Even Short Holes Offer Scary Possibilities

By Associated PressJune 13, 2006, 4:00 pm
U.S. OpenMAMARONECK, N.Y. -- The par-4 sixth hole is downhill, only 321 yards, practically begging one of these big-hitting pros to take out a driver and whack it onto the green.
One catch: This is the U.S. Open. Anyone who misses is going to be in deep trouble ... and even deeper rough.
'I've found over time that I have a lot better chance of making birdie from 100 yards out than from chipping out of that rough around the green,' defending champion Michael Campbell said Monday after his practice round. 'You get in there and you don't have any idea what's going to happen.'
Campbell said he spent enough time in the rough -- calculated by some players as ranging from 5 to 10 inches in height -- to get a good feel for how ugly it could get. His worst lie? 'I think I advanced the ball about 30 yards,' he said.
He could laugh about it after the practice round. Come Thursday, it won't be so funny.
That's why the USGA calls its signature tournament -- quite proudly -- 'the most rigorous examination of golfers.' This year, the USGA powers have trotted out the phrase 'graduated rough,' for the grass that grows higher the farther away it is from the fairway. The idea: Don't make the penalty for missing the fairway by 2 yards the same as for missing it by 20.
While Campbell made his way in and out of Winged Foot pretty much unnoticed, Monday also was the day Tiger Woods returned to the course. Woods made his first appearance at a golf tournament since the final round of the Masters. The layoff came because of the illness and death of his father, Earl Woods.
Tiger showed up about a half-hour late for his 1:14 p.m. tee time, but as soon as he came through the gates, fans turned around and ran to the ropes, hoping for autographs. He hurried past them, to the first tee, where he played nine holes and didn't show any signs of rust.
'He was playing as you would expect,' said Jeff Sluman, who joined him for the practice round. 'There's no rust in his game. If he drives it straight, he'll win the golf tournament. And if doesn't, he'll have a hell of a chance to win. But that's nothing that hasn't already been said.'
The return of Woods means the resumption of the Woods-Phil Mickelson battles. They are winners of four of the last five majors. Mickelson has won the last two and, for the first time in recent memory, he has supplanted -- or come very close to supplanting -- Woods as the favorite at a major. One betting site listed Woods as an 11-to-2 favorite, followed very closely by Mickelson at 6-to-1.
Of course, the brutal conditions that often accompany the U.S. Open can bring forth surprises, too. Last year, Campbell fit precisely in that category, rising from four shots off the lead after three rounds to beat Woods by two for the championship.
Struggling on the European Tour so far this season, Campbell said he feels good nonetheless.
'It's the same,' Campbell said when asked what he felt his chances were compared to 2005. 'Last year, I thought I was hitting the ball pretty well and giving myself chances. I feel the same this year.'
It figures that those who can keep the ball in the middle of the tight fairways will have the best chance. There will be no rewards for huge hitters who can't hit it straight. The sixth hole is a great example.
Early in the practice rounds, a couple players -- Olin Browne and Angel Cabrera -- took driver and swung away. But with the pin tucked behind a bunker on the upper right, and with the left side of the green contoured for the ball to roll off, only a precisely hit driver -- one that would fly 300 yards, then stop on a dime -- would yield a chance at eagle.
'There's no real reward in going for it,' Campbell said.
Instead, it would be much safer to hit iron into a fairway that measures a meager 20 paces across and avoid rough that will be grown longer than on most holes to put a higher price on risk-taking.
'Certainly, the course is very challenging,' said Andy Svoboda, a 26-year-old qualifier who has won four club championships at Winged Foot and knows the A.W. Tillinghast layout better than anyone playing this week.
This Tillinghast design features severely sloping greens that run from back to front with little margin for error.
At the 1974 Open, dubbed 'The Massacre at Winged Foot,' Jack Nicklaus lined up his first putt at the back of the green and rolled it completely off the front, a harbinger for a tournament that Hale Irwin won at 7-over par. Fast-forward to Monday's practice, and there was Swede Henrik Stenson delicately landing flop shot after flop shot on the tight back shelf on No. 18, only to watch all the balls roll 30 feet downhill.
Scary? You bet.
'You just really have to be patient out there and hit quality golf shots,' said Svoboda, who has a keener sense than anyone for what's in store. 'You play one shot at a time and just add them up at the end. That's all you can do.'
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    Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

    Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

    Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

    In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

    Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

    “I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

    Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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    Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

    In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

    Made Cut

    Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

    Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    September can’t get here quick enough.

    Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

    There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

    In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

    “I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

    The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

    Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

    Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

    The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

    The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

    “My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

    Missed Cut

    Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

    After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

    It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

    Tweet of the week:

    It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

    The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”