Open back at Royal Birkdale without Tiger

By Associated PressJuly 14, 2008, 4:00 pm
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Open ChampionshipSOUTHPORT, England -- Royal Birkdale has a reputation as the fairest of all links courses in the British Open rotation.
 
Its fairways have been shaped alongside the picturesque sand dunes of the Lancashire coast in England, instead of going through them, which eliminates most of the blind shots and reduces the number quirky bounces that so often define this style of golf.
 
Now, another element of equity has been added for this British Open, perhaps the most significant.
 
Tiger Woods wont be there when it begins Thursday.
 
Eight days after his epic playoff victory in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, the worlds No. 1 player had reconstructive surgery on his left knee and will not play the rest of the year.
 
Its not just an opportunity for me, Justin Rose said, its an opportunity for 155 other guys.
 
Woods doesnt win them all, but it is rare when his name is not on the leaderboard of a major on the back nine Sunday afternoon. He already has captured 14 majors'second only to the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus'and perhaps even more intimidating is that Woods has 25 finishes in the top five at majors, a staggering rate of 54 percent.
 
Winning the 137th edition of golfs oldest championship still comes with a claret jug, not an asterisk. Even so, the fresh wind off the Irish Sea now carries the kind of optimism not felt since Woods was an amateur.
 
The door is a little more wide open than it has been in the past because Tiger is not playing, Colin Montgomerie said. And its given a lot of players on form the opportunity of winning a major that possibly they wouldnt have felt that confident before. Without him, someone is going to win these couple of majors, and its not Tiger Woods.
 
How often can you say that?
 
Not since the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla has a major been played without Woods, who was getting his game ready for a third straight U.S. Amateur title. Not since 1994 at Turnberry has Woods not competed at the British Open.
 
In some respects, the Open has never been more open.
 
Steve Stricker was the 36-hole leader at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open, the only major where Woods missed the cut. He recalls playing that weekend with a small sense of relief that he wouldnt see one name on the leaderboard.
 
I enjoy paying attention to him when he plays, to see if he can do it again, Stricker said. Were watching history all the time. Its amazing what hes done. But when you dont have to worry about him, thats good. Because if youre in contention and hes there, its going to be more difficult to win. He doesnt throw away many opportunities.
 
But does that make it any easier to win the silver claret jug?
 
Not in the least.
 
Royal Birkdale is the latest English links course to join the rotation, a club that waited until 1954 to host the British Open. Since then, however, it has held the Open more than any other course except for St. Andrews.
 
This is where Arnold Palmer won his first claret jug in 1961, slashing out of trouble on the 16th hole with a 6-iron worthy of a commemorative plaque. Peter Thomson and Tom Watson both won the last of their five Open championships at Birkdale. The last time the British Open was held on these links, in 1998, Mark OMeara and Brian Watts finished at even-par 280 before OMeara won in a four-hole playoff.
 
Woods was there, making birdie on three of his last four holes to miss the playoff by one shot.
 
The question now is what will it be like without him.
 
Tiger would be the first to agree that the Open is bigger than any one player, and Im sure we can look forward to another memorable week at Birkdale, Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said. Funny enough, I sense some excitement. Its sad that he wont be there. But now I think people wonder whos it going to be?
 
At the moment, all anyone knows is who it wont be.
 
Woods was a 5-to-2 favorite by one British bookmaker after he won the U.S. Open for his ninth victory in his last 12 starts. After he announced he would be out the rest of the season, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia were installed as co-favorites at 12-to-1.
 
Those are the players who have the most to gain by Woods absence, for no other reason than having lost to Woods so often.
 
Any of the top-10 players have got some scar tissue from Tiger, Rod Pampling said. And theyll feel a bit of relief that hes not there. Look, you still have to post the lowest score. But for sure, theyll be more confident than they normally are. Tiger not being there has got to be a small relief.
 
No one has finished runner-up to Woods more often than Els'seven times, including a combined 23 shots in consecutive majors. It was at St. Andrews in 2000 when Els matched his lowest score ever in a British Open (66), and one of the first questions for the Big Easy was what he thought about Woods being one shot behind.
 
Should I talk about Tiger again? Els said that day, clearly exasperated. Come on, guys. I just shot 66.
 
Garcia has played with Woods in the final group of a major twice'he wound up six shots behind in the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in 2002, and seven shots behind at Royal Liverpool two years ago in the British Open.
 
The 28-year-old Spaniard had his closest call in a major last year at Carnoustie, losing to Padraig Harrington in a playoff. When Garcia won THE PLAYERS Championship in May, he jokingly thanked Woods for not being at Sawgrass. Even so, he doesnt expect this British Open to be much different from the others.
 
I dont think theres going to be less people there, he said. Before Tiger was playing, the Open was still great. Obviously, theres going to be something missing a little bit. But the Open is still the Open. And its bigger than anybody else.
 
Mathematically, however, the odds have never been better.
 
Woods has won 30 percent of the majors as a pro, a statistic that led Montgomerie to say it is tougher than ever to win a major in his era. But thats not to suggest it becomes easier without him.
 
It wasnt any easier for Woods when he finished two shots behind Ben Curtis in 2003, or in 1998 when he couldnt catch his 41-year-old neighbor the last time the British Open was at Royal Birkdale.
 
There is no need for an asterisk.
 
