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'We got it right': Bjorn planned and his players delivered

By Will GraySeptember 30, 2018, 6:56 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – For about 20 minutes - right around the time Rory McIlroy made an unsuccessful excavation attempt from a fairway bunker on the 18th hole - an unfamiliar air of discomfort descended upon Le Golf National.

After two days of decisive wins on the course and infectious chants in the stands, European fans had signed up for nothing short of a coronation. The sky-high grandstands surrounding the first tee and closing stretch were to be the site of a frenzied fête  two years in the making.

But there was no mistaking the mounting sense of doubt that filled the air as Justin Thomas flipped his opening match on McIlroy and appeared to stoke the embers of a comeback that would have been felt from Paris to Medinah. The thousands of fans circling the final green, the ones who had arrived only with plans to toast their squad by sunset, were asked to do some quick math to determine where exactly things stood.

But then Paul Casey delivered, and Ian Poulter went back to being Ian Poulter, and order was restored for what will now be remembered as one of the best Ryder Cup teams Europe has ever produced.

Any brief moments of insecurity were long gone by the time Francesco Molinari got drowned in a sea of spilled beer and raucous cheers on the 16th tee, having notched the decisive point to cap the best individual performance in European Ryder Cup history.

When we look back on these Paris proceedings, Molinari's 5-0-0 record will shine. But in producing a 17 ½ to 10 ½ rout that stretched beyond the margin two years ago at Hazeltine, Thomas Bjorn’s men delivered an emphatic result.

“It’s just the best team I’ve ever been a part of,” Molinari said. “By miles.”

The stars, by and large, got points when asked. The veteran captain’s picks exceeded every expectation. Even unheralded Thorbjorn Olesen took down Jordan Spieth in a match that was never close. Combine that with Jon Rahm’s singles win over a listless Tiger Woods, and every European contributed a full point along the way. 

The group that came together not for country but under the flag of one unified continent put forth a team effort in every sense of the word.

“I think it’s very easy to sum it up. Some play five matches and some play two matches, but they all contribute,” Bjorn said. “I’ve played in many Ryder Cups, and I don’t care how many matches I play in as long as we win. And I think that’s what it’s all about.”


Match scoring from the 42nd Ryder Cup

Ryder Cup: Articles, photos and videos


Bjorn’s 1997 debut at Valderrama became a frequent talking point this week, with the Dane recalling his being benched by Seve Ballesteros for the entire first day. He ended up only playing twice but delivering 1 ½ points en route to a narrow European victory.

It was the sort of experience that came to influence his stint as captain. Bjorn entered with a calculated plan but also retained some flexibility, keeping countryman Thorbjorn Olesen out of action all day Saturday to make room for the unexpected success of Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. The crucible of these matches can send individuals and their emotions in myriad directions, but Bjorn only seemed more poised as the pressure rose.

“This team was relentless in its pursuit of excellence. We ticked every box we could control all week long,” said Justin Rose. “Thomas didn’t fill our week with pointless team meetings. He trusted us to be 12 players that would come together, and today trusted us to be 12 individuals.”

Those individuals did have to work a little harder than they may have hoped after starting the day with a four-point cushion. It seemed plausible at one time that the Americans could win each of the first six matches, turning a 10-6 deficit into a possible 12-10 lead.

But Bjorn rounded his squad out with a quartet of seasoned veterans, and one by one those additions proved their merit at the tournament’s most pivotal stage. Casey held on for a half point against Brooks Koepka, and Poulter closed out world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson both added late wins, giving Bjorn’s picks a 9-4-1 record for the week.

“I think this validates a lot of what we’ve done this week. I think it validates Thomas’ decisions and his picks,” McIlroy said. “I think everyone bought into his philosophy, and bought into what this Ryder Cup means and why it’s so important, not just to us but to Europe and to golf in general.”

When Bjorn gathered the team Thursday night on the eve of the matches, he played a short motivational video and let the fire of the room speak up. Garcia and Poulter both addressed the team, as did vice captains Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood.

But the Dane let his preparation do the talking on his behalf, sending his team out with a cool sense of confidence that didn’t waver when they dug an early hole. It remained steady again in the face of early adversity Sunday, when the Americans got as close as a single point.

Time and again, Bjorn put his faith in his players, and then he took his hands off the wheel. As he put those hands around the trophy on the 18th green and lifted it skyward to spark the biggest ovation of the week, having kicked a decorated American team to the curb, he had all the validation he needed.

“We got it right this week,” Bjorn said. “This was the best team room I’ve ever been in. It was calm, it was determined, it was focused, it was fun. Everything that this Ryder Cup was, is what I think the Ryder Cup should be about for a European team.”

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Miller's biggest on-air regret: Leonard at Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:00 am

Johnny Miller made a broadcasting career out of being brutally honest, calling golf tournaments exactly like he saw them.

His unfiltered style is what kept him on the air for nearly 30 years, but it wasn't always the most popular with players.

After announcing his upcoming retirement, Miller was asked Tuesday if there were any on-air comments he regretted over the last three decades. One immediately came to mind.

