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10:03PM

Tiger makes putts, Kuchar continues making amends, Justin makes a run

By Art Spander
For Maven Sports

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Tiger Woods started making putts. Matt Kuchar continued making amends. And Justin Thomas again was playing as if he was going to make the 2019 Genesis Open his tournament.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019, The Maven 

4:16PM

ESPN and the PGA Tour understand: It’s Tiger, Tiger, Tiger

By Art Spander
For Maven Sports

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — What do they call these people? Movers and shakers? Power brokers? There's no question in sports, as in other facets of life, that some people make a difference — on the field or the fairways, or maybe more importantly at the gate or the television ratings, where the money comes from.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019, The Maven 

2:20PM

Tiger, 0-4: ‘I’m one of the contributing factors why we lost the Ryder Cup’

By Art Spander

SANT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — It couldn’t have ended in a more appropriate fashion, a Phil Mickelson tee shot splashing into a pond, immediately followed by the European Ryder Cup team splashing Champagne to celebrate a victory that was inevitable.

Once more, an American team of stars — Phil and Tiger Woods, who didn’t score a measly point between them, and Dustin Johnson, a recent world’s No. 1, who at least did score a measly point — was beaten, make that overwhelmed, by Europe, this time 17½ to 10½.

You now can amend the adage; there’s nothing sure but death, taxes and an American defeat when the Ryder Cup is held on the far side of the Atlantic. This was the sixth straight time the Euros have won in Europe. Also the ninth time in 12 matches, wherever they have been played.

That the 48-year-old Mickelson, making a 12th and surely farewell Ryder appearance, didn’t score in two matches at Le Golf National near Paris — one of those the Sunday singles — could be excused.

But what about Tiger getting blanked in all four of his matches? Or Johnson picking up only a single point in four matches? And that wasn’t in singles, where Sunday he was whipped by Ian Poulter.

Tiger, Phil and Dustin combined for one point of a possible nine, which is unimpressive even if the 42-year-old Woods is exhausted from his win a week ago, even if Mickelson has been slumping as he is aging, and even if Johnson reportedly has domestic problems.

“I did not play well this year,” conceded Mickelson. “This could very well, realistically, be my last one.”

America basically lost the Cup it had won two years ago at Hazeltine near Minneapolis after three sessions this time, when Europe made history by taking all of Friday’s alternate shot foursomes and then Saturday morning taking three of the four fourballs (or better balls).

For those who want to dodge reality and find wonderful French pastry in this mess, the U.S. trailing 10-6 before the 12 Sunday singles briefly cut the margin to 10½-9½. Hey, Gert, here they come. No, sorry. There they go again.

“It’s disappointing because I went 0-4,” said Woods candidly, “and that’s four points to the European team. And I’m one of the contributing factors why we lost the Cup, and it’s not fun.

“It’s frustrating because when we came here I thought we were all playing pretty well. I just didn’t perform at the level that I had been playing and just got behind early in the matches and never got back.”

Whether or not he was worn out, Woods said, “Yeah, I mean, I played seven out of nine weeks ... So a lot of big events, and a lot of focus, a lot of energy goes into it. I was fortunate enough to have won one, and we were all coming here on a high and feeling great about our games, about what we were doing, and excited about playing this week.”

But as Mickelson and the team captain, Jim Furyk, agreed, they were outplayed.

Patrick Reed, “Captain America,” got back a bit. He won Sunday. So did three other Americans, Cup rookie Justin Thomas (who beat Rory McIlroy), Wade Simpson and cup rookie Tony Finau. That was it for the red-in-the-face, white and blue.

Jordan Spieth? Crushed, 5 and 4, by a Swede named Thorbjorn Olesen, who has three fewer major victories than Jordan but Sunday had a lot more birdies, seven compared to Spieth’s two.

“I had some in-between numbers,” said Spieth of his yardages to the greens, meaning he was unsure what club to use. “And I didn’t really pick the right shot, and I got in trouble. Chipping let me down. I had a couple opportunities to save par and stay even, dropped to two, three down, and then he out-putted me.”