The aspects of professional golf are a number of different things, and one of them is that youre healthy, Paul Goydos said. So when you start hearing somebody write about maybe these next two majors need an asterisk, well, then we need to put an asterisk next to all 18 of Jacks. Because Tiger didnt play in any of those.
 
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  • LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

    Parity reigned.

    Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

    Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

    Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

    Rolex Player of the Year
    Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

    It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.


    Vare Trophy
    Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

    There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.


    CME Globe $1 million prize
    Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

    By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.


    LPGA money-winning title
    Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

    The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

    Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.


    Rolex world No. 1 ranking
    The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.


    Rolex Rookie of the Year
    Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    “Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

    Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

    “Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

    Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

    Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

    In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

    She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

    How did she evaluate her season?

    “I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

    “It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

    Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

    “Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

    “I think everybody has little ups and downs.”

    For Ariya, Lexi, finish was fabulous, frustrating

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 12:47 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson can take a punch.

    You have to give her that.

    So can Ariya Jutanugarn, who beat Thompson in the gut-wrenching conclusion to the CME Group Tour Championship Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

    They both distinguished themselves overcoming adversity this season.

    The problem for Thompson now is that she’ll have to wait two months to show her resolve again. She will go into the long offseason with the memory of missing a 2-foot putt for par that could have won her the championship, her first Rolex Player of the Year Award and her first Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Thompson took home the CME Globe $1 million jackpot and Vare Trophy for low scoring as nice consolation prizes, but the Sunday finish was a lot like her season.

    It was so close to being spectacular.

    She was so close to dominating this year.

    That last 2-foot putt Sunday would have put Thompson in the clubhouse at 15 under, with a one-shot lead, which would have added so much more pressure to Jutanugarn as she closed out.

    Instead of needing to birdie the final two holes to force a playoff, Jutanugarn only needed to birdie one of them to assure extra holes. She went birdie-birdie anyway.

    Thompson was on the practice putting green when she heard the day’s last roar, when Jutanugarn rolled in a 15-foot birdie to beat her.

    “It wasn’t the way I wanted to end it,” Thompson said of the short miss. “I don’t really know what happened there. It just happens. I guess it’s golf.”


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    Thompson was asked if the weight of everything at stake affected her.

    “No, honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it,” she said. “I putted great the whole day. I guess, maybe, there was just a little bit of adrenaline.

    “We all go through situations we don’t like sometimes.”

    Thompson endured more than she wanted this year.

    She won twice, but there were six second-place finishes, including Sunday’s. There were three losses in playoffs.

    There was the heart-wrenching blow at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major, when she looked as if she were going to run away with the title before getting blindsided by a four-shot penalty in the final round. There were two shots when a viewer email led to a penalty for mismarking her ball on a green in the third round, and two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.

    Thompson was in tears finishing that Sunday at Mission Hills, but she won a legion of new fans in the way she fought back before losing in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

    There was more heartache later in the spring, when Thompson’s mother, Judy, was diagnosed with uterine cancer, requiring surgery to remove a tumor and then radiation.

    For Thompson fans, Sunday’s missed 2-foot putt was a cruel final blow to the year.

    This time, there were no tears from Lexi afterward.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds . . . it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said. “This won’t either.”

    After Thompson bounced back from the ANA loss to win the Kingsmill Invitational in May, she acknowledged how the loss motivated her.

    “I'm as determined as any other person out here,” Thompson said. “We all want to win. I have a little bit more drive now.”

    She was so close this year to elevating herself as the one true rock star in the women’s game. She will have a long offseason to turn Sunday’s disappointment into yet more fuel to get there.

    Thompson will prepare for next year knowing Jutanugarn may be ramping her game back up to dominante, too.

    Jutanugarn looked as if she were going to become a rock star after winning five times last year to claim the Rolex Player of the Year Award and then rising to No. 1 with a victory at the Manulife Classic back in May, but it didn’t happen.

    Jutanugarn struggled through a summer-long slump.

    She failed to make a cut in six of seven starts. It wasn’t as miserable a slump as she endured two years ago, when she missed 10 consecutive cuts, but it was troubling.

    “Even though I played so badly the last few months, I learned a lot,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m growing up a lot, and I’m really ready to have some fun next year.”

    Her surgically repaired shoulder was bothering her again, but it was more than that.

    “This time it was more about becoming No. 1,” said Gary Gilchrist, her coach. “I think all of the responsibilities got to her.”

    Gilchrist said he could see a different focus in Jutanugarn this week. He credited Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott for helping her deal with all the pressure that has mounted with her growing status.

    “It’s been a long process,” Nilsson said. “She’s felt too much expectation from everybody else, where she loses focus on what she can do.”

    Marriott said they asked Jutanugarn to come up with something she wanted to do to make herself proud this week, instead of worrying about what would please everyone else.

    It worked.

    “I told my caddie, Les [Luark], that thinking about the No. 1 ranking wasn’t going to help me be a better golfer,” Jutanugarn said. “I wanted people to say, `Oh this girl, she’s really happy.’ That was my goal, to have fun.”

    Late Sunday, hoisting the trophy, Jutanugarn looked like she was having a lot of fun.

    Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

    By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

    The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

    Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

    The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

    Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

    Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

    Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


    They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

    A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

    With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

    And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

    “I have no idea,” he laughed.

    Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

    The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

    The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

    “So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

    While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

    Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

    Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

    The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

    All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

    Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

    Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.