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Reed ‘likes’ disparaging tweets aimed at Stricker

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Steve Stricker’s at-large picks for his U.S. Ryder Cup team did not include Patrick Reed, one of the few American players with a winning record in the competition that has frustratingly seen Europe capture nine of the last 12 events.

The decision drew plenty of complaints on social media and a good bit of support for Reed, the 2018 Masters champion who has been dubbed “Captain America” and relished his role in the U.S. Cup competitions.

Several of the tweets were critical of Stricker, one referring to him as a “coward,” and others basically chiding the captain for leaving Reed out. Reed or whoever runs his Twitter account “liked” more than a dozen of those tweets, including the ones that were disparaging of Stricker.

He has not tweeted since the start of the Tour Championship last week.

Reed, 31, is a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour who has been involved in several rules controversies. He also chided the decision in the aftermath of the 2018 Ryder Cup in France that separated him from partner Jordan Spieth — a decision that Reed said caught him by surprise.

Last month, Reed was hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia and said at the Tour Championship his life was in danger. He was able to play — he tied for 17th in the Atlanta — but was forced to drive from his home in Houston to Atlanta because doctors feared flying would be difficult on his lungs.

“Patrick Reed … that was a very, very difficult call,” Stricker said. “Kind of lost sleep over that one. He’s a tremendous competitor. He brings a lot of match-play golf. His record at the Ryder Cup is pretty darned good. It was a very difficult call. It was just the uncertainty of his health and really the lack of play that led to our decision down the stretch.”

Reed has a 7-3-2 record in three Ryder Cup appearances, with three singles victories. But none of his team victories came without Spieth, who played all four team matches in France with Justin Thomas.

Reed went 1-2 in France and was 1-3 in Melbourne at the 2019 Ryder Cup.

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Why U.S. captain Steve Stricker should think long and hard about Kevin Na for the Ryder Cup

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ATLANTA — One golf tournament should not make a player’s bid for a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Then again, with the flexibility of having six at-large picks, shouldn’t U.S. captain Steve Stricker be looking at more subtle reasons for putting together the last pieces of his team? And more specifically, could one piece be Kevin Na?

The Korean-born American golfer, who turned pro when he was in high school and has seemingly been around forever, has never been on a U.S. Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team. He has probably never been seriously considered. Who knows, maybe Stricker has already dismissed him.

But when Stricker makes his six picks on Wednesday at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, site of the matches later this month, Na, 37, would be an interesting choice.

He’s not a long hitter and might not be suited for the brutish Whistling Straits course that borders Lake Michigan. At times, he has had driving issues and swing yips issues and maddening slow-play issues.

And yet, he’s playing some excellent golf of late, putts beautifully and is just quirky enough to annoy a European opponent. Pair him with Bryson DeChambeau … whomever they go against might just lose their collective minds in exasperation.

Na is also coming off an underrated performance at the Tour Championship, where Patrick Cantlay was the big FedEx Cup winner. But due to the staggered strokes format, Na tied Jon Rahm at 14 under par for the lowest scores over 72 holes at East Lake.

In any other tournament, Na would have been in a sudden-death playoff.

“I was trying to win that secret leaderboard, where everybody started from even par, to get captain Stricker’s attention, so I could get a captain’s pick,” he said.

Na said he wasn’t lobbying for a pick. But given the opportunity, well … he lobbied for a pick.

And, actually, he did more of the talking with his clubs and his putter.

Imagine him with American fans hollering as he walks in one of those putts, which he did often in Atlanta.

“I couldn’t have played any better,” he said. “I had one bogey for 27 holes, and the last three rounds [were] bogey-free. Couldn’t have played any better. No matter what golf course I play, if I’m on, I can play. [East Lake] is a golf course that I always felt like it didn’t suit my game. Hitting two to three clubs more than everybody else on every hole, greens are firm, if you miss the fairway for me there’s no chance out of the rough for me.

“I drove it beautifully. That was the key to a successful week.”

Here’s the thing: Na would not be expected to carry the U.S. team. He might play just twice — maybe only once — before singles matches on Sunday of the three-day event. Same for some of the other possibilities Stricker has in mind. The question is if Na fits better than the others for some specific role.

The six players who qualified following the BMW Championship were Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Cantlay. Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth are considered locks to get three of the six spots. Harris English, who won twice this season and is ranked 11 in the world, seems a pretty safe bet for another spot.

That leaves two openings, with Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger, Webb Simpson, Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns, Jason Kokrak, Billy Horschel, Kevin Kisner and Na among the stated possibilities. All have possibilities. At this point, little of it should necessarily have to do with recent form or even long-term form.

If getting to the Tour Championship mattered, only Simpson and Kisner failed to advance to Atlanta.

Stricker has several pairings for the team formats. Thomas and Spieth were a strong team in a losing effort in Paris three years ago. Schauffele and Cantlay played four times, going 2-2, at the Presidents Cup in Australia two years ago. Morikawa, if he gets his solid iron game on track, would be expected to play both foursomes and four-ball. You could see him playing with Johnson or Koepka or Finau. Johnson is certainly a candidate to play all five matches, as might be Finau.

