The Olympic Club primed for difficult U.S. Open

By Jason SobelJune 13, 2012, 10:52 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me right around this time every year, shame on the world's best golfers.

There is a U.S. Open Championship taking place this week, which means there is already major championship-level grousing about just how difficult the conditions are going to be.

Without fail, it happens in the days prior to every edition of the game’s greatest annual four-day grind. Competitors are asked their thoughts on everything from the severity of the setup to what the winning score will be. Almost instinctually, their brows become furrowed and their noses scrunched as if they just a sucked a bag of lemons. Like patients being interviewed before a root canal, one-by-one they proffer the cloudiest of gloom-and-doom scenarios.

The glass isn’t half-empty. It’s leaking from all sides.

“There's something on every hole that can get you,” Bubba Watson explained. “It makes it very difficult.”


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“I think this probably tests the player,” Tiger Woods said, “more than any other championship.”

“Most of the time par is a good score and it's a grind out there,” Luke Donald added. “They make it tough on us.”

The “they” in question is the USGA, which to its own admission isn’t running a daycare center for the world’s best golfers. When asked after the appropriately nicknamed “Massacre at Winged Foot” in 1974 whether the organization was trying to embarrass competitors, executive director Sandy Tatum famously responded, “No, we're trying to identify them.'

And boy, have they identified them. Shaking their heads and shaking their fists. Muttering and shuddering. Psyched out instead of psyched up.

It’s one reason that Jack Nicklaus – winner of four of these tournaments in his career – once said, “A lot of players are eliminated the moment the tournament starts.”

Prior to Rory McIlroy winning last year’s edition of the event with a 16-under-par score on a soggy Congressional Country Club, the previous 10 champions had combined for just a 14-under-par total, with two winners at over par and two others at even.

To most competitors, that’s scarier than tight-roping across the Golden Gate Bridge.

“It's going to be all about mental,” said Watson, who won the Masters two months ago. “You know you're going to make mistakes; you know you're going to make bogeys. You have to keep going. What is par, 70? It's not really 70. It's over par. Five-over at the end of the week, just like at Oakmont [in 2007], probably has a great shot at winning.”

This week’s U.S. Open will take place at The Olympic Club, which hasn’t been part of the host rotation since 1998, giving players ample reason to be sufficiently freaked out entering the first round.

Already we’ve heard pity parties from the field, as if everyone who isn’t competing this week should sympathize with their plight of having to play in the national championship.

The opening six holes are supposedly the most brutal opening stretch ever witnessed; some have argued that 4- or 5-over could be among the best scores on those holes each day. The 13th and 14th holes have nowhere to miss. The 16th hole measures 670 yards, though it may be more imposing to say it’s nearly two-fifths of a mile. The final hole features a green that could fit inside your kitchen.

Sound intimidating? Perhaps Matt Kuchar summed it up best when he deadpanned, “The first 18 holes are extremely difficult.”

It’s enough to leave those watching on the couch at home quivering to the point that Cheetos cheese dust is readily shaking off their fingers.

It also leads to an all-too-appropriate question in response: Are this week’s gloom-and-doom proclamations legitimate or will they be completely unfounded?

We won’t have an answer to that query until the tournament is well under way, but oftentimes this is the case – and maybe it’s by design.

Just as players in the current NBA Finals will flop, dive and otherwise work to convince the referees for favorable calls, this is golf’s version of that strategy. Think about it: If players maintained this was a relatively easy setup prior to the tournament rounds commencing, they’d likely find a more difficult track come Thursday morning. Instead, the opposite is true, with pessimistic attitudes likely driving a kinder, gentler USGA plan that will negate any potentially “unfair” conditions.

Whatever the case, the song remains the same entering this U.S. Open. Listen to the competitors and they’ll have you believe this tournament is golf’s equivalent to reaching the final level of Angry Birds.

We should reserve assessment until play has started and scores are actually being posted. If you believe those who have reached this level, though, expect more angry this week and fewer birds.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).