Nobilo, Chamblee U.S. Open Q&A

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 12, 2012, 12:30 pm

With U.S. Open week here, Golf Channel analysts Brandel Chamblee and Frank Nobilo open up in a Q&A, with their thoughts on the season's second major championship at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Give us a couple names of who could play the role of Jack Fleck this week at The Olympic Club?

Chamblee: When Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open, Hogan had won four of the last six U.S.Opens he had played and was in the middle of 12 consecutive top-10s in our national championship. He was considered the most accurate player in history, golf’s most intimidating man and by most, the greatest player of all time. Jack was a middle-aged war veteran who had spent 10 years upon his return from WWII, playing professional golf, with no hint of success and no reason to be playing. Tiger Woods is step-for-step today what Ben Hogan was then and it is almost unimaginable someone as obscure as Jack Fleck was in 1955 beating Tiger head-to-head in a playoff at the U.S. Open. The likes of Kevin Streelman, Shane Bertsch or Charlie Wi come to mind, none of whom have won on Tour and have had very little success in majors. Problem is, none of them are on the Nike staff alongside Tiger, which of course was the footnote of all footnotes to Fleck’s victory over Hogan, with clubs hand delivered to him earlier in the week by Mr. Hogan himself. That’s why my money is on Kevin Chappel this week.

Nobilo: Fleck was 33 when he won the U.S. Open and winless on the Tour. One guy who fits the bill is Steve Marino (32), who played just about every tour imaginable before getting on the big tour and has played in enough majors to have an inkling of what to expect. Wouldn't be an unthinkable thing for his first win on the PGA Tour to be a major. Peter Hanson (34) is another that hasn't taken the direct route to success, playing Swedish, Challenge, European and now PGA tours. He’s playing the best golf of his life right now and looking for first U.S. win.

Olympic CC 

How does The Olympic Club set up vs. traditional U.S. Open venues and whom does it favor?

Chamblee: Olympic has in each of the four U.S. Opens played there, allowed two players to separate themselves by week’s end because it demands of players what few courses do. In order to find the fairways there, a player cannot just play “their” shot. On some holes it is a must to shape the ball only one way to find the fairway and then an opposite way to find another. Olympic will intimidate early and then keep players off balance throughout the round with small greens, uneven lies and a return to a more traditional U.S. Open setup. Tiger Woods, with his newfound accuracy will have few challengers, but straight driving Graeme McDowell and Keegan Bradley could add to their major cache this week.

Nobilo: Olympic, while being a great test, has a very unbalanced flow. The course puts both hands on your throat early (the first six holes) then, when you can hardly breathe, lets off ever so gently and gives you three very birdiable holes to finish. It requires a very strong mind to deal with the hardship up front and often being over par early. Small firm greens require soft, high accurate iron play. Thick juicy rough around the greens means chipping out of poor lies will be a regular issue. Slopes on fairways running opposite of the direction to the dogleg gives even the straightest drivers a problem. No surprise it suits the two players playing the best right now Luke Donald and Tiger Woods.

Phil Mickelson 

Will Phil Mickelson ever win a U.S. Open?

Chamblee: Phil Mickelson’s style of play has never been a good fit for the U.S. Open, so while some may be surprised that he has never won our national championship, one of the most baffling things about Phil, to me, is that he has managed to finish second place five times. In 2006, at Winged Foot, Phil’s most famous collapse, he only hit 29 fairways for the week; I suppose if he had hit 30 he would’ve won. The last time the U.S. Open was at Olympic Phil only hit 30 fairways and still finished in the top 10. There is a sense that his time has come and gone in the U.S. Open and like Sam Snead, his legacy, in part, will be that he was one of the best of all time who failed to win this major.

Nobilo: Tough to win a U.S. Open in your prime let alone in your 40s. Not only is time running out for Phil but all the things that make him great - the go for broke mentality and desire to hit driver more often than most - doesn't lend itself to running out the string of pars often required to win a U.S. Open. Like Snead, he will more than likely forever be snakebit at golf's toughest test.

Tiger Woods 

How will Tiger Woods fare?

Chamblee: Tiger Woods’ newfound accuracy and confidence will make him the favorite at Olympic and by Sunday, I doubt if there are more than a few players who will have a chance to beat him. He is in ONE way better than he was for two of his three U.S. Open wins. He is a better driver of the ball than he was, by quite a bit, in 2008 and by a little bit in 2002. In no other way is he better, and in a few notable ways he will struggle at Olympic. Shaping the ball both ways off the tee, a must at Olympic, is still hard for Tiger and with his short irons he has never been worse. With stiffer penalties for a missed green this week, he will pay a penalty for those short-iron misses. He resorts to mechanics when he misses a shot or makes a bogey now far more than ever before, hence the reason he is 136th in the bounce-back stat, which, is the worst of his career. When he played more by feel in 1999-2002 he owned this stat. All of these issues are the larger part of why his scoring average is much higher than it was in ’08, ’02 and ’00, the three years he won the U.S. Open. Still, if not him, then who? The answer to that question is a small list and none of them has the accumulated advantages of owning 14 major titles.

