A British Open That Is Wide Open

By Golf Channel NewsroomJuly 13, 2004, 4:00 pm
TROON, Scotland -- Despite two U.S. Open titles and a wealth of talent, Ernie Els used to show up at major championships and try to convince himself he could win.
 
It was a one-sided argument that he usually lost.
 
'It was difficult for not only myself but for other players to really believe that you can go out there and play your game and think it's going to be good enough,' Els said Tuesday at Royal Troon.
 
That was at the height of Tiger Woods' incomparable run through the majors, when he won seven out of 11 majors, set scoring records in each Grand Slam event and held all four trophies at the same time.
 
Els showed up at Royal Troon with high hopes and in a new role - the betting favorite to win the British Open, the first time at a major since the 1997 Masters that the best odds were assigned to someone other than Woods.
 
And the Big Easy didn't need a betting slip to know that.
 
'Right now it's different,' he said. 'I feel that when he plays really well, he's going to shoot 67. But if I play well, I can shoot that score, as well. And I can keep doing that for three or four days. I think we're on a more level playing field now, and maybe because Tiger Woods has come back to the field a little bit.'
 
Ladbrokes listed Els as the 7-1 favorite Tuesday, with Woods right behind at 8-1.
 
To get an idea how much has changed in two years, consider that Woods was the 4-1 favorite going into Muirfield - not only to win the British Open, but to win the final two majors for the Grand Slam.
 
'Tiger will be back to his dominance, if not this week, very soon. I'm sure of that,' Thomas Bjorn said. 'But I just think everybody else sees themselves being able to play to that level.'
 
Maybe that's what gives this British Open a truly 'open' feel at Royal Troon.
 
Phil Mickelson has a green jacket to go with that wry smile, a winner at the Masters for his first major. The only thing that stopped Lefty from the first two legs of the Grand Slam was Retief Goosen, a smooth South African whose second U.S. Open victory might finally make people aware of his greatness.
 
'Where Tiger was and where he is now, I mean we're in different worlds now,' Els said. 'A lot of the players feel that we can compete with him now at the highest level. He's still playing great golf. He's still not that far off.'
 
Is he still No. 1?
 
Maybe not after this week.
 
Els had a chance to replace him last month at the U.S. Open. Two shots behind and playing in the final group, Els made double bogey on the first hole and crashed to an 80.
 
He gets another chance at Royal Troon, where a victory coupled with Woods finishing 17th or worse would end Woods' run of 257 consecutive weeks - dating to the 1999 PGA Championship - at No. 1 in the world.
 
'To be No. 1 in this day and age, with this many great players, would be quite something,' Els said. 'But for me, to win this tournament is more important. To win majors is more important for my career.'
 
Still, Els knows there is a long road ahead of him at Royal Troon, a links known for its tough inward nine holes, the tiny 'Postage Stamp' green on the 123-yard eighth hole and putting surfaces as pure as any in the British Open.
 
Mickelson has never finished in the top 10 at a British Open, his weak link in the majors. But he has never prepared so well for the Open, playing Royal Troon last Wednesday, on Friday after he missed the cut at Loch Lomond and Monday morning in what probably was his final tuneup.
 
Along the way, he has taken copious notes of where the ball is likely to wind up after traveling along the humps and bumps of the firm linksland.
 
'What I've tried to do this week ... is to understand where balls will tend to end up and try to be effective from there to the hole,' Mickelson said. 'I feel much more confident than I have in the past because I have come in and prepared properly.'
 
He also was prepared for a question about his chief rival, and whether Woods has lost an aura of invincibility.
 
'Well, that's a tough one to answer,' Mickelson said, before deciding to go no further.
 
Woods played another early practice round, teeing off by 6:30 a.m. and was off the course about three hours later. He doesn't have fond memories of Royal Troon, even though he shares the course record with a 64 in the third round during the 1997 British Open that helped him to a tie for 24th.
 
He came undone with a triple bogey on the 11th hole in the first round, a quadruple bogey on the 10th hole in the second round, and a triple bogey on the Postage Stamp on the final day.
 
All it takes is a couple of bad swings to get in trouble at Troon. And that's what has kept Woods winless in the last eight majors, with only one PGA Tour victory more than halfway through this season.
 
Woods didn't say his swing was 'close' because no one asked him - they have heard the same answer the last three months. But he has looked relaxed all week, not outwardly bothered by going two years without a major, or by the posse of players closing in on his No. 1 ranking.
 
'I've always played my best when I've gone out and stayed focused on what I have to do and not worry about anything else,' Woods said.
 
When he played his best, he almost always won.
 
Now, he might understand how Els and everyone else used to feel at majors.
 
Will it be enough?
 
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    Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

    Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

    That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

    Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

    From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

    Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

    She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

    She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

    Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

    With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

    The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

    She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

    The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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    One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

    Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

    Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

    Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

    Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

    Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

    Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

    Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

    David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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    DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

    By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

    The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

    ''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

    In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

    ''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

    The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

    ''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

    The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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    Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

    Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

    Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

    As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

    Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.