Tiger Continues Pursuit of More Claret Jugs

By Associated PressJuly 14, 2007, 4:00 pm
Tiger Woods never posted any of Harry Vardon's feats on his bedroom door.
 
His career has always been about Jack Nicklaus and that benchmark of 18 professional majors, and Woods has made incredible strides in his first decade on the PGA TOUR. He captured the career Grand Slam at age 24, two years sooner than Nicklaus. He won back-to-back titles at the Masters, and one-third of his majors have come from Augusta National, just like Jack.
 
Tiger Woods and caddie
Tiger Woods embraces his caddie after winning his second straight Open Championship. (WireImage)
But along with a closet full of green jackets, Woods is starting to assemble quite a collection of claret jugs.
 
He heads to Carnoustie for the 136th British Open with a chance to become the first player since Peter Thomson in 1954-56 to win golf's oldest championship three straight times. If he's successful, that would give him as many jugs as jackets.
 
Nicklaus and Vardon share the record for most titles (6) in a single major. For all the fixation over Woods and Augusta National, his presence at the British Open has become equally daunting.
 
Could he reach Vardon's record at the British Open before Nicklaus' mark at the Masters?
 
Is it possible his dominance lies more on the linksland than amid the azaleas?
 
'I will say this: The British Open Championship is my favorite major,' Woods said. 'I just love the history, tradition and atmosphere. You need patience and imagination to play well.'
 
Thomson has watched Woods develop a game suited for links golf and wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he goes on a dominant run.
 
'He'll have a run for 10 or 15 years during which he'll win at least half of them, maybe a few more,' Thomson said from his home in St. Andrews. 'I'm assuming he goes about it in the way he does now. There's never been any golfer, maybe even a tennis player, who applied himself in such a way that Tiger has.'
 
Nick Faldo, who won the Masters and British Open three times each, helped Woods into his first green jacket in 1997 and always figured that would be his domain. Now, he's not so sure.
 
'That's a tough one,' Faldo said. 'You've got to believe that everything about him is set up perfectly for Augusta. But he has this great ability now to adapt, as he did at Hoylake, where strategy golf came in.'
 
Augusta National has added nearly 500 yards since Woods won his first green jacket by a record 12 shots. And with improved technology, from drivers to shafts to golf balls, Woods no longer has exclusive rights to power.
 
The British Open has always been more about brains than brawn, the often overlooked strength of the world's No. 1 player.
 
After twice winning at St. Andrews by either hitting it over or around the bunkers, Woods arrived at Royal Liverpool last year to find the grass brown and crusty, the fairways running faster than some greens. After a few practice rounds, he decided his best option was to leave driver in the bag and navigate his way around the course with his irons.
 
It proved to be a brilliant strategy, and he went on to a two-stroke victory.
 
'The majority of golfers really don't relish playing a course like Carnoustie, Hoylake, Lytham & St. Annes,' Thomson said. 'They're not comfortable playing that kind of golf. Tiger is. I remember seeing him play at Lytham as an amateur, and he didn't look like he belonged there. It was a complete mystery to him. But it didn't take him long to get the hang of it.
 
'He's such a brain, and he has studied it very well. That's what the Open championship courses demand.'
 
Carnoustie is nothing like Hoylake.
 
Located north of St. Andrews beyond the Firth of Tay, it is considered the toughest links course in the world with its narrow fairways, the winding Barry Burn over the closing holes, pot bunkers that put a premium on strategy and wind that dictates everything.
 
Woods tied for seventh at Carnoustie in 1999. He finished at 294, which remains his highest 72-hole score as a professional.
 
There was a reason for that.
 
The fairways were as narrow as a country lane on some holes. The rough allowed for little more than gouging the ball back into play, and sometimes even that required luck. There were 102 rounds in the 80s, and two in the 90s. It was so unpredictable that Rod Pampling was in the lead after the first round, and on his way home after the second.
 
And the conclusion was like a carnival.
 
Jean Van de Velde had a three-shot lead going to the last hole, then took triple bogey with a series of questionable choices and terribly bad fortune. The three-man playoff was won by Paul Lawrie, whose 10-shot comeback on the final day was a major championship record.
 
Lawrie might be the only one with happy thoughts of Carnoustie.
 
'I've kind of suppressed those memories,' said Phil Mickelson, who shot 79-76 and missed the cut by one shot. He didn't miss another cut until last month in the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
 
The British tabloids referred to the links as 'Car-Nasty,' and those weren't shock headlines.
 
'I've never played a golf course as hard as that golf course was set up, and as unfair as it was set up,' Woods said. 'I remember No. 6, stepping off the fairway 9 yards wide in a layup area. That's not a real big layup area when you have to hit a 4-iron.'
 
Even so, it is a major championship in which Woods has thrived.
 
Just like Jack.
 
Nicklaus only won three claret jugs, the fewest of any of the four majors. But perhaps his most astounding record at the British Open was finishing runner-up a record seven times. Nicklaus was so adept on the links that during on 18-year stretch, from 1963 through 1980, he finished first or second 10 times and was never worse than 12th.
 
One shot here, one putt there, and no telling how many Opens he could have won.
 
That might be the direction Woods is going.
 
Along with his three victories, he was one shot out of a playoff at Royal Birkdale in 1998, two shots behind Ben Curtis at Royal St. George's in 2003. And while going for the calendar Grand Slam in 2002, he was two shots out of the lead going into the third round when he caught the worst of the wicked weather at Muirfield and shot 81.
 
He has posted four straight top-10s since then, his longest such streak in any major.
 
'I feel pretty comfortable with both,' Woods said when asked whether he was better off at the Masters or British Open. 'The British Open is the only tournament where it's hit or miss on tee times. If you play well at the Open, sometimes it may not be good enough, because you just may get the wrong side of the draw.
 
'I always enjoyed the British Open. I always have.'
 
No other American dominated the British Open like Tom Watson, a five-time winner and the only champion to win on five courses. Watson won his first major at Carnoustie in 1975, holding off Nicklaus and Johnny Miller, beating Jack Newton in a playoff.
 
'I felt on links courses, I had a pretty good understanding of how hard to hit it and a great ability to get the ball up-and-down,' Watson said. 'And there is the factor of how you negotiate these golf courses. That's what Tiger did last year so well at Royal Liverpool. He just refused to challenge the bunker,'
 
The next challenge is Carnoustie, where Woods will try to move one major closer to Nicklaus' record in the majors -- and Vardon's record in the British Open.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - 136th Open Championship
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

    Getty Images

    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

    Getty Images

    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.