Ryder Cup notebook: Spieth could end winless season on high note
September 26, 2018
By Mike McAllister and Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- September 26, 2018
Inside the PGA TOUR
2018 Ryder Cup preview
GUYANCOURT, France – Eleven Ryder Cuppers from America played last week’s TOUR Championship. Jordan Spieth did not, having finished in the dreaded 31st position in the FedExCup standings that denied him access to the 30-man TOUR Championship.
But perhaps there is a silver lining to missing out on East Lake for the first time since becoming a TOUR member.
In the off-week prior to the TOUR Championship, he put the clubs away. Then last week, he gradually worked his way back into competitive shape – and now obviously hopes it will pay off for the American team at this week’s Ryder Cup. He fully expects to play better than he did two weeks ago when he finished T-55 at the BMW Championship, enough to drop him outside the top 30.
“My game was in the best state that it had been in until BMW, and I kind of just ran out of gas there,” Spieth said. “I should have taken more breaks in the Playoffs this year, and I went something like 26 of 28 days from before New York that that Saturday afternoon of BMW, of at least six-hour days on the course and gym. …
“I don’t wish that it happened, considering it was the end of the season. If it was the middle of the season, I would’ve looked at it like a blessing in disguise. But I certainly wish I was at East Lake, no question. If anything, I will not take that week for granted and work that much harder not to miss it.”
Spieth officially finished the season without a win, but he said a good performance and a USA win this week could change his outlook when assessing the year.
“I think if I came out and played really solid golf this week, I would feel like I accomplished a lot this year,” Spieth said. “… The years after I've played in Ryder Cups have been phenomenal years for me. I look at this week as very important going forward for next season.”
PRACTICE PAIRINGS: Wednesday’s pairings for Europe: Henrik Stenson, Tyrrell Hatton, Thorbjorn Olesen and Paul Casey in the first group; Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren and Ian Poulter in the second group; and Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose in the third group.
Note that the veteran pair of Stenson and Rose were split, and with Stenson still dealing with a left elbow problem that might limit the number of sessions he plays.
Pairings for the U.S. team included: Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Tiger Woods in the first group; Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson in the second group; and Tony Finau, Ricky Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka in the third group.
Speculation is growing that Woods and Reed might be paired at some point, leaving Spieth to go with his good buddy JT. We’ll find out Thursday when the first set of matches are announced at the opening ceremony.
RORY NOT FOCUSED ON TIGER: Just a few days ago, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods played the final round together at the TOUR Championship. While Woods earned his first PGA TOUR win in five years, McIlroy struggled to a 74 to finish tied for seventh.
McIlroy said he wasn’t intimidated playing with Woods (and the massive gallery that followed the twosome). He said the East Lake rough was the toughest thing to handle. “That was the most intimidating part about it,” McIlroy said.
Neither is he worried about the Americans getting a Tiger boost from the win.
“This week, he’s one of 12,” McIlroy said. “We’re not looking at any individuals. We’re just trying to beat the U.S. Team. It’s great what he did on Sunday. It was great for golf. It brings a lot of excitement to the game.
“I think to focus on one player is silly, especially when I might not even see him this week at any point. … You know, we’re looking to beat the U.S. team. We’re not looking to just beat Tiger Woods.”
NO TIGER-PHIL PAIRING: U.S. Captain Jim Furyk said he would never rule out the possibility, but it doesn’t appear that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will be partners this week, 12 years after their ill-fated pairing by then-U.S. Captain Hal Sutton.
“I won’t ever say it wouldn’t happen,” Furyk said, “but it’s probably not too likely.”
SERGIO HAS NOTHING TO PROVE: The most controversial of European captain Thomas Bjorn’s four captains’ picks may have been veteran Sergio Garcia, who’s form was so poor this PGA TOUR season he failed to make the FedExCup Playoffs.
In his last 11 starts on the PGA TOUR, Garcia missed eight cuts and finished no higher than a T24 at the Wyndham Championship.
But Bjorn was never concerned and happily took Garcia, who is suiting up for his ninth Ryder Cup and boasts an impressive 19-11-7 record.
Bjorn admitted Garcia’s presence in the team room was a big factor and reminded people that “we're talking about a Masters champion from last year” who was “no mug on the golf course” and “very capable of delivering.”
Interestingly Garcia’s last top 10 on the PGA TOUR came at the World Golf Championships – Dell Match Play Championship in March.
But having not played in over a month the Spaniard teed it up on the European Tour’s Portugal Masters last week and found a little form to finish tied for seventh.
When asked if he had to repay the faith of his captain this week Garcia said he had nothing to prove.
“At the end of the day, the captain's picks, they are not easy for captains and vice captains, but they have their way of doing it and they know what they want to choose that can bring something extra to the team,” Garcia said.
“What I'm going to do is just do what I do best and try to make sure that everyone feels good, comfortable, happy, enjoying themselves, and if we can do that, then it's much easier for everyone to play their best game.
“I think that I've proved myself over and over, and the only thing I can do out there is when I get called upon playing, just do my best, do what I do, do what I've always done here at Ryder Cups, and that's everything.
“If we are able to do that and play well, then we'll have a good chance. If not, we'll have to fight really hard.”
WEBB’S POP-UP: Four years ago, Webb Simpson had the honor of hitting the opening tee shot to start play at the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles. It was a 3-wood pop-up that went 190 yards and started trending on Twitter – and not in a kind way.
Yes, he was nervous, as every player is when striking that opening drive at a Ryder Cup. But there was more to it, he explained Wednesday.
“That was a shot I had in my bag all year,” Simpson said. “It was like the fifth time I had done it. I was losing my concentration a little bit and I teed it up a little too high, and I had done it a few other times that year.”
He said the most embarrassing moment came not from the crowd reaction but from the cameramen and TV crews scheduled to follow his group. They had positioned themselves down the fairway at the usual landing zone for tee shots but had to walk back up the fairway to where Simpson would strike his second shot.
As for a potential repeat on Friday? Simpson acknowledged he’ll be nervous again but he expects to handle it better if given the opportunity.
“The first tee, that environment is fun – probably a little more nervous than the second hole or third hole,” Simpson said, “That’s why you might see me teeing off on the evens.”
BUBBA GLOVE: Bubba Watson wore a golf glove to his only pre-tournament press conference for this week’s Ryder Cup. It is not something golfers generally do when sitting on a dais while addressing members of the media.
The details as to exactly why he wore the glove are a bit hazy and unsubstantiated. But perhaps Bubba eventually summed it up best:
“Just being dumb with the team,” he said.
Consider it Bubba’s playful side during a stress-filled week in which the competition doesn’t start until Friday.
When initially asked about the glove, Bubba explained: “Every time we have a team event, there’s people that you’ve got to say so many words or you’ve got to do something, we’ll say, dumb. So I said I’ve got to wear my glove the whole interviews. So I’m doing it.”
He added at least one of his U.S. teammates had to use a certain word during his news conference.
That person evidently was not Jordan Spieth, who followed Watson into the interview room Wednesday. Asked if there was a certain word he needed to use, Spieth replied, “I don’t think so.”
He did, however, know there was something up Bubba’s sleeve – or rather on his hand – on Wednesday.
“He just was in the locker room and said, ‘I think I'm going to wear my glove in media.’” Spieth said.
Bubba wouldn’t reveal the player’s name or the word that needed to be spoken.
“I was the glove guy,” he said, “so I don’t know.”
Friday’s first session can’t get here soon enough.