Key to British Open victory will be off the tee

By Doug FergusonJuly 18, 2012, 9:03 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – It's rare to see Tiger Woods hit iron off the tee on a par 5, except in links golf, and especially at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

With a stiff breeze in his face on the 598-yard 11th hole, he most likely could not reach the green in two. The idea was to be able to get there in three shots, which meant staying out of trouble off the tee. His low bullet of a shot stopped 10 paces short of feeding into a pot bunker. If the shot had gone much longer, Woods might have had to blast out sideways, and still had some 300 yards left to the green.

The key to this British Open is to get off to a good start – not just on Thursday, but on every hole.

''At most PGA Tour events, the shorter the shot, the more important it is,'' Geoff Ogilvy said. ''This one, the longer the shot the more important it is.''

The tired adage of ''drive for show, putt for dough'' doesn't necessarily apply at Lytham.

''The easy part is around the greens,'' Ben Curtis said. ''The hard part is off the tee.''

Royal Lytham is the shortest course on the Open rotation over the last decade, and it's on the smallest piece of property, tucked a mile or so away from the Irish Sea and surrounded by homes and a railway. The challenge comes from 206 bunkers, and thick grass from a wet spring that should keep the spotters busy looking for balls.

The powerful hitters can hit over the bunkers, as long as they avoid the next set of traps. But it's not so simple to think that players can hit well short of the bunkers for a longer shot into the green, because they might not be able to reach the green.

''It's a tee-shot golf course,'' Graeme McDowell said, who grew up on Royal Portrush and knows a thing or two about links golf. ''The second shots are not particularly taxing. There's not a lot of trouble around the greens. There are bunkers, but not a lot of heavy rough. You've got to position yourself off the tee to give yourself a chance. You've got to keep it out of the bunkers. It's a good test. I don't think you can hide on this golf course.''

The defense of any links course is pot bunkers and the wind. Woods famously won his first claret jug at St. Andrews in 2000 by going the entire week without hitting into a bunker. But there's something different about Royal Lytham that can make it look particularly daunting. Accuracy is important. So is the right distance.

''You get very cautious off the tee,'' Ogilvy said. ''It's not like St. Andrews, where you can go away from the bunkers, hit the middle of the green and two-putt from 60 feet all day. Here, you've got to take them on. There's a distance requirement, as well as a line requirement, so it's a two-dimensional drive. And if it were yellow, it would be three-dimensional.''

By yellow, Ogilvy was referring to the color of the grass.

This is a green Open, and it's not about the environment. Links golf is notoriously fast and tough in dry conditions that bake the grass, such as St. Andrews in 2000 and Royal Liverpool in 2006, both won by Woods. It was at Liverpool where Woods only hit one driver the entire week – on the 16th hole of the first round, and it went into the 17th fairway – on his way to a two-shot win.

Woods most likely won't leave that Tiger head cover on his driver all week at Lytham. The par 5s at Liverpool were much shorter, and the turf was so brittle that Woods was hitting 3-iron some 300 yards. He didn't need a driver there.

''Got to hit probably a few more 3-woods and drivers here than I did then,'' he said. ''The bunkers are staggered differently here. You can't just either lay it up or bomb it over the top. There has to be some shape to shots. I think that's one of the reasons why you've seen the list of champions here have all been just wonderful ball strikers, because you have to be able to shape the golf ball both ways.''

The list of Open champions at Royal Lytham is impressive – David Duval and Tom Lehman, both formerly No. 1 in the world, won the last two times. The rest of the winners showcased in the brick clubhouse are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Then again, trying to figure out the next winner isn't that simple.

Next to the 206 bunkers, the number getting the most attention at this major is 15 – the number of players who have won the last 15 majors. An even greater sign of parity is that the last nine major champions had never won a major before.

The streak could go to 16 if the betting favorite – Woods – were to win his fourth claret jug and get back on track in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors. Or the 16th different major champion could be No. 1 or No. 3 in the world ranking. Those guys would be Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, both from England playing on home soil, both trying to capture their first major title.

Along with the hazards are the elements, which tend to play a big role in links golf. This week, the forecast has been a mystery.

Carl Pettersson wasn't planning to come to the course on Wednesday because the forecast was for an 80 percent chance of heavy rain. This was supposed to be the worst of the bad weather. He showed up wearing sunglasses.

The Royal & Ancient puts out an update three times a day on the weather, and the only thing that can be trusted is the small print at the bottom: ''This forecast may be amended at any time.'' Don't hold your breath, but rain is supposed to clear overnight and leave mostly dry conditions until some clouds arrive on Sunday.

Then again, the rain already has left its mark with incredibly thick rough some 10 yards off the fairway.

''We always say with the rough, we leave it to nature,'' R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. ''And nature this year has given us the thick stuff.''

One player not getting much attention this week is Rory McIlroy, who went from the high of reaching No. 1 earlier this year to missing three straight cuts. At 23, this will be his first Open at Lytham, yet he played more than a dozen times on this course during his amateur days.

He is aggressive by nature, but McIlroy sounds like he knows where to pick his spots.

''You're going to have to be very smart off the tees here and just sort of plot your way around, just to navigate your way through all these fairway bunkers,'' McIlroy said. ''If you can do that – put your ball in the fairway – you do have chances to be aggressive going into some of the greens.

''As I said, the whole key this week will just be trying to drive it on the fairway.''

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

 

 

Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.