Europe Takes Two Point Lead on Day 1

By Sports NetworkSeptember 22, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- Colin Montgomerie holed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to earn a half and give the Europeans a two-point lead after Friday at the 36th Ryder Cup.
The European side, the two-time defending champion and winner of four of the last five Ryder Cups, is ahead 5-3 at a soggy K Club. Rain came down several different times, but play was never halted.
Colin Montgomerie
Colin Montgomerie reacts to his match-tying putt on the 18th hole Friday afternoon.
Montgomerie and Lee Westwood birdied the last to earn a half against Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco in Friday's final match of the foursomes, or alternate-shot session.
Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk got the Americans on the board Friday morning with a fourball victory, but struggled late in their foursomes match. They lost the final two holes to give Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald a 2-up victory.
'I did struggle in probably the first six, seven holes in the morning,' admitted Woods. 'But I got it turned around and hit some really good shots, and this afternoon, I actually hit it pretty good.'
Not all of the news late in Friday's matches was bad for the Americans. Chad Campbell and Ryder Cup rookie Zach Johnson birdied the last three holes to earn a halve against Irishmen Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.
Friday's other foursomes match featured another close contest. David Toms and Stewart Cink birdied the 15th hole, then held on for pars as they halved their match against David Howell and Henrik Stenson, who came off the European bench Friday afternoon.
In the morning fourballs, the European side grabbed a 2 1/2 - 1 1/2 lead. Woods and Furyk toppled Harrington and Montgomerie, 1-up.
Cink and rookie J.J. Henry fought back to earn a half against Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson, while Garcia and fellow countryman Jose Maria Olazabal dispatched Toms and Brett Wetterich, 3 and 2.
In the final fourball match, Darren Clarke, competing in the Ryder Cup a little over a month after losing his wife Heather to cancer, teamed with good friend Westwood to best Mickelson and DiMarco, 1-up.
'I'm obviously very, very pleased that I got a point, that Lee and I have got a point for the team,' said Clarke. 'It was always going to be a big morning for me. I said I'll get myself through this week, and so far I think I've done that pretty well.'
As difficult as it is to be trailing, the American team can take solace in one thing. At this point in 2004, at home, the U.S. trailed 6 1/2 - 1 1/2 en route to the worst loss in history, an 18 1/2 - 9 1/2 drubbing.
'Obviously there were a lot of tight matches,' said American captain Tom Lehman. 'We didn't make a lot of putts. That would be the one thing that I would say was the difference in the day between the two teams. I felt like our team hit a lot of good putts, but didn't make many. The European team definitely made the putts they needed to when they had to.'
In what turned out to be the final match on the course, Montgomerie and Westwood took the lead with a birdie at the 13th. Mickelson and DiMarco only needed par at 14 to square the match, but took a 1-up lead with a birdie at the par-5 16th.
DiMarco had the honor on the tee at the difficult 17th and drove well right of the fairway. Mickelson hit a spectacular approach that landed on the green and the two posted a two-putt par that halved the hole.
At the par-5 last, DiMarco hit the team's second into a greenside bunker. Montgomerie ripped a 3-wood on to the front portion of the putting surface. Westwood ran his long eagle putt 6 feet past the hole, while Mickelson blasted out 10 feet short of the stick.
DiMarco missed his birdie try, but Montgomerie did not.
Mickelson and DiMarco weren't the only highly-tauted American team that played poorly in foursomes. Woods and Furyk, the only U.S. winners in the morning against Montgomerie and Harrington, double-bogeyed the first when Furyk's drive landed against a tree and never took the lead from there.
They were 2-down when Donald drained a birdie putt at the 12th, but Woods and Furyk, ranked first and third in the world, respectively, clawed back. Furyk holed a long birdie putt at 13, then Woods knocked the team's tee ball stiff at the par-3 14th. The Europeans had a birdie look, but missed and conceded the Americans birdie to tie the match.
At the par-4 17th, Furyk missed a 10-foot birdie putt and lost the hole since Garcia hit the team's approach inside 3 feet. The Europeans were armed with a 1-up lead heading to the final tee.
Woods drove into the fairway, but Furyk hit a hybrid-club left into the water. That allowed the Europeans to win the 18th with a par and walk off with a 2-up victory.
'I hit the ball way on the toe and made a poor swing from over the top,' said Furyk, referring to his errant shot at 18. 'So I have no excuse there. I made a bad swing.'
In the opening foursomes match, the Americans had plenty of chances for birdies, but could not get the flat stick working. That is, until late in the match.
Campbell and Johnson were 2-down with three holes to play and at the par-5 16th, Johnson reached the green in two and Campbell lagged it down to 2 feet. Johnson tapped in the birdie putt to cut the deficit to 1-down.
Johnson rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt at the 17th, but McGinley followed him in the hole from 9 feet to halve the hole. At the 18th, Harrington drove into the right rough and McGinley had to lay up with the team's second. Johnson put the Americans on in two and it came down to short games.
Harrington put the team's third over the green, but McGinley chipped to concession range. The Irish duo made par, but Campbell ran the eagle putt 4 feet past the hole. Johnson calmly stroked home the birdie to win the hole and halve the match.
'It's obviously disappointing. The boys finished well,' acknowledged Harrington. 'They finished birdie, birdie, birdie, which is what was asked. They certainly deserved a halve, even though we feel a little bit disappointed with the halve.'
Cink and Toms birdied the second to win the hole, but the Europeans birdied three to square the match. Europe remained ahead through most of the match and when Howell's drive found water at 15, the match was even.
Both teams had birdie looks at 18. Toms' 25-footer lipped out of the hole, but Howell narrowly missed his birdie putt to end the match in a halve.
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    After Further Review: Spieth needs a break

