Winning golf tournaments is difficult, despite what Tiger Woods has made it look like for the last fifteen years. Four days of playing against the world’s best on the toughest courses out there explain why a good majority of professional golfers never win a pro tournament. Tommy Gainey won his first PGA Tour event this year at the McGladrey’s at 37 years old, and if you talked to anyone in South Carolina twenty years ago, they would’ve told you that Gainey was destined for greatness as a pro golfer. There are players like Gainey all over the world too, which shows you how good the best players in the world really are. The gap in talent between a player like Gainey and Woods isn’t as big as you’d think, and yet, the difference in the level of success is clearly evident.
In golf, much like in every other professional sport, we define a player’s worth by their success. The PGA Tour has been around since 1916, and there have been 107 players to win at least ten events in that time. You may think that’s a huge number, but when you consider the amount of players to come through the tour in the last 96 years, combined with the amount of events each year, it’s really quite miniscule.
Jim Furyk currently sits tied for 51st in all-time wins on the PGA Tour with 16, including his one major victory, the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. Furyk has never been an electric player. He grinds at tournaments, and plays a solid, consistent game from tee to green. He doesn’t hit the ball long, his 280 yard average off the tee ranked him 171st on tour this year, but he hits plenty of fairways and is considered one of the better putters out there. It’s these characteristics that lead people to believe that Furyk’s game translates well to majors, and that when it comes down to it, he’s less likely to blow up than someone like Woods or Phil Mickelson, who rely more on power and creative shot making. It’s a narrative that sounds like it should make sense, but does it? For roughly the last decade, we’ve been hearing about Furyk’s steely demeanor and his ability as a closer. Of course, that was blown straight to hell this year when Furyk couldn’t close any of the four 54-hole leads he either held on his own, or with someone else. Don’t forget that Furyk was also a major reason for the American collapse at the Ryder Cup, another Sunday where he couldn’t close.
Many people suggested that Furyk’s struggles related to him getting older, and as history will tell you, it does get more difficult to hang on to a tournament as you age. However, when you look at the sheer numbers, they suggest that Furyk’s reputation may be a tad inflated. The table below shows all active PGA Tour members with at least ten wins, and their winning percentages when going into the final round of a tournament with either an outright lead, or share of the lead with at least one other player.
So, you might be saying “Wait a minute. Those numbers look much worse because of this season. That’s unfair to Furyk.” Granted, his 2012 numbers do take Furyk down a peg, but even if you ignore them, he’s still only 9/17, which gives him a 53% closing percentage. So, why does Furyk get this extra layer of credit when it comes to getting the job done under pressure? He certainly gets far more praise than Stricker or Leonard, who have had similar careers and at least stylistically, have comparable skill sets.
Prior to winning the 2003 U.S. Open, Furyk won seven times. Since winning his first major, he has picked up another eight victories. The one thing that truly stands out is that U.S. Open win, which is one of his nine victories where he went into the final round with at least a share of the lead. He was one of only four players under par that week, finishing at 8-under par, three shots clear of Australia’s Stephen Leaney, and that was the turning point for not only Furyk’s career, but the way that the public and the media viewed him as a player. This is what winning a major does to a player’s reputation. Look at the list of non-name brand golfers who have won their first majors in the years since Furyk won in 2003, and you’ll see a group of players who rightly or wrongly, have been labeled as guys who won’t crack under the pressure of a final round lead. Geoff Ogilvy, Zach Johnson, Y.E. Yang, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell and Keegan Bradley are six guys that have been given the Furyk label of a “closer”. Oosthuizen, by the way, has been unable to close three of his five final round leads this season.
A lot of this is placed on the American media, who are in love with an American player winning their national open, and to be honest, the same thing would probably happen in the UK if a Brit actually won the Open Championship. Winning a major should provide extra value to a player, but it shouldn’t blind anyone to the actual data behind them. Furyk is one of the finest players of his generation without question, but his career is the prime example of the narrative not matching the numbers.
The worst kept secret in golf is finally official, as world number one Rory McIlroy will not be renewing his sponsorship deal at the end of this season with Acushnet (Titleist and Footjoy), making him free to sign with any company he chooses. The rumours have been swirling around McIlroy for months for two reasons: First, his budding and odd relationship with Tiger Woods, and second, as noted by Doug Ferguson in his writeup this morning, Titleist has been known for letting their star players go, most notably with Woods and Phil Mickelson. So, what’s next for Rory?
The move seems obvious. Expect McIlroy to join Woods at Nike, and the numbers being thrown around are staggering. The popular rumour is that McIlroy already has a deal worked out with Nike at ten years, and $250 million. Let’s take a quick look at why this does and doesn’t make sense for both parties.
For Rory, the first pro is obvious. $250 million is a massive amount of cash, and there’s no way that anyone could blame him for turning it down, despite the struggles of almost every golfer on Nike’s roster at the moment. Secondly, McIlroy’s relationship with Woods obviously played a huge role in this, and being closer to Woods is probably something that McIlroy wants at this point. The downside to Rory making the switch is that you never know how someone will play with a new set of clubs. You may not think that means much, and for weekend recreation players, it probably doesn’t, but the slightest change of things for the pros is a big deal. If this deal is in fact complete or close, it would behoove both parties to announce it quickly to give McIlroy as much time as possible to get acclimated to any change that he’s going to have to make. There were rumours on Monday that during their exhibition in China, McIlroy asked Woods if he could swing a few of his clubs, which if true, is pretty much the indicator of where things are going. The two were also definitely caught on-air discussing Nike equipment as well.
More fuel added to Rory to Nike rumours? Miced for sound during Woods - McIlroy ex players talked Nike eq, balls/spin rates.—
Rick Young (@RickatSCOREGolf) October 29, 2012
Now with Nike, there really isn’t a negative here, outside of the slight chance that McIlroy falls off the map. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but if you’re going to put it on one player for a ten-year term, they’ve picked the right one. The deal would give Nike arguably the two best players in the world, and would definitely give them the two most marketable assets in golf. Woods and McIlroy dominate the conversation in the game to an obscene level, and Nike having both of them under their control is huge for the company. Like I said above, we can safely assume that if McIlroy signs with Nike, that Woods played a part in getting it done, and keeping Woods happy is just as important to Nike, at least in the short term, as signing McIlroy is. Lastly, looking at Nike’s talent roster, it’s obvious that they need some fresh faces. While some of the players they have are successful and playing quality golf, the likes of Carl Pettersson and Francesco Molinari aren’t the types of players that turn heads. Throw in the fact that several of their players that they had expected to lead the charge for the next few years have fallen on hard times, and you’re looking at a group that needed an influx of something positive. Who knows, these rumours may not have even started if Anthony Kim and Paul Casey had been able to play respectable golf in the last 18 months.
Keep in mind that this is purely speculation at this point. Luke Donald, Nick Watney, Gary Woodland, Kyle Stanley and a few others are all free agents as well, so McIlroy won’t be the last shoe to drop.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been on the golf course and done something stupid. Okay, now raise your hand again if after doing that stupid thing, you proceeded to hurl obscenities at the ball, you club and maybe even your playing partner, who happened to hole out from the greenside bunker, without a bounce. Fact is, we’ve all been there. Personally, I’m on my fourth putter in my less than ten years playing the game, and only one of those times was because I felt I needed a switch. Golf is a frustrating game, and one that will always lead to meltdowns, especially for those of us who play relatively frequently and take it seriously.
