Punch Shot: Three questions heading into U.S. Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 17, 2015, 9:49 pm

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Will Tiger Woods make the cut? Will the winner be someone ranked inside the top 10 in the world or outside of it? How much of a story will the golf course be by week’s end? Our team at Chambers Bay debate these three topics.

TIGER: MAKE OR MISS CUT?

REX HOGGARD: Despite an air of cautious optimism, this will be a short week for Woods. Even if he can find fairways, which he was unable to do in his last start at the Memorial, Woods’ short game has not exactly been sharp this season and that adds up to his first missed cut at the U.S. Open since 2006.

RYAN LAVNER: Call me crazy – delusional? – but Woods will make the cut this week. Watching him during his practice sessions here at Chambers, it’s clear that his iron game is sharper than it was at Memorial. Yes, Tuesday is a different animal than Thursday, but it’s progress nonetheless. Plus, as erratic as he’s been over his past two starts, Tiger is still making cuts, first at The Players and then at Muirfield Village. That streak continues here.

WILL GRAY: Miss. Walking around Chambers Bay earlier this week, I was struck by how penal this layout becomes when you veer off-target. Woods has been doing plenty of veering in recent weeks, and I don’t expect that to change here. There is no aspect of his game which he can rely on as an anchor, and with 11 double bogeys or worse in his last eight rounds, it seems Woods will log plenty of big numbers. He insists that the end of his “shift” transition is near, but I don’t see any light at the end of this particular tunnel.

JAY COFFIN: Sadly, Woods will miss the cut here this week and question marks will remain. He needs reps, but here he’ll get the weekend off. His game just is not nearly sharp enough to play more than two days. Sure, fairways here are generous, but they’re still extremely missable. If he hits is half as poorly as he did two weeks ago at the Memorial it could be a long 36 holes. Hope I’m wrong, certain I’m not.


WINNER: INSIDE OR OUTSIDE TOP 10?

HOGGARD: While the uncertainty of Chambers Bay has many predicting a first-time major winner this week, the stars atop the World Golf Ranking have proven themselves particularly adept at challenging conditions and quick adjustments, particularly the trio of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler who have won four of the last eight PGA Tour events.

LAVNER: My top three picks to win are Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy, in that order, so looks like we’re taking a top-10 player by default. That’s the recent trend, anyway; Eight of the past 10 majors have been won by a player ranked inside the top 20. Sure, there may be a few more odd bounces at Chambers, but the difficulty of the course should separate the field. Keep in mind that when the U.S. Amateur was held here in 2010, the No. 1-ranked player in the world won.

GRAY: I’ll take the field vs. the top 10 in this scenario at most Open venues, but particularly one as unpredictable as Chambers Bay. Even the top players in the world will not be immune from the quirks and bounces around these greens, and imagination and skill will have to be supplanted with a little bit of luck to contend. When the field option includes players like Jimmy Walker, Hideki Matsuyama and – dare I say – Phil Mickelson, I’ll side with the “bottom” 146 guys.

COFFIN: Dustin Johnson is my pick to win it all, but I’ll still play the odds and go with someone outside the top 10. Too many studly bombers with tons to prove in major championships all reside outside the top 10 and there are about 60 players who have a legitimate shot at winning. Everything about this week feels unpredictable. Makes sense that we’ll end with an unpredictable winner.


CHAMBERS BAY: HOW MUCH OF A STORY?

HOGGARD: By Sunday Chambers Bay will be little more than a bit player in this week’s story despite the attention that has been focused on the layout. Executive director Mike Davis and the USGA can’t have it any other way because if the former sand quarry is still the story on Sunday something went terribly wrong.

LAVNER: At the end of the week? Hopefully not much, if Mike Davis does his job properly. He has so many options here that he can make the winning score 10 under or 10 over. With perfect weather in the forecast, there is no excuse for losing this golf course. Fans will enjoy the fact that players have options – off the tee, from the fairway, around the green. OK, so maybe the course will be a significant part of the story after all. It’ll be the stage for some supreme shot making.

GRAY: Much like last year at Pinehurst No. 2, I expect the significance of the course as a story to give way to the actual play as the week progresses. Chambers Bay is a novelty, and there will surely be a few bumps in the road this week that make for an interesting highlight reel, but at the end of the day, the story will be and should be about the player who leaves with the trophy and those he beat out.

COFFIN: It will be an afterthought, unless we have a Shinnecock Hills 2004 moment. Mike Davis is too smart to let that happen. Players have not been effusive in their praise of Chambers Bay, but they haven’t bashed it yet either. It’s likely that the course will push many to their limits, and there will be some goofy things that happen, but it won’t be unfair. Unfair equals complaints. Fair means we only concentrate on the winner by Sunday evening.

Getty Images

Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

Getty Images

Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

Getty Images

Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

Getty Images

Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”