Team dynamics, emerging stars and what's next for the U.S. team: Takeaways from the 2022 Presidents Cup
The U.S. team captured the Presidents Cup again, taking down the International team 17½ to 12½ at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sunday. It was the Americans' ninth straight victory and 12th in 14 editions of the event.
Over four days, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas emerged as the face of American team golf, now that Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed are competing on the LIV Golf circuit. South Korea's Tom Kim became a household name, and the International team showed a lot of heart in competing better than expected.
Here are five things we learned this week at Quail Hollow:
These guys like each other
Everyone needs someone to love them like JT loves Jordan, and vice versa.
There's no question the International team has inherent hurdles the Americans don't have to deal with, starting with language barriers, cultural differences and unfamiliarity with each other.
International team captain Trevor Immelman wasn't exaggerating (that much) when he called this U.S. team the greatest ever assembled. The 12-man U.S. squad included five of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking. Each of them was in the top 25.
And when U.S. team captain Davis Love III can roll out the tandems of Thomas-Spieth and Xander Schauffele-Patrick Cantlay each session, it's like having Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in a five-game series.
Spieth and Thomas, who have known each other since they were kids, went 4-0 in foursomes and four-ball matches. Cantlay and Schauffele, who are friends, both hail from California and won the PGA Tour team event in New Orleans this past season, went 2-1. The players went a combined 3-1 in singles.
"It's really fun, right?" Spieth said earlier this week. "He's my best friend in the whole world. We've played a lot of golf together. We've played a lot of golf against each other. Now we've played quite a bit with each other. There's nothing more fun than these team events, playing alongside JT."
When it looked like the Presidents Cup might turn into another rout on Friday, one of the most exciting things to watch was Spieth and Thomas feeding off each other, fist bumping, chest bumping and screaming at each other along the way.
"Having the opportunity to not only win a point for your team but win a point with one of your best friends, it's just one of those things," Thomas said. "We know each other's games. We know how to feed off each other. We know how to help each other. We know how to stay out of each other's way."
And that's what makes the core of U.S. stars so dangerous in team events going forward. LIV Golf might have actually done the Americans a favor by luring away Reed, who was popularly known as "Captain America" by fans but wasn't so popular in the team locker room. Reed infamously complained of captain Jim Furyk's "buddy system" in choosing pairings at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, which the Americans lost, 17½ to 10½.
The 12 players who competed for the U.S. this week genuinely seemed to like each other. There wasn't an elephant in the room because of Bryson DeChambeau's ongoing beef with Brooks Koepka, or because Reed was unhappy about having to play with Tiger Woods instead of Spieth.
A few times this past week, Presidents Cup rookie Max Homa, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, mentioned that he wasn't particularly close to anyone else on the U.S. team. But when Homa said it again during a news conference after Sunday's victory, Sam Burns quipped, "Love you, Max."
"Love you, Sam," Homa replied.
"Sam's a perfect example of somebody I've always gotten along with great and somebody I was looking forward to getting to spend real time with," Homa said.
Tom Kim is a superstar
The South Korean phenom's name is Joohyung Kim, but he prefers Tom, a childhood nickname given to him because of his fondness for Thomas the Tank Engine. These days the 20-year-old has as much steam building as his namesake.
After winning the Wyndham Championship for his first PGA Tour victory a month ago, Kim's pro debut in a team event was a coming-out party. He was the youngest player on either team and the third youngest to ever compete in the Presidents Cup, behind only Ryo Ishikawa and Jordan Spieth.
Kim went 2-3 in matches this week, and he was the pulse of the International Team and a crowd favorite at Quail Hollow Club because of his exuberant celebrations. On Sunday, Kim showed up at the first tee wearing sunglasses and egging the crowd to cheer. He was a rock star.
After losing his first two matches, Kim and his partners at least gave the International Team a glimmer of hope on Saturday.
In the Saturday morning foursomes, Kim paired with South Korea's K.H. Lee to take down world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns. That afternoon, Kim and Si Woo Kim stunned the seemingly unbeatable tandem of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele in four-ball competition. Kim had an eagle on the par-4 11th hole and then made a 10-footer for birdie on the 18th to defeat Cantlay and Schauffele.