By now, you may have seen the below video from two-time PGA Tour winner Mark Wiebe at the Champions Tour’s AT&T Championship this week. The language is NSFW, so you may not want to play it depending on who’s around.
Look, I get why people could be offended by the language, but I’ve seen some articles online pointing to the idea that Wiebe needs to be fined or suspended for his actions. Frankly, that’s ridiculous. The more logical suggestion could be to put everything on a 30-second delay, so that those moments could either not be shown at all, or they could be bleeped out. Wiebe is known as one of the better putters in the game, and missing a short putt like that would fry anyone, let alone someone who’s supposed to gain strokes on the field with the flat stick.
Wiebe’s only human, and he’s doing what every single one of us have done on the course in the past, and will continue to do in the future. I’ll take what Wiebe did over throwing a club or destroying a piece of property any day. At least this was entertaining.
Last week, I had the chance to talk with Morgan Bell. Morgan’s a former professional golfer from PEI, who played for the University of Montevallo in Alabama. Currently, she’s working for Golf Canada as the organization’s Sport Development Communications Coordinator. We touched on many subjects in the interview, including her start in the sport, her abrupt retirement from the professional game and the current state of the sport in Canada.
Adam Sarson: Can you give me a quick background on where you’re from, and how you got started in golf?
Morgan Bell: Well, I’m from the small East Coast island of Prince Edward Island, born and raised in Charlottetown and I have no shame in saying PEI is the greatest place in Canada to play golf. I actually love the story of how I started playing golf because it involves french fries, still my favourite food.
When I was about six, my family had a cottage in Stanhope, PEI. We lived about a kilometer up this dirt road from the local golf club, Stanhope Golf and Country Club. I had this old green Maxfli bag with five clubs in it and my parents would bribe me with a few dollars and say ‘You can go down to the golf course and get french fries but you have to take your golf clubs and practice’. So, off I’d go, bribed by fries.
But the more I was there, the more I liked it and Stanhope was awesome because they gave free Junior lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’d go and take mini lessons from the local pro and then dad would take me down in the evenings and we’d play nine holes on our old 3 wheel golf cart until it became dark! It was such a great environment to learn the basics and make it fun.
AS: Did you play any other sports growing up, or was it mostly a focus on golf?
MB: I played SO many sports. My parents literally wanted me to experience everything. Dad used to always teach me the fundamentals in the backyard because he didn’t want me to look girly playing sports and I’m still so thankful to him because I can throw a baseball surprisingly hard.
In the winter I was a highly competitive figure skater, but I quit at 16 trying to land triples! I also was a competitive alpine ski racer and went to the Canada Games in 2004. I loved ski racing; it was so much fun going fast. I also took ballet alongside figure skating for many years, even though I’m so ungraceful it’s hilarious and if piano counts (Editor’s note: it doesn’t) I did that too until I was 16.
In the summertime, I played baseball with the boys (second base and center field) until I was 16. I quit because I realized they were all boys and being 16 and a girl didn’t work out very well with them anymore, so I switched over to softball (Third base), played on our provincial team and went to Nationals for that. I eventually quit softball in grade 12 when I was on the Canada Games team, as my coach told me I had to pick between softball and golf, and in my mind I said ‘I’m not going to be playing softball when I’m 60, nor is it going to get me to school on a full-ride”. Golf became a full-time focus soon after that.
AS: At what point did you and your family realize that golf wasn’t just something that you were good at, but something that you could try and make a living out of?
MB: I realized it in my senior year of university, pretty late. I was hitting the ball past most people I played against and I won a few tournaments my senior year, but because I didn’t have a car at university, I really actually never got to practice nearly as much as I wanted to. I went back after graduating in 2008 from Montevallo and was the assistant coach on the women’s squad, bought a car and took lessons from Hank Johnson in Birmingham, Alabama. It was then that I kind of realized I could make a run at this, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
AS: You mentioned attending the University of Montevallo in Alabama. How does someone from the east coast of Canada end up in Alabama to play golf? Walk me through the process of how you ended up there.
MB: A question I get asked all the time! I was recruited through this agency called ‘CAPS’. I was in grade 12 at the time and actually originally went to a school in St. Louis at a place called Lindenwood (that’s why I love the Cardinals). I really disliked that school and wanted to transfer out at Christmas, but had to wait until my freshman year was over. Montevallo was one of the original schools to recruit me, so I called them up when I was done at Lindenwood and asked if they still had scholarship money available, and sure enough they did. So, my parents and I flew down to St. Louis, picked up all my stuff out of storage and drove down to the backwoods, small town of Montevallo.
At first glance, I thought to myself ‘What on earth did I just do?’ But Montevallo was the greatest four years of my life, and being a small town person, it was completely perfect for me. So many of us Canucks end up at so many random places, but these schools needs to meet scholarship/NCAA criteria and there is a huge opportunity in so many sports, not just golf.
AS: Further to that, how did your family and friends react to you moving so far away for school? Was it difficult to keep up relationships with them?
MB: My parents were 50/50. I think my dad was terrified to send me away, as he didn’t even want me to travel off PEI for university, but I won that battle!!
My friends thought it was awesome and thank god for MSN Messenger back in the day because seriously that’s all I used to do. I’ve never been one to have a huge group of friends, so my two closest friends from high school still remain my closest friends today. Facebook also appeared in my second year of university, so that was a big help too in keeping up with everyone’s lives.
As for my parents, it was actually a blessing because being so far away I realized how much I loved talking to them. Living at home you take them for granted but after I was away for long enough, all I wanted to do was talk to them every day. I’m still awful for that. I call my mom and dad seriously every day. They might tell me they are sick of me soon.
AS: From a golf perspective, run me through a typical day at Montevallo.
MB: Oh dear. (laughs) Just keep in mind Montevallo is no D1 Alabama here. I do very much wish it was much more structured looking back. Golf didn’t start until about 2pm. Whenever class was done essentially and we’d recruit drives out to the course, as Timberline was a 20minute drive. We kind of took our own reigns on practice but Coach Palmer was always out at the range or putting green with us, and he was pretty decent golfer himself so he often offered some advice if we needed it. Like I said earlier, practice was my Achilles heel in university. I like to practice, and I’d find myself only staying for an hour or two because my ride wanted to leave.
But we’d go up there, hit two bags of balls, chip, putt and then twice a week we usually played 18 on the worst walking course you could ever imagine. We practiced every weekday though. The gym was up to ourselves for my first two years, and after that we had some hilarious trainers who busted our butts.
AS: Tell me about the results you had throughout your college career.
MB: I had my good tournaments and bad tournaments. College golf really taught me a lot about being a competitor because half the time I had zero idea what was going on with my golf swing. I didn’t have a coach for four years, so I still consider myself a fantastic grinder.
When I dedicated myself in my senior year it showed. I won a big tournament in Myrtle Beach against a huge field, shooting 75-73. I won in a playoff and I’ll honestly never forget sinking that 20ft birdie putt on the first hole. I actually have no idea how it went in, but it just smoked the back of the cup and fell in and my whole team came running out onto the green. It was completely awesome.