That doesn’t leave many openings. So why not find someone who fits a niche, who might just play once or twice before singles?

Na has had a good run of late, finishing at the top at the Tour Championship after a tie for 17th at the BMW Championship and a tie for eighth at the Northern Trust. He also had two second-place finishes before that.

Again, it’s less about those results and more about Na’s ability to fill a role. Imagine him in four-ball with DeChambeau, who would be expected to make a ton of birdies while Na plays steady and attempts to make the pars that allow his partner to be more aggressive.

Sure, there are other players who might very well fit that role. One could be Reed, who had a nice Tour Championship after being hospitalized for double pneumonia. Having started hitting balls only a week ago, Reed showed signs of improvement each day.

“I definitely feel like I am way ahead of where I would say everyone expected me to be health-wise,” he said. “With not playing for a while, you expect a couple loose shots here and there, but as a whole, I felt like the way my health was and the way my golf game was, I’m way ahead of schedule now. To be able to have two weeks at home to grind and get ready. I have no doubt if I’m on the team I’ll be ready and be 100 percent.”

Reed has been one of the best U.S. Ryder Cup players going back to 2014. He is one of the few with a winning record. Then again, he was 1-2 in Paris and 1-3 in Melbourne and his only victories came in singles.

And if Stricker was looking for a reason not to pick him, Reed’s recent health issues are a legitimate excuse.

Na isn’t going to overwhelm anyone (he tied for 58th at the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits and missed the cut there in 2015), but he does have four wins in the past three-plus years. He leads the PGA Tour in strokes-gained around the green. He also seems to hole a lot of putts, which anecdotally seems to be a deficiency for the U.S. team in Ryder Cups.

“I think I can get on the European team’s nerves walking in a bunch of putts and getting up-and-down from everywhere,” Na said.

He still seems like a long shot. And Stricker certainly could not be blamed for going with the likes of Reed, Berger or Simpson, guys who have played on previous Cup teams.

But the more you think about Na …

“It would be a dream come true,” Na said.

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Europe retains Solheim Cup with rare win in U.S.

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TOLEDO, Ohio — Europe retained the Solheim Cup on Monday, clinching just its second victory on U.S. soil when Matilda Castren closed out Lizette Salas 1 up to give the visitors the decisive point in a 15-13 victory.

Castren calmly curled in a 10-foot par putt on the 18th to edge Salas and give Europe back-to-back Cup victories for just the second time in the 31-year history of the biennial showdown between the two rivals.

“It’s just crazy, crazy,” said the 26-year-old who became eligible to make the team only after winning an event in her native Finland in July. “I can’t believe I made that putt. I knew it was important. I knew it was going to break a little bit left. Me and (my caddie) read the putt perfectly and it went in. It’s just such an amazing feeling, and so proud to be part of this team.”

Two years after needing a dramatic 7-foot putt by Suzann Pettersen to slip by the Americans at Gleneagles, the final putt this time around was more of an exclamation point on three days of steady and occasionally spectacular play by the visitors.

When Emily Pedersen rolled in a birdie putt on the 18th to close out Danielle Kang, the Europeans poured onto the green in celebration, hoisting captain Catriona Matthew on their shoulders while shouting the chorus to “Sweet Caroline.”

Good times have never seemed so good for Europe, which has now captured four of its last six meetings with the U.S.

The Europeans built a 9-7 lead over the weekend and quickly put on the pressure Monday, snuffing out any legitimate hopes of a comeback by the hosts.

Leona Maguire, the first Irishwoman to appear in the Solheim Cup, capped off a brilliant 4-0-1 debut by making three birdies and an eagle on the front nine to top Jennifer Kupcho 5-and-4 in the third match out and give Europe the first of the five points it needed.

Madelene Sagstrom followed with a 3-and-2 victory over Ally Ewing and Celine Boutier dropped U.S. rookie Mina Harigae 5-and-4 to push Europe’s total to 12. Anna Nordqvist and Lexi Thompson — who have combined for 12 Solheim appearances between them — finished all square in a taut match in which neither led by more than one at any point.

The Americans briefly made a push, turning the scoreboard into a sea of red late in the afternoon, but the big shots the U.S. needed to put pressure on the leaders materialized. Most of the fist pumps by the Americans and roars from the crowd were reserved for lengthy par putts that halved holes instead of winning them.

Austin Ernst saw her a downhill 8-foot birdie putt that would have won her match against Nanna Koerstz Madsen slide left, letting Europe escape with a half-point to bring its team total to 13. Salas had a chance to even her match with Castren on the 17th, only to shove her 6-foot birdie putt past the hole.

When Salas couldn’t convert a 20-foot uphill birdie putt on the 18th and Castren recovered from a plugged approach shot in the bunker to pour her par putt into the heart of the cup, Europe had its fourth Solheim Cup win in its last six meetings with the Americans.

Europe led from start to finish, seizing a 3-point advantage after the opening alternate-shot session on Saturday morning and never letting go.

Not even a highly partisan crowd that included a rapping two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson (yes, really) could give the U.S. the energy it needed to close the gap.

