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  • Branden Grace continued his breakout 2015 on Thursday, shooting a first round of 9-under 63 to take the Day 1 lead at the WGC-HSBC Champions.

    The South African, who finished T-4 at the U.S. Open and third at the PGA Championship, leads by a shot at Sheshan International in Shanghai, China, over American Kevin Kisner, who lost three sudden-death playoffs on the PGA Tour last season, Steven Bowditch and Thorbjorn Olesen.

    Grace lauded the ideal scoring conditions.

    "There was barely a breath of wind out there and the golf course is playing probably as easy as it could be playing," he said. "There's some low scores out there. The guys are playing some great golf, and when you play on greens like this, as well, it helps. You just have to get the ball on the right line and it goes in."

    Patrick Reed, 2013 champion Dustin Johnson and Danny Willett are tied for fifth at 7 under par.

    Rory McIlroy is a handful of shots off the lead, fortunate to play after having to deal with food poisoning thanks to a bad club sandwich he had earlier in the week. McIlroy admits he's still weak, but expects to improve on course with his health and appetite.

    “I've lost ten pounds since being here," McIlroy said. "I can't remember the last time I was this light. But hopefully I’ll have a couple of good meals over the next couple days and rehydrate and I'll be feeling a lot better. I felt like I played okay. Tee-to-green was pretty good. I was disappointed I missed three good chances coming in there on the front nine and didn't quite capitalize on those. So it was a score that I thought could have been a lot better, but considering the position I was in this time yesterday, it's not a bad start.”

    Jordan Spieth and defending champion Bubba Watson are tied with McIlroy in 16th place with 68.

    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Rory McIlroy is in doubt now for the WGC-HSBC Champions, now suffering through a case of food poisoning in China.

    McIlroy posted to Twitter on Tuesday that he wasn't feeling well after enjoying a club sandwich in Shanghai, joking that he was surprised that what he considers a safe choice would have made him ill instead of the Japanese baked eel, located underneath the bar classic on the menu from which he ordered.

    The world No. 3 still felt ill on Wednesday, forced to withdraw from the tournament pro-am after trying to warm up on the range. 

    The food poisoning also kept McIlroy out of the annual hilarity that comes from the pre-tournament ceremonies presented by title sponsor HSBC. McIlroy got out of wearing traditional Chinese garb and performing some drumming alongside Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson and defending champion Bubba Watson. A pity, really. 

    If McIlroy can give it a go on Thursday, he'll play with Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson starting at 10:45 a.m. local time. 

    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • The final World Golf Championships event of the year convenes on Thursday in Shanghai, China, with the HSBC Champions. Bubba Watson is the defending champion at Sheshan International, a course where long hitters have dominated. 

    The world Nos. 2 and 3 are in the field, along with 2013 champion Dustin Johnson. 

    Here are our top five players for this week:

    1. Jordan Spieth -- We haven't seen Spieth flying solo since winning the FedEx Cup, so there's some ring rust to shake off here. However, he's the best golfer in the world (even if the Official World Golf Ranking doesn't say it).

    2. Rory McIlroy -- Have to like McIlroy on this course, where he's a top-six machine, and for his form after a T-6 finish last week at the Turkish Airlines Open. Final round was a dud in Antalya, but he did have a fairly conservative gameplan.

    3. Justin Thomas -- The CIMB Classic winner gets into his first WGC this week. Should be riding high off the win and a T-3 effort at the Open. Has the length to torch Sheshan International.

    4. Kevin Na -- How can you not like keep riding the Na Train? P2, T-2, T-3 to start the year. Was T-20 in this event last year.

    5. Bubba Watson -- The defending champion isn't ranked so highly because there are hotter players in front of him in the short term and a guy who owns the joint (McIlroy). However, Watson is playing some of the best golf of his life. No real reason to dislike him here.

    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Phil Mickelson was supposed to step aside and let some younger blood get a taste of playing for the United States. At 30th in the final Presidents Cup points standings, he should not have even been on U.S. captain Jay Haas' radar. 