I won another one too, but I was always a big advocate that a lot of scores would never win tournaments at other events. So, shooting 77 to win doesn’t count in my books, but I’m proud of Myrtle Beach. It was a tough two days with good girls around me. I always wanted to be better, and I still remember taking two doubles in that 75 in Myrtle Beach and being furious about them even after winning. (laughs)
AS: After graduating, you turned pro. What was the process of turning pro straight out of school? How did you get into events? Share anything that you think takes us behind the scenes.
MB: You just declare you’re a pro and enter whatever professional events you want. Not too glamorous.
I actually waited a year to turn pro because I went back and took lessons for a year and coached my team. I felt then that I had a great foundation after the summer of 2009. I had won every amateur event on PEI that summer, set a few course records, and played well at Nationals despite one terrible round. I felt I could do it, so I went to LPGA Future Qualifying in the fall of 2009 and turned pro after. Getting into events isn’t too hard. Women’s fields need players, so there was always a spot in a mini tour anywhere really.
AS: At some point, you decided that playing professionally wasn’t for you. What made you come to that decision? How often do you play now?
MB: This is quite a story…
Futures the first time around didn’t go too great. I was terrified when I got there, totally felt in over my head. I just wasn’t used to it but I did get status. So that winter I didn’t want to stay on PEI in the snow, so I actually flew to South Africa to practice with a good friend of mine who was a professional on the Sunshine Tour. I actually can’t ever remember playing golf so well. I was over there for 4 months and was ready to come home and play a full season on the CN Women’s Tour, and try to get into as many Futures events as I could. I had so much confidence.
I flew home sometime in May and after hitting the ground on PEI, I had about a two day turnaround and had to fly out to Vancouver for the CN event, my pro debut. I remember before flying out to Vancouver, I was standing in my mom’s room trying to put a sock on while balancing on the other foot and I fell over, which is totally weird since I have pretty great balance, but I just brushed it off.
Anyways, I got on the first tee in a practice round and I felt so weird. I was hitting the ball 40 yards shorter than usual, I was tired, I was just out of it. I thought I was just nervous. So I teed off the next day, and I played I think 12 holes at like +16. At one point, I was standing over the ball and it was moving to my eyes. I felt like I was on a really rough boat ride standing over the ball, and at that point I knew I had to withdraw. I went to the hospital where the doctor told me she couldn’t believe I was golfing, let alone driving…. Awesome.
I flew back home and literally spent a month sleeping. I was so tired, but my biggest mistake was trying to play golf to beat it. I should have taken that entire summer off and gotten better, but I was too stubborn. I felt like I had to play, something I’m sure a lot of struggling pros would understand. I played terribly all summer long, hit shots a 20+ handicap wouldn’t even hit. I was going to physio where they do all this wacky stuff to your head and eventually, I’d say about 4 months later, the vertigo did go away but my confidence with golf was shattered and my golf swing turned into some hilarious thing I’ve never seen before.
I played for another year but I never got over it. I essentially went back to South Africa, found some good ground, and caddied a ton on the Sunshine Tour, which I loved. I went 7/7 in cuts made for the guy I caddied for over there. Then I came back home and tried to play a few more events, but my mind over the ball in tournaments was just toast. It wasn’t worth it anymore and the fun was gone, so I knew I had to make a change.
AS: How much do you play now, and why do you do it? It sounds like you were pretty hard on yourself when you played competitively. Are you still that way now even though you’re not actively pursuing it as a career?
MB: I get out to play I’d say twice a month now as it’s just not a priority right now, but when I do I have so much more fun than I did when playing competitively. I actually think I’m better right now than when I was competing as I put way too much pressure on myself. Now I just step up, hit it and and go. It seems I play like a whole new Morgan. I’m 100% having way more fun now playing golf. I still get disgusted when I hit a bad shot that I know I should be able to hit, but I typically laugh about it now and get over it in under 5 seconds. I still have high standards for myself out there, but I definitely don’t put the pressure on myself to perform well anymore, but it seems like I almost always do. I wish I could have figured this all out a long time ago!
AS: You’re currently studying as a grad student at Centennial College, with the ultimate goal of being on TV, talking about sports. How did you end up in Toronto?
MB: That story above deserves a few thanks for getting me here, and I’m thankful for it now.
I took journalism as my undergrad because sports have always been my passion. I knew if I wasn’t playing them, I wanted to be talking or writing about them. When I ultimately decided to quit competitive golf, I knew I had to make a change and I knew I’d been out of school too long to depend on my undergrad to get me a job. I knew I wasn’t happy where I was and a career in sports was the only solution to my problem.
I literally Googled ‘sports journalism grad programs’, up popped Centennial, and I’m going to consider it my lucky break. I have family up here so moving wasn’t that big of an issue, but I couldn’t believe I was going back to school, something I said I’d NEVER do. But I didn’t want to go back for long and Centennial offered this perfect grad program that essentially is under a year and you’re done. Painless in my eyes! I applied in late September, and not long after I was informed of my acceptance, and I had a few months to wrap my head around moving. Again.
AS: Do you have a specific goal or dream job in TV?
MB: Kelly Tilghman has my dream job in golf, but Erin Andrews has the best sideline reporting job in the world and she’s so good at it. That being said, I love a lot of things besides TV. Truthfully, I just enjoy finding the stories and sharing them. I’m really not sure where I want to be yet, but I do hope it’s in golf because I want to have a voice for our sport and I hope someday I can be an influential person for the sport of golf and it’s development in our country.
AS: You recently took a job as the Sport Development Communications Coordinator at Golf Canada. What are your duties in the new job? Why did you end up taking it?
MB: Well, I just look at their name ‘Golf Canada’ and I feel lucky to be there. It’s our country’s governing body for the sport I’m the most passionate about. If I want to be in the thick of things in golf in Canada, it’s a great place to be. Earlier in the summer, they let me come and work for them at the RBC Canadian Open. I filmed some videos, interviewed fans and players and it was a fantastic experience. I really found out how much I enjoyed the people I’d be working around, and when the job was offered to me I knew it’d be a great place for me to be.
What my job entails though is all things sport development in our country. National Golf in Schools, Team Canada, Future Links, Golf Fore the Cure, Women’s growth, etc. You name it, and it more than likely falls under my window. I’m responsible for writing content and producing videos for all these things. It’s busy and I like it. Even in the winter it’s busy! It’s also neat because I grew up in a few of these programs, so I feel like I can give back a little bit at the same time while working.
AS: What are the similarities and differences with this job, and with being a pro golfer?
MB: I think being a golfer always helps. I know a lot of the players, I’ve played a lot of the tournaments, I know the etiquette, I know when and when not to push for questions and I also know what it feels like to be in their shoes, except maybe when they win a professional event, but I can certainly imagine what it feels like. It’s definitely an advantage to know the other side, and it gives you a little bit more credibility right off the top.
That being said, a desk is not a golf course. Being a professional golfer you have an office, it’s just outside. People glorify professional sports way too much, and golf is just as much of job as what I’m doing now, but I don’t get a tan anymore.
AS: You’re an interesting case because you know what it’s like to be on the professional athlete side of things, and now you’re trying to break into the media. Do you have any thoughts on the current state of sports media? A lot has changed in recent years with the way things are covered, especially with the explosion of social media.
