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    Collin Morikawa Descends, Then Climbs, the U.S. Open Leaderboard

    Morikawa shared the lead after the second round and looked poised to vie for his third major championship. A 77 in the third round took him out of contention, but he closed the tournament strong.BROOKLINE, Mass. — Midway through the U.S. Open, Collin Morikawa stood atop the leaderboard looking to add a third major championship to his résumé.But on moving day, as Saturdays are called on the PGA Tour, Morikawa uncharacteristically went backward. After a seven-over-par 77, Morikawa found himself six shots off the pace when he teed off on Sunday. It proved to be too great a deficit to overcome to move back into contention, but he walked off the course at the Country Club more than satisfied, having improved his score by 11 shots from the previous round.“I don’t know if I found something,” he said after his 66 moved him to two under par and into a tie for fifth. “I think it just taught me that I need to go play golf. This year has been so focused on trying to hit that cut and trying to be so perfect, and that’s who I am. But just go out and play. Things are going to be tough. The ball is not going to go where you want. But just figure it out.”Morikawa, the defending British Open champion and the 2020 P.G.A. Championship winner, played a bogey-free back nine in dank, cool conditions. He came to the 18th green figuring he needed to make a birdie to have any chance. But his putt came up a foot short.“I had some momentum, kind of carrying on,” said Morikawa, who shot a 32, three under par, on the back nine. “If I could have gotten to four, that would be a nice number to post. It was still a few short, but it was a much-needed round.”Morikawa shot 66 on Friday, emerging as a co-leader, with Joel Dahmen, after two rounds. Then came the disaster on Saturday, when his round featured four bogeys, two double-bogeys and just one birdie.He had said before the tournament that he was struggling with his iron play. He normally plays a left-to-right cut shot, but lately the ball had been going right-to-left, he said. But Morikawa had little trouble the first two days.“With the way I had been playing, I did not see that coming,” he said. He added: “I hope many seven-overs aren’t coming in the future. But it just kind of made me refocus and kind of just get back into things. Just get it off the tee, onto the fairway, and then worry about it from there.”Morikawa called Sunday’s round “a huge boost” and said he would remember the weekend more for his three sub-70 scores than the Saturday meltdown. Before the third round, his worst score in a U.S. Open had come in 2020 at Winged Foot in New York, where he opened with a 76 and missed the cut.“I hope many seven-overs aren’t coming in the future. But it just kind of made me refocus and kind of just get back into things,” Morikawa said.Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports, via ReutersLast year, he finished in a tie for fourth at Torrey Pines near San Diego. He then went on to win his second major, besting Jordan Spieth by two strokes at Royal St. George’s.As was the case last year, Morikawa said he planned to play the Scottish Open to tune up for this year’s British Open at St. Andrews, a course he said he had not yet played. But he said he understood it would be a lot different for him this time around for two reasons: his status as the reigning champion and the venue, the historic Old Course.“I think I’m going to have to do a really good job prioritizing every single day and splitting up what I need to focus on,” he said. “Whether it’s the golf or whether I just need to enjoy just being there at St. Andrews, back as the defending champion.”He added, “There’s going to be a couple more distractions, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be focusing on golf when the time comes.”This was Morikawa’s 14th official tour event of the season. He tied for second at the Genesis Invitational in February and placed second at the CJ Cup at Summit in the fall. He finished fifth at the Masters Tournament, closing in style by holing out from the bunker on the 72nd hole.In addition to his two majors, Morikawa has three other PGA Tour victories, all coming before he turned 25. He won twice last season; the World Golf Championships and the British Open. He also won the DP World Championship in 2021. Entering the U.S. Open, he was ranked No. 7 in the Official World Golf Rankings and was 20th in points on the FedEx Cup list.In addition to the golf events Morikawa has planned, there also is a wedding coming up to his longtime girlfriend, Katherine Zhu. Unlike Brooks Koepka, who publicized his June wedding, Morikawa would not divulge any plans of the impending nuptials. More

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    A Weird, Wild and Entirely Typical Day at the U.S. Open