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 1:11 am

    Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...

    Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.

    Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.

    A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.

    So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray

    On the difference between this week and last week ...

    There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.

    Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.

    At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard

    On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...

    Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.

    Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

    This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.

    Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell

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    Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup

    By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:39 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.

    Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.

    After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    “It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”

    Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.

    “Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”

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    Casey comes up short (again) to Bubba at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:07 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Staked to a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Travelers Championship, Paul Casey watched his opening tee shot bounce off a wooden wall and back into the middle of the fairway, then rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt off the fringe.

    At the time, it appeared to be a not-so-subtle indicator that Casey was finally going to get his hands on a trophy that has barely eluded him in the past. Instead it turned out to be the lone highlight of a miserable round that left the Englishman behind only Bubba Watson at TPC River Highlands for the second time in the last four years.

    Casey shot the low round of the tournament with a third-round 62 that distanced him from the field, but that opening birdie turned out to be his only one of the day as he stalled out and ultimately finished three shots behind Watson, to whom he lost here in a playoff in 2015.

    Casey’s score was 10 shots worse than Saturday, as a 2-over 72 beat only five people among the 73 others to play the final round.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    “I mean, I fought as hard as I could, which I’m proud of,” Casey said. “Not many times you put me on a golf course and I only make one birdie. I don’t know. I’d be frustrated with that in last week’s event, but it is what it is.”

    Casey led by as many as five after his opening birdie, but he needed to make a 28-foot par save on No. 10 simply to maintain a one-shot edge over a hard-charging Watson. The two men were tied as Casey headed to the 16th tee, but his bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 combined with a closing birdie from Watson meant the tournament was out of reach before Casey even reached the final tee.

    Casey explained that a “bad night of sleep” led to some neck pain that affected his warm-up session but didn’t impact the actual round.

    “Just frustrating I didn’t have more,” he said. “Didn’t have a comfortable swing to go out there and do something with.”

    Casey won earlier this year at the Valspar Championship to end a PGA Tour victory drought that dated back to 2009, but after being denied a second victory in short succession when he appeared to have one hand on the trophy, he hopes to turn frustration into further success before turning the page to 2019.

    “I’m probably even more fired up than I was post-Tampa to get another victory. This is only going to be more fuel,” Casey said. “I’ve got 12 events or something the rest of the year. So ask me again in November, and if I don’t have another victory, then I will be disappointed. This is merely kind of posturing for what could be a very good climax.”