MB: I love where sports media is going, and aside from the lockouts, sports are healthy in North America.
I also 100% think if you’re not in the loop with social media, you are going to get left in the dust. Not only Twitter, but social media is the future of sports. Everything we do now involves live tweeting, athletes reactions on Twitter, fan reactions, etc. It’s the fastest way to find out what’s going on, and as journalists, it’s an incredible source to find information (as long as you make sure it’s right!!)
Twitter has been my most beneficial tool in getting my foot into this industry. I’ve met so many great writers and producers through it, and I thank them for all their help and guidance, as they are always there to lend advice if needed.
Back to the original thought though. I don’t think social media going anywhere. It’s only going to get more and more integrated into broadcasts in the future, and I think it’s such a unique way to make fans feel included. There’s nothing like it.
AS: What do you think about the current state of golf, both in Canada and abroad?
MB: I think in Canada, things are finally starting to come together again. We have insanely talented amateurs right now in our country, kids like Albin Choi and Brooke Henderson. They are involved in such great programs that are only going to help them become better, elite players. It’s exciting to watch their progress.
I also think it’s fantastic that the PGA Tour is taking over the Canadian Tour, as I can’t think of a better opportunity for the guys in our country to finally have. I caddied on the Canadian Tour for a summer and there are some seriously talented players out there. I hope they are going to find a little more of the limelight they deserve, which hopefully means more recognition, more sponsorships etc. It’s a great thing and I look forward to being a part of it and seeing it grow.
As for the state of the golf worldwide, the men’s tours are bursting with opportunity. Everyone loves watching them and with players like Tiger and Rory healthy, it can’t get much better. On the women’s side, the mystery remains, as I can’t wrap my head around why people aren’t watching. North America needs a bigger presence. Ratings were high when Creamer faced Shin a few weeks back, and I think for the game to grow again in North America, we need more of our stars to step up and put up a fight. The game develops so young in Korea and other places, that I think in North America, we have to start adapting some of their techniques to stay competitive because it’s certainly working for them over there.
For more from Morgan, give her a follow on Twitter, and check out her blog. Also, check out Golf Canada’s website and Twitter account for more information on their programs and news on Canadian golf.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks on the PGA Tour about Vijay Singh. The three-time major winner turns 50 years old early next year, making him eligible for the Champions Tour. Singh, for what it’s worth, says that he has no interest in teeing it up full-time against the senior players, and frankly, who can blame him? Despite a winless season so far in 2012, Singh has put together five top-10 finishes and earning over $1.5 million. He still drives the ball well, averaging over 295 yards per drive, and his legendary work ethic, especially when it comes to keeping himself in shape, remains in tact.
Last week at the Frys.com Open, Singh was at the end of another solid tournament, finishing T-4 and posting a score of -14. Towards the end of the event, this tweet from Kieran Clark came across my timeline:
It’s astonishing to think, that between the ages of 40-45, Vijay won the same number of PGA Tour titles as Raymond Floyd did in his career.
— Kieran Clark (@OnParWithGolf) October 14, 2012
We all know that Vijay has been ridiculously productive in his career, but that fact was staggering. Raymond Floyd is a 4-time major winner, with 66 professional wins under his belt, and countless other awards and accolades. All it took was five years for Vijay to eclipse Floyd’s PGA Tour win total? And those five years were when Vijay was in his 40’s?
Coming into the 2004 season, everyone was well aware of the talent that Vijay Singh possessed. His resume spoke for itself:
- Eleven European Tour titles
- Fifteen PGA Tour victories
- Two major championships (1998 PGA Championship and the 2000 Masters)
- Fifteen other professional wins
He won more money than any other player in 2003, but 2004 was the year that Vijay officially announced his arrival, and he did it by stomping all over the competition. Take a look at these numbers:
- Twenty-eight of twenty-nine cuts made (Buick Invitational)
- Nine wins, including his third major, the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits
- Eighteen top-10’s and twenty-four top-25’s
- $10,905,166 in earnings
In addition to his 2004 season, Vijay finished in the top-10 in 54 events from 2003-2005. Keep in mind that Rory McIlroy and Bo Van Pelt tied for the lead in top-10 finishes this year on the PGA Tour with ten. In the history of the PGA Tour, there have been only six players who have won at least nine tournaments in a season, and only two of those have come after 1950. His total earnings in 2004 is also a record, assuming we’re throwing out the $10 million bonus that’s awarded for winning the FedEx Cup, which was introduced in 2007. Take a look at his results from early August to the end of October that year:
Outside of the WGC event, that’s a stretch of six wins and a tie for second. It was during this stretch that Vijay put an end to Tiger’s then record streak of 264 weeks at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings. The two would battle back and forth for that title for the next nine months before Tiger took it again for another five years. I’ll be the first one to criticize the ranking system in place for the OWGR, but at this point, there really was no argument: Vijay Singh was the best player in the world. That may not seem like much now, since the top spot in the world has changed hands so frequently in recent years, but this was a huge deal back in 2004. No one should have been better than Tiger. No one was supposed to dominate the game except Tiger, much less a 42-year old from Fiji.
Tiger first ascended to world number one in June of 1997, and throughout his career, he has spent a record 623 weeks in the top spot. In his first two years, he battled Ernie Els, Greg Norman and David Duval for the top spot, before finally taking control of it for five years, starting in September of 1999. Keep in mind that from 1999 to 2004, Tiger’s first prolonged stint at the top, he won 33 times, including seven majors. The idea that someone would replace him at the top of OWGR was unfathomable, but Vijay managed to pull it off for 32 weeks. Those 32 weeks happened when Tiger was at the top of his game, when he was not only the best golfer in the world, but the most dominant athlete on the planet.
My point is this: Back in 2004, it was obvious that Vijay was the best player in the world, but I don’t think anyone actually remembers that. Is it because he only won one major that year? I’d understand that argument if he didn’t win eight other tournaments, and have eighteen top-10’s. Any conversation about the best players in the world over the last decade centers around Tiger and Phil. A few people mention Ernie Els, and that’s really where the discussion ends. This happens all the time in sports. Some players get a ton of attention for their accomplishments, while others get forgotten, and Vijay Singh appears to be one of those guys. As Vijay makes his transition from the PGA to the Champions Tour, where if he decides to go, he will dominate, we should all look back and recognize that Vijay Singh was not only the best player in the world, but also had one of the greatest individual seasons in sports history.
Australian Stuart Appleby is known for several things in the world of golf. He’s got 15 professional wins, and he shot the ultra rare 59 in the final round of the 2010 Greenbrier. Hell, the guy even played Aussie Rules football in Australia before making the switch to the slightly less physical game of golf. One thing he isn’t known for is his dancing abilities. That may change now though, as we see this move from Appleby at the par-4 1st in the first round of the Frys.com Open from CordeValle.
Unfortunately for Appleby, he ended up missing the cut, his tenth MC this season.
The 2012 Ryder Cup is in the books, and even though I’m sure Europe is still celebrating their massive comeback victory, here are my final grades for each player, along with some parting shots about the event as a whole. I’ll start with Team USA, followed by Team Europe.