    It was a topsy-turvy second round on a vexing golf course as famed and anonymous players jockeyed up and down the leaderboard and turkeys paid a visit.BROOKLINE, Mass. — M.J. Daffue of South Africa, ranked 296th in the world, was not invited to the hospitality tent alongside the par-5 14th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open on Friday. But when his tee shot came to rest on the tent’s carpeted balcony next to a tree trunk, fence railing and overhanging, leaf-filled branches, Daffue was welcomed to the party.Eschewing the safety of a free drop on nearby grass, Daffue, who was leading the U.S. Open at the time, decided to use a 4-wood to smack his ball around the tree trunk, over the railing and under the branches to the 14th green 278 yards away.Nick Faldo, an NBC analyst, yelped: “What is he thinking?””I’m coming right over you, sir.” Solo leader @mjdaffue13 hits one off the deck…literally. #USOpen pic.twitter.com/5bo0YIIgpe— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 17, 2022
    As fans held drinks tinkling with ice nearby, Daffue implausibly curved his shot away from all the danger and watched as his golf ball settled feet off the 14th green to set up a chance at an eagle that would extend his improbable lead.“Made bogey instead, unfortunately,” said Daffue, who never again held the second-round lead. “It was kind of a crazy day out there.”Daffue could have been speaking for the entire field. While the first round of the 122nd U.S. Open on Thursday featured the theater of a first-ever face-off between PGA Tour loyalists and rebel golfers who have defected to the Saudi-financed LIV Golf Invitational series, on Friday that drama had receded at the Country Club outside Boston.It was replaced by something more typical for a U.S. Open: a topsy-turvy day in vexing golf-course conditions that had a cavalcade of famed and anonymous players jockeying up and down the leaderboard.An hour before the sun set, Joel Dahmen, who has missed the cut in four of the nine major tournaments he has entered and is ranked 130th, was tied for the lead at the halfway mark with Collin Morikawa, who at 25 is at the vanguard of the youth movement overtaking professional golf.Morikawa shot a four-under-par 66 on Friday to move to five under par for the tournament. Dahmen, a popular, convivial presence on the tour known for the bucket hat that rarely comes off his head on the golf course, matched Morikawa with a steady round of 68 after shooting 67 in the first round. Dahmen, 34, has never finished higher than tied for 10th at a major championship and has never held the 36-hole lead at the PGA Tour event. He did not qualify for the event until June 6 and almost skipped it to concentrate on the rest of the PGA Tour season.Late Friday, Dahmen was still not awed by his standing after two rounds.“This is really cool, but it’s really all for naught if you go lay an egg on the weekend,” he said. “This is fun, but it would be really fun if I was doing this again Saturday and Sunday.”An eclectic fivesome of golfers were one stroke behind the co-leaders: Jon Rahm, who is ranked second worldwide; Rory McIlroy, who survived a scare on the third hole when he needed three swings to get his ball out of thick greenside fescue but still shot 69; Hayden Buckley, a PGA Tour rookie; Beau Hossler, 27, who played his first U.S. Open as a teenager; and Aaron Wise, who has one career PGA Tour victory.Morikawa noted that there were more than 20 players within five strokes of the lead.“No one has kind of run away with it,” he said. “But I guess that’s to be expected on a challenging golf course at the U.S. Open. But right now, my game feels really good and the last few days is a huge confidence booster for me heading into this weekend. Hopefully, we can kind of make some separation somehow.”A fan, bottom left, after being hit by a ball from Sam Horsfield on the third hole on Friday.Julio Cortez/Associated PressThe unpredictability of day was personified by Buckley, 26, who did not play competitive golf until he was a junior in high school and walked on to the golf team when he attended the University of Missouri.“It’s all happened kind of fast to be sure,” Buckley, who had a victory on the minor league Korn Ferry Tour before earning his PGA Tour card late last year, said. “But I felt pretty relaxed and confident today.”Buckley faltered in the middle of his second round when he had three bogeys in five holes. But Buckley rallied to shoot four under in his final seven holes.There was some normalcy to the second round. Scottie Scheffler, who sits atop the men’s world rankings, shot a three-under-par 67 to vault into contention. Scheffler, who won this year’s Masters Tournament and three other 2022 PGA Tour events, jump-started his round by pitching in for an eagle on the 14th hole. He did not do it from the hospitality tent balcony where Daffue found his golf ball, but his tee shot bounded into the thick rough 40 yards right of the hole.Then, in a scene that fit the day’s uncommon nature, Scheffler had to wait nearly a minute while a turkey sauntered across the 14th green. Smiling, Scheffler, who shot even par 70 on Thursday, reset his focus and knocked the ball in the hole. With a birdie on the 16th hole and two closing pars, Scheffler finished at three-under par for the tournament.Turkeys on the fairway of the 10th hole during the second round of the U.S. Open.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated PressCollin Morikawa, the seventh-ranked player worldwide, began his round at one-under par but quickly stormed up the leaderboard with birdies on the 12th, 14th and 17th holes. (He started his round on the 10th hole.) Morikawa, winner of the 2020 P.G.A. Championship, first took the second-round lead with a fourth birdie on the first hole before registering his first bogey on the fourth hole. But he closed with a flourish, a birdie on the par-5 eighth hole to finish with four-under-par 66.Morikawa has four top-10 finishes this year, including fifth at the Masters.Jon Rahm, the U.S. Open defending champion, began his round at one under par like Morikawa and teed off on the 10th hole. He eagled the short par-5 14th and deftly putted as the sun emerged on Friday afternoon and subtly dried out the fast, undulating greens. Rahm had three birdies and two bogeys.Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, who won the 2013 U.S. Amateur at the Country Club when he was 18, was among the first-round leaders when he shot 68 on Thursday. He continued his consistent, measured play with a 70 on Friday.Two familiar names also climbed onto the first page of the leaderboard Friday: Sam Burns, 25, who has won twice since March and finished second in another event, shot a 67 to move to two-under for the championship, and Brooks Koepka, the last man to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, shot 67 after an unsteady 73 in the first round. Koepka was recently married, and he conceded the wedding limited the amount of practice time he could devote to his golf game. But he said he has regained his confidence with more work out of competition.Phil Mickelson improved on his erratic 78 from Thursday’s first round to shoot a three-over-par 73 in the second round, but his putting continued to be the worst part of his game and he did not make the cut.Mickelson, usually garrulous, did not talk after his round on Thursday and kept things brief on Friday. Of his comeback after five months away from competition, Mickelson said: “I missed competing, but I also enjoyed some time away.”Other prominent players to miss the cut included Kevin Na and Louis Oosthuizen, who have joined Mickelson on the LIV Golf tour, and Billy Horschel, who won the Memorial Tournament earlier in the month. Also not eligible for the final weekend rounds will be Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood.Daffue, who finished at one under par for the tournament, was more than content to have more golf to play.“I’ve had goose bumps thinking about it,” he said. “I had an up-and-down day today, but to me, it’s nothing but good. I’m still going to play tomorrow in the U.S. Open.” More