Still, U.S. captain Pat Hurst remained confident heading into singles, saying her “stacked” team had enough talent and experience to overcome the deficit.

It had happened before. Eight times before Monday, Europe found itself in front heading into singles. Only four times had the Europeans held on to win.

Yet 33-year-old Mel Reid, a four-time Solheim Cup veteran, said on the eve of the opening matches that this was the best team Europe had ever brought to the event.

Over the course of three days, Reid and her 11 teammates played like it. The Brit went 2-0-1 over the weekend while paired with the seemingly unstoppable Maguire.

Reid’s spectacular 8-iron from 136 yards at the 18th on Sunday in the final match earned a half-point and gave Europe momentum it rode all the way to a victory that never really seemed in doubt from the second Nordqvist and Castren edged Ernst and Danielle Kang 1 up in the opening match Saturday morning.

While blowouts were rare — 21 out of the 28 matches reached at least the 17th green and 16 of 28 went the full 18 holes — when things got tight, the Europeans rarely faltered.

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McIlroy backs Osaka over decision to take break

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Golfer Rory McIlroy has backed Naomi Osaka’s decision to take a break from tennis following the Japanese world No. 3’s elimination from the U.S. Open last week, saying that it was important that athletes did not let results define them.

A tearful Osaka told reporters that she would be taking some time off from the sport after crashing out in the third round at Flushing Meadows to 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez, adding that she had been struggling with anxiety and depression over the last few years.

Speaking after his final round at the Tour Championship — where he finished tied for 14th — McIlroy said that he had faced similar difficulties in his own career.

“I spoke about this in 2019 about separating who I am as a golfer and who I am as a person and trying to not let that define me, and it seems what Naomi is going through at the minute is that same thing,” the four-time major winner said.

“How can I play tennis and enjoy it and not let the results define who I am… I think everyone just needs to let her have time to figure that out.”

Osaka has received support from various athletes, including tennis greats Billie Jean King and Boris Becker, as well former American sprinter Michael Johnson, with many praising her for bringing to the fore a new discussion around mental health.

“She seems like a really smart girl, and hopefully she’ll be able to do it and come back and start enjoying the game just like when she picked the racket up when she was a little girl,” McIlroy added.

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Patrick Cantlay earned a lot more than the $15 million that comes with winning the FedEx Cup

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ATLANTA — The system is one Patrick Cantlay still dislikes, one that saw him earn $15 million on Sunday as the PGA Tour’s season-long champion despite not shooting the lowest 72-hole score at the Tour Championship.

No matter.

Cantlay followed the format, and hit the big shots when necessary to hold off Jon Rahm and win the FedEx Cup title at East Lake while also stamping himself a big-time player over the past few weeks.

After dispatching Bryson DeChambeau at the BMW Championship in a six-hole playoff a week ago, Cantlay stayed on form and led the strokes-adjusted Tour Championship from the moment he teed off on Thursday until he tapped in his winning birdie putt on Sunday.

And it brought to full circle a 10-year journey that saw him as a hotshot college player at UCLA and top-ranked amateur in the country to a low point where a back injury kept him from playing golf for two years. Now, here he is, beating the best players in the game while planting himself among them.

“The biggest thing is it’s given me great perspective,” said Cantlay, 29, who is ranked fourth in the world. “I think for a long time, everything just went great. Growing up, I felt like I got better and better in golf and life got better and better, and then it got as bad as it could have been. I felt as low as it could have been for a little while.

“Coming out on the other side of that, I feel like I am a better person having gone through those dark days. But it gives me great perspective and it makes me very grateful to be in the position I’m in, because it wasn’t always a sure thing. I was very close to going back to school and putting golf behind me.

“And so I’m just very grateful to be where I am and I’m so satisfied with all the hard work paying off.”

Cantlay seemingly had the tournament secured when he birdied the 16th hole to take a two-shot lead over Rahm. Then he nearly gave it all back with an approach over the green at the 17th, a chip shot that came up short, and then a testy 5-footer for bogey to maintain a one-shot advantage.

And when Rahm knocked his second shot on the green at the par-5 18th, setting up an eagle opportunity, Cantlay followed — having hit a 361-yard drive — with a 6-iron to 11 feet. That set up a two-putt birdie and a one-shot victory.

It meant a $15 million payday from the FedEx Cup bonus fund, with Rahm getting $5 million.

“Felt like a huge win and it was,” Cantlay said. “I played great [Sunday]. I kept telling myself to focus and lock in and I did a great job of that today.”

Cantlay had no choice if he was to leave East Lake with the title. Rahm posed an intimidating presence as he played the final three rounds with Cantaly, doing his best to overcome a four-shot deficit at the start of the week that was part of the unique FedEx Cup formula where players started via staggered scoring related to their position in points race.

The reigning U.S. Open champion shot 68 on Sunday without a bogey but simply could not get enough birdie putts to drop to ever forge a tie. And when it looked like things might turn at the par-4 17th, Cantlay delivered again.