"I think the sky's the limit," said Kim's caddie, Joe Skovron, who was on Rickie Fowler's bag until recently. "When you're 20 years old and you've already won as much as he has around the world and to respond in this environment like he did, you know, and he seems to have a work ethic to go with it and a plan. "
Homa isn't bad, either
It's difficult to imagine that not long ago Homa didn't have much confidence in his game. He was one of the funniest pro golfers on Twitter (and still is), but he didn't have much to show for his work in terms of results. At the end of the 2020 season, he was 70th in the FedEx Cup standings.
Since February 2021, however, Homa has won four times on tour. He won the Genesis Invitational in 2021, the Fortinet Championship and Wells Fargo Championship this past season and then defended his Fortinet Championship title in Napa, California, last week. He didn't arrive in Charlotte for his Presidents Cup debut until early Monday morning.
Homa, 31, delivered a signature moment of the Presidents Cup on Friday. Playing with Billy Horschel, their match against Canada's Taylor Pendrith and Corey Conners was tied after 16 holes. Homa made a 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to go 1 up. Then, after Pendrith made a clutch 15-footer for birdie on the 18th, Homa made another 12-footer to win the match.
After defeating Tom Kim on Sunday, Homa improved to 4-0 in his Presidents Cup debut. He is only the fourth Presidents Cup rookie to go 4-0-0 or better in his debut.
"I've said it a million times, but last year, at Kiawah [Island], doing the fitting for the Ryder Cup, knowing I didn't really have much of a chance anymore was tough," Homa said. "Looking at yourself in the mirror and all the USA gear, it was hard. But I've got a thing seared into my brain, and my main focus this season was to make this team, to play with these guys.
"A lot went into that. And to be here was one thing, and then to come out and play some great golf was another. And this week has been beyond special, validating, meaningful, all of the above. It meant a lot."
The PGA Tour needs more superstars, especially after so many big names like Dustin Johnson, DeChambeau, Cameron Smith and others defected to LIV Golf. The tour should embrace Homa's personality more than ever before.
Read More: [SOURCE: ESPN.com]
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Rory McIlroy rallies to win Tour Championship, third FedEx Cup title
ATLANTA -- This year it became easy to overlook Rory McIlroy's four majors, 30 wins on four continents and two years at No. 1 in the world. He has been viewed mostly as the strongest voice and staunchest defender of the PGA Tour in its battle against Saudi-funded LIV Golf.
So perhaps it was only fitting that a most tumultuous year for the PGA Tour culminated Sunday with McIlroy holding its biggest prize.
He had the final say with his clubs.
Six shots behind before the Tour Championship started, 10 shots back after two holes, McIlroy rallied from a six-shot deficit in the final round against the No. 1 player in the world and closed with a 4-under 66 to become the first three-time winner of the FedEx Cup.
"It's been a tumultuous time for the world of men's professional golf in particular,'' he said. "I've been in the thick of things. I guess every chance I get, I'm trying to defend what I feel is the best place to play elite professional golf in the world.
"It's in some ways fitting that I was able to get this done today to sort of round off a year that has been very, very challenging and different.''
It came at the expense of Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world who birdied four of six holes Sunday morning to finish the storm-delayed third round at 66 and build a six-shot lead. Not even McIlroy, who birdied the last two holes in the morning to get into the final group, thought he had a great chance.
But then Scheffler never regained his groove, missing fairways and greens and par putts. He made only one birdie in a closing round of 73 and tied the PGA Tour record for losing a six-shot lead in the final round.
"I just didn't get off to a good start early, but after that I grinded as hard as I could,'' Scheffler said. "For whatever reason my swing wasn't where it had been the first few days this week.''
McIlroy had a 17-under 263 for his raw score, the best of the week. He started at 4 under as the No. 7 seed and finished at 21 under to capture the $18 million bonus.
Sungjae Im fell back with a double bogey on the 14th hole and still managed a 66 to tie for second with Scheffler.
McIlroy referred to the final round as a "spectacle," and not just because of the pro-McIlroy crowd that chanted his name along the closing holes.
"Two of the best players in the world going head-to-head on the best tour," he said.
McIlroy needed plenty of help from Scheffler, who never trailed until the 70th hole. Scheffler looked out of sorts early, and McIlroy capitalized. With three straight birdies, he tied Scheffler on the seventh hole. And then it was a nail-biter to the end.
It was a stunning display at East Lake that turned on two shots.
McIlroy holed a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 15th hole to tie for the lead.