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    Older Players on the PGA Tour Are Looking Over Their Shoulders

    A week ago, the top five players in the men’s world golf rankings were under 30 years old for the first time since the rankings began in 1986.PALM HARBOR, Fla. — On the eve of the PGA Tour’s Florida swing, a four-tournament series in March that sets the stage for four months featuring major golf championships, Rory McIlroy, 32, made a revealing observation.McIlroy, a one-time child prodigy turned four-time major winner, said the results of recent tour events were making him feel especially old.McIlroy was only half joking.But with Sunday’s conclusion of the Valspar Championship, the last chapter of the tour’s trip through the Sunshine State, McIlroy sentiments reflect an unmistakable reality: Men’s professional golf is being transformed by a sweeping youth movement.Even being a creaky 32 is enough to keep you out of the upper echelon. Sort of.A week ago, the top five players in the men’s world golf rankings — in order, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay and Scottie Scheffler — were under 30 years old, which was the first time that had happened since the rankings were instituted in 1986. While Cantlay turned 30 on Thursday, that does not diminish the headway the game’s youngest players are making.It is particularly noticeable because many of the most dominant names in men’s golf during this century are now farther from the top of the rankings than ever: Phil Mickelson is 45th, Justin Rose is 51st, Jason Day is 99th and Tiger Woods, who has not played a tour event in 16 months, is 895th.Moreover, no one expects the 20-something brigade to retreat.“I’ve been saying it since Day 1, the young guys, we all believed in ourselves when we got to the tour,” Morikawa, 25, said. “That’s not going to change. The recent play just shows how good the young guys who are coming out can be — how good this young pile is.”Collin Morikawa, 25, will attempt to defend his British Open title, his second major tournament victory, in July.Julio Aguilar/Getty ImagesThe remaking of the rankings has been most dramatic over the last several weeks.It began a week before the first PGA Tour Florida event this month when Joaquin Niemann, 23, won the Genesis Invitational near Los Angeles. It continued when Sepp Straka, 28, was atop the final leaderboard at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.Next, Scheffler, 25, claimed the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. The following week, on the east coast of Florida, Cameron Smith, 28, won a Players Championship that was battered by bad weather over five days. Finally, on Sunday, near Tampa, Sam Burns, 25, won the Valspar Championship, a tournament he also won last year. Burns, who moved to 10th in the world with Sunday’s victory, defeated Davis Riley, 25, in a playoff. Justin Thomas, 28, and Matthew NeSmith, also 28, tied for third. Matt Fitzpatrick, 27, was fifth.Thomas, a former world No. 1, praised the growing accomplishments of this younger set even though the competition has helped push his current world ranking to seventh.“I’ve played some pretty damn good golf, but if you’re not winning tournaments now, you’re getting lapped,” Thomas said. “That’s just the way it is, which just goes to show the level of golf being played.“But the jealous side of me wants that to be me.”It is a reasonable expectation that youth will continue to have an impact heading into the four golf majors contested from April through July. While the truism is that experience matters greatly at the Masters, it is also worth remembering that Will Zalatoris, 25, finished second at last year’s Masters. Xander Schauffele, 28 and ranked ninth (one behind McIlroy), played in the final group on the last day of that Masters with eventual winner Hideki Matsuyama.At this year’s U.S. Open, Rahm, 27, is the defending champion. Scheffler, Schauffele and Morikawa were all in the top 10 last year, as were Daniel Berger, 28, and Guido Migliozzi of Italy, who is, of course, just 25. At last year’s P.G.A. Championship, Scheffler, Zalatoris and Morikawa were among the top 10 finishers; Morikawa is the reigning British Open champion. Oh, yes, at that event a year ago, Spieth was second and Rahm was third.There are a handful of theories to explain this youthful surge, and most center on the heightened professionalism that has become commonplace even in competitions for top golfers in their late teens or early 20s. That has in turn raised the caliber of golf at the American collegiate level, where rosters are also now frequently dotted with elite players from around the world.And since every conversation about modern golf must have a tie to Woods, there is also a belief that more agile and finely honed athletes have been flocking to golf for more than 20 years — a tribute to Woods’s effect on sports worldwide.Put it all together and those graduating from pro golf’s chief minor league, the Korn Ferry Tour, seem less intimidated by the big leagues and more ready to win, or at least contend, right away.“It’s a reflection of the system at work,” said Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner. “The athleticism, the youth, the preparedness, the system is working. You can talk about the top five, but you can extend it past the top five and into the top 30.”Jon Rahm, 27, won his first major tournament title at the 2021 U.S. Open.Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesSixteen of the top 30 golfers are 30 years old or younger.Scheffler gave credit to Jordan Spieth, who won his first PGA Tour event when he was 19 and nearly won the Masters when he was 20 (he finished second). Scheffler, like Spieth, attended the University of Texas.“It was one of those deals where I had a personal connection with him,” Scheffler said of Spieth, who is 28. “He gave a lot of the guys from Texas the belief that we can come out here and play well at a young age. You don’t have to wait until you’re 25 or 30 to get some experience under your belt.”The one aspect so far missing from golf’s youth movement is the kind of prominent rivalries that fuel any sport’s popularity. While television ratings for golf broadcasts have been surging since 2020, which could be because of the new faces at the top of leaderboards, pitched competition between familiar foes always helps.But if the cohort of 20-something golf champions has anything in common, it is their congeniality. Morikawa and Hovland were born 12 days apart, turned pro at the same time in 2019 and roomed together during their early days on the PGA Tour. Cantlay and Schauffele have vacationed together. Thomas and Spieth have been close friends since they were preteens.In that case, maybe the rivalries will have to be between the new guard and their elders — you know, those old guys in their early 30s. More

