Fowler detours to Wyndham with Ryder Cup in doubt

By Will GrayAugust 17, 2016, 8:29 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The annual bubble watch has taken on a different tone this year at the Wyndham Championship.

Sure, there will still be steadfast checking of projected FedEx Cup standings in the final week of the regular season, as players endure one last 72-hole crucible to determine playing privileges for next season.

But thanks to a malleable summer schedule, there’s another race nearing its conclusion that has brought some high-profile names to Greensboro.

The Ryder Cup is now just six weeks away, and while typically the teams are largely set by this stage, this year there are still two events remaining for players on both teams to earn automatic qualifying berths.

There are eight such spots available on the American side, and the 11th-hour competition to secure a roster spot is fierce.

Less than $50,000 separates No. 8 Patrick Reed from No. 9 Brandt Snedeker. Both are in the field this week, meaning a top-25 finish could be enough to flip the pecking order heading into The Barclays. It’s an incentive that has led No. 13 Scott Piercy to make a rare appearance at Sedgefield Country Club, and it resulted in No. 18 Jim Furyk choosing to return for the first time since 2011.

But the player likely under the most pressure to perform is Wyndham debutant Rickie Fowler – a scenario that seemed implausible a few months ago.

After all, Fowler was one of the hottest players in the world to start the year, backing up a three-win 2015 campaign with a convincing victory over a strong field in Abu Dhabi. That was followed by a playoff loss to Hideki Matsuyama in Phoenix, when Fowler surrendered a two-shot lead over the final two holes.

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A bittersweet result, sure. But it was also further evidence that Fowler was likely to cruise through the balance of a busy summer schedule that would end with him donning the stars and stripes at Hazeltine.

Needless to say, things haven’t exactly worked out that way.

Since the Masters, Fowler has posted more missed cuts (four) than top-25 finishes (three). His best result in that stretch, a T-4 finish at Quail Hollow, was tinged with disappointment after he failed to convert a 54-hole lead, closing with a 74.

Even last week’s performance at the Olympics was a microcosm for Fowler’s season: a third-round burst, just enough to reinforce his vast potential, but not enough to compensate for 54 other mediocre holes.

As a result, Fowler has gone from a virtual Ryder Cup lock to a very precarious position: 12th in points and perhaps competing with the likes of Snedeker, Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson for one of captain Davis Love III’s four selections.

Keenly aware of the situation, Fowler decided to book a last-minute ticket from Rio to Greensboro in the hopes of turning things around with the deadline looming.

“With where I was on Ryder Cup points and knowing that the points, with Bethpage coming up, this was a good addition to the schedule,” Fowler said Wednesday. “It wasn’t something we planned on earlier in the year, but the Ryder Cup is something that means a lot to me. It’s something where I’ve been a part of two teams, and I don’t want to miss out on another one.”

Fowler is in danger of doing just that, and after a sluggish summer the culprit is clear. Fowler is sixth this season on Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green and seventh in total strokes gained, but he sits just 56th in strokes gained putting.

“It’s been a struggle ever since Abu Dhabi, not making any putts,” he said. “When putts don’t go in, you don’t have that complete confidence in the putter. It kind of can start bleeding into the rest of the game.”

Fowler’s putting woes contributed in part to missed cuts at Augusta National and Oakmont, and his bid for an Olympic medal was derailed on the very first green last week in Rio when he opened with a four-putt.

With the self-doubt continuing to mount, Fowler has started to tinker with his putting with increasing frequency. He has gone back and forth between conventional and cross-handed grips since the Quicken Loans National in June, including attempts with both grips last week in Brazil.

While he was putting cross-handed under the midday sun Wednesday on the Sedgefield putting green, Fowler admits his mechanics remain a work in progress.

“Just been something I’ve done every year or two. It’s almost like the cross-handed is a little, I guess, an aid in a way,” he said. “It actually puts me in a better position at setup. Sometimes I get a little off (with) conventional, and just a way of getting it back to where I want it to be.”

That last bit could also apply to Fowler’s overall game, which hasn’t been where he wants it to be for several months now.

While it’s hard to imagine a Ryder Cup team without him – especially at a domestic venue where his popularity with partisan crowds could have a tangible impact on the outcome – it is now a very plausible scenario.

