The Lesson of 02 Weighs Heavily on Levet

By George WhiteJuly 15, 2004, 4:00 pm
Perhaps if were lucky, well see a certain Frenchman in contention come Sunday, just as he was on a July Sunday in 2002. That was the year that Thomas Levet led in a four-way playoff for the British Open, mucked it all up to eventually lose to Ernie Els, then delightfully entertained us afterwards with his running commentary.
You remember it all, dont you? Levet birdied the second hole of the four-hole playoff to take the lead early over Els, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington. He parred the third hole, but he threw all caution to the wind at the fourth. Remind you of another Frenchman by the name of Van de Velde?
He started his misadventure by using a driver off the 18th tee at Muirfield when almost everyone else was using 3-wood. Predictably, he lined it into trouble on the right. From there he found a bunker 30 yards short of the green. He blasted his third shot to the front edge, hit a chip shot 60 feet past the flag, and holed the long putt for bogey.
Els made par and the two headed back to 18 for sudden death, as Appleby and Elkington were discarded, both finishing the four-hole cumulative playoff one behind. Levet again hit driver -- Els hit an iron and found the fairway -- and pulled his tee shot into a pot bunker.
Levet again made bogey; Els made par.
Just like Van de Velde, though, Levet was the perfect gentleman afterwards, answering every question with a humorous, self-deprecating touch. Its been a massive learning experience, Levet said at the time. It makes major golf easier if you can compete at the highest level. Im halfway there.
Levet then spent a rocky year playing in America in 2003, meeting hostile galleries in several cities because of the political differences of France and the U.S. But he returned to Europe this year and last week won the Scottish Open.
He opened with a 66 in the British Open Thursday, but he hasnt forgotten 2002. Far from it.
Sometimes you feel like I was not too far from winning, he says. But sometimes you learn from that, as well. And I took it on that side.
I said, Look, it's the first time I was in a major in contention. It's the first time I was about to win something and there is nothing to be ashamed of.
'And I took it on the normal side. He (Els) won because he was the best, and that's what sports is all about, and golf as well.
Levet has been playing the European Tour for a long time, since 1991. The son of a doctor, he would have to classify his prior career as only that of a journeyman. But maybe he learned something from that Muirfield Open.
Sometimes you feel, yes, of course, I was second in The Open, Levet said. But when I started the tournament, and even this week, it just - after 50 second places, maybe you would be a bit mad. But after one second place, life is going on and just try to enjoy the game and take experience from that instead of crying in your locker saying, Oh, I lost The Open, I lost The Open.
Otherwise I wouldn't be here today. I would have retired probably three weeks later.
Levet, correctly, looks at his 66 as merely a step on the ladder to the championship, and not the whole ladder. But he learned something from that playoff in 2002, and the prospects look very rosy, even if its only the first day.
It's way too early, he said, waving off early speculation of what Levet would look like holding the claret jug.
Today there was not even pressure about that. Seeing your name on the top of the leaderboard is a pleasure, but there is a long way to go and you have a few guys that could win the tournament, but we're in the lead. It means we have a few strokes in our pocket in case things are turning wrong.
But it's just one step, and there is still one big step tomorrow, two big steps Saturday, and an enormous marathon on Sunday. We've done three steps of the marathon, it's nothing.
And if it does come to Sunday playoff, you can bet he wont use driver when the proper play is 3-wood.
Email your thoughts to George White
Getty Images

McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

Getty Images

Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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?