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    For Collin Morikawa, a Young Career Full of Firsts

    He became the first American to win Europe’s Race to Dubai last year, and the 24-year-old is now ranked No. 2 in the world.Collin Morikawa enters this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship fresh off an accomplishment no other American golfer has matched. He was the first to win the Race to Dubai, the season-long points race on the European Tour, now the DP World Tour. The HSBC kicks off the tour’s new season.But the Race to Dubai accomplishment is just one of his trivia-worthy firsts. He won the P.G.A. Championship in 2020 and the British Open in 2021 on his first try in both tournaments, making him the first player to win two major championships on his first attempt.He claimed the DP World Tour Championship in November by three strokes, cruising to victory in the tournament and claiming what was previously known as the European Tour’s Order of Merit.“To put my name up there is big,” he said, noting great European players like Colin Montgomerie, Seve Ballesteros, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, whose names are on the Harry Vardon Trophy. “If you are the first to do something, you open up people’s eyes. Hopefully, it’s a pathway to focus on this.”Keith Pelley, chief executive of the DP World Tour, said Morikawa was an incredible talent.“To win the Open Championship in his first attempt was an amazing achievement, and to follow that by becoming the first American to win our Race to Dubai after his victory in our season-ending DP World Tour Championship was truly something special,” Pelley said.Morikawa, who turns 25 next month, tries to put his accomplishment in the context of he is only just beginning. He pointed out that he might be entering his fourth season playing on the elite professional tours, but he has been a professional golfer for only two and a half years since he started in the middle of 2019 after graduating from college.Morikawa with the claret jug after winning the British Open last year at the Royal St. George’s Golf Club.Paul Ellis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images“It doesn’t really add up when I look at it like that,” he said. “When people said at the end of the season, how do you follow up on what you did last season, it’s not about following up. It’s about how do I add more goals. How do I keep raising the roof and the ceiling? If I check off one goal, I’m adding two more.”His goal this season is straightforward: to move up just one spot in the world rankings. But as the current world No. 2, moving into the top spot requires Morikawa to overtake Jon Rahm, a young player from Spain.“To get to No. 1 in the world, I’ve put myself in a position to possibly do that,” he said. “The short-term goals are to work on my body and the mental stuff. But the big goal is to get to No. 1 in the world, and not just to get to No. 1 in the world but to sustain it and stay up there.”At the season-opening tournament on the PGA Tour earlier this month, the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, Morikawa did not shy away from what he needed to work on to accomplish his goal. After nearly driving the par-4 14th hole, Morikawa had the type of chip that many professional golfers relish: just off the green and uphill, an invitation to chip it in or at least leave a short tap-in putt for birdie.As he stood over the ball, the TV commentators noted how much Morikawa had been struggling with this aspect of his game — something he acknowledged he needed to improve. In certain chipping and putting statistics, Morikawa is outside the top 100 players on tour, statistics that are incongruent with him as an elite player. However, he did hit that shot close.“When you’re ranking below average, which I am over the past few years with my short game and putting, you have to work on it,” he said. “I’ve been able to get hot and have some good weeks for me, but it’s about the level of consistency for me. Being 170th in putting or whatever in chipping, it’s not good enough for me.” His putting is not quite that bad: He ranks 147th.From an early age, Morikawa had his sights set on being a professional golfer, and he said a focus on constant improvement was at the heart of that.Unlike many elite professional athletes, he attended and completed a top school, the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in business administration and won five times as a college golfer.But those four years were not a hedge for a different career, he said, but a way to gain more knowledge for when he became a professional golfer. “People said, Cal was a great backup plan,” he said. “I never thought I had a backup plan. I knew I could use my degree for my professional career and my brand. There was never any wavering.”Likewise, he never looked at the top players as heroes; they were future competition. He drew on his amateur success to keep the competition in perspective. And that meant sticking to his own game, as one of the best long-iron players in the game today.That mind-set kept him from being intimidated. “I never looked at them as guys I’m going to have weak knees over when I see them,” he said. “The only guy like that was Tiger. All the guys I watched for countless years, I knew these guys were the best in the world, but I wasn’t afraid of them. At the end of the day, I still wanted to beat them.”Comparisons to Tiger Woods came quickly for Morikawa. He had the second-longest streak of cuts made as a rookie — 22 to 25 for Woods. And after 60 events, he stacked up pretty favorably to Woods.While Woods had more wins, top-10 finishes and a lower scoring average, according to Golf Digest research, Morikawa, at the same point, had two majors and a World Golf Championship to Woods’s one major.Morikawa and Tiger Woods at the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club.Hilary Swift for The New York TimesMorikawa is circumspect in embracing comparisons to Woods, comparisons that have been made to plenty of other young players who began their careers hot only to cool off.“I don’t think there will ever be another Tiger,” he said. “A lot of his records will be unbeatable. It doesn’t mean I can’t reach for them. But when you think about what he did, they’re a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”Does he think he can beat some of the records? “Yes,” he said. “Are some of the records untouchable? Yes, but I’m going to try to push for them.”Woods has recognized Morikawa’s play. “He doesn’t really do anything wrong,” Woods said in December on the Golf Channel. “He doesn’t really have wild misses. He’s super, super consistent, an unbelievable iron player.”To that end, Morikawa is pushing to test his game around the world. Victories have given him an enviable tour status for someone in only his fourth season, one that allows him to pick and choose the events he wants to play in.He could easily opt to play in just the United States and reduce some of the travel fatigue. But weeks before his 25th birthday, he said traveling to play golf is part of the fun at his age.“I’ve been very fortunate early on to be able to choose my schedule, and that’s made it a lot easier,” he said.“I’m not forcing myself to go play eight events a row on the PGA Tour, and with that balance I’ve been able to add in the DP World Tour. I wanted to see if my game traveled. I wanted to play internationally. And I put myself in a position to win the Road To Dubai in 2021.” More