    However, it was the other players on Haas' team that made up the captain's mind for him. They wanted the 45-year-old five-time major champion to ride with them in South Korea.

    The players made a great choice.

    Mickelson went 3-0-1 this week, joining Zach Johnson, who sported the same record, as the only undefeated American players on the 12-player squad. Turns out the two oldest guys on the team were the most pivotal to their success.

    The left-hander, who came into the week with a can-do attitude that helped captain Haas, was just about everything else, too, outside the ropes. He was comic relief, even if Bubba Watson said he sometimes laughed at Mickelson's quips out of a combination of pity and respect. He was source of controversy, costing his team a half-point because he improperly used a second model of golf ball in a Friday match. He was the bulletin-board material when he mocked his International opponents for not taking full advantage of and a full point from his ball gaffe. And he was the team mascot, letting other players rub his belly for good luck and serving as a needed in-match distraction.

    Had Haas picked any other player, there's a chance they could have performed as well. However, there's little chance that player would have meant as much to the team and the story of the 2015 Presidents Cup in the way Mickelson did.

    Mickelson loved every minute of it.

    "I love these team events. They are my favorite weeks of the year," Mickelson said afterward. "I love playing with these guys. I love the emotions that we share and the intensity and the pressure that we deal with each match throughout the week."

    It showed. Mickelson called his shots. He celebrated the highs and rallied from the lows. He lifted up his teammates, being the first to his feet when Chris Kirk made a critical birdie on the 18th hole of his Sunday singles match against Anirban Lahiri. Mickelson, a certain future captain of an American team either in the Presidents or Ryder Cup, isn't ready to trade in his clubs and swagger for a headset and a cart.

    "I hope that I have an opportunity to compete in more Presidents Cups," he said.

    Now as the Ryder Cup cycle officially begins in earnest, Mickelson is hoping to not only make the Hazeltine-bound American team, but that captain Davis Love III won't need to make a tough call like Haas did in bringing him on the team.

    "I'm certainly looking forward to next year's Ryder Cup as well," Mickelson said. "And I hope that I don't put the captain in a position where he has to pick me this time. I hope that I will be able to make it on my own."

    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • United States Presidents Cup captain Jay Haas picked one-quarter of his team, and those picks repaid him by accounting for almost half of the victorious team's points.

    Haas selected his son Bill, who was 11th in points, and Phil Mickelson, a controversial pick who finished 30th in the points standings, with his initial wild-card picks. When Jim Furyk had to pull out of the event with a wrist bone bruise, Haas went to J.B. Holmes, who finished 12th in points. As it turned out, those selections were brilliant.

    J.B. Holmes won 2.5 points, including forming a formidable duo with fellow long-hitter Bubba Watson. 

    Phil Mickelson didn't lose any of his four matches, only costing his team a half-point with a Friday miscue over improperly using a second golf ball model while teaming with Zach Johnson against Jason Day and Adam Scott. Mickelson drubbed a hapless Charl Schwartzel in his Sunday singles match by a 5-and-4 count.

    Bill Haas clinched the winning point in the anchor match on Sunday, defeating Sangmoon Bae, one of two native-born South Koreans on the team. 

    Mickelson, who accounted for 3.5 points, said the U.S. loves these weeks, with him considering the team matches his favorites on the calendar. He's just hoping that he won't need to get a nod from 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III come next fall at Hazeltine.

    "I'm certainly looking forward to next year's Ryder Cup, as well, and I hope that I don't put the captain in a position where he has to pick me this time," he said. "I hope that I will be able to make it on my own."

    Haas was perhaps happiest of all of his teammates afterward, considering he locked up the sixth consecutive American win in the biennial series and the win for his dad, who told his son to "win one for [his] mom."

    "To be in this position and the way it all worked out was a very great moment for me and my dad, and certainly the whole team," Haas said. "I'm lucky to be a part of this team and to get picked, and I'm just happy I could help the team out with one point there on Sunday. It feels great."

    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Now we have ourselves a ballgame in South Korea. 