“Patrick played great golf, and he was four shots ahead of me (at the start of the tournament). Even though I might have been the better man over the week, he earned it,” Rahm said. “He played amazing. That up-and-down after missing [the first chip on] 17, the second shot from 18 to almost make it is even more impressive.

“I think you can say he won this. He played amazing golf.”

Rahm still had a good payday, leaving with $5 million.

“It felt really weird to have this feeling of disappointment of not winning on a day you are making $5-million,” Rahm said.

Both Cantlay and Rahm have pointed out flaws with the FedEx system. They both have made clear their feelings about its deficiencies. And yet, they are the ones who provided the drama, as no one else could get close.

Rahm was unaware at the time that he actually tied Kevin Na for the lowest 72-hole total, shooting 14 under par. Xander Schauffele was next at 12 under and Cantlay was tied at 11 under, along with Viktor Hovland and Justin Thomas.

“I think this format is less confusing. But I don’t think it’s a good format,” Rahm said. “I dislike the fact that we no longer have a Tour Champion. So I dislike the fact that no one knows, when they look at the leaderboard, who shot the lowest round this week.”

All players knew the rules going in, however, and Cantlay managed to protect his two-shot advantage starting off the entire week. That’s a different kind of pressure, one he said was difficult to process.

The last three rounds, especially, were intense as both Cantlay and Rahm put on an impressive show, one that would be fun if it were reprised in three weeks at the Ryder Cup, where Cantlay is suddenly looking like the top American player and Rahm will undoubtedly be among those counted on the most for Europe.

It was the fourth victory of the season for Cantlay, who captured the Zozo Championship last October, the Memorial Tournament in June, the BMW and the Tour Championship.

At the Zozo, Cantlay held off Thomas and Rahm. He beat Collin Morikawa in a playoff at the Memorial — after Rahm withdrew due to a positive COVID-19 test when leading by six shots after 54 holes. Last week at the BMW, Cantlay continually made putts to stay alive, finally winning with a birdie putt to dispatch DeChambeau on the sixth extra hole.

“I wouldn’t necessarily call him underrated, but I might call him under-appreciated,” said Stewart Cink. “Patrick just doesn’t have any one thing that stands out, but that’s what makes him such a great player is that he doesn’t have anything that is a weakness either.

“He’s plenty long. He hits plenty of fairways. He’s got a massive short game. He’s tough under the gun and he’s a great putter. I mean, I know golf pretty well. You tell me if I’m missing anything here. He’s just the whole package.”

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Twin wins: Nicolai Højgaard matches bro’s feat

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GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy — Identical twins, identical results.

Nicolai Højgaard sunk a birdie putt on the 18th hole to win the Italian Open on Sunday, a week after his identical twin brother, Rasmus, won the European Masters in Switzerland by also making a birdie with his final stroke.

“To finish it off like this, and to do it a week after Rasmus won, it’s perfect,” Nicolai said.

It marked the first time in European Tour history that brothers have won back-to-back tournaments.

The 20-year-olds from Denmark are considered two of the continent’s brightest prospects.

In a nod to the future, Nicolai’s success came on the redesigned Marco Simone course just outside Rome that will host the 2023 Ryder Cup.

“In a couple years I could definitely see myself playing,” Nicolai said after collecting the winner’s check for 485,000 euros ($575,000). “That’s one of my biggest dreams – to win the Ryder Cup. Not just to participate but to win … and I would love to come here to Rome in ’23.”

And he doesn’t need to look far for the perfect partner for foursomes and fourball.

“Me and my brother would love to play together,” Nicolai said. “We’ve been doing that back home when we’re playing events. So that’s definitely a goal of ours and I can’t wait to come back.”

For his first European Tour victory, Nicolai shot a final-round 71 to finish one stroke ahead of 2018 Ryder Cup standout Tommy Fleetwood and Adrian Meronk of Poland.

Rasmus, who finished in a tie for 18th this week, walked the course again shortly after his final round to watch his brother complete the victory, then rushed out onto the 18th green for a celebratory hug with Nicolai.

And to think that Nicolai was the last man added to the field this week with a wild card from the Italian Golf Federation.

Nicolai held the lead going into the final round but risked ending up in a playoff when his tee shot on the 626-yard, par-5 18th hole landed in the left rough. After laying up safely, though, Nicolai spun his third shot to within four feet of the hole and then made the ensuing putt to clinch the trophy.

“On 18 I knew I had to make four,” Nicolai said. “I’ve been nervous many times before but nothing like it (on 18). I couldn’t almost move the putter to be honest.

“I was getting quite emotional when I holed that putt and looked over to see my caddie and Rasmus with my girlfriend and his girlfriend here.”

Nicolai’s previous best result was a second-place finish behind Sergio Garcia at the 2019 Dutch Open, while Rasmus’ victory in Crans-Montana was his third on the European Tour.

Nicolai drove the green for an eagle at the par-4 16th hole on Saturday.

“I drove the ball very good the first three days and today was a bit shaky,” Nicolai said. “Everything was a little bit shaky today but I would say my length off the tee was probably the biggest advantage this week.”

Francesco Laporta of Italy finished fourth, two strokes back.

