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.
Yesterday I posted a quick entry about the players in the Ryder Cup this week and their history at Medinah. In this post, I’ve listed each player in the event with their career Ryder Cup records, broken up by format. I’ve also included President’s Cup and WGC-Accenture Match Play records in a separate table. Note that there is another major match play event on the European Tour each year, the Volvo World Match Play Championship, but it’s almost impossible to find complete records on that event, at least the way I wanted to display them. So, I’ll talk a little about that after the below tables.
U.S. Ryder Cup Records
- The Americans take four Ryder Cup rookies into Medinah in Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker.
- Of the eight Americans who have played in the Ryder Cup previously, none have an overall winning record. The records of Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk are flat out awful. Furyk’s record of 1-8-1 in fourball play is terrible, with that one win came playing with Tiger Woods in 2006 against Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie. He’s played with just about every type of player imaginable in fourball too: Tom Lehman, Mickelson, Scott Hoch, Chad Campbell, David Toms, Kenny Perry and Dustin Johnson. I’m not sure what to make of Furyk’s record to be honest.
- Lastly on Furyk: Of all the captain’s picks that Davis Love III made this year, Furyk was the one that didn’t make any sense to me. His record in the event is brutal as we know from the above table, but his play this year has been less than inspiring on the big stage, choking away wins at the U.S. Open and the Bridgestone. People were criticizing Love for the Snedeker pick, but the Furyk selection could be the one to bite him.
- If my calculations are correct, Tiger is 46-12-1 in match play singles events between the Ryder Cup, President’s Cup and WGC-Accenture. Interestingly, the list of people who have beaten him isn’t exactly a Murderer’s Row of talent: Constantino Rocca, Jeff Maggert, Darren Clarke, Peter O’Malley, Nick O’Hern (twice), Retief Goosen, Chad Campbell, Mike Weir, Tim Clark, Thomas Bjorn and Nick Watney. Good players for sure, but outside of Goosen, Watney and Weir (at the time), you wouldn’t have given any of them a chance at beating Tiger. There’s always been a thought that Tiger plays down to his competition at times, and the above list lends a little credence to that logic.
- The gamebreakers for the U.S.? Tiger and Phil are the obvious ones, but Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson are the types of players that make or break a Ryder Cup. If they’re on their games, they are two of the most dangerous players in golf, but when they’re off, they are borderline unplayable. The European team has a ton of steady players, so a pair of good performances from these two could seal the deal for the U.S.
European Ryder Cup Records
As I mentioned above, the European Tour doesn’t keep great records on the Volvo. In addition to the numbers above, Nicolas Colsaerts won the Volvo this year, while Ian Poulter took it home in 2011. Runner ups in those years? Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald.
Five stray thoughts about the above data:
- Nicolas Colsaerts is the only rookie on the European side this year.
- The reputation that Sergio Garcia has as a great Ryder Cup player is founded essentially only in the team portions, with a 13-2-3 record. His singles record of 1-4 is a little worse than I thought it was. Lee Westwood on the other hand has always been thought of as a weak match play performer, and the stats bear that out as well. His overall record isn’t bad, but certainly doesn’t live up to the quality of player that he is.
- The worst kept secret in golf over the past few months was that there was no way Jose Maria Olazabal would leave Poulter off the team if he didn’t qualify. His match play record is ridiculously good, and it brings me back to something I heard on the Golf Channel on Monday night. Watching their “Top 10” program, they said Sergio and Colin Montgomerie always seemed to make shots and putts at the Ryder Cup that they didn’t make in majors. Of course, neither man has won a major to date, and I think you could Poulter in that same class. I think Poulter will win at least one major, but he just seems to be built for this event.
- There was a thought that the European side would have been better off if Martin Kaymer had slipped out of the rankings, and as it stands right now, he definitely looks like the weak link. He was T-5 in Italy a couple weeks ago, but that was his first top-10 finish since playing in Malaysia back in April. He does have a decent match play record, but in his current form, I can’t imagine that Olazabal is expecting much out of him.
