Punch Shot: Three big questions for the 144th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 15, 2015, 2:45 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Where will Jordan Spieth finish? What are the expectations for Tiger Woods? Set the top three betting favorites aside (Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson), who is the best bet to contend? Our team at the Old Course debates these three topics on the eve of the 144th Open Championship.

  • WHERE WILL SPIETH FINISH?

JOE POSNANSKI: I think he contends. There are many reasons to believe he won’t – lack of experience, the intense pressure of the Grand Slam, unfamiliarity with St. Andrews, weather issues – but he seems somewhat immune to such things. His confidence level is sky high, his game is complete enough, and the Open does tend to reward those who are adept at the 15-20-foot putts. Plus, it would be such a great story. I think he’s in contention on Sunday.

REX HOGGARD: As impressive as Spieth has been this season, history is not on his side at St. Andrews. Of the five players who have won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year, only Ben Hogan in 1953 managed to add an Open Championship trophy to the resume during the same calendar. Spieth will play well and likely finish in the top 25, but he won’t win.

RYAN LAVNER: Well, he’ll contend, because that’s what Spieth does – he’s finished outside the top 20 only twice since February. He won’t be fazed by the pressure of trying to capture the third leg of the Grand Slam. He won’t be unprepared. He won’t get frazzled by the changing winds or the unpredictable weather. All this kid does is stick to his game plan and hole more 20-foot putts than anyone in the game. (No, seriously, he makes nearly TWENTY-NINE percent of his attempts.) He’ll be squarely in the mix come Sunday, in line for even more history, because he hasn’t given me any reason to think otherwise. But the odds are still against him to win.

BAILEY MOSIER: Spieth winning his third consecutive major would be as fairytale-like as the town hosting this week’s Open Championship. It would be too good to be true. Then again, I’ve always believed you can live happily ever after. The man has already proven four times this season that his “winning formula” works, and with a forecast that calls for rain and 40 mph gusts for two of the four rounds, this week’s champion will have to combine skill, luck and patience. Spieth has heaps of the first and last, and after watching DJ three-putt from 13 feet on Sunday at the U.S. Open, I’m convinced Spieth’s got plenty of the second ingredient as well. 

JAY COFFIN: Spieth is playing too well not to contend. Sure, more trips around the Old Course would prove valuable but, simply, the man always finds a way to get the ball in the hole. He’ll play well, be in the hunt for most of the week, but will fall a few shots short and collect a solid top-10 finish. It won’t be the result he wants, and we won’t be heading to the PGA Championship with the Grand Slam on the line, but we’ll all think there’s a chance for most of the tournament.


  • EXPECTATIONS FOR TIGER?

POSNANSKI: This has to be the week for Woods. He’s on a golf course he has dominated, his game is finally pointing north and he seems to be healthy and feeling good. I want to believe. But the word in the question is “expectations” and at this point I don’t see how you can expect him to play well. All you can do is hope.

HOGGARD: Current form aside, Woods is optimistic and it is for good reason following his best finish this year in his last start at The Greenbrier Classic (T-32) and a track record at the Old Course that includes two Open victories. Like Spieth, Woods won’t win but he seems poised for a top-25 finish.

LAVNER: I picked him to make the cut at the U.S. Open and how’d that turn out? It’s funny how one middling finish at an easy resort course can sway public perception, but I can’t shake the feeling that Woods is going to play well this week. Is his game sharp enough to win? No, that’s a leap I’m not yet ready to take, but he showed marked improvement with his irons at The Greenbrier, he looked fine during his practice rounds here and his course knowledge will give him a chance to record another high finish on one of his favorite courses. A top-10 isn’t unrealistic.

MOSIER: Sure, there’s the old adage that you “can’t ever count Tiger out,” but I’ll take my chances of counting him out until he gives me reason to count him in. His play this year has been far too erratic, and the negatives far outweigh the positives. He’ll make the cut, but will finish middle of the pack.

COFFIN: No clue where to go with this one. I always thought this would be the place where he has a chance to play his best and following his Greenbrier showing there’s still reason to believe that. But what is Tiger’s best these days? I’m not sure. He’ll make the cut, play four rounds but will be insignificant by Sunday. A top-40 finish is just around the corner.


  • BEST BET TO CONTEND (THROW OUT TOP-THREE FAVORITES)?

POSNANSKI: Henrik Stenson seems like a great bet. He has the length, the slow greens should help his putting, he’s due. With all the talk about crazy weather coming Friday and Saturday, I suspect this one could go to a European player used to the conditions, which also make Justin Rose a threat. Or it could go to someone who knows this golf course well, which brings Louis Oosthuizen into play.

HOGGARD: The last time the Open was played at St. Andrews Paul Casey teed off on Sunday in the final group only to be run over by Louis Oosthuizen, who won by seven strokes. After a few difficult years dealing with injury, the Englishman has returned to top form and into the conversation at the Old Course with six top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season including a runner-up showing three weeks ago at the Travelers Championship.

LAVNER: Hey, it wasn’t a coincidence that Adam Scott put together his best performance of the year at the U.S. Open with Steve Williams back on the bag. Williams brings the best out of his man, and Scott seems to be back on track after a few months of listless play. Though he’s not as strong of a putter as some of the other top contenders, he’s actually better the farther he gets from the hole with the broomstick putter. The 25-footers at St. Andrews are the “make zone,” according to Justin Rose, and so it’s worth noting that Scott ranks in the top 25 in that category. If he can brush in a few of those longer putts he’ll have a great chance to capture the claret jug and redeem his 2012 collapse.

MOSIER: Lee Westwood. He’s making his 71st major championship appearance, so he has plenty of experience to draw from. He finished runner-up the last time the Open was held at St. Andrews, and held the 54-hole lead at Muirfield two years ago, ultimately finishing tied for third place.

COFFIN: I’m on the Louis Oosthuizen bandwagon, if there is such a thing. His impressive U.S. Open performance, coupled with a victory here five years ago at the Old Course, make him impossible to ignore. The only thing that makes me nervous is that he’s streaky. This season he’s collected five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, but also has recorded four missed cuts. Just a feeling that he’ll play well at a place he loves.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.