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Why Sunday at the Tour Championship is about way more than just a lot of money

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ATLANTA — Just one day remains in what is likely the longest season on record for the PGA Tour, a “super season” that included 50 events, six major championships, COVID-19 concerns and a good bit of golf parity.

After all of that, it is more or less come down to two players at East Lake and the final 18 holes at the Tour Championship — Patrick Cantlay and Jon Rahm. Justin Thomas still has a chance to say something about that, despite a final-hole bogey to close the third round that really stings. But it will a really low round for him to impact the top of the final FedEx Cup standings.

Here is a look at all the big things that are in play on the final day of the Tour Championship:

The difference is $10 million

That is essentially what Cantlay and Rahm will be playing for on Sunday. The winner of the FedEx Cup receives $15 million. The runner-up gets $5 million. It is quite the difference and offers plenty of reason to feel pressure. Cantlay’s third-round 67 increased his advantage over Rahm to two shots, with Thomas sitting five back.

More cash conversation

There’s a reason getting to the Tour Championship is a big deal. Not only does it all but guarantee a spot in next year’s Masters, U.S. Open and Open, it means a good bit of money. A total of $46 million of the total $60 million in FedEx bonus money is at stake here. Last place gets $395,000.

After $15 million to the winner and $5 million to second, the payouts are $4 million, $3 million, $2.5 million through the top five. The 10th place finisher gets $830,000.

The other title on the line

Sunday’s final round could also impact the PGA Tour’s player of the year voting. Cantlay is the only player to win three tournaments this season, but Rahm had a major title at the U.S. Open, a six-shot lead at the Memorial prior to being forced out because of a positive COVID-19 test, and contended at The Open and the Northern Trust.

Also to be considered is if Rahm shoots a lower 72-hole score than Cantlay. The rules at the Tour Championship are skewed because of that staggered start. But everybody will know who shot the lowest score.

So who really had the best week?

This is one of down sides of the three-year-old Tour Championship format that sees every player assigned a score in relation to par based on their FedEx Cup points. Cantlay, as the FedEx leader, started the week at 10 under. Rahm was four back in fourth place. If the leader, already with a two-shot advantage, manages to shoot under par each day, he can turn the tournament into a snooze. Had this been regular 72-hole stroke play, Rahm would be leading by two.

Ryder Cup watch

In addition to all that money on the line on Sunday, this is the last chance to make an impression on U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker, who will select his six captain’s picks on Wednesday.

His top six are set: Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Cantlay.

The next four picks also seem to be set with Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth and Harris English.

That leaves two picks. Some of the possibilities: Daniel Berger, Patrick Reed, Sam Burns, Scottie Scheffler, Jason Kokrak, Webb Simpson and Kevin Na. Or someone else?

Reed is an interesting case. Two weeks ago, he was in the hospital with double pneumonia. He feared for his life. He only showed up to the Tour Championship because of the Ryder Cup.

“I know I’ll be fine by Ryder Cup,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting my strength and speed back.”

Does Stricker take that chance? Reed has been one of the better U.S. Ryder Cup players in his three appearances — although he had a poor showing in France. Under normal circumstances he might be a lock for a pick. But does his health give Stricker pause? Reed has gotten better each day at the Tour Championship, including a 66 on Sunday.

What about an injured Koepka?

The four-time major champion withdrew Saturday with a left wrist injury after he struck a tree root on the 10th hole at East Lake. Koepka took a full lash at the shot. His wrist was swollen afterward. He played two more holes before withdrawing and said afterward it was a precaution because it was the same wrist that gave him considerable issues in 2017-18. Stricker might want to consider his contingency plans for Koepka if things are not right in a few weeks.

What about Morikowa?

The Open champion has cost himself a considerable amount of money in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He entered No. 1 in the FedEx Cup and goes into the final round tied for 22nd in the 30-player field. The difference in the top spot and where he is now is roughly $14.5 million.

Morikawa said he tweaked his back at the Olympics, where he narrowly missed a bronze medal. He later said he should have skipped the following week’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. After missing the cut at the Northern Trust, he dropped to sixth in the standings. He was 11th coming into this week.

Morikawa said he had gotten into some bad habits and was simply trying to work them out. He did shoot 68 on Saturday.

“I’m going to try and keep it simple,” he said. “I could be thinking about a lot of things, but at the end of the day, everyone’s just going to look at our score and what we shoot this week and I just want to get the ball in the hole. It’s as simple as that, really.”

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Everything you need to know for the Solheim Cup

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Two years have passed since Europe won the Solheim Cup thanks to a jaw-dropping putt by captain’s pick Suzann Pettersen. Now, on Saturday at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, the United States is trying to get the cup back on its own turf.

“With everything that as going on, there was always the uncertainty of not playing. So, we are here,” U.S. captain Pat Hurst said. “We’re going to do it and it’s going to be awesome.”

Following a two-year performance period, Hurst and Europe captain Catriona Matthews solidified their teams after the AIG Women’s Open. Along with some familiar faces — No. 1 Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang, Anna Nordqvist and Carlota Ciganda — this year’s rosters will also feature a total of seven rookies.