- The focus of the European team will likely be on Rory McIlroy, Donald and the other well known players on the squad, but the underrated key to the team could be Peter Hanson. He’s coming off a very successful year, with seven top-10 finishes, including a win in his last start at the KLM Open in the Netherlands. He says that he’s finally focused on golf after dealing with his son’s major health scare from a few weeks ago, which made the win at the KLM even more impressive. He almost withdrew after the second round when he found out about the respiratory problem, but his wife convinced him to finish the event. Hanson’s ranked 25th in the world, and I’m pretty sure there are tons of people who wouldn’t have thought he was that high up. He’s not the best ball striker or the best iron player, but he’s a world class putter.
The Ryder Cup gets underway tomorrow morning, and I’ll be live blogging the morning session for ScoreMobile.
With the 2012 Ryder Cup starting in a couple of days, I thought I’d take a look at how each player has performed at Medinah throughout the years. I’ll have some more data up specifically relating to the Ryder Cup and other match play events later today.
The Medinah Country Club has played host to many events since the course opened in 1924, starting with the Medinah Open in 1930. For the guys playing in the Ryder Cup this year, there are three events of importance: The 1990 U.S. Open and the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships.
Only Phil Mickelson played in the 1990 U.S. Open, doing so as an amateur. Interestingly, half of the players competing in the Ryder Cup this year have never played a professional round at Medinah, with seven first-time Americans, and five from the European squad. Naturally, the course has changed significantly over the years, and it has been lengthened once again for the Ryder Cup this year:
- 1990 U.S. Open: Par 72, 7,195 yards
- 1999 PGA Championship: Par 72, 7,401 yards
- 2006 PGA Championship: Par 72, 7,561 yards
- 2012 Ryder Cup: Par 72, 7,658 yards
- Seven players (Bradley, Dufner, Dustin Johnson, Kuchar, Simpson, Snedeker and Watson) have never played a professional round at Medinah.
- Of the ten events played by the US team at Medinah, there have been four top-10 finishes. One each by Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, and two by Tiger Woods, who won both the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships.
- The ten events played have given the US team a total score of -46.
- Total rounds under 70: 12
- Total rounds of 70+: 24
- Five players (Colsaerts, Hanson, Kaymer, McIlroy, and Molinari) have never played a professional round at Medinah.
- Of the nine events played by the European team at Medinah, there have been four top-10 finishes. Two by Sergio Garcia, and one each by Luke Donald and Ian Poulter.
- The nine events played have given the European players a total score of -38.
- Total rounds under 70: 11
- Total rounds of 70+: 21
Stray thoughts about the above data:
- It’s going to be interesting to see how the captains pair the players up with so many players who haven’t played the course before. You’d think that Love and Olazabal would try and put an experienced player with an inexperienced one, but you never know.
- The longevity of a golfer is always amazing to me. Mickelson played at Medinah 22 years ago, and while you never really consider Westwood or Lawrie older players, it says something that they played in the PGA Championship 13 years ago.
- I remember that 2006 PGA Championship as one of Tiger’s more impressive performances, completely dominating Luke Donald in their final round pairing.
- Of course, any mention of Medinah usually brings back memories of Sergio Garcia’s battle with Tiger in 1999. The video of his amazing shot next to the tree is embedded below.
It’s hard to put into words, eloquent words anyway, what happened last night in Seattle in the Monday nighter between the Packers and Seahawks. I don’t usually like to inject my personal allegiances into my professional work, lest others think that I’m letting my feelings get in the way of an objective and measured piece. Also, in most cases, I don’t think it’s overly relevant. In this one instance though, it’s important to note that I am a Packers fan, which makes it even more difficult to try and explain the craziness from last night, but I’m going to give it a go. If you need to catch up, here are the highlights from NFL.com.
What happened last night could lift the Seahawks into the playoffs. What happened last night could prevent the Packers from getting in. What happened last night could have been prevented by having the real referees in Seattle instead of the replacement ones.
