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Familiar feeling at Presidents Cup after Day 1

By Will GraySeptember 29, 2017, 12:35 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – In the days leading up to the start of the Presidents Cup, both teams spent ample time clinging to every possibility that this one might be different.

That after two decades of dominance, this might be the one where the Americans finally falter. That this could be the time that the Internationals turn a moral victory into, you know, an actual victory. That any minor slip, one underestimated matchup, might be enough to turn the tide of the entire event in favor of the upstart visitors.

The buildup featured two squads explaining to anyone who would listen that the playing field at Liberty National Golf Club was decidedly more even than any of the prior results would indicate.

Then an actual competitive golf shot was struck, and we all realized it was business as usual.

Just as the sun rose in the east, the Americans are out to an early lead at the Presidents Cup, this time by a 3 ½ to 1 ½ margin. The last time the U.S. faced a deficit after any session was 2005, back when their opponents were relying on guys like Michael Campbell, Mark Hensby and Peter Lonard.

“We’ve been off to poor starts for a while on Thursdays,” admitted International captain Nick Price.

It’s only Day 1. But if history is any indication, their pole position might not be any more threatened than it currently is.

“I think a couple of the guys talked about it last night, Jordan (Spieth) mentioned that this first session is pretty critical, and we need to go out there and take care of business,” said Rickie Fowler, who won his opener alongside Justin Thomas. “I feel like as a team, we really did a good job of that.”

The Americans tried to downplay their advantage early in the week, insisting that the slightest bobble could hand the momentum to Price’s squad. In reality, though, what the Internationals needed to remain competitive was for their absolute best efforts to coincide with some uncharacteristic clunkers from the top Americans.

Neither occurred in the opening session, and there’s little reason to expect the circumstances to turn on a dime overnight.

“There’s still a long, long ways to go,” said U.S. skipper Steve Stricker. “But we very much liked the day and the way it started.”

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Stricker led with strength in the opening match, pitting the familiar yet formidable duo of Fowler and Thomas against Hideki Matsuyama and Charl Schwartzel. Thomas barely broke a sweat in his first Presidents Cup match, one in which the Americans at times appeared more laid back than a typical Tuesday money game.

“We just really stayed in our game plan,” Thomas said. “I think that’s what we did such a great job of, is we never altered it depending on what they were doing. We played some great golf out there, we really did.”

After digging an early hole for the sixth straight edition of this event, the International contingent did everything they could to view the proceedings through rose-colored glasses. Price offered assurances that his team still felt competitive, describing the two-point deficit as the product of “one of our strongest starts in foursomes.”

Jason Day offered up a kernel of optimism despite a pair of closing bogeys that turned a momentum-shifting win for him and Marc Leishman into a bittersweet draw in the day’s final match.

“Any point is like moving forward,” Day said. “Even if it’s half a point.”

There are still 25 more points up for grabs, and the historical records in fourball play are much more balanced than those in the foursomes format, which heavily favored the Americans. But the climb was already arduous enough for the visitors, and they did themselves no favors on a day where blustery winds – and the watchful eyes of three presidents – made for a nerve-wracking session from the very first shot.

Staked to an early advantage like so many of his predecessors, Stricker led Friday’s session with more strength, opening with the Spieth-Reed and Fowler-Thomas pairings that combined for two points without ever reaching the 15th hole.

It’s a signal that the U.S. is not content to simply protect their lead; they are intent on growing it. And after a relatively stress-free opener, there’s every reason to believe they’ll be able to do just that.

In the process, they could very well unravel a week’s worth of parity-seeking storylines and put another Presidents Cup on ice before the weekend city crowds even have a chance to hop the ferry south past Lady Liberty.

“I would consider it to be like going into Sunday of a tournament, if you have a four- or five-shot lead. It affords you to be able to make some mistakes,” Fowler said. “If you’re playing from four or five shots behind, you can’t really make a mistake. You have to try and catch those guys. So we’re off to a good start, but there’s a lot of golf to be played.”

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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

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Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”