- Captain Davis Love: The role of the losing captain is often a tough one to play, but as usual, Love was classy to the end. Still though, there will be much debate over his captain’s picks, as both Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker wilted under the pressure when it mattered most on Sunday. Brandt Snedeker played well the first two days, but was soundly beaten on Sunday by Paul Lawrie as well. Sitting Phil Mickelson on Saturday afternoon was a request by the player, so no fault there, but Keegan Bradley should have been out there, regardless of what Phil was doing. Final grade: C-
- Keegan Bradley (3-1): Couldn’t ask for anything more out of Bradley in his Ryder Cup debut. He was probably the team’s best player from start to finish, and he managed to get the most out of Mickelson with his infectious attitude and demeanor. Final grade: A
- Jason Dufner (3-1): Another Ryder Cup rookie, Jason Dufner was exactly what we expected. Calm and steady, Dufner’s emotion level rarely gets above that of a corpse, but even he got into it on Sunday, as he tried to get the crowd fired up. The comparison to Ray Floyd is apt, and he’s going to be here for a long time. One of only three Americans to gain a full Sunday point. Final grade: B+
- Jim Furyk (1-2): Another Sunday to add to Jim Furyk’s 2012 boulevard of broken dreams. His performance on the final two greens on Sunday completely shifted the momentum to Europe, going from giving them a chance, to making it seem likely that the comeback was going to happen. Anyone who watched Furyk this year could have told you that was coming as he stood over those two putts, taking an eternity to read the greens and asking his caddie, Fluff Cowan, for more help than should have been required for a pair of putts that totaled no more than 13 feet. As much as the US Open and WGC Bridgestone hurt, I have to think this one feels worse, and it’s going to be interesting to see how Furyk bounces back from this latest meltdown. Final grade: D-
- Dustin Johnson (3-0): Paired with Matt Kuchar for the first two days, Johnson picked up a pair of points despite only average play. Kuchar was really the star of the pairing until the 17th in Saturday’s fourball when Johnson hit a lengthy birdie putt to put the Americans in front by one. Sunday was a battle of the big hitters as Johnson took on the “Belgian Bomber” Nicolas Colsaerts, and it was a good back and forth until Johnson pulled away with three straight birdies on 14, 15 and 16. Definitely proved his worth as a captain’s pick. Final grade: B
- Zach Johnson (3-1): The former Masters champ had a great first two sessions paired with Dufner, picking up a pair of points before being upended by the runaway train that was Ian Poulter on Saturday afternoon. That would be Johnson’s only loss of the event, as he easily disposed of Graeme McDowell in the Sunday singles with a 2-up victory. Final grade: B+
- Matt Kuchar (2-1): Typical performance by Kuchar this weekend, with a bunch of solid play. He carried the pairing of him and Dustin Johnson to a pair of wins in the Friday and Saturday fourball before dropping his singles match on Sunday to Lee Westwood. The only issue with his play was the way in which he lost to Westwood, finishing with a 3-down defeat despite being all square through 11 holes. Final grade: B+
- Phil Mickelson (3-1): Phil Mickelson’s weekend is pretty much the epitome of what happened to the American side. He started out hot with Bradley as his partner, dominating the likes of Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, before asking to sit out the Saturday afternoon session so he could be rested for his Sunday singles match. After a slow start against Justin Rose, Mickelson got it together and took a 1-up lead to the 17th tee. He finished with a pair of pars, but it wasn’t enough as Rose hit a ridiculous 40-footer for birdie on 17, and followed it up with another solid birdie putt on 18 to close it out with a 1-up win. Still though, a great performance from Mickelson, especially considering his Ryder Cup record coming into 2012. Final grade: A
- Webb Simpson (2-2): A solid Ryder Cup debut for the 2012 U.S. Open champion. Him and Bubba Watson were a formidable duo in foursome/fourball play, with Simpson nailing putts all over Medinah. His only problem came when he ran into Poulter, losing Saturday’s morning foursome and then in Sunday’s single match. Simpson did have the lead on Poulter through 11 holes though, and was all square heading to the 17th tee before losing 2-down. Final grade: B
- Brandt Snedeker (1-2): Snedeker carried Furyk at times in their pairings against McIlroy and McDowell, but his massive miss on the 18th tee in Friday’s foursome proved to be very costly. They had just got it back to level pegging with the duo from Northern Ireland on the previous hole, but Snedeker’s drive was nowhere near the fairway, causing a layup by Furyk. Conversely, McIlroy’s tee shot got a lucky bounce and caromed off a tree and back into the fairway. They got a measure of revenge on Saturday, beating McIlroy and McDowell, but Snedeker collapsed on Sunday, getting beaten soundly by 1999 British Open winner Paul Lawrie 5 & 3. Final grade: C
- Steve Stricker (0-4): Stricker ends the 2012 Ryder Cup as the only American player without at least a half-point won for his side, and at times, it was an ugly performance. His pairing with Tiger Woods was supposed to be one made out of comfort, but the pairing led for a total of three holes in their three matches, and most of the quality play came from Woods on Friday and Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, Stricker got out to an early lead on Martin Kaymer, but gave it up on the sixth hole and never got it back. Costly captain’s pick. Final grade: F
- Bubba Watson (2-2): As mentioned above, Bubba and Webb Simpson were solid as a team on the first two days, dominating two of their three matches, but did lose to the red-hot Poulter on Saturday morning. Sunday morning was tough for Bubba, as he fell behind early to Luke Donald, and couldn’t get out of his 4-down hole. His pumping up of the crowd for his tee shots was fun to watch, and definitely gave a little life to the Chicago crowd. Final grade: B
- Tiger Woods (0-3-1): What can you say about Tiger Woods this week? As the big American gun, you have to hold him to a higher standard than everyone else without question, but he had no help from his partner in Steve Stricker as mentioned above. His half-point against Francesco Molinari on Sunday didn’t matter, as Europe had already clinched the victory. At the end of this, it’s just another event that leaves Tiger with more questions than answers, and as I’ve said before, that’s become the norm for him at this point in his career. Final grade: D-
- Captain Jose Maria Olazabal: I’m conflicted about this because to me, Olazabal didn’t do a great job as captain of this team. We know he’s the emotional leader, and he’s extremely well liked by not only his players, but by the media and everyone he meets, but I can’t speak to what kind of impact his speeches or motivational talks had on the team. What I can speak to are his decisions, and yes, he made the no-brainers of selecting Colsaerts and Poulter as his captain’s picks, but his benching of Poulter, Donald and Garcia for Friday afternoon was puzzling. I understand wanting to get everyone in on the first day, but surely there were other players to sit. At the very least, all three of them shouldn’t have been sitting down. Lastly, not sure how you can allow the world number one to arrive ten minutes before his Sunday tee time, and even though that’s more on Rory than Olazabal, it still came under his watch. But, he did captain the winning team, so you have to give him credit for that. Final grade: B+
- Nicolas Colsaerts (1-3): It was a tough debut for Colsaerts after his ridiculous putting display on Friday afternoon. He lost his next three matches when his overly aggressive putting cost him, with lipouts coming at pretty much every green. We also got what many people wanted on Sunday with Colsaerts going out against Dustin Johnson, but that match never got past all square. In fact, outside of that first match, Colsaerts never led at any point. Final grade: C-
