Final hole of British Open delivers year after year

By Doug FergusonJuly 15, 2012, 9:03 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – The cheer was so loud, the moment so big, that Padraig Harrington forgot what he was doing. It was his major championship debut in 1996 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and he finished off his second round of 68 by holing a bunker shot next to the 18th green.

''I got so excited, I took the putter out of the bag,'' Harrington recalled. ''I've never been as excited on the golf course. The hairs on the back of my head stood up. It was just an unbelievable cheer that went up when I holed it.''

The lasting memory of that moment, however, was more about the stage than the shot.

''It's like no other major,'' Harrington said.

No matter the links course, there is nothing like the atmosphere on 18th hole at the British Open anywhere in golf.

The grandstands are enormous, about 10 feet above the ground and stretching 20 rows to the top, just below the iconic yellow scoreboard. They are on both sides of the fairway, starting about 50 yards before players reach the green.

''It's the best finish in golf,'' Robert Allenby said. ''Nothing would be more incredible than coming down here on Sunday winning the tournament, that's for sure.''

Dustin Johnson can appreciate what that's like – as a bystander. He played in the final group last year at Royal St. George's as the thousands of people in the stands celebrated Darren Clarke winning the claret jug.

''Pretty cool,'' Johnson said. ''It's almost like you're in a stadium.''

The stadium was relatively empty Sunday on a surprisingly sunny afternoon at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Six people sat on the right side watching Clarke finish his practice round. Four others were on the left side when Robert Rock came through.

It won't be like that a week from Sunday. There are 6,705 seats, and all of them will be occupied.

One of them was taken on this quiet day. Alan Clarkin of nearly Ormskirk was on the top row, three seats from the end, eating his lunch before wandering back onto the course. He plans to be in the same spot a week from now.

Clarkin goes to all the Opens in the Lancashire region – Lytham & St. Annes, Birkdale, Hoylake – and he sticks to the same plan. He walks the course during the practice days and the opening three rounds. He will be at the course 10 minutes before the gates open at 7 a.m., and head straight to the top row of the grandstands.

The top row is critical. Behind him is the par-3 first hole, so he can watch every player start the final round. More importantly, he'll see every player finish. Clarkin was there in 2001 when Ian Woosnam discovered he had 15 clubs in his bag – a two-stroke penalty – and when David Duval removed his wraparound shades and squinted into the sun to hold the claret jug in his lone major triumph.

''It raises the hair on the back of your neck,'' Clarkin said. ''You see the players come through, and the cheer is almost like a crescendo.''

That's how it was for Harrington.

He always told Ronan Flood, his brother-in-law who eventually became his caddie, that there was no greater feeling than walking up the 18th at the Open, with the gallery crammed behind ropes and metal railing, the grandstands full of people sitting elbow-to-elbow in the green chairs aligned so perfectly.

''I kept telling Ronan for years, 'You've got to be coming down the last on a Sunday afternoon. There's no experience like walking down the last and getting cheered onto the green,''' Harrington said. ''The first time Ronan ever got to caddie on the 18th hole was Carnoustie. It took us three years to get there.''

Harrington won his first Open at Carnoustie in 2007, despite a double bogey on the 18th hole. Sergio Garcia made bogey on the last to set up a playoff, and Harrington wound up beating him by one shot. So he made the trip down the 18th fairway five times that week – four in regulation, one in a playoff.

''But I actually lied,'' Harrington added. ''There's a better experience. It's going down the 72nd hole when you're actually winning The Open,'' he said. ''Then the crowds really come alive – if they have not been alive already. It's a very special feeling.''

Sunday before a major is getting busier, with a couple of dozen players getting in a practice round.

One of them was Tiger Woods, who arrived at a nearby airport at 7 a.m., drove straight to the golf course and walked right onto the first tee. He stretched briefly, and without a practice swing, uttered his first words of his British Open week: ''Get in.''

He nearly holed the tee shot.

Woods meticulously worked his way through all 18 holes, taking notes, hitting a 2-iron off a par 5 into the wind to avoid some of the 206 bunkers. One reason for being so meticulous on a Sunday was the weather might not be this pleasant the rest of the week. The forecast was for rain just about every day, starting on Monday on the first official day of practice.

The grandstands are made by a company called Wernick Events Link. The grandstands will hold some 20,000 people across Royal Lytham & St. Annes, but it's the three sets around the 18th – two on either side, one to the back left corner so as not to block the clubhouse, that are so majestic. Workers began installing them in April.

The last three winners have been able to soak up the moment on the 18th. Stewart Cink in the playoff at Turnberry, Louis Oosthuizen at St. Andrews and Clarke last year all had safe leads. The engraver already was at work on the claret jug. Justin Leonard won at Royal Troon in 1997, though he was in the penultimate group and was busy grinding to make par. Still, he can't think of a better stage than the closing hole of golf's oldest championship.

''There's a lot of things you can understand just from watching on TV,'' he said.

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Fowler among 5 to skip WGC-Match Play

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 2:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five of the top 64 players in the world will skip next week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Brooks Koepka and Adam Scott all will miss the second WGC event of the year, held next week at Austin Country Club.

As a result, the last man into the field is world No. 69 Luke List. Kevin Na, Charles Howell III, Joost Luiten and Keegan Bradley also got into the field.

Julian Suri and Bill Haas are the first two alternates, if anyone else withdraws from the round-robin-style match-play event.

This is the second year in a row that Rose, Fowler, Stenson and Scott will not play in Austin. Koepka reached the quarterfinals each of the past two years, but he is still recovering from a wrist injury.

The final seeding for the event will be determined after this week’s tournaments. The bracket show is at 7:30 p.m. Monday, live on Golf Channel.

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.