    The Internationals, desperate after losing Day 1 of the Presidents Cup to the U.S. by a 4-1 count, made a strong comeback in the Friday session of five fourball (best ball) matches, cutting the American lead to a point a 5.5-4.5 through 10 matches.

    Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, clearly the most potent beat world No. 1 Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson by a 4-and-3 count in the opening match to set the tone. In the second match, Korean Sangmoon Bae and Kiwi-by-way-of-Korea Danny Lee riled up the South Korean crowd and took home a point against Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, the hard-luck duo that plays opponents close but cannot seem to finish off matches. Thongchai Jaidee and Charl Schwartzel took home the final full point for the Internationals in the anchor match of the session against Chris Kirk and Bill Haas, both who sat out on Thursday.

    For the United States, J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson earned their second full point in as many tries, scoring a 2-up win over Marc Leishman and Steve Bowdtich. And, despite the rules kerfuffle on the seventh hole that caused them to lose one hole twice, Zach Johnson and Phil Mickelson managed a halve against Jason Day and Adam Scott.

    The Saturday scene is a full slate of matches, featuring two four-match sessions -- one of fourballs, one of foursomes, with foursomes leading.

    Here's a look at the morning slate, which started at 8 a.m. local time after a weather delay:

    Match 11: Patrick Reed/Rickie Fowler (USA) vs. Louis Oosthuizen/Branden Grace (Int'l) -- Fowler and Walker get broken up because they can't win, so Fowler gets another fiery partner in Patrick Reed to take on the South African duo of Ooshtuizen and Grace. At this point, the South Africans have supreme confidence, and you can pencil them in for the lead slot in the afternoon, too.

    Match 12:  J.B. Holmes/Bubba Watson (USA) vs. Adam Scott/Marc Leishman (Int'l) -- International captain Nick Price cannot seem to find a good partner for Scott, whose putting hasn't been good despite the switch to a traditional-length putter. Watson and Holmes run a brilliant golf detective agency, snooping out points. They should win this.

    Match 13: Bill Haas/Matt Kuchar (USA) vs. Sangmoon Bae/Hideki Matsuyama (Int'l) -- Haas and Kuchar weren't successful in their opening matches with different partners, so captain Jay Haas put them together in hopes of creating hard-luck winners. Bae was brilliant down the stretch on Friday, so Price must be hoping Matsuyama's ballstriking can set up some clutch Bae putts. 

    Match 14: Dustin Johnson/Jordan Spieth (USA) vs. Jason Day/Charl Schwartzel (Int'l) -- Johnson and Spieth looked tired and out of sync on Friday, but looked brilliant in the alternate-shot format. Haas is hoping for a similar result this time around, while Day draws Schwartzel, who was helpful in teaming with Jaidee.

    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • The U.S. Presidents Cup team carries a huge 4-1 edge into Day 2 of the Presidents Cup after winning all but one of five alternate-shot matches on Thursday in South Korea. The format changes for the Friday (Thursday night in the U.S.) slate of matches, switching to fourballs, also known as best ball. 

    The strategy for American captain Jay Haas is pretty simple: keep his winners in action. All four winning U.S. teams play together again on Friday, while the lone losing duo of Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed head to the bench so Haas' son Bill and Chris Kirk can team together.

    [Presidents Cup: Get the latest scores of Team USA and International Team]

    International captain Nick Price slotted his only winning team, South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, in the lead position to take on the American duo of Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth. Sangmoon Bae, the only man on the team who calls Korea home, gets in the lineup on Friday, teaming with Danny Lee, a New Zealander who was born in the host nation. Hideki Matsuyama and Anirban Lahiri head to the bench.

    Here's a look at the Friday docket:

    Match 6 (9:35 a.m. local time/8:35 p.m. Eastern) -- Dustin Johnson/Jordan Spieth (USA) vs. Louis Oosthizen/Branden Grace (Intl) -- This should be the best match of the day. However, when Johnson gets in trouble, he doesn't have Spieth to bail him out. And Spieth has to play off his own tee shots. So, their edge, really in foursomes, is somewhat mitigated against an all-South African team that clearly can feed off of each other.

