Golf

Americans, behind Reed, take 3-point lead at Ryder Cup

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Americans, behind Reed, take 3-point lead at Ryder Cup

LEADERBOARD

CHASKA, Minn. -- Patrick Reed took over his match with putting and passion, and the rest of the Americans followed suit Saturday afternoon in a pivotal fourballs session that left them on the verge - again - of winning back the Ryder Cup.

Reed and his bullish attitude was at his best, starting with a wedge he holed out for eagle. That was the centerpiece of a four-hole stretch that carried he and Jordan Spieth to a 2-and-1 victory in the final match of another raucous and at times rude afternoon at Hazeltine.

The Americans had a 9 1/2-6 1/2 lead over Europe. They need to win only five of 12 singles matches to reclaim the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008, and only the third time over the last two decades.

Europe trudged off the course with only recent history on its side.

It trailed by a slightly larger margin, 10-6, four years ago at Medinah with Davis Love III at the helm of the U.S. team and then put together a staggering display of putting to produce the largest comeback by a visiting team in Ryder Cup history.

"We're going to have to play tomorrow, as we've done before from a worse deficit," European captain Darren Clarke said.

Most painful for Clarke was watching his best friend and captain's pick, Lee Westwood, miss crucial short putts on the back nine in the only match that reached the 18th hole. Westwood and Masters champion Danny Willett never trailed until they both made bogey on the par-3 17th.

Westwood missed a 5-foot par putt to stay all square, and then with a chance to earn a half-point for Europe, he badly missed a 2-foot birdie on the final hole to give J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore a 1-up victory.

Phil Mickelson, in his 11th straight Ryder Cup, showed he can deliver on the golf course as well as he can run a task force meeting. Lefty produced timely wedges and key putts down the stretch as he and Matt Kuchar combined for nine birdies in a 2-and-1 victory over Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer.

The final hour turned solid red on the scoreboard, enough to overcome the undefeated tandem of Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters. They won all three matches, and they were never more dynamic than fourballs when they were 11-under par through 17 holes. Pieters drove the par-4 fifth green and made eagle, and McIlroy stared down the hostile American crowd with every birdie that left Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka no chance.

"It's a tough environment for us to come and play in. We expect that," McIlroy said. "It's same for the U.S. guys when they come to play in Europe. You have to keep your concentration out there. It's been a long day and sometimes emotions run high. ... The more they shouted, the better we played.

"I hope they shout at us all day tomorrow."

Europe will need all the help it can get. Ian Poulter, who sparked Europe to its "Miracle at Medinah" in 2012, is only at Hazeltine as an assistant captain. McIlroy and Pieters have shouldered a big load, and they need contributions on Sunday from a team that features six rookies.

"We're one closer than we were at Medinah," Rose said. "It's going to be a monumental challenge tomorrow. We're going to put out our lineup and we're going to look at each other man-to-man tomorrow. It's going to be eyeball-to-eyeball on the first tee, no partners, no friends out there on the golf course. Just go out and try to put a point on the board. That's everybody's mission."

Rose and Stenson had a front-row seat to an exhibition by Reed, who whipped the crowd into even more of a frenzy than it already showed. One down after four holes, Reed played the next four holes in 5 under, winning them all for a 3-up lead.

Spieth, who started the year at No. 1 in the world, was along for the ride

"I know he has that in him," Spieth said. "We've all seen it before. He's Captain America for us."

Their victory was even more important considering they let a sure point get away in foursomes Saturday morning, leading 4 up with six holes to play until Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello rallied to earn a halve. There were a few nervous moments when Rose and Stenson cut the deficit to 1 down after 13 holes, only for Reed - who else? - to pour in back-to-back birdies for the match to go dormie.

Reed and Spieth are the only Americans who have yet to sit out, going away from Love's model at Medinah to make sure everyone was rested.

Europe has five players who will play every match - McIlroy, Pieters, Garcia, Stenson and Rose. It likely will need points from all of them, and a few more.

Tiger enters The Masters exactly how you want him to -- the big-name underdog

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AP

Tiger enters The Masters exactly how you want him to -- the big-name underdog

There is something vaguely unsettling about Tiger Woods and The Masters this week, and it isn’t Tiger Woods or The Masters.

What it is, is the loud and persistent desperation of the golf-viewing nation that Woods BE the reason for The Masters this week. He is back playing after years of psychic and (mostly) physical issues, and his place on the odds board (12-1, behind four other golfers at 10-1) seems like the right place for him.

Except that that number will be bet down frantically this week as more and more people who want to turn back the clock 15 years throw their disposable income at what used to be. That is very much part of the Tiger Effect here – a look back at what used to be and what can probably never be again.

But in doing so, those people, most of whom are the same people who claimed that Tiger Woods changed golf, are showing that golf wasn’t changed as much as a “Tiger fixation” was created. The much-needed revolution he was supposed to have sparked in the sport was actually an army of eyeballs that watched him with a laserlike focus but then stopped watching until he came back. Indeed, the promised change in how golf looked came not on the men’s side but in the LPGA, where the leaderboard is more routinely global.

There have been great golfers in this decade – Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McElroy – but none have resonated in the same way, which is understandable given how difficult an act Woods was to follow. What we have discovered, though, is that Woods wasn’t actually a golf phenomenon but a singular phenomenon, a one-man revolution who will take the revolution with him when he retires for good.

And that’s not about him, that’s about the audience. The audience didn’t necessarily want what he was selling, they wanted him selling it, and they want him selling it now. And they will be the same people who will dismiss the sport once he re-retires because they wanted it to be about him and only him all along.

True, this is a generalization, and not all people feel this way. But no other 42-year-old who has been unhealthy for most of the past decade would be a 12-1 bet to win The Masters, or even on anyone’s mind. Tiger Woods is his own entity, and he comes bearing both the bully’s resume and the underdog’s narrative. He gives us both of the things we find most compelling in sports – the vision of the indomitable giant and the heroic underdog, all in one body.

So, Tiger Woods isn’t about Tiger Woods at all, but about the American sports fan’s twin psychoses – the big-name underdog. You know, sort of like Sister Jean sitting on the New England Patriots’ sideline.

See why it’s unsettling? That image alone just made my soul leak through my shoes.

Tiger Woods' return ends with best finish in four years

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USATSI

Tiger Woods' return ends with best finish in four years

NASSAU, Bahamas — Rickie Fowler and Tiger Woods both had cause for celebrations large and small at the Hero World Challenge.

Fowler rallied from a seven-shot deficit by opening with seven straight birdies at Albany Golf Club and closing with an 11-under 61 Sunday for his second victory worldwide. It was the second time in his eight years on tour that he won multiple times around the world.

Woods had his best finish in four years.

Playing for the first time in 10 months while recovering from a fourth back surgery, Woods closed with a 68 despite a bogey-bogey finish. Even so, his back felt good and he was swinging at full strength. He tied for ninth in the 18-man field, his best result since a playoff loss at this holiday event in 2013.