- Luke Donald (2-2): It was a slow start for Donald, who lost both of his matches to start the event, but he came on strong winning his last two, including a convincing victory over Bubba Watson in Sunday’s opening singles match. In his last two matches, he never trailed, and improved his Ryder Cup record to a sparkling 10-4-1. More importantly, Olazabal clearly thought Donald was the man to set the tone in the opening match, sending out their most steady player as opposed to one of their more dynamic ones. Final grade: B+
- Sergio Garcia (2-2): Ah, Sergio, golf’s biggest enigma. He’s often said that his favourite event to play in is the Ryder Cup, and his record shows it. After going 2-2 this weekend, he’s now 16-8-4 in his career, but to be honest, I don’t think he played overly well this year. He was beaten pretty soundly in his opening two foursome matches and was helped along greatly by Donald in Saturday’s fourball against Woods and Stricker. Sunday’s singles match against Furyk was mostly up-and-down until Furyk missed a pair of par putts on the last two holes to give Sergio the 1-up win. Don’t get me wrong, Sergio got the job done at the end of it, but it certainly wasn’t the type of performance that we expected coming in. Final grade: C+
- Peter Hanson (0-2): The least talked about controversy of the weekend involved Peter Hanson complaining about sitting out both sessions on Saturday. Now I’m sure many of you are having your Pedro Martinez-Karim Garcia moment with this, but Peter Hanson is one of the best players in the world, coming in at #25 in the world rankings. Hanson and Kaymer were the only players on either team to only play two matches, so him being upset is understandable, but unfortunately for Hanson, his play didn’t really merit another shot. Him and Paul Lawrie were beaten rather easily in fourball by Watson and Simpson, never leading at any point, and even though he made it look competitive on Sunday against Jason Dufner, he never led in that match either. Final grade: D-
- Martin Kaymer (1-1): Everyone had Kaymer as Europe’s weak link, and in terms of an overall performance, Kaymer didn’t really do a whole lot for his side. However, he did hit the clinching putt for Europe, so there’s obvious credit to be given. Kaymer’s going through a swing change, and he has said in recent weeks that he’s feeling much better with where his game is. On a side note, Kaymer is known as one of the game’s “good guys”, so there were lots of people who were happy that it was him to put the nail in the American coffin. Final grade: B
- Paul Lawrie (1-2): Coming into the Ryder Cup, Lawrie felt like he had a lot to prove. After all, this was the first time he’s played in the event since 1999 when he won the British Open. He was handled easily in his first team event on Friday, and while he and Colsaerts made a valiant effort in Saturday’s fourball, they never led at any point, eventually falling 1-down to Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Sunday was Lawrie’s last chance at redemption, and he made the most of it, destroying 2012 FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker, finishing 5-up. People will point to other matches as being the key on Sunday, but this was one that Europe was given almost no chance of winning, so it meant more than most will give it credit for. Final grade: B
- Graeme McDowell (1-3): As far as overall results go, this was the one that shocked me. McDowell, widely known as one of the most clutch and gritty players in the game, was rendered meaningless after Friday’s morning session. After dropping the par putt on 18 in his opening match to get Europe a point, not only did McDowell never see a lead again, he wasn’t even all square at any point. Fifty-two consecutive holes for McDowell were spent with him chasing the Americans. My money was definitely on him at the bar last night though. Final grade: D
- Rory McIlroy (3-2): What a whirlwind weekend for McIlroy. His results were good and bad, and if you watched him on Saturday, you definitely got the feeling that he was beginning to look worn down, and it took playing with Poulter to get him going again. But getting confused about when your Sunday tee time is? Having to be driven to the course by a state trooper? Those are new ones, assuming you believe that story. The one thing that you have to respect though is the way he handled the situation on Sunday. He got to the course and admitted that he made a mistake, even if he did blame the Golf Channel, and then took care of business beating the best player the Americans had all week in Keegan Bradley. That’s what the best players do when challenged. Final grade: B+
- Francesco Molinari (0-2-1): Molinari’s half-point didn’t end up making a difference, but for a long time, it looked like it might come down to him and Tiger to decide the whole thing. Give him credit for hanging with Tiger on Sunday, but his other two matches were bad, losing a combined 8-down. Final grade: D
- Ian Poulter (4-0): That old cliche about someone putting his team on his back and carrying them to victory? I don’t usually believe in that stuff, but after seeing Ian Poulter’s performance on Saturday, that might be the closest we ever come to seeing it, certainly in golf. I wrote about Poulter’s Seve-like performance on Saturday night, and looking back on it now, it’s still as impressive now as it was then. Poulter didn’t dominate any of his matches, with 2-up being his largest margin of victory, but it was the way it happened. With every shot and every passionate reaction, Poulter gave life to a sagging European team, and nowhere was that more evident than on the face of Rory McIlroy on Saturday afternoon. Poulter was already known as a great Ryder Cup player, but his performance at Medinah has made him a legendary one. Final grade: A+
- Justin Rose (3-2): Outside of Poulter’s brilliance, the lasting image of the Ryder Cup may be Justin Rose draining the long birdie putt on the 17th green to tie his match with Phil Mickelson. He followed it up with another birdie on 18 to stun the Americans, and take his career Ryder Cup record to 6-3. He alternated wins and losses, and while he did play with Poulter for two of his wins, he put on a solid performance throughout. His two losses were a little rough, but he really came through when it mattered most. Also one of only two players (McIlroy) in the entire event to play all five matches. Final grade: B+
- Lee Westwood (2-2): Of all the players in the event, Lee Westwood probably had the most up-and-down play. Dufner and Zach Johnson beat Westwood and Molinari to start. Then, Westwood and Colsaerts survived a tough matchup against Woods and Stricker before Westwood and Donald were demolished 7-up by Bradley and Mickelson. Westwood then came back on Sunday and comfortably beat Matt Kuchar in their singles match. That’s pretty much been the way Westwood’s season has gone, but again, he pulled it through when he needed to. Final grade: B-
- Spending much of my time on Twitter during the event showed how powerful the social network can be when a major sporting event is taking place. It seemed like everyone was talking about it, golf fan or otherwise, and it made the atmosphere even better.
- What didn’t make the atmosphere better was NBC’s poor job of covering the event. Saturday was littered with technical malfunctions, and so much of Sunday was covered by commercial breaks that it really broke up the flow of the event. The only good thing about these problems was that it gave a little less air time to Johnny Miller, NBC’s American flag waving commentator who always seems more interested in telling people how easy the game of golf is, than actually providing some level of tangible insight.
- There was some conversation about why golf doesn’t do more team events to try to replicate what we had on the weekend. The answer is simple: the special feeling that the Ryder Cup provided this year is special because it only happens every two years. I’m all up for ways to improve golf, and more team events could be the way to do it, but it won’t feel the same.
- The course was kept in immaculate shape this weekend as well. Medinah is one of the rare gems on the PGA Tour, and I wish we saw it a little more often.