After he flew the green by some 20 yards, his pitch was running fast and headed off the front of the green when it hit the pin and settled 7 feet away. He saved par. Scheffler blasted out of a bunker to just inside 10 feet and missed, making bogey that put him behind for the first time all week.
Scheffler badly misread a 10-foot birdie chance on the 17th to tie, sending the Tour Championship to the final hole with $18 million on the line.
Scheffler's 4-iron on the par-5 18th sailed short and right into a bunker, and he blasted out over the green. McIlroy went left against the grandstand, took relief and got onto the green for an easy par.
"I wanted to win the season-long title,'' Scheffler said. "I've had a really great year and I wanted to finish it off with a win here, and unfortunately I wasn't able to do that.''
McIlroy won the FedEx Cup in 2016 in a playoff. He won the FedEx Cup again in 2019, the first year of a staggered start. This might have been the sweetest of all, coming off a year in which the PGA Tour has been in a nasty battle with LIV Golf, which already has attracted some two dozen players and now is part of an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.
It was McIlroy who has declared fierce loyalty to the PGA Tour over the past few years when rival leagues were coming into view. And it was McIlroy who joined Tiger Woods in leading a momentous player-only meeting last week that led to significant changes ahead for the tour.
So, yes, this had an extra level of satisfaction. And no, he didn't mind the burden he carried as the de facto voice of the tour.
"If you believe in something I think you have to speak up, and I believe very strongly about this. I really do,'' McIlroy said. "I hate what it's doing to the game of golf. I hate it.
"I think when you believe that what you're saying is the right things, you're happy to stick your neck out on the line.''
Even at the Tour Championship, typically a celebration of the end of the year, there was talk all weekend of more defections coming in the next few days. The Daily Telegraph reported three weeks ago that British Open champion Cameron Smith was leaving for LIV Golf, and sources confirmed his expected move to ESPN.
Harold Varner III, Marc Leishman and Anirban Lahiri also are expected to leave, sources told ESPN. Cameron Tringale announced his decision on Twitter.
Still to be determined is Joaquin Niemann, whose manager said the Chilean golfer would discuss the options with his father later Sunday.
"Everyone on tour has had to deal with a lot," McIlroy said. "Even the guys that have went to LIV have had to deal with a lot. It's just been a very tumultuous sort of era in our game. This is the best place in the world to play golf. It's the most competitive. It's got the best players. It's got the deepest fields. I don't know why you'd want to play anywhere else.''
With all that speculation, the Tour Championship that looked to be a runaway turned into a dynamic show. And in the end, the tour's biggest voice had its biggest trophy.
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Will Zalatoris claims first PGA Tour victory after impossible bounce on final hole
This was one of the craziest bounces in PGA Tour history.
The final round of the FedEx St. Jude Championship — the first round of the PGA Tour playoffs — provided some incredible drama on Sunday evening. Will Zalatoris and Sepp Straka entered a playoff tied at 15-under after the 18th hole. After trading pars on the first two holes of the playoff, the two golfers headed to the par-3 11th, where Zalatoris was the first to tee off.
The 25-year-old American hit an errant tee shot that looked to be headed straight toward the water, which would have set Straka up for a victory. But in what can only be described as a miracle, his ball hit the stone wall that guards the water, bounced up in the air several times, and somehow managed to come to rest safely on the ledge – and out of the drink.
While Zalatoris escaped the penalty, he still had a near-impossible lie below the grass line on the top of the wall, setting the stage for Straka to win if he could get the ball onto the green. Instead, the Austrian hit a near identical shot to Zalatoris – only his ball was not as fortunate and ended up in the water.
Straka took it back to the tee for his third shot after the penalty, and was unable to find the green yet again, hitting the bunker. After watching the advantage shift even further in his direction, Zalatoris then decided to take a penalty himself, as hitting the ball off the stone ledge had disaster potential.
He managed to find the green on his second tee shot – and sunk a putt to win the tournament and earn the $2.7 million winner’s check.
The win was Zalatoris’ first on the PGA Tour, though he has gotten agonizingly close on multiple occasions. He finished second in the 2021 Masters in his first season on the PGA Tour, and in 2022 he lost to Justin Thomas in a playoff at the PGA Championship and came in second yet again in the 2022 US Open at Brookline.
In the first round of the PGA Tour playoffs, the Wake Forest product finally tasted victory.