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Despite Price's hope, a(nother) loss looks unavoidable

By Will GraySeptember 30, 2017, 12:07 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – As Phil Mickelson was busy hammering the latest nail into the International team’s hastily-built coffin, Nick Price stood just off the green with his arms crossed and offered little reaction.

He stared straight ahead, shielded by sunglasses and flanked by his quartet of assistants, before offering three half-hearted claps of acknowledgement. The reluctant applause was directed toward Mickelson, but it may as well have been to the entire American team.

Whatever chance the International squad had to win the 12th edition of the Presidents Cup – or even to make it a competitive affair – flew out the window Friday afternoon during a U.S. rally that turned the fourballs session on its head. What remains is an anticlimactic close to these biennial matches, with the end result hardly in doubt.

And as that realization became more and more apparent, Price could do little more than sift through the rubble for platitudes.

“Tough day for us, again. Another one,” Price said. “I think we saw the strength of the U.S. team come out today, but in all fairness to my guys, I don’t think they played as well as they were capable of. It was just a tough day.”

The scope of the hole Price’s team has dug for itself is rather daunting, and it’s the product of poor play coinciding with an American buzzsaw that seemed fully operational coming down the stretch.

While the home team got out to its traditional lead during the opening foursomes session, the historical record between the two squads in fourballs is much more balanced. This was the session Price’s team used to spark a comeback two years ago in South Korea, and for a while it seemed they might pull off a similar feat while leading three of the five matches for much of the afternoon.

But that advantage turned out to be a mirage, evaporating like the seaside mist over a 90-minute window that transformed the American lead from comfortable to nearly insurmountable.

What was left is the largest advantage ever after two sessions in the 23-year history of this event, and the not-so-farfetched idea that the U.S. could clinch this thing before Sunday.


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“It’s obviously not the best of moods going through right now,” said Adam Hadwin, who teamed with Hideki Matsuyama for a draw against Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed that prevented a clean sweep. “It’s obviously going to be a tall task. They are playing well, and they are also some of the best players in the world.”

Price tried to lean on the raw math, noting accurately that two-thirds of the total points are still to be contested. But in need of a rally of historic proportions, it’s difficult to discern where the Internationals go from here.

Consider the facts: their top-ranked player, Matsuyama, basically asked Price to be subbed out for the third session after appearing shaky at best in his first two matches. Their most experienced veteran, Adam Scott, is sitting at 0-2, and the indestructible duo of Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen was, well, destroyed by Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler.

In his third stint as captain, Price was expected to learn from his close call in Korea and the thumping administered by the Americans four years ago at Muirfield Village. Instead, he has appeared flummoxed at every turn while Stricker has displayed a Midas touch from the other side of the table.

Perhaps there was a way for Price to crack the code, to overcome all the advantages the Americans enjoy from depth to camaraderie and home-field advantage. But maybe this was simply a fool’s errand.

“It’s difficult. I don’t know what the recipe is,” Price admitted. “This is my third time around, I’m still trying to figure it out. But we got very close to the right recipe the last time, so hopefully we can remedy that on the weekend.”

Still shy of the halfway point, there’s already plenty of opportunity to second-guess Price’s strategic choices. Rather than save the heavyweight pairing of Grace and Oosthuizen for a match where he could dictate their opponent, Price offered them up in the day’s second match and let Stricker decide their foes. The U.S. skipper met strength with strength, trotting out Fowler and Thomas, who quickly transformed the South African duo’s record together from 5-0 to 5-1.

Any International rally hinged on getting a full point from their most dependable combination, and Thomas described the outcome as earning “more than a point.”

Then there were the equipment issues in the opening foursomes session, where Price explained that two of his four teams unraveled because they struggled to control spin with their teammate’s ball while playing alternate shot amid blustery conditions.

While he’s had months to strategize about variables both small and large, Price said that particular issue never came up during early-week practice sessions in calm winds.

“It went past all of us,” Price said. “So maybe that was an oversight on our behalf.”

Perhaps a point or two could have been salvaged, and Price clung to the notion that the 8-2 deficit was in fact not that far from being a 5-5 split. But optimistic rationalizations only carry so much weight.

The inevitability of this week’s conclusion seemed to hit Price when Mickelson buried that final putt, and whatever hope remains will likely be extinguished in short order.

“These guys are trying their asses off. I’m telling you, they’re trying,” Price said. “But it’s hard when you’re trying so hard and you’re 8-2 down.”

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Web.com Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.


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As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

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Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

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“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.

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Wise wins first Tour title at AT&T Byron Nelson

By Nick MentaMay 21, 2018, 1:22 am

On the strength of a final-round 65, 21-year-old Aaron Wise broke through for his first PGA Tour victory Sunday, taking the AT&T Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest. Here's how Wise beat the field and darkness following a lengthy rain delay:

Leaderboard: Wise (-23), Marc Leishman (-20), Branden Grace (-19), J.J. Spaun (-19), Keith Mitchell (-19)

What it means: This is Wise’s first PGA Tour win in just his 18th start as a member. Tied with Leishman to start the final round, Wise raced ahead with six birdies in a seven-hole stretch from Nos. 4-10 and never looked back. He'd make eight straight pars on his way into the clubhouse and the winner's circle. The 2016 NCAA Division I individual champion just locked up Tour status through the 2019-20 season and guaranteed himself a spot in the PGA Championship.

Best of the rest: Leishman reached 20 under par but just couldn’t keep pace with Wise. This is his second runner-up of the season, following a solo second in the CJ Cup in October.

Round of the day: Grace carded a 62 – where have I heard that before? – with eight birdies, an eagle and a bogey to end up tied for third, his best finish of the season on Tour.

Biggest disappointment: Adam Scott looked as though he had done enough to qualify for the U.S. Open via the Official World Golf Ranking when he walked off the golf course. Unfortunately, minutes later, he’d drop from a four-way tie for sixth into a three-way tie for ninth, narrowly missing out on this week's OWGR cutoff.

Break of the day: Wise could very well have found the hazard off the tee at No. 9 if not for a well-placed sprinkler head. Rather than drop a shot, he took advantage of his good fortune and poured in another birdie putt to extend his lead.

Quote of the day: "It's a dream come true to win this one." - Wise