Prepping for British Open unlike any other major

By Doug FergusonJuly 17, 2013, 11:00 pm

GULLANE, Scotland – The practice-round schedule posted each day at Muirfield is not the only way to determine how players are getting ready for the Open Championship.

Johnson Wagner's name was on the tee sheet at St. Andrews over the weekend.

Geoff Ogilvy could be found on the other side of the country, on links courses like Turnberry, Royal Troon and Western Gailes. Justin Rose was at North Berwick. So were Bubba Watson and Luke Donald, who got in plenty of golf along the Firth of Forth the week before the British Open.

It's not unusual for players to take off from their regular tours a week before a major to prepare. What's different about the British Open – isn't everything? – is that preparations aren't limited to the course they will be playing.


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''You can prepare for the U.S. Open on the range,'' Ogilvy said Wednesday. ''But you can only prepare for the (British) Open on the course. And it doesn't necessarily have to be the course you're playing. The seaside courses here, they're the only courses with turf like this, with sand like this. There's something different about the seaside wind in Scotland. ... You can fly to Shanghai or Abu Dhabi and work on what you need at home. But you can't work on what you need at home until you get here.''

Tiger Woods, a three-time Open champion, arrived Sunday morning and has played nine holes a day. There was a time he would leave home a week early and head to Ireland with Mark O'Meara and David Duval, both former Open champions, and play the links courses there.

Woods loves to recall his first experience with links golf in 1995 as the U.S. Amateur champion. He played the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, and then drove down the North Sea shoreline to St. Andrews for the British Open.

''I absolutely fell in love with it, to be able to dink a 5-iron from 150 yards and bump it on the ground, or vice versa – have 260 out and hit a 4-iron and it bounces over the green. That, to me, is pretty neat. Because we play everywhere around the world – an airborne game where you have to hit the ball straight up in the air and make it stop. Here it's different. A draw will go one distance, a fade will go another, and they're so dramatic. And I just absolutely love it.''

True, adjusting to links golf can just as easily take place at Muirfield, where the British Open starts Thursday. Defending champion Ernie Els came down from Castle Stuart and has stayed at Muirfield, wrapping up his final practice round Wednesday just after 6 p.m.

But there are no tricks at Muirfield. There are hardly any blind shots. Most of the bunkers are in plain view from the tee. That's one of the reasons that Muirfield is a favorite of so many players, who use words like ''fair'' and ''honest test,'' which aren't always heard on other links courses.

''I think of all the Open venues, it's probably one of the least quirky ones,'' Donald said Wednesday. ''It's quite straightforward. Obviously with the weather conditions, it's playing firm and fast. It's going to be about controlling your golf ball this week. And the weather looks good. The course is set up just the way the R&A would like it. It's bouncy. It's a little bit of a breeze out there. Firm conditions are a good protector of the golf course, and we certainly have that this week.''

The forecast is dry for the week, with perhaps some mist on the weekend. Even though officials had the course just the way they wanted it early in the week, they have turned on a few sprinklers in the evening to keep it from getting overcooked.

''I think it's no exaggeration to say that in my time at the R&A with direct involvement in the Open Championship, which goes back to 2000, factors have combined this year to make this the best course setup we've ever had in that period,'' R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. ''The course is just as we want it. It's hard. It's fast. It's in wonderful condition. The rough is just right. I think the players are enjoying it.''

It all starts to unfold Thursday morning when Peter Senior of Australia hits the opening tee shot.

Among the early starters are Els, Rose and Brandt Snedeker in one group, with Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama a few groups behind. The afternoon groups include Woods, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen, along with Masters champion Adam Scott, Donald and Matt Kuchar.

Tom Watson won at Muirfield in 1980 by four shots over Lee Trevino, which was a rarity in one respect. That was the only Open in the last six times at Muirfield that golf's oldest championship was decided by more than one shot. Els won in a record four-man playoff the last time in 2002.

Muirfield is seen as a thorough examination that requires solid contact in any weather, which might explain why only the best players seem to win here – Els, Nick Faldo twice, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Walter Hagen, Trevino.

Snedeker tied the 36-hole record at the British Open last year at 130 – the same score Faldo had at Muirfield in 1992 – and eventually tied for third. That was at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and he sounds like he loves Muirfield even more.

''There are defined areas where you need to hit it. How you get the ball in that defined area is up to you,'' Snedeker said. ''It's a great mix of holes. I chart what I hit in the practice round, and I've hit every club in the bag every day. You're hitting driver on some holes. You're hitting 5-iron off the tee on some holes. It's just a really cool mix. And depending on the wind, they can all play completely differently.

''I think it's a great test,'' he said. ''There's no letup out there whatsoever.''

What happens from here is difficult to project. Woods is trying to end a zero-for-16 drought in the majors. Rose is trying to become only the seventh player to win the U.S. Open and British Open in the same year. Els believes he has a chance to win again, which would put him in rare company – Old Tom Morris in 1872 is the only other player in his 40s to successfully defend his title in a major.

''There's so much to look forward to the way everything has shaped up for this Open Championship,'' Scott said. ''Very exciting week ahead.''


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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”



Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.



Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream


Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.


Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.


Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.


Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.


Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.


Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)