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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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


Masters victory


Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative


Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


Man of the people


Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief


Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together


Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018


Departure from TaylorMade


Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'


Victory at Valderrama


Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm