Posted on: August 26, 2011 4:14 pm
Edited on: August 26, 2011 4:18 pm

Lefty: No issue with Tiger, still wants Bradley

EDISON, N.J. -- Phil Mickelson throttled back his Presidents Cup lobbying just a tad on Friday.

Two days after he said that rookie Keegan Bradley should be the first player selected with one of the two captain's picks for the cup matches in Australia this fall, Mickelson said he couldn't find fault with Fred Couples' surprisingly early decision to name Tiger Woods to the team.

Couples, the U.S. captain, said Thursday that he has already told Woods he's on the 12-man team, though the two at-large picks were not formally due to be announced for another month.

Bradley won the PGA Championship two weeks ago and has two victories in his first PGA Tour season. Points are accrued over two seasons and Bradley stands 18th on the U.S. list. Only the top 10 are assured berths.

"I still feel the same way and nothing has changed," Mickelson said, reacting to Couples' selection of Woods. "I don't have a problem with Tiger being picked.

"But I think that Keegan has had a great year and has only been able to get points for this season, and not last season. I think he deserves it for his play already."

It looks increasingly like Bradley might need the at-large pick. He shot 74 in the second round and missed the cut at The Barclays on Friday, so he won't be moving up the U.S. points list this week for sure.

On Wednesday, Mickelson offered some impromptu support for the rookie, a frequent playing partner in practice rounds: "This is his first year. Meaning he was not allowed to make Presidents Cup points [in 2010] and he's had arguably the best year for any U.S. player. I think he needs to be a pick if he doesn't get on it on his own."

Later that day, Lefty said he believed Bradley deserved to be named as the first pick. Obviously, with Couples' highly contentious decision to pick Woods four weeks early, that didn't happen.

As for why Couples didn't use the coming month to vet all of the players in the at-large pool before making a decision, Mickelson didn't venture a guess.

"I think you could argue either way," he said of Couples' move, "but there are a lot of good things that come from Tiger being on the team."

Woods is No. 28 on the U.S. points list.

Rising American player Gary Woodland, considered an at-large candidate while enjoying a breakout season, stands at No. 25 in points and said he had no issues with Woods getting the nod, either. In fact, Thursday's news was hardly a surprise based on what Couples told prospective team members three months ago.

Apparently, Couples has been locked in on Woods for several weeks, his freefall down the world ranking notwithstanding.

"He told us that [Woods was a likely pick] when he met with us back at the Memorial," Woodland said of Couples' intentions. "I've played sports long enough to know that you have to makes these teams outright or you put your fate in the hands of other people."

Posted on: August 26, 2011 10:08 am

Couples call on Tiger wrong for a hundred reasons

EDISON, N.J. -- Corey Pavin, wherever you are, accept this belated olive branch.

Like many, I spent the latter half of 2010 having a field day with your captaincy of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, belittling the sieves that passed as team raingear in Wales, poking fun at your colorless quotes, making cracks about your height, questioning whether your wife was actually running the show.

There's only one thing left to say after the developments of the past few hours: Bring back captain Corey, because the guy steering the Presidents Cup team is steering the team headed toward the Great Barrier Reef.

U.S. captain Fred Couples, in a remarkable admission, said Thursday night in Seattle that he has already told Tiger Woods that he's assured one of the two captain's picks, even though Woods' season has been punctuated by missteps, missed cuts and missed fairways.

Couples is having none of it. Or all of it, whichever way you hook or slice it.

"In my opinion, when you’re the best player in the world for 12 straight years and you’re not on a team, there’s something wrong," Couples said.

That's the crux of the critical blowback here. Woods was indeed the best player on the planet for 12 years. Problem is, we're in Year 14 now.

“I don’t know how you can criticize someone for choosing Tiger Woods," Couples said. "If he goes there and doesn’t play well, I would be shocked."

Hopefully, Couples doesn’t scare easily, or he could be in for some fainting spells when the matches begin in Australia, based on the way Woods has played in 2011. Perhaps Couples missed the parts at the PGA Championship where Woods missed the cut, hit balls in 22 bunkers, and hit a 20-foot putt so fat, it came up six feet short of the hole.

Woods hasn’t won in 23 months in the States and others have blown past him so fast, he has plummeted from second to 36th in the world, a spiral that will continue because he is ineligible to play for four weeks and his last PGA Tour win is about to fall off his two-year ranking period.

Couples sounds about as stable as Captain Queeg, rolling around two ball bearings in his hand and trying to figure out who swiped the strawberry ice cream.

This call is wrong for so many reasons, it's nothing short of astounding. Let's list a few.

At No. 11 in points is Jim Furyk, who has had a forgettable season on the whole. But Furyk is the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, a guy who won the FedEx Cup last year after finishing with three wins. Furyk, unlike Woods, has shown far more recent signs of life, including T9 last week.

Keegan Bradley not only isn’t on the team, he's 18th in points despite two victories in his rookie season. Phil Mickelson noted this week that Bradley is the perceived front-runner for tour player of the year, opined that Bradley ought to be the first player named as a captain's pick. Oops. Mickelson and Bradley are represented by the same management firm, so there's a bias here, but Mickelson's got a point. No other American won a major this year. Woods hasn’t won a major since mid-2008.

Even though Bradley, now No. 18 in points, was unable to amass a single Presidents Cup point last year, he is 10 spots ahead of Woods in the standings. Woods is 28th and sandwiched between immortals Kevin Na and D.A. Points.

Couples, a guy who will never be confused for Vijay Singh for his work ethic, is taking the easy way out. The captain's picks are not set to be finalized for four more weeks, until after the Tour Championship in Atlanta. What, he didn’t want to face questions for a month about his two at-large options?

Even for those who believe Woods deserves a pick, there is absolutely no defensible reason to announce the selection a month early. Too many other players who play well over the next month could get left at the curb as they angle for the last remaining spot.

The doltish Couples move certainly underscores the fact that the Presidents Cup is an exhibition, and not held in nearly the same esteem as the Transatlantic swordfight called the Ryder Cup. Making the pick now makes the PrezCup, a thinly veiled Ryder knockoff, look even more farcical.

Think the PGA Tour, which invented and runs the Presidents Cup, wasn't giggling in the hallways when their savant captain tabbed Tiger on Thursday? Moments after Couples told reporters in Seattle that Woods was already a lock, the tour sent out Couples' comments in a blast email, cementing the deal and trumpeting to all the world that Tiger was on the team.

Twelve years ago, after watching a couple of balls take cruel bounces at the 1999 U.S. Open, David Duval stoically answered a question about the caprices that had just cost him the title. "There is no such thing as 'deserves,'" he said. Well, looks like he was wrong. In a game known as the ultimate meritocracy, Woods was grandfathered in based on his resume from two years ago. If he handed any employer a resume with a gap that large in is performance history, the boss would say, "so, what's the deal with the last two years?"

If Woods wanted to earn a spot on the team the right way, he should have played last week in Greensboro, his last chance to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, which began this week at The Barclays. He was outside the top 125 positions required to make the FedEx series, tied in with rookie Will McGirt, who not only played well enough at Greensboro to get in the series, he was an overnight co-leader at The Barclays on Thursday night. Woods didn’t play. He said he had family commitments. Then he participated in a corporate PR stunt for EA Sports last Tuesday, sending a nice message of indifference while others were trying to grind their way into the FedEx picture.

Couples is so out of touch with affairs on the tour, he was unaware that Woods had not qualified to play in the FedEx series, and told him he wants him to add another tournament before heading to Australia to play in the Aussie Open (where he will receive an appearance fee) and Presidents Cup. Couples didn’t even wait to see whether Woods followed through and signed up for a Fall Series event before picking him. The Australian Open is Nov. 10-13 outside Sydney and the cup matches follow the next week.