This from a 25-year-old who is known as a brilliant putter.

Road games bring out the best — or worst. Every course has 18 holes, but on the European Ryder Cup courses those holes are surrounded by huge crowds chanting “Ole, ole, ole….oh-le” and rattling the American pros. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus never seemed to mind, but the new kids are bothered.

And Euro pros such as Olsen, Sergio Garcia and Poulter seem never to miss a putt in the Ryder Cup. The contention is the Euros bond better, but most of them, Poulter, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Henrik Stenson, play the U.S. PGA Tour. Besides, this isn’t basketball. You don’t pass a golf ball around. It’s an individual game, even when you have a partner.

“Let’s be honest,” said Mickelson. “The European side played some exquisite golf. I mean, it was some phenomenal golf, and they flat-out beat us.”

As they always do in Europe. Ole, ole, ole, ohh-le.

1:16PM

U.S. Ryder troubles: Phil sits out, Tiger shut out

By Art Spander

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — Phil Mickelson sat out. Tiger Woods was shut out. And so two days into the Ryder Cup, that biennial golfing dilemma, America seems headed for another wipeout.

Phil and Tiger are not entirely to blame for the U.S. falling behind the Europeans, 10-6 — Patrick Reed and Byron DeChambeau also haven’t provided anything but disappointment — but Mickelson and Woods presumably were going to show the young guys how to win. Wrong!

Mickelson and DeChambeau were crushed Friday in foursomes, alternate shot, and Saturday U.S. captain Jim Furyk benched Phil, who in effect then contributed as much to the U.S. score as Woods.

In his three matches, a four-ball Friday with Reed, another four-ball Saturday with Reed and a foursome Saturday with DeChambeau, Tiger didn’t get a point, Of course, Reed and DeChambeau, his partners, are as much a reason.

It’s an old story — and, for America, a sad one. When the Cup is held in Europe, the U.S doesn’t win. Or hasn’t won the last five times. And unless the kids from the U.S. of A. can perform better in Sunday’s 12 singles matches than they have in the team format, the number will increase to six in a row. And if you’re counting, nine of the last 11, home or away.

Europe needs only 4 1/2 points from the 12 singles — a draw gets a half-point, a win a full point — to take the Cup.

American golf just doesn’t travel well. Maybe it’s jet lag. Or the food. Or the clever manner in which the European Tour sets up the course, as it prepared Le Golf National, some 20 miles from Paris, for these matches — narrow fairways and thick rough.

Then again, golf gets down to who makes the putts and, wow, the Euro team of British Open champ Francesco Molinari and U.S. Open runner-up Tommy Fleetwood — “Moliwood,” someone nicknamed them — have been making putts from everywhere. Small wonder they have won all four of their matches, only the second team of same players to win each of its four.

“You have to make birdies,” said Tiger. A week ago he made them to win for the first time in five years, the Tour Championship. He, along with Mickelson and DeChambeau, already had been selected by Furyk as captain’s picks, wild card. And the choices seemed brilliant.

But instead of getting birdies, the Americans are giving explanations.

“The three matches we played,” said Woods about facing Molinari-Fleetwood over the two days, “they never missed a putt inside 12 feet. That’s hard to do. Playing against a team like that, you have to make a lot of birdies, and we didn’t.”

Overseas, the Americans never do. Or haven’t since their last Ryder Cup road victory, 1993.

The Euros seem to draw strength and confidence from the team format. Sergio Garcia couldn’t win a major until last year’s Masters, but he was a terror in the Ryder Cup, a reason this time Euro captain Thomas Bjorn picked him despite playing Garcia having a relatively poor year.

“Everything feels pretty good,” Woods said about his game. “Just really pissed off at the fact I lost three matches and didn’t feel like I played poorly. That’s the frustrating thing about match play. We can play well and nothing can happen.”

You know the gripe: There’s no defense in golf. You can’t do anything to stop an opponent from playing well — shouting on his backswing is not proper etiquette. You just have to play better than he does. The Euros play better than the Americans do. It’s that simple.

