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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.

10:01AM

Ryder Cup nastiness runneth over

By Art Spander

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — Tiger Woods was talking about applause in golf. Or really the lack of it. “The art of the clap is gone,” said Woods. Fans have one hand wrapped around a cell phone and their minds wrapped around the idea of creating chaos.

In his advice to spectators — patrons, they’re called — at the Masters, the late Bobby Jones said it would be impolite and improper to cheer a competitor’s mistakes. Which brings us to the Ryder Cup, a tournament where virtually anything goes and everything is yelled, especially insults.

The Cup’s nastiness runneth over. And ain’t it wonderful?

It you’re not familiar with the Ryder Cup, it’s a biennial event that matches golfers from the United States against golfers from Europe, many of whom live at least part-time in the United States. The 2018 Cup is Friday through Sunday at Le Golf National, a course about 20 miles from Paris.

Nobody in America seemed to notice the Cup, much less care about it, until back in the early 1990s when, whoops, Europe, with players such as Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo began to kick America’s you-know-what.

As Davis Love III, a player and then a two-time American captain, recalled, “I got home, and a friend had two questions: What’s the Ryder Cup and how did we lose it?”

With considerable regret, that’s how. All those handshakes at the close of the tournament cover up a great deal of deep-felt irritation that once became public in comments by Paul Casey.

In the Sunday Times of London, Casey was quoted as saying he learned to “properly hate” Americans during the Cup and went on to explain that U.S. fans can be “bloody annoying” and the vast majority of American fans don’t know what’s going on.

The story made its way to the tabloid Daily Mirror, where a headline quoted Casey as saying, “Stupid Americans. I hate them.” That Casey, an Englishman, attended Arizona State, was married to an American and is based in Arizona didn’t seem to matter.

Casey, who plays the U.S. PGA Tour, is back on the European Ryder team, saying very little, unfortunately.

It’s football season in the U.S. (also in Europe, if a different brand of football). The Cup can use a few vocal barbs to get attention.

The Euros have grumbled about the manner American fans acted and bellowed during the 2016 matches at Minneapolis. Surely there will be a response this time around.

Tom Watson, the Stanford guy and five-time British Open champion, gets some of the blame. The 1991 Ryder Cup was held at Kiawah Island in South Carolina shortly after the U.S. military operation Desert Storm. To whip up interest, Watson, the U.S. team captain, called the matches “The War by the Shore,” and the fans roared at every missed Euro putt.

Six years later, 1997, the Cup was in Spain, and the Americans were harassed as much as possible. The next chapter was in 1999 at The Country Club in Boston, when Justin Leonard of the U.S. sank an enormously long birdie putt near the end of day three and his U.S. teammates and some of their wives and girlfriends celebrated on the green — even though opponent José Maria Olazabal had yet to putt.

That was 19 years ago, but a writer from Scotland brought it up the other day. These people have long memories and sometimes short fuses.

Sergio Garcia, the Spaniard, is a captain’s pick. Through the years he’s also been a pain in the neck for the U.S., holing long putts at the most opportune times — or inopportune for the Americans.

Someone suggested the U.S. has copied the camaraderie long evident among the Euros. “It may seem they are doing a little bit better,” said Garcia. “I don’t know what goes on in their team room, but I know what goes on in ours. It comes easy. It comes naturally.

“Then we will go out there and play the best we can and make sure we have a shot at winning the Cup.”

From the American team, we hear the sound of one hand clapping.

10:39AM

Tiger to his young challengers: ‘Alright, here we go’

By Art Spander

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — The hero who became the outcast again has become the hero, raising his sport as he raised his game, and turning back the clock as he turned away the skeptics.

Once more golf has been distilled to two words and one name, Tiger Woods, who was nearly lost in a crowd of enthralled fans as, for the first time in five years, he won a tournament, giving a new generation an idea of what he was like in the old days.

Now after a singular and — from the response in the TV ratings — wildly popular victory in the Tour Championship at Atlanta, Woods, along with some of the people he subdued, has crossed the ocean to play in the Ryder Cup, the biennial team competition between the U.S. and Europe.

That for the first time the Cup, Friday through Sunday, is being held in France, at Le Golf National, a course some 20 miles from Paris and maybe five miles from the glorious royal chateau of Versailles, seems appropriate.

One of golf’s more recent kings has been restored to his throne, and those involved in the game, even peripherally, are ecstatic. Why, during interviews on Tuesday, an American broadcaster, ignoring the dictum of no cheering in the press box, even figurative, thanked Woods “for all of us who earn our living in the golf business.”

Some journalists cringed. Tiger merely smiled in appreciation.

It all gets down to personalities in golf and tennis, to ladies such as Serena Williams, men such as Woods, whose simple presence — or absence — becomes a story.

Tiger, winning majors repeatedly, was an idol, if a distant one given the way he walked fairways without a wave or sideways glance. Then came the revelations about his womanizing, which alienated a percentage of his fans and the media. That was followed by surgery on his back, and who knew if he would play — or if he could play well?

The answer is in. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk’s decision in early August to add Woods to the 12-member squad was more than justified with Tiger’s victory, one achieved against players such as Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas, who were not on Tour when Woods was in his prime.

When asked why one of Woods’ friends, Phil Gordon, said that Tiger just wanted the new kids on the block to feel the heat of facing him down the stretch of a back nine, Tiger had a ready explanation.

“Well. a lot of these guys were — well, the younger guys were on their way in when I was on my way out,” said the 43-year-old Woods, who of course, still very much is in. He was alluding to Thomas, Koepka and Jordan Spieth, in particular.

“You know, they never had played against me when I was playing well. It’s been, what, five years since I won a tournament?”

Now it hasn’t even been five days.

“I think that when my game is there,” said Woods, trying to temper his self-belief, “I’ve always been a tough person to beat. They have jokingly been saying, ‘We want to go against you.’

“Alright, here we go. And we had a run at it. And it was a blast, because I had beat Rory (McIlroy) head-up in the final group. Rosy (Justin Rose) was tied with Rory ... Those guys had both ascended to No. 1 in the world. They both have won major championships, and I have not played a whole lot of golf the last few years.”

He played a lot the last few months, taking leads in the British Open and PGA Championship, and then winning the Tour Championship. That put him face-to-face with an unfortunate aspect of a career with few unfortunate aspects, his record in the Ryder Cup. Only once in his seven appearances has Woods been part of a winning team.

“Yeah,” agreed Woods, “looking back on my entire Ryder Cup career, that’s one thing I’ve not really enjoyed or liked seeing. I’ve sat out one session. That was the last (team play) session at Medinah (2012). Otherwise I’ve played every match. We haven’t done very well.”

Not at all, but this 2019 team is one with Koepka, Spieth, Thomas, Phil Mickelson and Woods — who, for better or worse, is the guy who the game is all about.