed out a pair of major opportunities, both last year at the PGA and again last month at Carnoustie, where he shared the 54-hole lead. He’s struggled with consistency this year, but he’s deadly accurate off the tee, remains one of the best putters in the world and is a fierce competitor who wouldn’t back down from a challenge in Paris. A couple of good results could go a long way for Kiz.

No. 20 Tiger Woods

Trails by: 1,951 points

Earnings he needs to beat Simpson by this week: $1,300,667

Skinny: Basically, Woods needs to win to automatically crack the top 8, but it’s not going to matter. As long as he remains upright and somewhat competitive over the next month, he’ll be turning in his assistant’s walkie-talkie in exchange for a team bag.

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Podcast: Welcome our guest - Tiger Tracker

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 17, 2018, 7:47 pm

Host Will Gray calls him “The man, the myth, the legend.”

GCTiger Tracker, aka “TT,” makes his highly anticipated first guest appearance in a Golf Channel podcast, pontificating on everything from Tiger Woods’ run at the PGA Championship at Bellerive to the overall nature of Tiger’s comeback and what breakthroughs may lie ahead.

Tiger Tracker, Golf Channel’s mystery man, continues to rigorously protect his identity as the foremost Twitter tracker of all things Tiger, but he does open up on his intense relationship with his growing legion of followers and his “trigger finger” when it comes to blocking those unworthy of his insight.

“I’m more of a lover than a hater of Tiger Woods, but I’m a tracker,” TT tells Gray. “I call it like I see it.”

Tracker goes deep on what he sees as his role in continuing to document Tiger’s comeback, including a sense of kinship in this journey.

“I had 142,000 followers on the Monday of the Bahamas [late last year], and as we speak now, 296,000, more than double in that short span,” Tracker says. “That shows you what he’s been able to do, what we’ve been able to do together. Let’s be honest about that.”

Listen in below:

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Olesen hopes to cause Ryder Cup chain reaction

By Randall MellAugust 17, 2018, 7:13 pm

With his move up the leaderboard Friday at the Nordea Masters, Thorbjorn Olesen continued his hard charge to make the European Ryder Cup team on points and take some pressure off team captain and fellow Dane Thomas Bjorn.

With a 4-under-par 66, Olesen is in contention in Sweden, five shots off the lead.

With a finish of second or better this week, Olesen can climb among the top four on the European Ryder Cup points list, bumping Tommy Fleetwood with less than three weeks left in qualifying. Olesen is currently sixth on the European points list.

“I'm trying not to think about it at all,” Olesen said after the first round. “That's obviously difficult, but I'm really trying to put my head down and concentrate on my game.”

Olesen, 28, doesn’t want to put Bjorn in an awkward position when it’s time to make the four captain’s picks.

Full-field scores from the Nordea Masters

“Thomas and I are great friends,” Olesen said. “I don't think that makes it better for me. It might make it worse. I would love to get in that team [on points]. That's my goal.”

That’s the way Bjorn prefers it, too.

“I’ve made it very clear that he needs to do something very special to make this team and preferably make it on merit, because I can’t be in a situation where I feel like I’m doing anybody a favor,” Bjorn said before last week’s PGA Championship. “To be honest, I’ve taken a slight step away from him at the moment, just to let him concentrate on his own golf.”

Olesen is on a nice run. He won the Italian Open and tied for second at the BMW International Open in June, tied for sixth at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in July and tied for third at the WGC Bridgestone two weeks ago.

“I would love to be in Paris, to play for Europe,” Olesen said. “I can only go out every day and try to play good golf and show that I'm good enough for the team. That's all I can do.

“I haven't talked to Thomas about the Ryder Cup the last four or five months.”

If Olesen moves among the top four on the European points list this weekend, it has a chain reaction, with Fleetwood then moving over to take one of four qualifying spots on the European world points list. That would bump Ian Poulter outside the top four of that list. The Nordea Masters is among the final three European Tour events that players can qualify on points.


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Getting cheeky: 'Beef' drops trou, saves par

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 17, 2018, 3:23 pm

Andrew "Beef" Johnston provided the Nordea Masters crowd a little beefcake - that was just too easy - on Friday when he dropped trou during the second round.

He had pulled his drive on the short (253 yards) par-4 12th hole into a hazard, but the ball was playable. He played a mud-spattered explosion out of the muck, then opted to abandon his trousers for a pair of rain pants, much to the delight of the fans. The story has a happy ending, too. After hitting his second shot over the green, he chipped up and saved par.