Here’s what to watch for this weekend at Inverness:

It’s Korda time

Nelly Korda is having herself quite the year. She won three LPGA events, including her first major at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She added a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. And she rose to the top spot in the world rankings, just the third American to do so.

As the 23-year-old gears up for her second Solheim Cup experience, she wants to make it clear that there may be added pressure for her to perform well, but she’s focused on the bigger picture.

“I try not to think about it,” said Korda, who will be joined on the team by her older sister, Jessica. “There’s definitely a lot of people that try to put it in my head, for sure, but I am pretty easygoing. I just try to fly under the radar and do my thing, be prepared as best I possibly can and have fun. Hopefully put up some points, have fun with my pod and my teammates.”

In 2019, the Kordas dominated, going a combined 6-0-2 to contribute seven of the U.S. team’s 13.5 points.

“We are here for the team,” Jessica Korda said. “However way that we can contribute we’ll obviously contribute as best we can. This is a completely different golf course, different team, different year, so we’ll do our best to see what we have and enjoy ourselves while we’re doing it.”

Utilizing the pod system, a formula forged by Paul Azinger at the 2008 Ryder Cup that broke up a 12-player team into three four-person units, Hurst paired the Korda sisters with Megan Khang and Ally Ewing.

“We are on home soil and the crowds are rooting for you, so there’s more eyes on Team USA but we are all embracing this,” Nelly said. “I feel like we are the underdogs because [the European team] are the ones defending. We’re ready for Saturday.”

Home-course advantage

It’s no surprise that home-course advantage comes into play at the Solheim Cup. The host country has won 12 of 16. Not only does home-course advantage pay off for the Solheim Cup, but for the U.S., there’s something to be said for playing in the Midwest. This will be the sixth time a Midwest state hosts the Solheim Cup — and the second time being played in Ohio. When competing in the Midwest, the Americans have won each time by at least three points.

Europe does have one road win in this event. In 2013 at Colorado Golf Club, the Europeans ignored the talk of home-course advantage and dominated on American soil. The eight-point victory in Colorado remains the largest margin of victory since the event began in 1990.

Europe will also have to deal with boisterous crowds; event organizers are expecting around 150,000 fans over the course of the event. Not many will be rooting for Europe.

“I feel like most times when we’re on the U.S. soil, we at least have our families here, maybe some close friends, maybe some very supportive supporters from Europe, but that will be different this year,” Nordqvist said. “I think this year we’re just going to have to accept the fact that we don’t know if there’s going to be any fans other than significant others out there for us. But we got each other, and I think that’s the most important.”

Veteran faces, new roles

Hurst and Matthew will rely heavily on their assistant captains at Inverness. Hurst has some veteran assistance on her side to help make the tough decisions. Angela Stanford, Michelle Wie West and Stacy Lewis will act as the assistant captains under Hurst and will be in charge of their own pods. For all three assistants, this will be their first time acting in this role instead of playing.

“It’s been so amazing being able to watch all the players play,” Wie West said. “Also, more just behind the scenes, just learning how much goes into building this event and all the helpers and everyone. As a player you’re obviously appreciative of all the work that everyone has done, but definitely being on this other side having to deal with a lot more of the operational side as well, I’m just so grateful for everything that has gotten this together.”

Europe will have some familiar faces, too. Matthew returns as captain with Kathryn Imrie, Laura Davies and Pettersen by her side.

In 2019, when Pettersen dropped an eight-foot putt in the final match of the final day to win the Solheim Cup, she quickly trumped her own moment of elation when she announced her immediate retirement on live television. As Pettersen starts a new chapter as a vice captain, it’s hard not to think back to 2019.

Pettersen wasn’t supposed to play in Gleneagles. She was supposed to start her vice captain career in 2019, after complications with her pregnancy extended her maternity leave. But Matthew called on her to play as a captain’s pick — which was viewed as risky at the time. Matthew wanted a veteran leader on the team in 2019. And this year, Pettersen remains that leader, just in a different role.

“I’m happy to be back,” Pettersen said. “It’s a little bit weird walking by the driving range the first time and not having to pull out your clubs, but I’m actually really enjoying it.”

The rookies are here

The U.S. has three rookies; Europe arrives with four. For these rookies, they might be new to this stage, but they certainly have been making a name for themselves for years on and off the LPGA Tour.

Europe’s rookie Leona Maguire knows what it takes to play on a team. She’s made appearances as an amateur for the Curtis Cup, Junior Solheim Cup, Espirito Santo Trophy, Junio Ryder Cup and Vagliao Trophy. In her last seven starts on Tour, she hasn’t finished outside the top 15.

“This is something I’ve looked forward to for a long time,” Maguire said. “Hopefully it inspires more young girls in Ireland to take up the game, realize that if they believe in themselves and work hard that anything is possible. Hopefully we’ll have many, many more Irish girls on the team in the future.”

For U.S. rookie Jennifer Kupcho, she’s no stranger to big stages. In 2019, Kupcho won the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur during her senior season at Wake Forest and went on to qualify for the LPGA.

