Joy of Golf: The Ryder Cup spark Team USA needs

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Will Davis Love III go for youth or experience?

Team USA is one step closer to their Ryder Cup squad – three wildcards have been announced and the final player will join the roster on September 25 – but barring the fact that he did not opt for world No7 Bubba Watson, there were no real surprises.

By naming JB Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar – his No10, 11 and 12 from the standings – Davis Love III has effectively left himself with just one wildcard.

If, at the end of the Tour Championship in Atlanta, it does turn out to be Bubba, the US captain would have made one of the most unimaginative wildcard selections in the history of the competition.

There is a case for Bubba not being picked, even though he is perhaps one of the most ingenuous shot-makers in the game. The two-time Masters champion has been struggling with his form lately, unable to score any top-10 finishes since March this year. And he is yet to win a full Ryder Cup point in three appearances.

Fowler is also going through a similar phase – he did not even qualify for the Tour Championship – while Kuchar’s last PGA Tour win was in April 2014.

But Fowler and Kuchar have something that Bubba doesn’t – they get along well with everybody in the team. Bubba, who went public earlier this year about his psychological issues with several things, finds it difficult to fit into team situations.

So, who will be Love’s last pick? Obviously, if any of the Americans not already in the team wins the Tour Championship, he’d be difficult to ignore.

But it would be an idea to opt for someone who has not felt the American pain in the Ryder Cup – a rookie. Even at Gleneagles last time, we saw how the younger brigade responded with so much enthusiasm and aggression.

At the moment, Brooks Koepka is the only rookie in the US team. Either Justin Thomas or Daniel Berger would be a great addition.

Kuchar, in the press conference, hinted Love can still pick Tiger Woods, now that the 14-time major champion has announced his comeback.

That, I can assure you, is nothing more than wishful thinking.

TIGER’S COMEBACK

Speaking of Woods’ comeback, that was the biggest news in the golf world last week.

Woods said he hoped to play theSafeway Open (October 13-16), the Turkish Airlines Open (November 3-6) and the Hero World Challenge (December 1-4).

The man who was world No1 for a record 683 weeks, will return ranked below 800 (he is currently 726), but that has failed to dampen the spirits of the fans.

Everybody wants him to be back – the fans, the media, the broadcasting channels, the sponsors and the equipment industry. Already, his absence is being blamed as the main reason for the demise of Nike Golf.

However, everyone needs to also understand that this certainly won’t be the Tiger we are used to seeing. With three back surgeries, this will be a Tiger who will always be wary of his fragile body. He will need a lot of time to get back to tournament fitness.

Hopefully, Tiger will be a force again. But if his back ditches him again, I won’t be surprised if he gives up the sport for good.

JOHNSON’S DOMINANCE

Just how good has Dustin Johnson been this season on the PGA Tour?

Following are the stat categories he is leading after winning the BMW Championship last week: Top-10 finishes (14); FedExCup race; driving distance (314.2 yards); Birdie average (4.45 per round); Scoring average (69.17); official money list ($9,067,685); Birdie or better percentage: (36.61 per cent); total eagles made (16) and par-4 scoring average (3.96).

No wonder Johnson is considered a lock-in for the Player of the Year honours.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK – BRYSON DECHAMBEAU 

There was never any doubt in my mind that the man who is called ‘The Scientist’ is headed for legendary status in the game.

The young American has now secured the right platform to showcase his skills, effectively sealing his PGA Tour card for the new season by winning the DAP Championship, the first of the four-tournament Web.com Finals.

Top-25 players from the mini Order of Merit Web.com Tour Finals will get their cards, and anyone finishing in the top-three in any of the tournaments is virtually guaranteed a place.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

First Lady Michelle Obama gives an insider tip to Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry on trash talk which will help get under President Obama’s skin while playing golf.

Just tell him the shadow from your ears is really messing up my putt.

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Tiger Woods announces golf return in October

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Ready for a comeback: Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods hopes to return to competitive golf next month. The former world number one has been out of action since August last year due to serious back problems which have required surgery.

The 40-year-old has announced his intention to compete at the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open in Napa, California, in October. That will come after returning to the course in a more informal setting, at the Tiger Woods Invitational on the Monterey Peninsula, California, three days earlier on October 10.

If all goes well, Woods also hopes he can play in the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya in November and the Hero World Challenge, hosted by his own foundation, at Albany in the Bahamas in December.

Woods said: “My rehabilitation is to the point where I’m comfortable making plans, but I still have work to do. Whether I can play depends on my continued progress and recovery. My hope is to have my game ready to go.

“I’m looking forward to going to California for my foundation event and Safeway. I’m also excited to return to Turkey and Albany. It could be a fun fall.”