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Cut Line: An appreciation of Woods, Lyle

By Rex HoggardAugust 17, 2018, 2:13 pm

In a regular-season finale edition, we celebrate how far Tiger Woods has come this season, mourn the loss of one of the game’s truly special people and crunch the numbers on Sergio Garcia’s 11th-hour sprint to the playoffs.

Made Cut

Perspective. Tiger Woods’ runner-up finish at the PGA Championship was another reason to appreciate the 14-time major winner’s comeback, and to marvel at how far he’s come in a relatively short period of time.

“I didn't know what my schedule would be. I didn't know how many tournaments I would play this year or if I would even play. So each tournament brought about its own challenges,” Woods reminded us following his closing 64 at Bellerive.

Although Woods has repeatedly talked about those dark and painful days before fusion surgery on his lower back, a recent interview with Nick Faldo on the Dan Patrick Show revealed just how bad things were.

 “I know [Woods] whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago [2017], 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,’” Faldo said. “He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the [2016] Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain.”

Woods’ improved play in recent months has slowly glossed over just how bad things were, not to mention how far he’s come.

RIP Jarrod Lyle. The PGA Tour community continues to mourn the loss of Lyle, who died last week at home in Australia following his third bout with acute myeloid leukemia.

A GoFundMe page created by Golf Channel’s Tripp Isenhour quickly met its goal of raising $200,000 for Lyle’s family, and tournament officials at this week’s Wyndham Championship placed Lyle’s staff bag, along with his signature bright-yellow bucket hat, on the first tee.

Officials at Sedgefield Country Club also created a sand castle memorial for Lyle, who played the Wyndham Championship four times in his career.

“It was hard not to think of Jarrod, certainly,” Adam Scott said on Sunday at the PGA. “The people who knew him quite well that were playing this week, golf was a little distraction, but probably now, as we get some time off and get to go home and be with our family, that we will be able to celebrate him a little bit more.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Bon voyage Bellerive. Major championship golf returned to St. Louis for the first time in two decades last week, and the Midwestern masses celebrated like it had been more than 20 years.

Record crowds swarmed the layout all week and Sunday’s final round was the most raucous day in golf (non-Ryder Cup division) since the 2008 U.S. Open.

Even the golf course, which featured slower-than-normal greens and wet conditions following storms on Tuesday and Friday, received high praise from the rank and file, all of which makes the course’s Grand Slam future so awkward.

The PGA Championship is booked up pretty much through 2029, with one open date, either 2025 or ’26, still available; while the Ryder Cup is scheduled through the 2024 matches at Bethpage, which means the earliest it could be played at Bellerive is 2028.

As much as players and fans celebrated golf’s return to St. Louis, Bellerive’s future place on the Grand Slam dance card has a distinct “don’t call us, we’ll call you” feel to it.

Tweet of the week: @JustinThomas34 (Justin Thomas) “Fans and people in St Louis . . . y’all were unbelievable! Never heard roars like that in my life. That is what I’ve thought and dreamt major championship Sundays were like since I was a kid.”

Bubble this and that. It’s a rite of fall in professional golf, players scrambling at the year’s final regular-season event to qualify for the playoffs or improve their postseason fortunes.

Sergio Garcia is the week’s most high-profile “bubble” player in the Wyndham Championship field, with the Spaniard mired at 131st on the point list. But this is likely less about the postseason – Garcia has skipped the first playoff start the last three years – than it is his need to secure his 15th start of the season, which is required to maintain membership.

A similar scenario occurred a few seasons ago with Henrik Stenson, and as the Tour transitions to a new, condensed schedule next year it’s probably going to happen more often.

With fewer playoff events and a condensed summer schedule, players, particularly those who also play the European Tour, will be faced with some tough choices starting in 2019.

Missed Cut

Captain obvious. We can appreciate Jim Furyk’s desire to cling to protocol. He has three weeks to decide who will be his first three captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup, but perhaps he should just come clean.

Following Woods’ runner-up finish at the PGA, which moved him from 20th to 11th on the U.S. point list, Furyk played a particularly aloof card when asked about Tiger’s chances of being a pick.

“He's playing very well. I think there's a lot of folks out there who probably think he can help us,” Furyk said. “I realize Tiger is a story. I realize he's playing very well, and I'm excited to see that.”

While Furyk’s reluctance is understandable, anyone with a pulse and an internet connection knows Woods will be a pick. If the captain wants to focus on other things, like the eight automatic qualifiers, simply stop the formalities and make Tiger an early selection.