"I think that I didn't say the right words about Justin Leonard at Miracle at Brookline about he should be home watching it on TV. I meant really - I did say he should be home, but I meant the motel room. Even then I probably shouldn't have said that," Miller recalled. "I want so much for the outcome that I'm hoping for that I actually get overwhelmed with what I want to see. Almost the kind of things you would say to your buddies if you were watching it on TV, you know? He just couldn't win a match."

After struggling on Friday and Saturday in team play, Leonard ended up the U.S. hero after halving his Sunday singles match with José María Olazábal by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole - one of the most famous shots in Ryder Cup history.

"Of course he ended up - after the crappy comment I made that motivated maybe the team supposedly in the locker room, and he ends up making that 45-, 50- foot putt to seal the deal," Miller said. "Almost like a Hollywood movie or something."

Not only did the putt seal the comeback for the U.S., but it also earned Leonard an apology from Miller. 

"I apologized to him literally the next day; I happened to see him. I tried to make a policy when I go over the line that I get ahold of the guy within 24 hours and tell him I made a double bogey, you know. That's just the way I have done it through the years."

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Love him or not, Miller's authentic style stood out

By Doug FergusonOctober 16, 2018, 10:11 pm

The comment was vintage Johnny Miller, raw enough to cause most television producers to wince.

Miller was in the NBC Sports booth at Doral in 2004 when he watched Craig Parry hit another beautiful shot to the green. Miller said what he saw. That was his job.

He just didn't say it like other golf analysts.

''The last time you see that swing is in a pro-am with a guy who's about a 15-handicap,'' Miller said. ''It's just over the top, cups it at the bottom and hits it unbelievably good. It doesn't look ... if Ben Hogan saw that, he'd puke.''

Parry got the last word, of course, holing out a 6-iron from 176 yards in a playoff to win.

Except that wasn't the last word.

''I was in Ponte Vedra going back to the Honda Classic, and my phone is blowing up,'' said Tommy Roy, the longtime golf producer at NBC. ''It started percolating down in Australia, and you had radio stations demanding Johnny Miller be fired.''

Miller could make golf more fun to hear than to watch.

''He doesn't have a filter. That's why he's so good,'' Roy said. ''What he's thinking comes out. And 99.5 percent of the time, that was a great thing for viewers, and for me. And 0.5 percent of the time, it was a problem for our PR department and for me.

''And it was worth it.''

Roy was in Wisconsin on Monday night for his first look at Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup. It will be the first Ryder Cup since 1989 that doesn't have Miller in the booth weighing in on good shots and bad with thoughts that immediately become words.

He often entertained. He occasionally irritated. He was rarely dull.

Miller is retiring after three decades calling the shots for NBC. His last tournament will be the Phoenix Open, the perfect exit for a Hall of Fame player once known as the ''Desert Fox'' for winning six times in Arizona. Miller was so good for so long that it was easy for younger generations to forget about that other career he had.


Miller to retire from broadcast booth in 2019

Best of: Photos of Miller through the years


And to think that was nearly his only career in golf.

Miller said he wasn't interested when NBC first approached him, but then his wife stepped in and told him it would be nice to have a steady paycheck. Even then, it took time for him to realize his audience was in the living room, not the locker room.

He made his debut at the Bob Hope Classic in 1990 and it didn't take long for him to leave his mark. Peter Jacobsen faced an awkward lie to the 18th green with water to the left.

''The easiest shot to choke on,'' Miller said.

People thought about choking. Miller said it because that's what he was thinking.

''What came into his brain came out of his mouth,'' said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports. ''He was the first to really talk about the pressure. It's the most important element of the game, especially in those really big moments. He was doing it at a time when others weren't.''

It wasn't just the word ''choke.''

Phil Mickelson was getting up-and-down from everywhere at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Miller suggested that if Lefty weren't such a good putter he'd be selling cars in San Diego. Justin Leonard and Hal Sutton were losing a fourballs match at the 1999 Ryder Cup when Miller blurted out, ''My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television.''

During the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines that Tiger Woods won in 19 holes over Rocco Mediate, Miller suggested that guys named ''Rocco'' don't get their name on the trophy, and that Mediate looked like ''the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool.''

It wasn't all bad.

Roy, who also has produced NBA Finals and Olympics, said he wants analysts who first-guess, not second-guess. The latter is for talk radio. First-guessing means sharing instincts, and Miller had plenty of them.

Woods was playing the final hole at Newport in the 1995 U.S. Amateur when Miller said, ''It wouldn't surprise me if he knocked this thing a foot from the hole.''

And that's just what Woods did.

McCarley remembers how retired NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol used to worry whenever Miller called because he thought it was about retirement. McCarley soon inherited that feeling.

''Every time I'd see Johnny's number pop up on my cellphone, my heart would skip a beat,'' McCarley said. ''Two years ago, he made that call I had been dreading.''

McCarley kept him working a slightly reduced schedule, but no longer. Miller is 71 and has been on the road for 50 years. His 24th grandchild was born on Sunday. He wants to teach them fly fishing in Utah, perhaps even a little golf.

Miller wasn't sure he would last a week when he started. He never imagined going nearly 30 years.

He leaves behind a style all his own.

Most loved it. Some didn't. But everyone listened, and that might be his legacy in the broadcast booth. Roy said what he has heard from viewers he knows is that 70 percent really like Miller, and 30 percent really don't.

''But they all have an opinion,'' he said.

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CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Web.com Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."