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    Race to Dubai Players to Watch

    They are all among the leaders in the Race to Dubai, and a victory in this tournament could put one of them on top.The European Tour winds down for the year this week at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai with a close battle over who will win the Race to Dubai and be crowned the No. 1 golfer in Europe.After 42 tournaments in 23 countries, the winner walks away with a portion of the record $9 million in prize money.Here are five players to watch.Will ZalatorisHe is one of this year’s breakout stars. Zalatoris, 25, of the United States, tied for sixth at the United States Open, eighth at the PGA Championship and won the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year. Most notably, Zalatoris crashed onto golf’s center stage when he took second at the Masters, losing to Hideki Matsuyama of Japan by one stroke“This past year has been pretty crazy,” Zalatoris said in an interview. “But it’s all good stuff. It’s been a lot of fun. Augusta is the one I’m most proud of, though. Just knowing that I can put myself in that position and be in contention and handle it. It’s nice to know that you can do stuff like that. It’s motivating.”Zalatoris, who is No. 11 in the Race to Dubai, has been working on distance control, but said there is no secret to his success. “The good is really good,” he said. “We just need to make the bad a little bit better.”Matt Fitzpatrick is the defending champion and comes to Dubai after winning the Andalucia Masters in Spain. He is sixth in the Race to Dubai rankings.Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesMatt FitzpatrickFitzpatrick, 27, of England is the defending champion and comes to Dubai fresh off a win at the Andalucia Masters in Spain, making for a total of seven wins on the European Tour.“I really think my game is trending in the right direction,” he told reporters recently. “Playing well in the next few weeks, I’ll hopefully have some good results.”Fitzpatrick, No. 6 in the Race to Dubai, said it was important to manage the amount of pressure he puts on himself and to be patient.“I think for me it’s just about trying to have consistency throughout the whole four aspects of my game,” he said. “This year it’s been driving and putting, but my approach play’s been off, so hopefully I’ll get that to a better level and keep going with that.”Collin Morikawa is leading the Race to Dubai. He has won two majors on the PGA Tour.Atsushi Tomura/Getty ImagesCollin MorikawaMorikawa, 24, of the United States, made his Dubai debut last year and is leading the Race to Dubai this year.“I’ve put myself in a pretty strong position to win,” he said in a phone interview. “Now, I’m trying to get prepped, just like any other event. I’m coming out trying to win. It’s going to be a great field of players. I’ve seen this course, and I know what to expect.”Morikawa is working on “a few small things,” he said. “Some things are physical, and some things are mental. It’s just about getting a little sharper. It’s the end of the season, and sometimes you get a little too relaxed. So it’s just about staying sharp when you’re out there.”Morikawa, who has won two majors and five tournaments on the PGA Tour, is trying to pare his approach to the game.“You try to think back to when you played well and try to put yourself in that situation and realize what you did. You try to be consistent and keep a routine. It’s about being simple and thinking simple things when you’re out on the golf course. Sometimes that’s not so easy. I can’t think about protecting my lead. I just need to go out and hit the target.”Richard Bland has been on a hot streak recently that puts him eighth in the Race to Dubai.Sean M. Haffey/Getty ImagesRichard BlandBland, of England, made headlines in May when he took his first European Tour win at the British Masters at 48 years old.After grinding his way through 478 tournaments over more than two decades, Bland finally won. He’s been on a hot streak ever since, with six top-10 finishes that place him at No. 8 in the Race to Dubai.What did Bland change in his game to achieve the recent results?“I haven’t done anything different,” he said in a phone interview. “I think it was just my time. It’s hard to explain why a win didn’t happen earlier. I just carried on playing well since the win. I haven’t changed the way I practice. I’m not trying to do anything different. Everything just clicked into place, and then you get the confidence of winning. It just snowballed from there.”Comfort, consistency and a clear head work for Bland. “I’m not a big tinkerer, or changer of things,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, then don’t try and fix it. If your game is in good shape, then just go play. I don’t want too many thoughts going around in my head.”This season Min Woo Lee of Australia has had his first two wins on the tour, and he is No. 5 on the Race to Dubai.Dan Peled/EPA, via ShutterstockMin Woo LeeLee, 23 of Australia, is the latest to crack the Race to Dubai top 10 after three recent performances on the European Tour. He tied for second at the Andalucia Masters, tied for eighth at the Portugal Masters and tied for fourth last week at the AVIV Dubai Championship. The results place him at No. 5 on the Race to Dubai.“I was going to take this week off, but I thought my form was pretty solid and it would be another challenge in front of me and I could overcome it,” Lee said in a statement. “It is tough, I haven’t been home in six months, but I’m looking forward to going home and relaxing.”Earlier this season, Lee notched his first two wins on the tour, narrowly edging out Fitzpatrick at the Scottish Open and finishing two shots ahead of Ryan Fox of New Zealand at the ISPS Handa Vic Open. More