    Match 7 (9:50 a.m. local/8:50 p.m. Eastern) -- Rickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker (USA) vs. Danny Lee/Sangmoon Bae (Intl) -- Sangmoon Bae finally gets some action, teaming up with Danny Lee. This is a good spot for them, hopefully a spark for the South Korean crowd that desperately needs to offer some life for the Internationals. Fowler and Walker have proven to be a great duo, so they're the right team for the home-country pair.

    Match 8 (10:05 a.m. local/9:05 p.m. Eastern) -- Zach Johnson/Phil Mickelson (USA) vs. Adam Scott/Jason Day (Intl) -- For some reason, Mickelson and Johnson worked in alternate shot. The pairing doesn't matter as much in fourballs, but their splendid short games should be a good mutual crutch. Scott rolled the ball OK with the traditional-length putter on Day 1, but the putts wouldn't drop. Paired with a top-notch ballstriker like Day, Scott should feel more confidence on the greens.

    Match 9 (10:20 a.m./9:20 p.m. Eastern) -- J.B. Holmes/Bubba Watson (USA) vs. Marc Leishman/Steven Bowditch (Intl) -- Holmes and Watson put on a short-game clinic in their Thursday match against Scott and Matsuyama, who were hapless with the putter. They should do even better in this format, where they can be even more aggressive with their similar power. Leishman and Bowditch are both Aussies, which may create some extra chemistry, but neither player has been hot of late.

    Match 10 (10:35 a.m./9:35 a.m. Eastern) -- Bill Haas/Chris Kirk (USA) vs. Thongchai Jaidee/Charl Schwartzel (Intl) -- Haas and Kirk get in the game for the first time, and Haas will likely be motivated to play well in front of his dad. Who wouldn't feel that way? Meanwhile, Schwartzel gets his first action, too, after dealing with flu-like symptoms that kept him (and Bae) out on Thursday. Expect the U.S. to cruise.

    Coverage begins in the U.S. at 8:30 p.m. on Golf Channel.

    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • The 11th Presidents Cup kicks off on Thursday from Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in, as you might guess, Incheon, South Korea. It's the biennial match pitting the Americans against the Internationals, a team formed from picking players born in every country that isn't the United States or Europe.

    The competition, owned and wholly run by the PGA Tour, was first played in 1994, and the Americans have dominated the series. The U.S. has an 8-1-1 record, losing at Royal Melbourne in 1998 and tying at Fancourt in South Africa in 2003 after a sudden-death playoff between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els couldn't settle the issue. 

    Whether you're turning into the Presidents Cup for the first time or you're the rare diehard fan of this lopsided series, here's a primer to get you ready for the matches.

    2015 Presidents Cup 


    United States

    Captain: Jay Haas (first time)

    Automatic qualifiers: Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson

    Captain's picks: Bill Haas (11th in points), Phil Mickelson (29th in points), J.B. Holmes (12th in points, replacing Jim Furyk, who pulled out with a wrist contusion)


    Captain: Nick Price (lost in 2013 at Muirfield Village)

    Automatic qualifiers: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Danny Lee, Anirban Lahiri, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace, Thongchai Jaidee, Hideki Matsuyama

    Captain's picks: Steven Bowditch, Sangmoon Bae

    Format and Schedule

    A total of 30 matches played over four days (Thursday-Sunday), a decrease of four points from the prior format. The United States will retain the cup if they earn 15 points. Either team will win with 15.5 points. 

    Day 1, Thursday: Five foursomes (alternate shot) matches

    Day 2, Friday: Five fourballs (best ball) matches

    Day 3, Saturday: Session 1 -- Four foursomes matches; Session 2 -- Four fourballs matches

    Each of the 12 players on each team must play at least twice through the first four sessions

    Day 4, Sunday: 12 singles matches

    TV Times

    All coverage airs on Golf Channel in the United States.

    Day 1, Wednesday: 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Eastern

    Day 2, Thursday: 8:30 p.m.-3 a.m.

    Day 3, Friday: 6 p.m.-4 a.m.

    Day 4, Saturday: 9:30 p.m.-3:30 a.m.