“The entire experience has been really special,” Kupcho said. “These girls have made me feel very comfortable, as well as [assistant captain] Angela [Stanford], just to get me comfortable and ready for what’s about to come. I know it’s going to get more overwhelming, so just need to keep reminding myself to slow down and relax.”

While many of these rookies have only been on Tour for only a year or two, rookies like 31-year-old Mina Harigae have been waiting for this Solheim Cup moment since their rookie LPGA season in 2010.

Team USA rookies will be comprised of Kupcho, Harigae and Yealimi Noh. Team Europe rookies will be comprised of Maguire, Matilda Castren, Nanna Koerstz Madsen, Sophia Popov.



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Rory McIlroy pays tribute to fellow Tour Championship winner Happy Gilmore

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This year marks a major milestone for the Tour Championship: The 25th anniversary of Happy Gilmore’s storied victory.

That’s right, it has already been 25 years since one of the greatest performances of our generation, er — since the fictional character from Adam Sandler’s 1996 cult classic “Happy Gilmore” won the season-ending Tour Championship.

For those in need of a refresher, Gilmore overcame a four-stroke deficit on the back nine to defeat his greatest rival Shooter McGavin. The win cemented Gilmore’s meteoric rise from a failed hockey player with a powerful slapshot — something that translated surprisingly well into his unorthodox yet effective putting style — to a bona fide star.

It was a uniquely special moment for Gilmore, whose journey to the gold jacket was marred with controversy (he once engaged in a public fistfight with beloved TV presenter Bob Barker during a celebrity pro-am tournament), as he was playing in honor of his mentor, the late, great Chubbs Peterson.

On Wednesday, to recognize the 25-year milestone of his achievement, fellow Tour Championship winner Rory McIlroy presented a commemorative inscription.

McIlroy also delivered a heartfelt tribute to Gilmore (Sandler? Trying not to break character here). The enigmatic retired golfer was quick to reply with a warm message of his own.

Pro tip, Rory: Just say no to the 9th green at nine.



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Best bets for the TOUR Championship

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The FedEx Cup playoffs conclude this week with the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia.

Which players are the favorites this time around, who offers good odds and what props are worth considering?

Sports betting deputy editor David Bearman and betting analysts Chris “The Bear” Fallica, Tyler Fulghum and Anita Marks offer their best bets.

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise noted.


Bets to win

Jon Rahm to win (+350)

Bearman: With all due respect to Open Champion Collin Morikawa and 2021’s only 3-time winner, Patrick Cantlay, only one golfer has shown up on page one of the leaderboard in every single event since late May and that’s Rahm, the world No. 1. Since May, Rahm went T-8 at the PGA Championship, was leading the Memorial by six strokes before the Covid withdrawal, won the U.S. Open, finished 3rd at the Open and has gone 3rd and T-9 in the first two playoff events. He took over the top spot from Morikawa in shots gained total and T2G and is 2nd off-the-tee. He’s also 2nd in hitting greens, a stat that seven of the last 20 champions here have led in. Simply put, he is playing better than anyone. He starts four shots back, but that is very manageable and could be gone by the end of Thursday. Would you bet against Rahm over the final three rounds if he was T-1 after the first 18 holes? Rahm has finished no worse than 12th in his four East Lake appearances, finishing 4th last season. It would be only fitting that Rahm caps off his historic year with the FedExCup title, which would likely lead to 2021 Player of the Year, completely erasing the setback at the Memorial.

Fallica: While he’s spotting Cantlay four shots, I have to believe its nearly impossible for Cantlay to repeat that performance he displayed on the greens last week — better than 14 SGP. And that would bring quite a few players into it, with Rahm topping that list. Rahm’s 9th place finish last week was his “worst” since May. He’s the Tour leader in SG: Tota and SG: Tee-to-Green, and has played well at East Lake. His season has been one which deserves to end with a FedExCup title.

Rory McIlroy to win without FedExCup points (+1200)

Fallica: As well as Xander Schauffele has played at East Lake, McIlroy has played even better. He’s won twice and has a runner-up finish as well. Rory’s short game has been a struggle much of the year, but since missing the cut in Augusta, he’s won at another event he loves playing — Wells Fargo — and finished T-7 at the U.S. Open and 4th last week at the BMW. He’s been very open about playing “too much” golf and a the fact the season ends here, I can easily see McIlroy going into the offseason on a high note.

Bearman: Rory, starting eight shots back of Cantlay, is likely too far back to win the entire thing, even though he started five shots back and gained 10 shots over FedExCup leader Justin Thomas two years ago en route to the title. He played great last week at the BMW, finishing T-4th and has shown flashes lately of Rory of old, getting to the Bronze Medal playoff in Japan and also finishing 12th at WGC and T-7 at the U.S. Open. While making up an 8-shot deficit is a tall order and comes with only 25-1 odds, I think the better play is for him to have the best four rounds at East Lake this week at 12-1. He loves playing the course, winning it in 2016 and 2019, along with four other Top 10s. In the last 30 rounds at East Lake, McIlroy ranks 2nd in shots gained total and 1st in T2G, ball striking and off the tee. The format might keep him from lifting up the trophy, but he can have the best 4-round score this week and 12-1 is a nice price considering there are only 30 golfers. I also think he can make up the 3-shot deficit to finish in the top 5 of the overall standings at +350.