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    Tensions Flare in Ryder Cup as the U.S. Team Takes a Commanding Lead

    The Americans were calmly overpowering the European side, but then things got testy.HAVEN, Wis. — Golf is a game of decorum.Except in the Ryder Cup, where some combination of pressure, patriotism and pride routinely leads players to engage in frisky gamesmanship, clash over rulings and stoke or shush fans if it gives them an emotional advantage.This year’s Ryder Cup, however, was shaping up to be an exception to the usual peevishness. As the midpoint of the three-day event neared on Saturday, the American team was calmly overpowering the European side, whose golfers appeared lifeless and beaten. But that changed in the stretch of roughly one hour when there were four testy episodes involving players from both teams.Brooks Koepka defiantly and profanely disputed the decision of two rules officials who declined to give him a free drop. His American teammate, Jordan Spieth, and the caddie for his European opponent Jon Rahm had an animated quarrel about the proper place for a drop after Rahm hammered a shot into Lake Michigan. Bryson DeChambeau and Shane Lowry each gestured with their putters in protest after short putts were not conceded, although DeChambeau’s putt was far lengthier.Bryson DeChambeau of the United States laid his putter on the green in protest after his opponents refused to concede a short putt.Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesPerhaps not by coincidence, what was looking like an American rout suddenly became a tight, taut contest. After the United States won three of four team matches on Saturday morning to take a six-point lead in the event, the European team stormed back in the afternoon and at one point appeared capable of winning three of those four matches.But as the sun was setting along Lake Michigan in central Wisconsin, the Americans rallied to earn two victories that gave them a commanding 11-5 lead heading into Sunday’s 12 singles matches, which are each worth one point. The Americans would need to win only three and a half points on Sunday to win the Ryder Cup for just the second time since 2008.Dustin Johnson, left, and Collin Morikawa are undefeated as a team for the United States.Charlie Neibergall/Associated PressSteve Stricker, the American captain, smiled broadly Saturday evening as he assessed his team’s chances.“Those afternoon session matches were so important. If they blank us, they’re right back in it,” Stricker said of the European team. “But getting a split and two more points was really big. Right now, it’s about getting our guys some rest; we’ll get back to the hotel, eat and get into bed.”Justin Thomas, the emotional leader of the United States team, would not predict victory but said, “All of us have the faith now.”Sergio García, Thomas’s counterpart on the European side — at least when it comes to his leadership style — was not bowed.“Everybody knows one thing: We’ll be out there until the end and we’re not going to give up,” García said of his team. “It’s going to be difficult, but I assure you we’ll give our best.”The Saturday afternoon drama was enhanced by strong winds that whipped across Whistling Straits, the Pete Dye-designed course that is devilish even in benign conditions. Some players donned woolen winter caps in the elements and others were in short sleeves. The format for the matches was four-ball, in which each golfer plays his own ball and the lower score for a team decides the result on a hole.Three of the four matches were hotly contested and one was not, as the undefeated American team of Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa cruised to a comfortable 4-and-3 victory against Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter. The combination of McIlroy, who has played in six Ryder Cups, and Poulter, a stalwart and firebrand for the Europeans since 2004, has produced an 0-2 record. McIlroy has been on the losing side of each of his three matches.Jon Rahm, left, and Sergio García of Spain have won all three of their matches as a team for Europe.Mike Segar/ReutersThe heavyweight showdown was between Spieth and his partner Koepka and the Spanish pairing of García and Rahm, the world’s top-ranked player who has been spectacular at this Ryder Cup. The Rahm-García pairing came into the match against Spieth and Koepka undefeated in their two previous matches. They did not trail in the match through 16 holes. Spieth, usually so reliable when facing pivotal putts, missed a handful of makeable birdie or par attempts that could have wrested the lead from Rahm and García, who won, 2 and 1.Like Rahm and García, their teammates Shane Lowry of Ireland and Tyrrell Hatton of England held the lead or were tied with the Americans Tony Finau and Harris English through 17 holes. Still, with the European team’s hopes of a comeback on Sunday all but hanging in the balance, Lowry faced a 10-foot uphill par putt to win the match. With a steady, rhythmic stroke, Lowry drilled the putt in the center of the hole for a 1-up victory.Not surprisingly, the most unpredictable and volatile match involved DeChambeau, who was teamed with Scottie Scheffler against Tommy Fleetwood of England and Viktor Hovland of Norway. While the lead was traded back and forth, after 14 holes the match was tied — until Scheffler sank an 18-foot birdie putt on the 15th green to give his team a one-hole edge. That lead was later extended, with Scheffler and DeChambeau eventually winning 3 and 1.The Americans, who won five of eight matches on Friday, turned in another commanding performance in Saturday morning’s foursomes matches, in which players alternate hitting the same golf ball on a hole. The Johnson-Morikawa team led for its entire match against Englishmen Paul Casey and Hatton and eventually closed out a 2-and-1 victory. The poised Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay methodically eliminated their opponents Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick of England with a string of steady pars, winning the match 2 and 1.Thomas and Spieth, who were teamed in a losing effort on Friday, were reunited with a more productive result when they came from behind against Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger, who had the edge in the first 13 holes of the match. But the Thomas-Spieth combo won four of the final five holes to claim a 2-up victory. More

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    U.S. Routs European Team to Take Back the Ryder Cup

