Expert picks: 2012 U.S. Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 12, 2012, 8:00 pm

This week the best players in the world head to the Lake Course at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, site of this year's second major. Rory McIlroy is back to defend the title he won in a romp last year at Congressional, but an elite field will challenge for the title. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; RotoWorld.com's Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.


Ryan Ballengee

Group 1: Tiger Woods: He won at Memorial, has a pair of wins this season and is a three-time U.S. Open champion. Good enough for me.

Group 2: Jim Furyk: Furyk is second on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy, which will be critical for success at Olympic. He won the U.S. Open in 2003.

Group 3: Colt Knost: The second alternate out of Columbus won the 2007 U.S. Amateur at this venue. He's ninth on Tour in driving accuracy.

Group 4: Roberto Castro: The Georgia Tech product is 18th in greens in regulation percentage and 49th in driving accuracy. It's a good combination in the group of mostly dreamers.


Gary Williams

Group 1: Lee Westwood: Westwood enters the week seeking his first major, but is playing very well. The third-ranked player in the world has won twice in 2012, including last week, and also finished T-3 at the Masters. On top of all that, he finished T-7 in the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic. I think Westwood wins his first major this week.

Group 2: Zach Johnson: If the conditions are tough, Zach Johnson is a name I always think of. The 2007 Masters champion won earlier this year at Colonial and has runner-up finishes at TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town. I think he'll be able to maneuver his way around Olympic very well and at the very least record his best U.S. Open finish this week.

Group 3: Branden Grace: Grace is arguable the most underrated performer of 20212 so far as he has won three times on the European Tour, with two wins in South Africa and one in China. He earned his place in the field on Monday by being ranked in the top 60 in the world and is making his first major start in the U.S. An upset win this week would make Grace the story of the year.

Group 4: Brian Harman: Harman played in the 2004 U.S. Junior Amateur at Olympic and made it to the quarterfinals before losing to the eventual champion. That year, he shot 67-66 in stroke play to win medalist honors by eight shots. Considering he shot 64 at Pebble Beach and 61 at PGA National earlier this year, he could surprise many people this week.week.


Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Tiger Woods: The question remains, which guy will show up this week? The guy who missed the cut at Quail Hollow or won Bay Hill by a five spot? The guy who finished T-40 at the Masters and Players or rolled to victory at the Memorial? My gut says the latter.

Group 2: Zach Johnson: The U.S. Open has never been kind to Johnson; his best finish in eight starts is a T-30 last year, but in his last five overall starts he has two second-place finishes and a win. Olympic may be the best fit of all the Open venues for this fairways-and-greens specialist.

Group 3: Davis Love III: This seems like a sentimental pick, but the U.S. Ryder Cup captain is fresh off his best finish of the year (a T-3 in Memphis) and with 22 starts at the national championship, no one has more experience in this week's field.

Group 4: Joe Durant: Always one of the Tour's best ball-strikers, the Olympic Club will fit his game better than most Open venues that reward power over shot-making. He also has some experience on the Lake Course, having finished T-32 at the 1998 U.S. Open.


Win McMurry

Group 1: Tiger Woods: He's back.

Group 2: Jim Furyk: Seven top-25 finishes in his last eight starts; he's in form and certainly has a shot at adding another U.S. Open title to the one he picked up in 2003.

Group 3: Branden Grace: Three wins this year on the European Tour have me not worried a bit that he can contend in his first U.S. Open.

Group 4: Michael Allen: He's gained a lot of confidence with age and performance on the Champions Tour, where he's picked up two wins in 2012.


Jason Sobel

Group 1: Luke Donald: Keys to contending at any major: keep the ball in play, eliminate mistakes and be deadly from 100 yards and in. That's pretty much an analysis of Donald's game.

Group 2: Jonathan Byrd: Looking for a hot hand? Byrd has finished 12th or better in each of his last four events. Ironically, this Ben Hogan fan could be this week's Jack Fleck.

Group 3: Davis Love III: Don't scoff. The current United States Ryder Cup captain is peaking at the right time, reaching the field through sectionals before a T-3 finish in Memphis.

Group 4: Mikko Ilonen: Little-known Euro Tour player is fresh off a T-3 in Sweden at last week's Nordea Masters.


Randall Mell

Group 1: Tiger Woods: Woods seems to really like the creative test Olympic offers, and more importantly, he has the variety of shots again to win here.

Group 2: Sergio Garcia: Olympic Club rewards pure ball strikers, and it will reward Garcia if his putter is working.

Group 3: Steve Marino: Going with Frank Nobilo's feeling that there is some Jack Fleck in Marino.

Group 4: Patrick Cantlay: This is called rooting for the story. It would be historic with an amateur winning the U.S. Open.


Rob Bolton

Group 1: Luke Donald: In a field loaded with talent, I'll take the most consistent performer of the elite. His time is now.

Group 2: Jim Furyk: Not only is his record impressive in the U.S. Open, but his splits across the board and recent results support this endorsement.

Group 3: Davis Love III: I rode him last week in Memphis, so I'm taking another spin on the bandwagon. What matters more isn't that he's playing extremely well again, but that he's healthy and perhaps fresher than most of his opposition as a result of his rest (e.g. Dustin Johnson at the St. Jude).

Group 4: Alex Cejka: In a lot full of fliers, he's one of the safest options. Shared eighth place at the U.S. Open down the road at Pebble Beach two years ago. Also cashed in his last four starts entering this week.

**Join Fantasy Expert Rob Bolton for a live golf chat Wednesday at 12:00p ET at www.rotoworld.com**

Tune in to Golf Channel all week long for coverage of Live From: U.S. Open.

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”