It was thought Woods may not play on tour this year after he withdrew from the Open and the PGA Championship in July.

The 14-time major winner had entered those events as a matter of routine but said his physical condition was not ready for tournament golf. He stressed the importance of taking his time and cited previous bad experience of rushing comebacks. Since then updates on his condition have been scarce but he is now pleased with his progress.

He said: “It was difficult missing tournaments that are important to me, but this time I was smart about my recovery and didn’t rush it. It was great spending time with my children Sam and Charlie, and also working on a lot of projects including golf-course design, the upcoming 20th anniversary of my foundation and my book about the 1997 Masters. But I missed competing.”

Woods’ last appearance came at the Wyndham Championship in August 2015, where he finished in a tie for 10th. In his absence he has slid to 711th in the world rankings.

He will be back at the Ryder Cup later this month as he serves as a vice-captain for the US team.

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Joy of Golf: McIlroy return to form timely

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McIlroy showed impressive resilience to recover from a disastrous start in Boston.

There is no denying the fact that after Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy remains the second biggest draw in golf. That was in evidence once again. Just like the former American world No1, there seems to be extra vitality in the celebration of a McIlroy win by the fans, just as there seems to be extra scrutiny in whatever he does.

You know someone is important to the sport when each move of the athlete is analysed and debated. Be it golf-related – like that famous switch to Nike clubs, or the walkoff at the 2013 Honda Classic – or personal issues like his engagement and subsequent break-up with Caroline Wozniacki, which country to represent in Olympics or even his training routine in the gym, people always have an opinion on McIlroy.

Obviously, these last few months, it has been about his refusal to go to the Olympics, and his issues with the putter. When he made the decision on Rio, McIlroy did look irritated by the backlash he faced and some of his remarks seemed casual and offensive.

As for the putting, he had constantly been outside the top-100 of the PGA Tour’s overall putting stats despite being in the top five of the overall driving stats.

And while everyone has been going ga-ga over the turnaround in his putting during the Deutsche Bank Championship, there were a couple of other points that I thought were significant as he beat Paul Casey by two shots at TPC Boston for his first PGA Tour win after 477 days.

It really was impressive how he kept at it after the disastrous start he had to the tournament. After the first three holes, McIlroy was fourover.

In tournaments on the PGA and European Tour, that’s dead and buried as far as chances of winning the title are concerned.

Many experts feel it was the slight adjustment he made to his putting grip on the second day that led to his resurgence. I feel it was how he willed himself to fight back to even-par score at the end of the opening round that kick-started the resurrection. I thought it was remarkable that he still believed in himself despite that horror start.

As for the putting, even the way in which he went about making the change, showed the terrific self-belief he has. The week before The Barclays, McIlroy changed his putter, switching to Scotty Cameron. And then at the start of Deutsche Bank Championship, he changed his putting coach and started working with Phil Kenyon.

When asked why he chose Kenyon, McIlroy said it was because Kenyon knew how to work with the existing stroke. All his clients have very different putting strokes, which meant he wasn’t working to a fixed blueprint.

Not for one moment in all these months of tribulation, did McIlroy think of changing his own putting stroke. He knew throughout he had the right gun, all it needed was minor re-caliberating. Once again, I felt he displayed exceptional self-belief.

While we are on McIlroy, there is something I wanted to point out about him and Olympics. I thought it was very classy of him to admit he might have been wrong about golf getting back into the Games. Not many people have the courage and character to do that.

And finally, no prizes for guessing who had the biggest smile as McIlroy went about his business on Monday. This was just the boost European captain Darren Clarke was looking for three weeks before the Ryder Cup. The injury to Henrik Stenson, and the form of McIlroy must have been Clarke’s biggest worry ahead of the Hazeltine clash. They are the two highest ranked players in the team and the undoubted leaders on the course. It was important they performed well in the run-up to the tournament, and Clarke got exactly what he was hoping for.

During the EurAsia Cup played between Europe and Asia at the beginning of the year, European captain Darren Clarke had made it very clear that he was going to depend heavily on statistics come the Ryder Cup.

That tournament in Kuala Lumpur was when we came to know about the company, 15th Club, a group of guys who have turned golf into a complete game of numbers.

They have researched and analysed all kinds of stats and Clarke admitted later that many of his pairings that week were based on what the computers churned out.

American captain Davis Love III seems to be going the same way. He told the media categorically that he is going decide on his wildcards and pairings based on what his stats team come out with.

You can understand the importance of basing your judgement on facts and figures, but I certainly don’t want captaincy to be dictated by computer algorithms. Hopefully, human input and gut instinct will also play a part.

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