Think outside the box, Davis: Say yes to Na

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 9, 2016, 1:04 am

CARMEL, Ind. – Kevin Na’s decision last week to pull out of the Deutsche Bank Championship could affect more than his bank account. It also may have jeopardized his unlikely bid for a Ryder Cup spot.

Last Monday, he was 14th in the FedEx Cup and 20th in Ryder Cup points. Another high finish would push him closer to the $10 million bonus, and further onto the radar of U.S. captain Davis Love III.

But some decisions are easier to make than others.

Na withdrew from last week’s event after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, Sophia Ria, on Aug. 29. That was four days before the start of the opening round at TPC Boston. He could have flown in from Las Vegas, he said, but “I think I did the right thing. I felt like my wife needed me there. I felt like she could use my emotional support.”

And so he bailed, even though his decision could prove costly over the next few weeks. Na’s withdrawal dropped him from 14th to 23rd in FedEx Cup points, and from 20th to 22nd in the Ryder Cup standings.

Only the top 30 players at the end of this week’s BMW Championship qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship. It’s a major goal for players like Na: An appearance at East Lake guarantees a spot in the year’s first three majors.

BMW Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The Ryder Cup picture is even cloudier. Love will make three of his captain’s picks on Monday morning, and Na missed the opening of a two-week audition.

“I knew I was doing the right thing so it wasn’t difficult to make a decision,” he said after opening with a 3-under 69 Thursday at Crooked Stick. “I knew it was going to hurt me a little bit, but I was willing to make the sacrifice that it was going to take. I was willing to take the hit.”

We’ll never know how Na would have played in Boston, of course. (He had only one top-30 finish there in nine previous starts.) But few players have been as consistent this season. His eight top-10s are the fifth most on Tour, behind only Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Jason Day and Matt Kuchar.

Two of those Americans are already on the Ryder Cup team, and the other, Kuchar, seems likely to receive a pick.

But there hasn’t been nearly as much discussion about Na. Perhaps it’s because he has never played in a biennial match. Or maybe it’s because of his reputation as a slow player. Whatever the case, if Love wants to make an outside-the-box pick on Monday, or in the hours after the Tour Championship, he should seriously consider adding Na.

Love is said to have an "unofficial" points list, which is good news, because the Ryder Cup task force decided two years ago that fall events would no longer count toward the standings. The rationale, Phil Mickelson said, was that the fall events were “giving the bottom half of the Tour a three-month head start over ultimately the top guys.” Even PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem admitted that he “whiffed” on that move.

Na just so happened to play some of the best golf of his life in the fall. He lost in a playoff in Napa. He tied for second in Vegas. He shared third place in Malaysia. Sure, he pocketed more than $1.3 million over that three-week span, but he had no Ryder Cup points to show for it.

“I talked to Davis about it at the beginning of the year,” Na said. “It was definitely disappointing news. I didn’t know. That kind of sucked.”

Had the fall counted toward the standings, Na would rank as high as ninth, not 22nd, on the points list. He would have nearly locked up an automatic spot. He would have been impossible to ignore.

Instead, he’s likely to be overlooked for a safe pick, for an American who is stumbling toward the finish line. Take your pick: Rickie Fowler shot 75 on Thursday. Bubba Watson doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour in six months. J.B. Holmes has three missed cuts and no finish better than 33rd in his last five starts. Jim Furyk, the losingest player in U.S. history, didn’t even qualify for the third playoff event.

So why not Na?

Sure, it’s fair to wonder how he would handle the crucible of the Ryder Cup – this is a man who couldn’t pull back the club when he played in the final group at The Players, and Hazeltine might send him into a full-blown panic attack. But with his bizarre antics, feisty attitude and killer short game, it’s easy to see him aggravating the heck out of the Europeans.

Asked what he’d bring to the U.S. team, Na said: “I hit it really straight. I’m a good putter. I have a great short game. I’m a fighter. I’m a guy that’s going to be pretty steady and you know what to expect when I tee it up. I’m always right there.”

Though Na might not have any Ryder Cup experience, he did go 2-0-1 in the WGC-Dell Match Play this year. Even halved a match with Rory McIlroy, Europe’s best player.

“It would mean a lot,” he said of playing on his first team. “One of the things I dream of is making the Ryder Cup team.”

And with that, he hurried out of the scoring area. No surprise. He was late for his FaceTime date with Sophia.

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Kang (69) wins Buick LPGA Shanghai by two

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:11 am

SHANGHAI - Danielle Kang shot a 3-under 69 on Sunday to win the LPGA Shanghai by two strokes for her second career title.

Kang, who started the final round one stroke off the lead, offset a lone bogey on the par-5 fourth hole with four birdies after the turn to finish at 13-under 275 and hold off a late charge by Lydia Ko, who had the day's lowest score of 66.

Ko, who had seven birdies and a lone bogey, tied for second at 11 under with a group of seven players that included Brittany Altomare (71), Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and overnight co-leader Sei Young Kim (72).

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

Carlota Ciganda, who also held a share of the lead after the third round, shot a 73 to fall into a tie for ninth with Bronte Law and local favorite Lu Liu.

Paula Creamer carded three birdies against a pair of bogeys for a 71 to finish in sole possession of 12th place.