Justin Thomas to win FedExCup at +1600; to win without FedExCup points (+1200)

Bearman: JT is a couple shots closer to Cantlay than McIlroy is, entering six shots back. Still might be too far, but it’s more manageable and you can get him at 16-1 to get it done. If you think it’s too far back, could do same strategy and pick him to have the best 4-round score at the same 12-1 price we got for McIlroy. Thomas has done everything but win at East Lake with all five appearances finishing in the top 6, including runner-up finishes in 2016 and last year. He comes in 2nd in T2G at East Lake over the last 20 rounds and 4th overall and off the tee. For the season, JT is 3rd T2G, 8th in shots gained overall and 3rd on approach. The putter is always the worry with Thomas, so let’s just hope he hits a few.

Marks: JT is coming in hot after a final round 66 at the BMW Championship on Sunday. Metrics for East Lake fit JT’s game better than most; 3rd SG tee to green, as well as on approach, and T10th in par 3s birdie or better this season. If his putter can perform the way it did at the Northern Trust, we will be in the money.

Fulghum: JT is 8th on Tour in Par 4 scoring this season, recorded top-7 finished in each of the last 5 Tour Championships and is awesome in no-cut events (8 of 16 career wins).

Xander Schauffele to win (+2800); to win tourney without FedExCup points (+1200); Top-5 finish (+400)

Bearman: If I was going to pick one guy from way back to win, it would be Xander, who enters eight shots back like McIlory. He has longer odds than Rory at 28-1 and has won more recently, earning the gold in Japan. He also had the low 72-hole score last year at -18, but didn’t catch Dustin Johnson. He’s the only golfer ahead of McIlroy in strokes gained total at East Lake since his first appearance in 2017. That appearance ended with a win and he also finished runner-up each of the last two years here. The world’s 5th ranked player has had his expected post-Olympics letdown, going T-46, T-16 and T-49 the last three events, but he will be ready for East Lake and should finish in the top 5, where he has finished in three of the past four seasons.

Xander Schauffele to win (+2800); to win tourney without FedExCup points (+1200)

Fallica: This is hardly a surprise being Schauffele won the event without the handicap last year, finished 2nd in 2019 and won in 2017. He has sputtered some since winning Olympic Gold, but back at a place he’s played extremely well, he’s again a threat to win the event when one eliminates the FedEx handicap. Despite starting eight shots behind Cantlay, he’s probably worth a small play to win the Cup as well, considering Cantlay has not played well here at all (T-21 twice and 20th).


Props

Bryson DeChambeau to finish outside Top 5 of FedExCup (+120)

Bearman: Even if you take out the emotional toll last week’s playoff loss, in which DeChambeau had four different putts to win, I still would fade him here. Unlike last week’s grip it and rip it course in Maryland that allowed for seven players to reach -20 and Bryson to not win with a -27, East Lake is a tree-lined 18 holes that caters to accuracy over distance. There are no driveable Par 4s that you saw last week. You also need a good short game to win here, which DeChambeau showed last week is not his strength. Don’t get me wrong… he could very much rebound from last week, hit all his fairways and win going away. But I do not think this course is suited for him as he’s finished no better than T-12 in three appearances and I can’t imagine his state of mind is too good after last week.

Rahm top-5 finish without starting strokes (+100)

Fulghum: As Bearman mentioned above, he is the best player in the world right now with top-10 results in 7 straight events. Only 1 of last 16 rounds played over par (+1 in first round of Open Championship)

Viktor Hovland top-10 finish (+150)

Fulghum: Hovland has gained 20 strokes ball striking over last 4 events. He also prefers putting on Bermuda grass and is 6th on Tour in birdies per round + 15th in scoring average this season.


Matchups

Tony Finau (+115) over Bryson DeChambeau with the FedExCup points

Bearman: I mentioned above the reasons I am fading DeChambeau this week. Add in the fact that Finau starts one shot up on him and is getting plus money and there are no more questions for me.

Tony Finau (-120 DK) Round 1 over Patrick Cantlay

Marks: Finau starts the TOUR Championship just two shots back from Cantlay, and three shots up within the top 5. Finau has been lights-out the first two rounds of the FedEx Cup, with no rounds over par. His track record at East Lake is solid, and has been making a lot of ground with his irons as of late.

Erik van Rooyen Round 1 over Garcia (+100 DK)

Marks: Van “Ankle Pants” Rooyen was first in strokes gained tee to green last week at the BMW Championship. He had extra motivation to make it inside the top 30, and finished 5th to punch his ticket to Atlanta. I expect him to stay hot in HOTlanta.

Sungjae Im (+220 DK) Round 1 over Collin Morikawa

Marks: Im finished 3rd at the BMW Championship on Sunday. He is driving the ball well and ranks top 10 in both SG Off the Tee and Tee To Green during his last three tournaments. Nine of the last 20 winners at the TOUR Championship have been in the top 5 in driving accuracy, and Im ranks 12th this season.

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