The three things above are unknown. We won’t know the playoff picture for either the Seahawks or the Packers for several weeks, and the unbelievable display of officiating may have happened with the real referees as well. There are also three things that we do know. First, the Packers and presumably the rest of the NFC West are pissed. The NFC North on the other hand couldn’t possibly be any happier. Second, the NFL knows how bad this looks. They may have had their head in the sand for the three weeks that the replacement refs have been here, but a debacle in prime time that cost a Super Bowl contender a win will surely get the NFL to at least raise their heads from the dirt. Lastly, as outraged as you or I may be, Packers fan or otherwise, we will be back.
Sports, as we all know, is a drug. The NFL is the perfect drug out there, 100% legal and it comes to you on the regular. You get a small taste every Thursday, nearly overdose three days later on Sunday and get one more hit on Monday before getting ready to start the process all over again in three days. It’s a never ending cycle of gluttony, orgasmic highs and cataclysmic lows.
Last night, casual NFL fans and supporters from other teams were in a state of utter disbelief with what they saw. I know this thanks to the power of Twitter, which is usually about as divided as Fox News and logic. After the game was over, there was one clear thought: the Packers were jobbed by the officials. That thought was later replaced with the notion that in the year 2012 with replay capability and all of the available technology at the feet of the NFL, that they needed to do something and give the win to the Packers. Obviously that’s pie in the sky thinking. The NFL, especially in a labour dispute with their real officials, would never undermine the work of any of their staff.
For those watching the game last night that weren’t Packers fans, it was a joke. As a Packers fan, I was gutted and to be completely honest, it wasn’t rage induced, nor was my frustration directed at the officials. In Week One, the Packers were hosting the 49ers, and Green Bay was pretty much as awful as I’ve seen them in a long time. With about ten minutes to go in the fourth quarter, I tweeted the following:
#Packers clearly outplayed so far, but if this is the way the games are going to be officiated, closer games will be decided by the refs.—
Adam Sarson (@Adam_Sarson) September 09, 2012
It figures that it would come back and bite Green Bay, but it really could have happened to any team. The frustration or anger that fans have really should be directed at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners for allowing their league to decompose to this level. As disgusted as I was with the result last night, and still am almost nine hours later, no result is going to keep me from watching the games. In actuality, this might be what disgusts me the most. I’m going to watch Browns/Ravens on Thursday. I’m going to watch the full slate on Sunday, and the Monday nighter in six days. Then I’ll get ready to start the process again. One of my colleagues tweeted this early this morning:
Tonight's blown call was a "Where were you when?" type of moment. You will never forget it if you're a sports fan. That's why you watch.—
Andrew McKay (@myTOsportslife) September 25, 2012
In some ways, he’s right. I can’t help but think though that if another major organization had spit in my face for three weeks, that I’d keep coming back for more. The power that sports has over us, the NFL in particular, is fascinating. The pull they have comes in the sixteen game schedule. For sixteen games, a period of roughly 50 total hours, you live and die with your team. That’s something that the other North American leagues, with seasons ranging from 82 to 162 games, simply can’t match.
It’s going to take Packers fans and the team itself a long time to get over this one. I know I didn’t sleep much last night, and judging by the Packers players on Twitter, many of them didn’t either. They might want to try though, as the Saints come into Green Bay in six days. Once again, it’s time to start the process.
Fred Couples was announced on Wednesday as the first inductee for the World Golf Hall of Fame’s class of 2013, and when I heard the news, my gut reaction was that it made sense. Then, I sat and watched as my Twitter timeline filled up with golf pundits declaring that Couples didn’t deserve to get in, at least not yet.
Presumably, these guys all have a vote in the process. The WGHOF doesn’t release the names of those who do, so it’s not 100% clear to me who is and isn’t doing the voting. Now, there are three requirements that all golfers must meet before getting considered for induction on the PGA Tour side. They are as follows:
- They must be at least 40 years old.
- Must be a member of the PGA Tour for ten years.
- Ten career wins or two majors or two Players Championships.
