Stat attack!: British Open preview

By John AntoniniJuly 15, 2014, 5:14 pm

The Open Championship is the tournament Father Time forgot. It’s the one major championship won more often than not by a veteran player. Since 2004, when 38-year-old Todd Hamilton took the title at Royal Troon, only Tiger Woods in 2005 and Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 were less than 30 years old. Woods was all of 29 at the time and Oosthuizen was 27, so it’s not as if they were young guns. Since Oosthuizen, every winner has been at least 35, with the last three champions – Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson (above) – having surpassed their 42nd birthday. Age might just be a number, but more 40-somethings and fewer 20-somethings have won the British Open than any other major in the last decade.

Age of major champions: 2004-2014

 Major Youngest age 20-25 26-29 30-34 35-39 40+ Oldest age
 Masters 26 0 3 4 4 0 39
 U.S. Open 22 1 4 3 3 0 37
 British Open 27 0 2 1 4 3 43
 PGA 23 3 0 2 4 1 41

When Phil Mickelson won in 2013 it marked the first time in memory that the last three winners of any major were over 40 years of age, and when you’re talking about the players with the most tree rings at the British Open, who can forget Tom Watson’s near miss in 2009 at age 59 and Greg Norman’s close call a year earlier at age 53.

Angel Cabrera (44) and John Senden (43) are the only 40-year-olds to win on the PGA Tour this year, but that doesn’t mean other veterans aren’t able to take home the claret jug. Zach Johnson and Henrik Stenson are 38; Matt Kuchar and Luke Donald are 36; and Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker are 35. They all rank among the top-10 players age 35 or older who have accumulated the most world ranking points in 2014.

World Ranking points gained in 2014 by players currently age 35 and older

 Player Age Points gained in 2014
 Bubba Watson 35 236.61
 Matt Kuchar 36 178.58
 Jimmy Walker 35 156.56
 Jim Furyk 44 139.18
 Stephen Gallacher 39 124.98
 Zach Johnson 38 114.83
 Henrik Stenson 38 103.09
 Thongchai Jaidee 44 99.31
 John Senden 43 92.04
 Luke Donald 36 97.79

Even Tiger Woods is the right age to break his major slide. The 14-time major champion is 38 year’s old, right where you’d want to be to take the British title. Woods, as you know, has had incredible success at the year’s third major with three victories – 2000, 2005 and 2006 – and seven top-10 finishes since 2000. Only Ernie Els has more top-10s than Woods at the British Open since 2000.

Most top-10 finishes at the Open Championship since 2000

 Top 10s Player Best finish
 9 Ernie Els Won 2012
 9  Tiger Woods Won three times
 7 Sergio Garcia 2 in 2007
 6 Retief Goosen T-5 in 2005 and 2009
 4 Lee Westwood 2 in 2010
 4 Thomas Bjorn 2 in 2000 and 2003

Goosen is not in the field this week, but the other five are, and three of them finished in the top 10 at Royal Liverpool in 2006, the year Woods taught the field a lesson in course management, his 18-under 270 beating Chris DiMarco by two strokes. Woods led the field in driving accuracy, having shunned his driver on all but one hole. Not once did he hit into a fairway bunker. He hit 85.7 percent of the fairways, and that led to him hitting 80.6 percent of his fairways, tied for the second-best total in the tournament. Regardless of whether those numbers are a result of the course layout at Hoylake, only one other winner since 2003 – Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 – has hit more than 80 percent of the greens and fairways at the British Open. Els was third in 2006 and Garcia was T-5. Westwood and Bjorn both made the cut finishing T-31 and T-41, respectively. There are 26 players in this week’s field who made the cut in 2006, including six who finished in the top 10.

British Open competitors who finished in the top 10 at Liverpool in 2006

 Player Finish Scores
 Tiger Woods 1 67-65-71-67—270
 Ernie Els 3 68-65-71-71—275
 Jim Furyk 4 68-71-66-71—276
 Sergio Garcia T-5 68-71-65-73—277
 Angel Cabrera 7 71-68-66-73—278
 Adam Scott T-8 68-69-70-72—279

Scott and Furyk are also among the group of seven players who have finished in the top 15 at each of this year’s first two majors. Scott, in fact, has made the cut at the last 12 majors, and has been in the top 15 in 10 of them.

Players with top-15 finishes in the 2014 Masters and U.S. Open

 Player Masters U.S. Open
 Rickie Fowler T-5 T-2
 Matt Kuchar   T-5 T-12
 Jimmy Walker T-8 T-9
 Henrik Stenson T-14 T-4
 Adam Scott T-14 T-9
 Jim Furyk T-14 T-12
 Justin Rose T-14 T-12

You might have noticed that many of the players listed above are the “right” age for the Open Championship, and have been playing well in 2014. But the list of British Open champions who also played well at the year’s first two majors isn’t a very long one. Since 1990 only Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo have finished in the top 15 of both the Masters and U.S. Open and won the British Open. Woods did it in 2000 and 2005 (he missed the cut in the 2006 U.S. Open in his first tournament after the death of his father), and Faldo did it in 1990 and 1992. Since 2006 only two players have made the cut at the Masters and U.S. Open, and then won the British Open. Here’s how the Open Champion has fared at the year’s first two majors since Woods in 2005.

British Open winner in the year’s first two majors: 2006-2013

 Year British winner Masters finish U.S. Open finish
 2013 Phil Mickelson T-54 2
 2012  Ernie Els DNP 9
 2011 Darren Clarke DNP DNP
 2010 Louis Oosthuizen MC MC
 2009 Stewart Cink MC T-27
 2008 Padraig Harrington 5 T-36
 2007 Padraig Harrington 7 MC
 2006 Tiger Woods T-3 MC

One final note: The only player to win the British Open in his first appearance since Tom Watson in 1975 was Ben Curtis in 2003. Erik Compton is the only first-timer who was in the top-10 at a major this year, having finished tied for second at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x