- The final grade for the ghost of Seve? A+
Every once and a while, something happens in the world of sports that’s unexplained. Something that you don’t expect to happen, and yet, against all odds, the world’s best athletes are elevated to gods and reduced to mere mortals. Late on Saturday at the Ryder Cup, Ian Poulter gave us a small example of this. It was a great performance to be sure, but we’ve seen golfers go lights out before. Sunday’s Ryder Cup though was one of those rare moments where it seemed like everything stopped, and everyone had eyes on Medinah, watching as Team Europe was staging one of the most incredible comebacks in sports history. Team Europe came back from an 10-6 deficit to defeat Team USA 14.5-13.5, and it is a day I’ll never forget as a sports fan.
Sure, there are times when the sports world focuses on golf. The four majors, especially the Masters, brings out a ton of casual golf fans. Throw Tiger Woods into the mix and even more come out of the woodwork. But, these days, golf has taken a backseat to more exciting, faster moving and violent sports. For a few brief fleeting hours, golf was the focus of the entire sporting world. Of course, we had this same situation not even a week ago when the replacement referees in the NFL were driving the final nail into the coffin of their employment, and destroying the last little bit of leverage the NFL had with the locked out referees. The difference this time though was that the focus wasn’t on the negative outcome of the event, it was on the purely amazing sequence of events that only sports can provide. Golf fan or not, supporter of Europe or the United States, those that watched the final day of the Ryder Cup were treated to moments that will be lodged in their minds forever. From the weirdness of Rory McIlroy not knowing what timezone he was in, to the mesmerizing performance of Justin Rose and the heartbreaking collapse of Jim Furyk, Sunday at Medinah provided more storylines, drama and intrigue than you’ll see for a long time.
Yes, the Americans rallied from an 10-6 deficit to win at Brookline in 1999, so I guess on some level, that should minimize the odds of how unlikely this result was, but it doesn’t, at least not to me. Europe started out hot, led by former world number one Luke Donald, who more than anyone embodies the steady and measured play that Europe has become known for. Poulter started slow by his standards against Webb Simpson, but when he needed to, he took over his match. McIlroy, once he got to the course, took it to Keegan Bradley, and even though they were tied at times, McIlroy always seemed like he was in control. Rose and Phil Mickelson enjoyed a fantastic back and forth, which was probably the best overall match on the day, and while Mickelson had a 1-up lead heading to 17, it definitely felt more like a Rose win than a Mickelson loss when it was all over. Paul Lawrie dominated Brandt Snedeker, and for the first time in the event, Lee Westwood looked like the former world number one that he is, taking care of Matt Kuchar.
There will be plenty of discussion about Furyk and his leaky performance against Sergio Garcia. Like Mickelson, Furyk also had a 1-up lead heading to 17 before missing a pair of short putts leading to bogeys, and allowing Garcia to win both holes with a pair of pars. Furyk was definitely the most contentious of Davis Love’s captain’s picks, with recent collapses at both the U.S. Open and the Bridgestone. Those tournaments are big enough, but there’s a different kind of pressure in a Ryder Cup, and it seemed like Furyk wasn’t able to handle it. Another one of Love’s captain’s picks, Steve Stricker, certainly didn’t look much better at any point during the event, not winning a single point for his team, and losing the penultimate match against Martin Kaymer.
Kaymer, by the way, provided another pair of moments that may not have been noticed, but they are worth mentioning. Go back and look at any Ryder Cup preview articles on the European team and Kaymer was likely listed as the team’s weak link. Another former world number one, Kaymer has been battling poor results, and is going through a swing change. Captain Jose Maria Olazabal clearly didn’t have a ton of faith in him, sitting him down for all but one session, before having to play him in the Sunday singles, and when he needed to, he hit solid shots and drained tough putts, including the won to clinch the victory for his side.
As for Tiger Woods, it was a disappointing few days. He never got on track with Stricker, and when he finally started to play well on Saturday afternoon, it was too late to overcome the strong play of Donald and Garcia. It was the same Tiger we’ve been watching all year, great shots and terrible ones, and shockingly, he didn’t have a chance to play a part in the win or the loss in the anchor position on Sunday. For a Ryder Cup with many moments to remember, not having anything memorable from Tiger feels a little off, but welcome to the world of golf in 2012.
As Jason Sobel pointed out on Twitter, the narrative in North America was that it was an American win in 1999 at Brookline, but this time, the focus won’t be on the greatness of Europe on Sunday, it’ll be on an American collapse. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair or unfair. The reality is, it’s a probably a little bit of both, with great and poor play on both sides. Yes, Europe retained the Ryder Cup, but what I’ll remember is the way that it happened. Moments of dizzying highs and tremendous lows. Golf may never recapture what it had on Sunday, but much like 1999 at Brookline, 2012 at Medinah will never be forgotten.
There have been times at the 2012 Ryder Cup when things have looked bleak for the European side. There was the morning session on Friday where Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley made pretty quick work of Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia. Friday afternoon was bad too, as the Americans won three of a possible four points against Europe, when Jose Maria Olazabal’s matchup selections came into question. Saturday morning was even worse than Friday afternoon, with another Mickelson/Bradley trouncing, this time dominating Donald and Lee Westwood in a fashion that has only been seen twice in Ryder Cup history, as the two former world number ones went down 7 & 6.
By the time Saturday afternoon rolled around, the U.S. were getting in a rhythm, up 8-4 with only 14.5 points needed to win the Ryder Cup on home soil. In the afternoon session, the only points that looked to be coming the way of Europe were thanks to Donald and Garcia, who were taking it to Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. Even if they held onto that lead, the U.S. would go into Sunday’s singles session with an 11-5 advantage, a near insurmountable gap to overcome. That’s when Ian Poulter took matters into his own hands. Poulter, who had already picked up two of his team’s four points despite sitting out Friday afternoon, put on an absolute clinical display of golf, from his ball striking to his red-hot putter. More impressive though was his demeanor.
Poulter is known for being brash and arrogant. He’s good and he knows it. The Ryder Cup is his venue, as his now 11-3 career record would suggest, and in case you didn’t know that already, he’ll be the first to tell you. This guy is different, he’s not wired the way most golfers are, or at least the way most golfers are perceived to be. Bubba Watson made waves yesterday encouraging the fans to make noise behind them during his opening tee shot. Poulter, never to be outdone when it comes to outlandish and ridiculous theatrics, asked the fans to do the same for him this morning when he teed off against Bubba. Through the cheers of “USA!!!, USA!!!”, Poulter teed off without batting an eye.
Then, when all the chips were down, he came through. First, it started with a birdie by playing partner Rory McIlroy on 13 to cut the deficit to only 1-down. Poulter sank a tough birdie putt on 14 to halve the hole, and after missing the drivable par-4 15th and landing in a bunker, Poulter hit a gorgeous shot to a couple of feet where the birdie was conceded. After a miss by competitor Jason Dufner, the score was back to level pegging for the first time since that opening tee shot. Another clutch birdie putt on 16 by Poulter after McIlroy missed his short par putt gave Europe the lead for the first time in the match, but the show was just beginning.
