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Johnson's HSBC collapse surprising, but not major

By Will GrayOctober 29, 2017, 1:32 pm

In assessing his chances heading into the final round of the WGC-HSBC Champions, one in which he trailed by eight shots and Dustin Johnson was six shots clear of his closest competitor, Justin Rose accurately summed up the situation.

"Playing for second, barring something crazy from him," Rose told reporters. "But that's always the thing, you play for second and see what happens."

The latter half of that statement is a window into a veteran's mindset, a player who has seen nearly everything happen on the course and knows to keep even the slightest shred of hope alive - just in case.

But make no mistake, if tournament organizers had attempted to hand the trophy to Johnson prior to the final round, the other names on the leaderboard would have barely protested. The world No. 1 was in the midst of a clinic, piling up 22 birdies through 54 holes on a course where he has won before and one that favors his bomb-and-wedge approach.

This was Johnson mopping up against a WGC field, just as he had five times prior including twice earlier this year.

But then the unthinkable happened, as Johnson opened with a pair of bogeys to give the field a glimmer of optimism. He failed to right the ship from there, incomprehensibly recording zero birdies on a course that had played like a par-68 for him through the first three rounds. An even-par effort would have resulted in a three-shot win, but instead he signed for 5-over 77 as Rose raced from behind to steal the trophy.

"I mean, I felt fine all day," Johnson said. "I just could never get anything going and didn't hole any putts. It was pretty simple."


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Full-field scores from the WGC-HSBC Champions


Very quickly comparisons were drawn to Greg Norman, the only other world No. 1 to cough up a six-shot lead in the final round on the PGA Tour. That, of course, was at the 1996 Masters. And Johnson has had a few major collapses of his own, namely the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the 72nd-hole debacles at Whistling Straits and Chambers Bay.

But to be clear, there was no major trophy at stake this week at Sheshan International Golf Club. In fact, this is the only one of the four WGC events for which there isn't a major championship on the immediate horizon.

The WGC label ensures a strong field, and it allows the Tour to bolster the strength of the capstone of its three-week residency in Asia. But it's also positioned at the tail end of a busy year, despite the Tour's efforts to insist that the calendar regenerates in October, so the predominant reaction to completing 72 holes in China this week was a sigh of relief. Finally, a substantive break is within reach for most players.

Included in that group is Johnson, who won't tee it up again until the Hero World Challenge a month from now. Any lingering scar tissue from Sunday's collapse will be long gone by then, since there probably won't be much sign of it by Tuesday of this week.

If any player is well-equipped to compartmentalize and effectively dispatch of a bitter defeat, it's Johnson. Recall the aforementioned litany of close calls and stack it up against his recent form, which has included four wins this year and an eight-month stint at world No. 1. This is the guy who three-putted away the U.S. Open two years ago and posed with the trophy the next time around.

Johnson was on autopilot for three rounds, sticking to the same clear gameplan that has worked so often this year. He felt comfortable, and he appeared poised. But amid blustery conditions Sunday, he started to wobble and never recovered.

In fact, the shots were so out of character for a player of his caliber - chunked irons, pitch shots that missed the green entirely - that there won't be much to dwell on.

"I felt like I rolled it good. Just nothing was going in the hole. Hit a couple really bad iron shots," Johnson said. "So I just gave a few away. But tough conditions. But I mean, it is what it is."

Johnson's final round is akin to a football team that gets crushed at home and the coach opts to ditch the game tape rather than try to dissect each faulty element. Sometimes the best option is to simply leave a result in the rear-view mirror.

Rose is a deserving champion, and should be commended on his ability to capitalize on Johnson's surprising collapse. But don't expect the world No. 1 to lose too many hours of sleep this week wondering what might have been.

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Furyk: Not worried about ' overconfidence, complacency'

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 12:44 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – After seeing the course for the first time this week on Tuesday, the U.S. Ryder Cup team convened for a dinner.

Although the team wasn’t giving away any secrets, according to captain Jim Furyk the goal was to allow players to share ideas on the course, potential pairings and to further solidify this week’s game plan.

“We sat down and had a great conversation with the players last night. The players spoke a lot,” Furyk said following his team’s morning practice. “There's not a worry on my end of any overconfidence, complacency. No one is putting the cart before the horse here.”


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Specifically, vice captain Davis Love III said he reminded the team of a speech Michael Jordan gave at the 2012 matches.

“We started a little bit last night talking about the ultimate goal. Michael Jordan said if you think about the goal of winning the championship you’re not going to be able to play. You’re going to be too nervous,” Love said. “You break it down goal by goal.

The U.S. team only played nine holes on Wednesday at Le Golf National, the back nine, and will likely play the front nine during Thursday’s practice before the matches begin. Although Furyk has said the key to this week is getting the U.S. team to understand the course, he’s also aware of the need for rest following a grueling stretch of playoff golf for most of his squad.

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Underdogs? Label doesn't concern Bjorn

By Will GraySeptember 26, 2018, 12:37 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – As the opening-day sessions draw near, European captain Thomas Bjorn is keeping his plans close to the vest. But he’s not getting bogged down in the notion that his squad might be the underdog this week at Le Golf National.