Couples' assistant captain is Jay Haas, whose son Bill is 10th in Presidents Cup points at the moment. Guess who gets bumped if anybody makes the slightest move over the next four weeks and displaces him from the automatic-pick perch in the top 10? Right. Haas would then need to be picked to make the team. Awkward.

Plenty have compared Couples' decision to pick the skidding Woods as comparable to International team captain Greg Norman's decision to tab Adam Scott two years ago. Scott was in a months-long slump, and Norman figured being on the team might give the young Aussie a lift. What people forget is that Scott finished 1-4, however.

Picking Woods is akin to juggling dynamite. Couples, especially has ensured that a decent faction of Americans will be pulling against the U.S. team. 

Nice call, captain America.

Posted on: June 2, 2011 7:00 pm

Caddie swap doesn't throw D.J., Couples for loop

DUBLIN, Ohio -- To shamelessly swipe a rather famous song lyric: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

In an interesting subplot during the first two days of the Memorial Tournament, Fred Couples and Dustin Johnson were placed in the same group, just weeks after Couples' longtime caddie went to work for the latter, younger star.

Veteran looper Joe LaCava has teamed with Couples for two decades, and when Johnson parted ways with his old caddie, Bobby Brown, LaCava was given the job at the Players Championship. Johnson said there was no tension in the first round Thursday -- quite the contrary.

Not that he or Couples are the high-strung dramatic type, anyway.

"It was fine," said Johnson, who shot 68 and is tied for fifth. "Freddie is a great guy. There's no hard feelings there. You know, we talked about it the other day.  But everything is good, and I'm happy to have Joe working on the bag for me. I'm looking forward to having a few good weeks here coming up."

Couples has been playing sporadically of late on the senior tour because of injuries, and Johnson certainly presents more earnings potential.

"There's no bad blood or anything like that," Johnson said. "They were together for 21 years and are really close friends. Yeah, it was nice. We had a great time out there today."

Johnson, who used a couple of short-term stand-in caddies until hiring LaCava, gave his version on hos the pairing came to be.

"Well, obviously I was looking for a caddie, and Freddie was -- he's hurt, he's struggling with his back right now, so Joe came and caddied for me at the Players and he wanted a full time job, so I said yeah," Johnson said.

After years of working for a power player like Couples, it didn't take long for LaCava to grasp the nuances of Johnson's power game, apparently.

"He's got it dialed in already," Johnson said. "I don't think it, especially with good guys, it doesn't take very long to 'club' people."

Posted on: April 8, 2011 3:04 pm
Edited on: April 8, 2011 3:19 pm

Stricker has front-row seat to familiar scene

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Either way, I guess Steve Stricker was safe if he called Fred Couples a "leader."

Two years ago, Couples served as the captain of the Presidents Cup team, and Stricker was a key member. But after what Couples wrought on Friday at Augusta National, he's again the old-fashioned type of leader, too.

Couples shot a 4-under 68 on Frieday and is right back where he annually seems to be, despite his age, balky back and occasional disinterest -- among those atop the Masters scoreboard.

It's not quite every year without fail, but it sure seems that way. Couples was sixth last year as a 50-year-old, and was in the mix deep into the back nine in 2006, then he eventually finished T3 after his putter betrayed him.

Stricker played with Couples the first two days and was amazed at how well Couples can still contend out here with the younger set.

"He still hits it really well, has a lot of length, is a good iron player, and putts it great," Stricker said. "It was cool."

Stricker didn't hesitate when asked if he thinks Couples -- who won the Masters some 19 years ago -- has enough gas to finish this thing off on the weekend.

"I think he can, the way he's hitting it," Stricker said. "He's won here before, so that has to give him a little confidence."

Couples was blowing it past the younger Stricker and Luke Donald off the tee, not that either are particularly long hitters, as Stricker admits. But still.

"He can still step on it if he wants to," Stricker said. "And he has a good attitude around here."

Couples will again serve as the Presidents Cup captain later this fall in Australia, and Stricker will likely make the team.

"If he wanted to, if his back was in good enough shape, he could probably make the team," Stricker said.
Category: Golf
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