Couples qualifies for all three, with fifteen wins in his career, including one major (1992 Masters) and two Players Championships in 1984 and 1996, so there’s no issue with his qualifications. So, what’s the problem?
According to several articles I’ve read over the past few days, the issue is more with the process than the final result. For induction into the Hall, you’re supposed to receive 65% of the vote, but if no one gets to that benchmark, the committee can enshrine anyone who got to at least 50%. From the reports, Couples got to 51%. Now, you can definitely argue that the process is broken. 65% is lower than most Hall of Fames, as you can see from the table below, and the idea that you can still get in without getting to that number is ridiculous. I’m assuming the only reason why Couples is getting in now is because the WGHOF didn’t want to go a year without inducting someone with PGA Tour credentials, but that’s hardly an endorsement of Couples or the Hall itself. It would have been very difficult for the WGHOF to exceed last year’s event, headlined by Phil Mickelson, Dan Jenkins and Peter Alliss, and it seems like the attempt to do something over nothing has ruffled a few feathers.
NORTH AMERICAN HALL OF FAME REQUIREMENTS
Pro Football Hall of Fame
|Hockey Hall of Fame||75%|
|Baseball Hall of Fame||75%|
|Basketball Hall of Fame||75% of the honors committee|
|World Golf Hall of Fame||65%|
Some argued that there are other players who are more deserving of the honour than Couples, such as Davis Love III, Ken Venturi or Mark O’Meara. I’m not going to argue against any of those three men, who all have substantial career resumes, but what I’ve been trying to figure out is why those with the vote are so angry with the result. Certainly the Hall of Fame debate is more rampant in other sports, baseball and hockey in particular, and I get it to some degree. It’s fun for the fans to debate the merits of all kinds of players, and the Hall of Fame gives people the opportunity to compare and contrast players across eras, which they couldn’t do while the players were playing at their peaks.
At his peak, you could make the argument that there were few in the game better than Couples, and if it weren’t for a series of nearly career ending back problems, “Boom Boom” would have an even more esteemed record than what he currently holds. Even now at 52 years old Couples can contend with the younger guys on the PGA Tour, which is something few players have ever been able to do at his age. Throughout his career, Couples has always been thought of as one of the best in the world, with the smoothest swing on the planet and a personality that made him instantly liked by anyone he came across. The game of golf has been undeniably better with Couples’ presence in it, and his resume speaks for itself. So, again, what’s the problem?
As has been the case in the past with other sports, it seems like the golf writers think that they have been entrusted with some kind of supernatural power. Their vote is so sacred and important, that they owe it to to not only the fans of the game, but to the greats already enshrined in the Hall to keep the riffraff out. Fred Couples is not riffraff, far from it actually. People have said, “Well, we’ve let Fred in, where do we draw the line?” My response to that: Who cares? Stop talking like it’s your duty to protect the sanctity of the game and the hallowed walls of the Hall. We’ve come to take every Hall of Fame far too seriously. At the induction ceremony, Couples will get on the stage, say a few words, get a plaque at the end of the night, and the next time we’ll see him is when he’s on the course. His induction means little in the long run. It’s a nice thing to see at the bottom at his list of accomplishments, but it isn’t something that’s going to fundamentally change the way we look at him as a player or person. It’s interesting how the complaints seemingly started with the process, but now Couples has been attacked as a result. He didn’t ask anyone to nominate him, and frankly, with his demeanor and attitude, I’m not even sure that he would even care if he got in or not.
Couples himself admitted that he may have gotten in based on his popularity, and that while he was never a great player, he was always a good one. For a sport that is too often exclusionary and uptight, Couples has always been cool. Even to this day, he seems to carry around that old cliche of having the “it factor”, the trait that is impossible to define, but immediately recognizable when you see it. The resumes of guys like O’Meara and Love are better, and they will both likely get in to the Hall at some point, but neither have had the cultural impact of Couples. In a time when we throw around the word icon far too often, Couples is one of the few in the game of golf that is deserving of the title. That’s why he’s going into the Hall of Fame next May.