    Collin Morikawa’s birdie putt on No. 17 secured the half-point the U.S. team needed to clinch its victory against Europe on the way to a 19-9 rout.HAVEN, Wis. — The first tee on a Ryder Cup Sunday is usually a place of high tension. But not on this Ryder Cup Sunday.When Justin Thomas stepped onto the tee for his match with Tyrrell Hatton of England, the home fans in the surrounding grandstand implored Thomas to chug a beer, as he had at the same spot Saturday afternoon when the American team built a nearly insurmountable lead ahead of the competition’s final stage.Thomas, preparing to play one of 12 climactic Sunday singles matches, smiled, but waved off the cans of beer being offered.“Yeah, later,” a fan yelled from the rollicking grandstand. “He’ll catch up on the beers later.”Yes, he would. And the Champagne, too.The U.S. golfers, beleaguered for most of the last 25 years of Ryder Cup competition, on Sunday completed a three-day rout of the normally dominant European team to win the event for just the third time this century. Though they needed to win only three and a half points on Sunday to secure the Ryder Cup trophy — each match victory is worth one point and a tie is worth half a point — the Americans attacked brazenly, capturing eight of a possible 12 available points to trounce the Europeans, 19-9.The 19 points are a record in a modern format for the event, established in 1979. The previous record was 18½ points, which was accomplished by the United States in 1981 and the Europeans in 2004 and 2006.The American Patrick Cantlay, who remained undefeated in this year’s event with a decisive 4 and 2 victory over Shane Lowry of Ireland on Sunday, summarized his team’s uncompromising attitude during the three days of competition at Whistling Straits, a daunting golf course along two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in central Wisconsin.“I woke up this morning and told the guys, ‘Let’s get 20 points,’” Cantlay said. “This is the next era of Ryder Cup teams for the U.S.A., and I wanted to send a message. Everyone on our team has a killer’s instinct and we’re going to bring that to future Cups.”Collin Morikawa added, “It was imperative that we win this Ryder Cup for American golf, but it’s not just a win, it’s a dominant win, and that matters.”The American team deliberately rode a youth movement to victory, with a roster that included eight players under 30 and six who were making their Ryder Cup debut. It was the youngest American team in the 94 years of the event and notably devoid of golf luminaries, like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who had defined the squad since the 1990s. But from 1993 until this week, those American teams had lost nine of the 12 Ryder Cups contested.With American golf — competitively and recreationally — undergoing a changing of the guard, it was fitting that the U.S. Ryder Cup team was built around nine players ranked in the top 10 of the men’s world golf rankings, who collectively have an average age of 26.2. The youngest in the group, Morikawa, 24, was undefeated in this year’s event and secured the half-point that clinched victory on Sunday afternoon. At roughly the same time, the team’s elder, Dustin Johnson, 37, won his match to become just the fifth player to have a 5-0 record in one Ryder Cup.The U.S. team celebrated with the Ryder Cup trophy after winning on the final day of the tournament.Tannen Maury/EPA, via ShutterstockFor the Europeans, the lopsided score was a shock, even if the Americans had the stronger lineup of golfers, if measured by world rankings and tournaments won this season. Jon Rahm, the top-ranked men’s golfer, was the only European player in the world top 10. Moreover, the European team relied on a bevy of Ryder Cup veterans, including four who were over 40.Ian Poulter, a fiery leader and Ryder Cup stalwart, failed to provide the emotional boost he usually brought to the team in the first two days of team matches. Although Poulter, with his 3 and 2 victory over the American Tony Finau on Sunday, remained undefeated in Ryder Cup singles matches.“Congrats to Team U.S.A., they owned each of those team sessions on Friday and Saturday,” Poulter, 45, said late Sunday afternoon. “They made it very tough on us and this week is deflating. But we’ve got good young players too, and they will take this forward. They are more than capable of coming back the next time.”The European captain, Padraig Harrington, praised his American counterpart, Steve Stricker, who adjusted the U.S. selection process so that half his team was named at his discretion. In the past, most of the players qualified by a points rubric based on many months of results. Stricker made it a point to name a team of players whose personalities meshed — and whose games were on the rise in recent weeks.“They got their plan right,” Harrington said. “Of course, we’re disappointed, but the U.S. outplayed us. You have to see the facts.”Rory McIlroy reacted after the European team’s loss to the United States on Sunday.Charlie Neibergall/Associated PressRory McIlroy, who played prominent roles in past European victories, was in tears Sunday, even after winning his singles match against Xander Schauffele. McIlroy struggled in the two opening days of the event.“I love my teammates so much and I should have done more for them this week,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been extremely disappointed that I haven’t contributed more for the team.”Wiping his eyes, McIlroy congratulated the Americans and looked forward to a rematch in two years when the Ryder Cup resumes in Italy.“The more I play in this event, the more I realize it’s the best event in golf,” he said. “Just the best.”Morikawa’s clinching point was earned in a tie with Viktor Hovland. In addition to Cantlay’s victory for the Americans, Thomas defeated Hatton, 4 and 3; Scottie Scheffler beat Rahm, 4 and 3; Bryson DeChambeau overcame Sergio Garcia, 3 and 2; Brooks Koepka defeated Bernd Wiesberger, 2 and 1; Daniel Berger rallied past Matthew Fitzpatrick, 1-up; and Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood tied.Asked about his winning management style, Stricker said: “We took away a lot of the fluff and kept things as simple as we could. We put the players together in pairings that they helped shape with their input. And they wanted to come together — they all did.”As an example, Stricker insisted that Koepka and DeChambeau, whose sniping social media feud has been an overarching story line on the PGA Tour this year, asked to play together.“That shows you how together our team had become,” Stricker said with a grin.Although Stricker never paired the two.But in a show of the spirit and camaraderie that can envelop even heated rivals during a record-setting Ryder Cup performance, as the American team was celebrating its victory Sunday — with copious amounts of alcohol — Koepka and DeChambeau slapped hands and briefly hugged.Only on a Ryder Cup Sunday. More