Nobilo: Tiger Woods has a great chance to add to his major haul this week. Improved tee to green play plus his ability to hit the high soft landing iron approach will be well suited to Olympic’s small greens. Two recent wins on tough courses will continue to add confidence to his short game, which had been down a notch or two from his halcyon years.

Rory McIlroy 

Is Rory McIlroy more likely to defend his U.S. Open title or miss the cut?

Chamblee: Willie Anderson, John McDermott, Bobby Jones, Ralph Guldahl, Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange are the only men to successfully defend a U.S. Open so just from a historical standpoint, Rory McIlroy is a bad bet to win back-to-back titles. The infrequency of the occurrence is testament to the difficulty of having fate kiss you on the shoulder two years in a row. On the other hand, McIlroy’s early success in majors is reminiscent of Bobby Jones and perhaps he will show us all again just how special he is.

Nobilo: In the last 60-plus years only two players have ever successfully defended their U.S. Open wins. The easy money is for the weekend siesta as opposed to the defense for Rory. But if there is one thing we learned about Rory last year is that he became a better player after the Sunday at Augusta than before. Consequently there is no reason to think his latest play won’t add more steel to the machine. Last year is a tough act to follow but I don't see him taking an early exit.

What will the lead headline be Sunday evening when it’s all over?

Chamblee: Olympic, Giant Killer, Again

Nobilo: Brit Takes the Torch at Olympic

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''

Park's stumble creates wide-open finale

By Randall MellNovember 18, 2017, 11:46 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park didn’t turn the CME Group Tour Championship into a runaway Saturday at Tiburon Golf Club.

She left with bloody fingernails after a brutal day failing to hold on to her spot atop the leaderboard.

OK, they weren’t really bloody, but even the unflappable Park wasn’t immune to mounting pressure, with the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the money-winning title among the prizes she knew were within reach when she teed it up.

“It’s honestly some of the worst pressure,” Stacy Lewis said of CME week. “It’s so much pressure.  It’s just really hard to free yourself up and play golf.”

Lewis isn’t in the mix for all those prizes this year, but the two-time Rolex Player of the Year and two-time Vare Trophy winner knows what the full weight of this week’s possibilities bring.

“It’s almost nice to come here without all that pressure, but you want to be in that situation,” Lewis said. “It’s just really tough.”

Park is no longer in charge at Tiburon.

This championship is wide, wide open with a four-way tie for first place and 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Park is one shot back after stumbling to a 3-over-par 75.

Count Michelle Wie among the four tied for the lead after charging with a 66.

Former world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn (67), Suzann Pettersen (69) and Kim Kaufman (64) are also atop the leaderboard.

Kaufman was the story of the day, getting herself in contention with a sizzling round just two weeks after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.

Park is in a seven-way tie for fifth place just one shot back.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Lexi Thompson (69) is in that mix a shot back, as is Lewis (67), who is seeking to add a second title this year to her emotional win for Houston hurricane relief.

For Wie, winning the tournament will be reward enough, given how her strong rebound this year seemed derailed in September by an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie fought her way back from two of the most disappointing years of her career, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” Wie said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun. That’s when I play my best.”

All the subplots make Sunday so much more complicated for Park and Thompson, who are best positioned for a giant haul of hardware.

They have the most to gain in the final round.

Park has already clinched the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, but she can add the Rolex Player of the Year title, joining Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win both those awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978.

A fifth place finish or better could give Park the Player of the Year Award outright, depending what others do.

“There are a lot of top players right now at the top of the leaderboard,” Park said. “Keeping my focus will be key.”

Thompson can still take home the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy and the CME Globe jackpot. She needs to win the tournament Sunday to win Player of the Year.

Like Park, Thompson is trying not to think about it all of that.

“I treat every tournament the same,” Thompson said. “I go into it wanting to win. I’m not really thinking about anything else.”

The Vare Trophy for low scoring average is Thompson’s to lose.

Park has to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson on Sunday to have a shot at the trophy, and they are tied at 9-under overall.

The money-winning title is Park’s to lose. So Yeon Ryu has to win the tournament Sunday to have a chance to wrestle the title from Park, but Ryu has to pass 31 players to do so.

The CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot remains more up for grabs, with Thompson and Park best positioned to win it, though Jutanugarn is poised to pounce if both stumble. A lot is still possible in the race for the jackpot.

The pressure will be turned way up on the first tee Sunday.

“There is always that little bit of adrenaline,” Thompson said. “You just have to tame it and control it.”

Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

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Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”