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    Bubba thrives in his comfort zone

    By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:02 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – The 1:20 p.m. pairing Sunday at TPC River Highlands spanned the spectrum on the PGA Tour. In one corner stood science. Bryson DeChambeau, whose quantitative approach to golf seemingly knows no bounds, was looking to add another victory after winning a playoff earlier this month at Jack’s Place.

    On the other side was art.

    Bubba Watson doesn’t float golf balls in Epsom salt to identify minor imperfections. He doesn’t break out a compass to find the slightest errors in the Tour-supplied pin sheet. Even when he texts caddie Ted Scott, he prefers to use voice text rather than rely on his admittedly sub-optimal spelling.

    But strolling along one of his favorite landscapes, Bubba the artist came out on top. Again.

    Watson is in the midst of a resurgent season, one that already included a third victory at one of his favorite haunts in Riviera Country Club. It featured a decisive run through the bracket at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a return to the leaderboards at Augusta National where he fell short of a third green jacket.

    It only makes sense, then, that he’d build upon that burgeoning momentum at the Travelers Championship, where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2010 and Sunday joined Billy Casper as the tournament’s only three-time champ with a final-round 63 to catch and pass Paul Casey.

    This is a place where Watson can bomb drives by feel and carve short irons at will, and one where he officially put his stamp on the best season to date on Tour.

    “His hand-eye coordination is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen,” DeChambeau said. “You’ve got me who was just struggling off the tee, and he’s just swiping shots down there. It was cool to watch. I wish I could do that. I probably could do that, but I just don’t feel like I’d be as consistent as he is.”

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Consistency wasn’t an apt descriptor a year ago, as Watson went from two-time major champ to completely off the radar. His world ranking, which began last year at No. 10 and is now back up to No. 13 after he became the first three-time winner this season, fell as far as 117th before his win at Riviera in February.

    Watson attributes much of the turnaround to a change in health. Never really one to tip the scales, he lost 25 pounds in a three-month span last year while battling an undisclosed health concern. After putting some of the weight back on, he’s now able to focus more of his time and energy on fine-tuning one of the Tour’s most distinctive approaches.

    “Anytime any of these guys kind of get comfortable with just being them, and golf is secondary in a sense, it helps them reach their potential,” said Scott. “I think the hype and the pressure can sometimes put things out of sort. And right now he’s just very comfortable with who he is as a person, and I think in his life. It helps him relax on the golf course.”

    What Watson doesn’t prefer to mention is the equipment change he made that serves as a not-so-subtle line of demarcation. The southpaw turned heads at the end of 2016 when he agreed to play a colored Volvik ball on Tour during the 2017 season, only to watch his results fall off a cliff. A return to the Titleist ball he previously used has coincided with some of the best results of his 12-year career.

    “I don’t think it has had any (role) in my success,” Watson said. “My clubs weren’t going the distance that I used to. I couldn’t shape it the way I want to. Luckily for me, I know the problem, and the problem was with health and not all these other things.”

    But regardless of the true source of his turnaround, Watson is back to doing what he does best. That includes carving up the handful of venues that most fit his unique eye, be they lined by thick kikuyu rough outside Los Angeles or dotted with menacing water hazards outside Hartford.

    The artistic touch was on full display with his final swing of the day. Facing exactly 71 yards to a pin tucked barely over the edge of a yawning bunker on No. 18, Watson laid the face open on his 63-degree wedge and hit a cut shot that spun and checked to inside 3 feet.

    “Teddy put his arm around me, like, ‘That was an amazing shot,’” Watson said. “He’s seen a lot of shots, he’s been out here for many years. So for him to realize it, and other players to text me and realize it, it was special.”

    While it seemed at the time like a shot that gave Watson a glimmer of hope in his pursuit of Casey, it ultimately turned out to be the final highlight of a three-shot victory. It’s the type of shot that few, if any, of his peers can visualize, let alone execute with such exact precision with the tournament hanging in the balance.

    It’s the type of shot that separates Watson – the quirky left-hander with the pink driver who openly talks about his struggles with on-course focus and abhors few things more than trying to hit a straight shot – from even the best in the game when things are firing on all cylinders.

    “The skills have always been there, as you know. But he’s just more relaxed now,” Scott said. “And when these guys, obviously when they enjoy it, they can play at their best and not get too stressed.”