“We need every single man on the course to do their bit,” said Bjorn, the Euro captain. “When you look at those 12 American names, that’s a strong lineup.”

Strength isn’t the issue at a Ryder Cup in Europe. Accuracy is required, finesse is required and most importantly a great putting touch is required. Getting to the green is a small factor. Getting into the cup is a big factor.  

Americans Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, both major champions, paired to win both fourballs and foursomes.

“It was great,” said Thomas. “We went out and did what we needed to do in both sessions, not just hit the shots when we needed to but make the putts when we needed to.”

They did. Other American golfers did not.

12:23PM

Ryder Cup is Phil Mickelson’s cup of coffee

By Art Spander

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — The critic had mellowed. Or more accurately, swallowed. “The coffee here is unbelievable, isn’t it?” said Phil Mickelson, not waiting for an answer, as if anyone dared disagree.

“The chocolate,” Mickelson continued, “the food. I had two pieces of bread the other night. I can’t remember the last time I did that.”

Oh yes, Lefty, on stage, off the tee, full of opinions and occasionally himself, playing the game of life along with the game of golf, a personality with personality and one of the great short games.

He’s back for another Ryder Cup, his 12th, knocking balls around Le Golf National, a course some 20 miles from Paris, rather than knocking anyone in charge of the U.S. squad, a veteran who knows what club to hit and knows what to say — even when, perhaps, he should remain silent.

“You would think I would get desensitized to it,” Mickelson said of his years as part of the American team, “but I have come to love and cherish these weeks even more, this week especially, with the amount of not just talented players but quality guys that are on our team.”

He is 48, a generation apart from teammates Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau, nearly six years older than Tiger Woods, his longtime rival.

Along with Woods, Mickelson, or “Philly Mick” as they call him in New York, was a captain’s pick for this year’s team, chosen as much for reputation as performance — although in March he did get his first Tour victory in five years.

Phil was not playing in Friday morning’s four-balls, or better ball, as America tries to end a streak of five straight defeats in Europe, and Mickelson was asked if that happens, after his insistence on change following the loss four years ago in Scotland, would it be one of the crowning achievements in his career.

“I would not look at it that way,” said a magnanimous Mickelson, “because this is a team event and this is an event for all of us to cherish and be part of, and every person from the caddies, the spouses, the captains, vice captains and every player plays an integral part of the puzzle to do well and succeed.”

Of course, four years ago, when the U.S. was pummeled at Gleneagles, Scotland, it was one man, Mickelson, who found a reason and pressed to correct that. Mickelson said that Tom Watson, the captain that year — and for a second time, overall — was unable to communicate with his players and removed them from any part of the decision-making.

The PGA of America, which controls the Ryder Cup — not to be confused with the PGA Tour — took Mickelson’s advice, altered the method selecting wild-card players and the made other fixes. The plan worked, and in 2016 the U.S. won the Cup at Hazeltine, near Minneapolis.

In the 2004 Cup at Oakland Hills outside Detroit, Mickelson was paired with Woods, a dream team that turned into a nightmare. In foursomes, when players hit alternate shots with one ball, Phil might drive into the rough and a glowering Tiger would be forced to extricate the ball with the subsequent shot. They barely looked at each other.

But 14 years make a difference. Now Tiger and Phil, relative golden oldies compared to a Spieth or Brooks Koepka, have arranged to play each other in a multimillion-dollar match. And Phil said he willingly would join Tiger in this Ryder Cup, although U.S. captain Jim Furyk did not give his endorsement,

“I think when we (Woods and Mickelson) really started to work together to succeed,” said Phil, “going back in the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, we have a lot more in common than we thought, and we came to appreciate working together to achieve things.”

If time doesn’t cure all ills, it does help change perspective. Woods and Mickelson have reached detente at a time in their careers when they can’t always reach the green of a par-5 in two shots.

“When we go over the little details as to why we were or were not successful,” said Mickelson, “it sometimes comes out like I’m taking a shot at somebody. I don’t want to do that anymore.”

Peace in our time.