Jim Furyk’s American squad is one of the strongest on paper in Ryder Cup history, with only Phil Mickelson lower than 17th in the latest world rankings. It’s led Las Vegas oddsmakers to install the Americans as slight favorites in the biennial matches despite the fact that the Europeans haven’t lost at home since 1993.

Bjorn didn’t make any changes to his three practice foursomes one day to the next, lending some potential clarity to who will be paired with whom once the competition begins in earnest. And while he’s not shying away from the notion that his team might lack the firepower of the Americans, he’s not going to make it a significant focus in the team room, either.


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“My job is to create a process for those 12 players to go out and perform their best. Are we underdogs? Probably on paper we are,” Bjorn said. “But we still believe that we can win. We still believe that we can go out and do a job on the golf course, and we concentrate on us.”

Bjorn remained coy when asked if he plans to ensure all 12 players see the course for at least one match Friday, although he reiterated that a plan is in place and “everyone knows where they are going.”

But with strength on both sides, Bjorn did open up about his expectation that this week’s matches could take an already historic competition to another level.

“These teams are the two best teams, world ranking-wise, that have been across from each other in this event,” Bjorn said. “It’s all lined up to be something special, so it’s for those 24 players to go out and show that.”

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It's been a while: Happy 25th anniversary, America!

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 12:20 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The last time the U.S. team won a Ryder Cup in Europe, Bryson DeChambeau was a week old, Jordan Spieth 2 months old, and Justin Thomas 5 months old.

Nearly a third of this week’s U.S. team was diapers when the Tom Watson-led Americans pulled off a 15-13 victory in 1993 at The Belfry.

Davis Love III, a two-time captain who is serving as an assistant this week, was playing in his first Ryder Cup in ’93 and secured the winning point, beating Costantino Rocca, 1 up, in his Sunday singles match.

Now 25 years removed from that victory, Love concedes it would have been unthinkable that 25 years later, the ’93 match would be the U.S. side’s last road victory.

“It’s surprising, 25 years,” Love sighed on Wednesday as the U.S. team went through its paces at Le Golf National.

It hasn’t been a complete bust for Team USA on the road since ’93; there have been close calls. The Americans dropped a one-point decision in 1997 in Spain and lost by the same margin in 2010 at Celtic Manor. But everything in between has been utterly forgettable. There was a three-point decision in 2002 at The Belfry and that nine-point boat race in 2006 in Ireland. Most recently, the Continent rolled 16 ½-11 ½ in 2014 in Scotland.

“It's not anything I need to mention in the team room. There's not like a big ‘25’ sitting in there anywhere. They are well aware of it, and they are well aware of how difficult it is to win in Europe. That's the battle we fight this week,” said U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who was playing Q-School in ’93 when Love and Co. were winning at The Belfry.

There is no shortage of reasons for America’s European failures, nor is there some sort of secret sauce for reversing U.S. fortunes.

“I'll praise both the European Tour and the way they choose golf courses, venues where they have European Tour events,” Furyk said. “We're coming into a golf course that they know a lot better than we do, that will be set up in a fashion that they think suits their game. Those are obstacles we have to overcome.”


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Le Golf National annually hosts the French Open, and the setup this week has a distinctly European flare, with narrow fairways ringed by thick rough - mowed toward the tee box, no less - and relatively slower greens than what the Americans are used to on the PGA Tour.

Then there’s the crowd, a group that has proven itself formidable even when they travel to a U.S.. This week’s scene promises to be particularly intense from the outset, with the massive grandstand behind the first tee poised to hold more than 6,000 fans.

“They make a lot of noise,” Furyk said. “When we walk into that first tee, and they announce both teams, they are going to say, ‘And from the United States,’ announce two guys, and there's going to be a nice applause. And when they announce the two folks from Europe, there's going to be a giant roar and those players are going to feel that presence, and you're going to hear those roars around the golf course.”

And finally there will be pressure. We’re talking pressure the likes of which many have never experienced. Some would compare it to the intensity of being in contention during the final round at a major, but that really doesn’t do it justice.

The American contingent always wants to win for team and country, but this year’s matches bring in the added load of breaking a 25-year slide. The U.S. team will say the right things, dismiss the notion that somehow this Ryder Cup is more important than all others, but simmering under that calm exterior is the nagging truth.

“Phil [Mickelson] started in ’16 on the 18th green; he started talking about winning this Ryder Cup,” Love said. “We hadn’t even finished. He took someone off to the side of the green and said, ‘Look, in Paris it’s going to be a different ballgame. It’s an away game. We’re going to have to be on our game.’”

Ryder Cup captains always wear a variety of hats, but this week the U.S. leaders have taken on the role of arm-chair sports psychologists. It’s simple stuff really: Focus on your job and not the outcome; ignore the noise; win your point.

In an attempt to change his team room's mindset, Love is trying out a new narrative, that it’s been four years since a U.S. team Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team has lost.

“They have to hear that. We have won three in a row. Don’t worry about the last 25 years,” Love said.

For three days, the U.S. team has been busy trying to learn as much as they can about Le Golf National. You know the deal, luck favors the prepared. This match and America’s 25-year losing streak, however, may depend on what they’re able to forget.

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Tiger Tracker: 42nd Ryder Cup

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 26, 2018, 11:15 am

Fresh off his 80th PGA Tour victory at the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods is competing in his first Ryder Cup since 2012. We're tracking him.