Fowler could still earn a pick, even without a late burst of form. But while his play has remained stagnant, his competition has picked up significantly – first Furyk’s 58 at the Travelers Championship, then Kuchar’s bronze medal performance at the Olympics.

Fowler now has two more chances to nab an automatic bid, a high-stakes fortnight that begins this week with an unexpected detour to the Tar Heel State.

It’s a circumstance that few could have predicted earlier this year, but it’s one that means the FedEx Cup bubble boys won’t be the only ones sweating this week at Sedgefield.

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Bjorn adds four Ryder Cup veterans as vice captains

By Will GrayMay 22, 2018, 1:05 pm

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn has added a quartet of vice captains for the biennial matches this fall in Paris.

Bjorn had already named Robert Karlsson as his first assistant, and he announced Tuesday at the BMW PGA Championship that his group of advisors will also include major champions Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, and former world No. 1s Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.

Westwood is among Europe's most decorated Ryder Cup players, and his addition in this role signals he likely won't participate as a player in the matches for the first time since 1995. The Englishman has spoken openly about his desire to captain the European squad at Whistling Straits in 2020, but he's been quiet on the course in recent months, with a missed secondary cut at the Houston Open his only start since mid-February.

Harrington is seen as another possible captain for the 2020 matches, and he'll don an earpiece for the third straight Ryder Cup, having represented Europe as a player on six straight teams from 1999-2010.

Donald played on four Ryder Cup teams from 2004-12, with the Europeans winning each time he was on the roster. This will mark his first stint as a vice captain, as Donald announced last month that he would be sidelined indefinitely while recovering from a back injury.

At age 38, McDowell will be the youngest vice captain in the room, having holed the winning putt eight years ago at Celtic Manor. He won the French Open in both 2013 and 2014 at Le Golf National, site of this year's matches, and will also be making his debut as a vice captain.

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Bidder pays $50,000 to caddie for Woods

By Grill Room TeamMay 22, 2018, 12:28 pm

Someone has paid $50,000 to caddie for Tiger Woods at this year’s Hero World Challenge.

An unnamed bidder paid for the opportunity at an auction Saturday night at Tiger Jam, where monies are raised to support the Tiger Woods Foundation.

The Hero World Challenge will be contested Nov. 29-Dec. in Albany, Bahamas. The pro-am is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 28.

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:28 am

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams have advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals will be contested on Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

11AM-conclusion: Match-play quarterfinals (Click here to watch live)
4-8PM: Match-play semifinals

4-8PM: Match-play finals

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Arizona grabs last spot with eagle putt, playoff win

By Ryan LavnerMay 22, 2018, 3:18 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – With her team freefalling in the standings, Arizona coach Laura Ianello was down to her last stroke.

The Wildcats began the final round of the NCAA Championship in third place, but they were 19 over par for the day, and outside the top-8 cut line, with only one player left on the course.

Bianca Pagdaganan had transferred from Gonzaga to compete for NCAA titles, and on the 17th hole Ianello told her that she needed to play “the best two holes of your life” to keep the dream alive.

She made par on 17, then hit a 185-yard 6-iron out of a divot to 30 feet. Not knowing where she stood on the final green, Pagdaganan felt an eerie calm over the ball. Sure enough, she buried the eagle putt, setting off a raucous celebration and sending the Wildcats into a play-five, count-four team playoff with Baylor at 33 over par.

Their match-play spot wasn’t yet secure, but Ianello still broke down in tears.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Team scoring

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Individual scoring

“Bianca is such an inspiration for all of us,” she said. “She’s the kind of kid that you want to root for, to have good things happen to.”

Arizona prevailed on the second playoff hole. As the 8 seed, the Wildcats will play top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Karsten Creek.

Though the finish had plenty of drama, no teams played their way into the coveted top 8 on the final day of stroke-play qualifying.

Baylor came closest. The Bears barely advanced past regionals after a mysterious stomach virus affected several players and coaches. They competed in the final round with just four healthy players.

On Monday, Gurleen Kaur put Baylor in position to advance, shooting 68, but the Bears lost by three strokes on the second extra hole.

Arkansas finished one shot shy of the team playoff. The second-ranked Razorbacks, who entered NCAAs as one of the pre-tournament favorites, having won seven times, including their first SEC title, couldn’t overcome a 308-300 start and finished 10th. Player of the Year favorite Maria Fassi finished her week at 19 over par and counted only two rounds toward the team total.