The par-3 17th is 193 yards long, over a massive body of water, and bunkers everywhere. Poulter steps up first and hits a great shot to the left of the flag and kicks right, and while McIlroy and Dufner missed the green to the left, Dufner’s partner Zach Johnson managed to get inside Poulter. No matter for the Englishman though, as he stepped up and drained the birdie putt, keeping the 1-up advantage. To the 18th, and with Dufner already in with a birdie, Poulter took his time analyzing the putt ahead. He stepped up and hit a confident stroke, knocking it in the center of the cup, as he had been doing all day. No matter what Dufner and Johnson threw at him, Poulter gave it right back and then some. With each quality shot and every sunk putt, Poulter’s reactions, with his body shaking and his eyes bugging out of his head, made even Keegan Bradley look normal. You could see on the faces of the other European players, McIlroy included, that not only was Poulter playing outstanding golf, he was giving them a much needed boost. I don’t usually believe in all of that stuff, but the mood and momentum definitely changed with Europe when Poulter went on his run, even if some of the players weren’t even on the course at the time.
Poulter has the ability to rub people the wrong way, and I get it, but at the tournament that made Seve Ballesteros even more famous to a North American audience, it’s fitting that this may do the same for Poulter. Seve’s famous likeness is stamped on the bags of all the European players this week, and when I was watching Poulter today, I couldn’t help but think of Seve and all that he’s meant to not only the Ryder Cup or Europe, but the game of golf in general. For all of Seve’s short game wizardry, he was just as well known because of his compete level and gamesmanship. That compete level and gamesmanship was on display on Saturday afternoon in a way that I haven’t seen on a golf course in a long time, and it came from Poulter. As I pointed out in my posts earlier this week, Poulter lives for this stuff. He’s a very good tournament player, without question, but the idea of going directly head-to-head with another player brings out the best in him. There’s a competitive edge there that you just don’t see on a weekly basis. Even if you take away the Ryder Cup aspect of the tournament, and just talk about straight match play, Poulter is a machine. His attitude and mannerisms, along with his completely unrelenting passion for the game can intimidate players, and even in situations where it doesn’t intimidate them, he’s good enough to flat outperform them as well. Look at today’s match. Johnson and Dufner did not back down one iota, and outside of one questionable decision by Johnson to attempt driving the par-4 15th, they didn’t really make any mistakes, nor did they seem flustered by what was going on around them. Poulter, and to a lesser extent, McIlroy, just beat them, and along with Garcia and Donald, gave a little bit of air to a sagging European side.
Tomorrow, Europe goes into battle down 10-6, the same score that the United States faced in 1999 when they staged the most famous comeback in golf history, stunning the Europeans at Brookline. Seve may not be here to guide them at Medinah, but Poulter gave them unexpected life and a chance at victory on Saturday. At the Ryder Cup, as both Poulter and Seve would tell you, all you need is a chance.
The pairings for the morning session of the 2012 Ryder Cup were just announced, and boy, Europe looks like they will have the advantage heading into Friday afternoon. Full matchups with my thoughts are listed below. Note that these are the foursome matches, where players will alternate shots on each hole.
MATCH ONE: Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell vs. Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker
European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal didn’t waste any time with throwing out the big guns, sending out McIlroy and McDowell, while American leader Davis Love counters with two of his captain’s picks in Furyk and Snedeker. AP writer Doug Ferguson notes that it’s the first time since 1995 that one of Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson wasn’t in the opening pairing. Snedeker is currently leading the PGA Tour this season in Strokes Gained Putting, while Furyk is a respectable 24th in that category. Interesting that Love went with this as a pairing considering how similar the two players are, but both guys are in good form recently, Snedeker especially. With that said, no one is hotter than McIlroy right now, and even though McDowell hasn’t had the kind of year he wanted to, we know how capable he is. The talent gap here just seems to heavily favour Europe, so I’m giving them the opening point.
MATCH TWO: Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia vs. Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson
As far as overall intrigue, this is the matchup I’m anticipating the most. Both Bradley and Mickelson made it clear early on that they wanted to play together, so they’re going to get their wish. Unfortunately for them, they’re paired against a buzzsaw grouping of Donald and Garcia. As I mentioned yesterday, both Donald and Garcia have phenomenal records in the Ryder Cup, in fact, they are undefeated in foursomes play, going a combined 14-0-1, including a 4-0 mark as teammates. Garcia’s been pretty good since getting cut at the PGA Championship, with a win and a T-3, and while Donald has been struggling a little in recent weeks, he did pick up a typical quite Luke Donald T-3 last week at East Lake. For the U.S. as of late, Mickelson has been better recently, but Bradley hasn’t been on point since winning the Bridgestone and finishing T-3 at the PGA Championship at the beginning of August. Even though he’s a Ryder Cup rookie, I wouldn’t be concerned about Bradley’s nerves, but as we’ve seen in the past, this event has a different type of pressure and atmosphere attached to it. Mickelson’s shoddy record in the Ryder Cup would also have me a little concerned, but the good news for both guys is that they are really comfortable with each other. I’m betting on Europe picking up their second point of the morning, and going up 2-0.
MATCH THREE: Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari vs. Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson
Definitely the least exciting of the morning pairings, it’s tough to really see a clear advantage for either side here. Many will be talking about how steady the pairing of Dufner and Johnson is, but Westwood and Molinari are two of the more steady on the European squad as well. Westwood has been going through some rough times, firing his coach and caddie in recent weeks, and finishing last at the Tour Championship a few days ago. His 7-2-4 record in foursomes is pretty remarkable, which could come in handy when compared to Molinari’s limited experience in match play events. Interestingly, Molinari’s stats are down across the board with the exception of his Greens in Regulation percentage, yet it hasn’t hurt his overall performance, with seven top-10’s this season. Dufner is one of the most consistent players out there, and Johnson’s accuracy off the tee and lights out putting will make them tough to beat. The wildcard here is Westwood. If he’s playing well, Europe looks very formidable. If he continues his recent form, they could be in some trouble. I’ll give this match a split, with Europe taking a 2.5-0.5 lead.
MATCH FOUR: Ian Poulter and Justin Rose vs. Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker
The most obvious pairing of the week sees Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker take on Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. Stricker and Rose could really end up being the background noise to Poulter and Woods, especially if either side gets out to a hot start. For all the talk about wanting to see Woods and McIlroy paired up in singles play on Sunday, I’d actually prefer to see Woods and Poulter go at it, as Poulter is one of the few players who will not back down when playing Woods, and in actuality, would probably go on the offensive. There is a little bit of history here, as Stricker and Woods defeated Poulter in 2010 at Celtic Manor when Poulter was paired with Ross Fisher, but Rose is a more dangerous player than Fisher. Much like Garcia, Poulter seems to elevate his game when he’s playing directly against other players, instead of just trying to climb a leaderboard. His 8-3 record at the Ryder Cup is why he was made a captain’s pick, and even though it’s a smaller sample size, Rose’s 3-1 record is a nice thing for Olazabal to look at. With all of that said, Woods and Stricker do have the overall talent edge here, and their styles compliment each other perfectly. Stricker’s consistency of the tee and incredible putting make up for all of Woods’ deficiencies, while Tiger’s length off the tee and iron play still show signs of his dominance from a few years ago. I’m leaning towards another draw here in the fourth match, giving the Europeans a 3-1 lead after the morning session.
- Four players sitting out for Team Europe: Nicolas Colsaerts, Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer and Paul Lawrie.
- Four players sitting out for Team USA: Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson.
- The first matchup is expected to get underway at 8:20 AM ET.
- The TV broadcast starts at 8:00 AM ET on ESPN in the United States, and TSN in Canada.