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    U.S. Ryder Cup Team Seizes Big Lead on a Wild Opening Day

    The action included some harrowing moments for a couple of golfers, and the gallery included Michael Jordan.HAVEN, Wis. — A snapshot panorama from the first day of the Ryder Cup would start with a crowd of 40,000 — 90 percent of it American fans because of pandemic-related travel restrictions — noisily arriving before sunrise on Friday to roar unabated for 12 hours and through eight matches that concluded in the gloaming. Patriotic costumes were in vogue, though not among the most prominent spectators in the mix: Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry.Whistling Straits, the topsy-turvy golf fun house designed by Pete Dye along Lake Michigan, almost claimed two competitors as a stumbling Jordan Spieth ended up a hop step from a Great Lakes face plant and Ireland’s Shane Lowry flopped to his backside on an embankment like a toddler on a water slide. Tiger Woods, still recovering from a devastating car crash in February, was there in spirit on Friday, having sent an inspirational message to the U.S. team on the eve of the event. Bryson DeChambeau, ever the lightning rod for attention, boomed his opening drive of the day off line and off the ankle of a spectator. Later, DeChambeau ripped a towering 417-yard drive and then helped chase down the world’s top-ranked male golfer, Jon Rahm, to earn a pivotal half point.DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?! 🤯@JordanSpieth // @RyderCupUSA 📺 Watch now on GOLF and @peacockTV💻 https://t.co/FGvI8M8F19 pic.twitter.com/wHxO9XuSKr— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) September 24, 2021
    Ultimately, the big picture would reveal that the Americans had taken control of the event by winning each of the four-match morning and afternoon sessions for a 6-2 lead over the European team. It was the largest first-day lead for the United States at the Ryder Cup since 1975, when it had a five-point lead.But that was when the Americans routinely dominated the event. Since the mid-1990s, the script has been reversed, with the Europeans having won four of the past five events and nine of the past 12.“It was good to finally get things going, and it was obviously a good start,” Steve Stricker, the U.S. nonplaying captain, said. “We’d like to win every session.”Stricker, a mild-mannered Wisconsin native not known for risky moves, took some big chances with his afternoon pairings after the Americans had built a 3-1 lead in the morning matches. Every match featured two-man teams from each side. The morning format was foursomes, in which players alternate hitting the same golf ball on a hole, while the afternoon brought a four-ball format, in which each golfer plays his own ball, and the lower score for a team decides the result on a hole.The strongest American combination in the morning was Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, two of the American team’s six Ryder Cup rookies. The pair surged to a big lead early and routed the high-profile, veteran European team of Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter, 5 and 3.“I don’t know that anyone could have beaten Xander and Patrick today,” McIlroy said later.Usually when a new team is formed and has immediate success, Ryder Cup captains keep the players together and playing often. But for the afternoon matches, Stricker surprisingly had Schauffele play with Dustin Johnson, who had teamed with Collin Morikawa for an easy win in the morning. It had been expected that Stricker would keep that pair together as well.Instead, Morikawa, the reigning British Open champion, sat out the afternoon matches, as did Spieth and the team of Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger, who had been victorious in a morning match.But on Thursday, Stricker said that he had arranged his lineup for the first eight matches and that nothing that occurred in the morning session would change his plans for the afternoon. Given the pressure the Americans are under to win on home soil, few believed Stricker would stick to such a plan. But he did, and the results were impressive.Justin Thomas celebrating on the ninth green as Viktor Hovland of Norway looked on. Thomas emerged as the emotional leader of the U.S. team on Day 1.Warren Little/Getty ImagesCantlay teamed with Justin Thomas, who had played in the morning with his close friend Spieth. Cantlay, the PGA Tour player of the year, was steady, and Thomas, who appears to be the emotional leader of the American team, was fiery. But the duo was losing for most of its match against England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Norway’s Viktor Hovland. Then, with two holes remaining, Thomas rallied for a crucial putt that created a tie, which is how the match ended.The usually stoic Cantlay even showed some emotion during the round with an occasional fist pump.“I was feeding off J.T. a little bit,” Cantlay said, referring to Thomas. “He carried me around all day today, and he played great, and it was a dogfight.”Cantlay was also doing most of the post-round talking because Thomas had all but lost his voice from screaming and yelling toward the American crowd, which he did after sinking any meaningful putt.Tony Finau, left, and Harris English of the United States on the 10th green Friday afternoon. They defeated Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, 4 and 3.Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesThe Johnson-Schauffele team defeated England’s Paul Casey and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, 2 and 1. DeChambeau was paired with Scottie Scheffler in a match against Rahm and England’s Tyrrell Hatton that ended in a tie. The American team of Tony Finau and Harris English used their length off the tee and their accurate iron play to overpower McIlroy, who combined with Lowry in a 4-and-3 loss.The competition continues Saturday with another eight matches.Some of the Americans mentioned that Woods’s message had been part of the motivation for their winning play on Friday.“I’m obviously not going to reveal what he said,” Schauffele said. “But we referred to it a few times a day, and we knew what we needed to do. We knew he was fist-pumping from the couch. Whether he was on crutches or not — he’s fired up as any of us back at home.” More