    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • The Presidents Cup gets underway on Thursday with one five-match session of foursomes, also called alternate shot. 

    On Wednesday morning in South Korea, U.S. captain Jay Haas, International captain Nick Price and their respective assistants created the matches for Day 1 by announcing teams for individual matches in what literally looked like a game of Battleship. 

    The five matches they came up with create an interesting set of contrasts, even if there are a number of recycled teams on the U.S. side from the 2014 Ryder Cup. 

    Here's a look at the matches:

    Match 1: Bubba Watson/J.B. Holmes (USA) vs. Adam Scott/Hideki Matsuyama (Int'l) -- This is a contrast of bombers against ballstrikers. Watson, who is himself a great ballstriker, will team with Holmes, who is ostensibly the third captain's pick, to take on two of golf's purest swings in Scott and Matusyama, who played together in the 2013 Presidents Cup. The problem for the International side is that they don't putt well.

    Match 2: Matt Kuchar/Patrick Reed (USA) vs. Louis Oosthuizen/Branden Grace (Int'l) -- Nick Price put a pair of South Africans togehter in Oosthuizen and Grace, which is a good move considering how tightly knit that golf community is. Kuchar and Reed are an interesting contrast in outward intensity. 

    Match 3: Rickie Fowler/Jimmy Walker (USA) vs. Anirban Lahiri/Thongchai Jaidee (Int'l) -- Fowler and Walker had great chemistry at Gleneagles, even if they only posted a 0-1-3 record together. Walker has struggled in the second half of the year, while Fowler has surged. Lahiri is playing verly confidently while Jaidee should be a great veteran influence.

    Match 4: Phil Mickelson/Zach Johnson (USA) vs. Jason Day/Steven Bowditch (Int'l) -- The Aussie pairing makes sense. However, Mickelson and Johnson together doesn't really add up on paper. Mickelson is a bomber, while Johnson is a shorter-knocker. The good news is Mickelson could put Johnson in position to hit lethal wedge shots if he can keep his drives in play. On the holes where Johnson drives? Not sure.

    Match 5: Jordan Spieth/Dustin Johnson (USA) vs. Danny Lee/Marc Leishman (Int'l) -- Captain Jay Haas said this was a pairing Jordan Spieth wanted, so he got it. In return, it seems like Price put out his last-ditch option. That's not to say the Internationals should or will simply cede this point to the U.S., but Spieth might be playing so well that he could play every shot himself and win.

    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • The threat of continued storms on Saturday has forced PGA Tour officials to bump up tee times for the third round of the Tour Championship by two-and-a-half hours.

    Henrik Stenson ended Round 2 with an expanded lead, going from two on Thursday to three on Friday, but now over world No. 3 Jordan Spieth instead of Englishman Paul Casey, who dropped into solo third. The 2013 FedEx Cup winner posted a 36-hole total of 9-under 131, while Spieth's Friday-best 66 got him to 6-under 134. 

    Both Stenson and Spieth entered the FedEx Cup finale inside the top five in the points standings, meaning both players -- as well Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson -- can win the season-long race and its $10 million first-place prize if they win the Tour Championship. Fowler leads the three members of the top five not in Saturday's final group, sitting eight shots behind Stenson. Day trails by nine and Watson is 10 back of the lead.

    Despite softer conditions on Friday, several players said host East Lake Golf Club played harder than Thursday because the course was longer from tee to green, forcing players to hit more long irons into receptive hole locations.

    "I'm not a great fan of the rain," said Casey. "That's why I live in Arizona. I lost control of a couple of the longer clubs in the bag."

    Casey and the remaining 27 players in the field can expect similar difficulty in holding onto the club on Saturday, especially in the Bermuda grass rough, in particular around the greens.

    "The hardest part was just around the greens in the rough," said Spieth. "When it's wet, it can be diabolical sometimes."

    Stenson, who shot 2-under 68 on Friday, said there's no use in complaining.

    "t doesn't really matter what we like or not like," he said, "I'm just going to pull up the curtains and see what we got tomorrow."

    Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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