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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New world No. 1 Koepka already wants more

By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 8:48 am

If there is a knock on Brooks Koepka, it’s that he’s a little too cool.

Gary Woodland, who threw 11 birdies at Koepka on Sunday and still finished four shots back, inadvertently captured that exact sentiment after Saturday's third round.

“You know," he said, "Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much."

In context, Woodland meant that there was little anyone in the field could do to rattle the 54-hole leader. (He proved himself right, by the way.)

And out of context, the comment speaks to the general narrative surrounding Koepka. That he’s just detached enough for fans to have trouble attaching themselves to him. That he’s just a jock here to cash checks and collect trophies, to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

But for a few moments Sunday in South Korea, it became clear that Brooks Koepka does care. Crouched on the 72nd green with some time to stop and think as Ian Poulter lagged a bit behind, Koepka finally let a moment get to him. Cameras caught the three-time major champion appearing unusually emotional.

Of course, less than a minute later, those same cameras caught him yawning. The contrast was almost too perfect. It was as if he knew he had just been found out and needed to snap back into character – which he did.

He promptly poured in an eagle putt to cap off a final-round 64, to win the CJ Cup by four, and to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

“To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid,” Koepka said on the 18th green, moments after closing out his fifth PGA Tour victory and third this year. “I don't think this one's going to sink in.”

What is beginning to sink in is that Koepka now unequivocally belongs in the conversation, the one golf fans and analysts have been having over and over since Tiger Woods fell from golf's greatest heights.

Who’s the best at their best?

In the two years between his first PGA Tour win and his first U.S. Open victory, Koepka was touted as having the kind of talent to compete with the game's elites. It took him a little while for him to get here, but Koepka has taken over as the latest player to look like he’ll never lose again. Just as it was for Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas before him, this is Koepka's moment. This is his run of dominance.

It’s a run that will have to end at some point. Every one of the guys just mentioned did cool off eventually. Koepka will, too. Maybe it will be fatigue, maybe it will be injury, and maybe it’ll just be golf. This talent pool is simply too deep for anyone to remain on top for too long.

But what Koepka has done this year – in defending his U.S. Open title, in staring down Tiger at the PGA, in claiming the Player of the Year Award, in ascending to the top of the world rankings – is put his name at the forefront of the conversation. If he was unappreciated at times before, those days are behind him. He's already accomplished too much, proven himself too good, to be overlooked any longer.

And he’s far from done.

“For me, I just need to keep winning,” the new world No. 1 said Sunday. “I feel like to win a few more regular Tour events and then keep adding majors. I feel like my game's set up for that. I've gotten so much confidence off winning those majors where, it's incredible, every time I tee it up, I feel like I really have a good chance to win whether I have my A-game or not. It's something I'm so excited [about] right now, you have no idea. I just can't wait to go play again.”

Watch: Koepka holes out from off the green at 16

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 5:36 am

Brooks Koepka faced a stiff challenge from Gary Woodland on Sunday in South Korea, but eventually it came time to end the suspense.

Having clung to a slim lead for much of the back nine, Koepka looked as though he was going to have to scramble just to save par when he missed the green at 16. 

Instead, caddie Ricky Elliott was able to leave Koepka's putter in the bag.

That holeout combined with a bogey from Woodland at 17 put Koepka ahead by three, allowing him to walk to victory and to the top of the world rankings.

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Koepka wins CJ Cup, ascends to world No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 5:07 am

Brooks Koepka eagled the 72nd hole Sunday to cap off a final-round 64, win the CJ Cup and supplant Dustin Johnson as the new No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here's how Koepka took over the golf world Sunday in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-21), Gary Woodland (-17), Ryan Palmer (-15), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-15), Jason Day (-12), Scott Piercy (-12)

What it means: This is Koepka's fifth career PGA Tour victory but only his second in a non-major, following his maiden win back at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Up four to start the day, Koepka saw his lead evaporate as Woodland rocketed up the leaderboard and kept pace with him for much of the back nine. But every time Sunday's result appeared in doubt, Koepka reclaimed his lead in dramatic fashion. He nearly aced the par-3 13th to go ahead by two and later holed out for birdie at the par-4 16th to go up three with two to play. He finished par-eagle at 17 and 18 to shoot a back-nine 29 and close out his third victory in the last five months. With the win, Koepka ascends to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Round of the day: Ryan Palmer set a Nine Bridges course record when he birdied his final seven holes in a row en route to a bogey-free round of 10-under 62 and a solo third-place finish.

Best of the rest: Woodland played his first 16 holes in 9 under par to storm from five back and catch Koepka atop the leaderboard. But his furious Sunday charge finally came to an end when he failed to get up and down for par from the back bunker at 17. He carded his 11th birdie of the round at the 18th hole to sign for 63 and finish solo second.

Biggest disappointment: In retrospect, Woodland called it correctly on Saturday when he said: "You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can. 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." Woodland put as much pressure on Koepka as he could. He went out and posted that number. Koepka never blinked.

Shot of the day: Koepka's holeout at the par-3 16th, which put him ahead by three, unofficially ending the proceedings:

Quote of the day: "To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid. I don't think this one is going to sink in." - Koepka