The Open is wide open

By Jason SobelJuly 13, 2011, 2:33 pm

SANDWICH, England – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Anyone can win this week’s tournament.

On second thought, don’t stop me.

Yeah, I know. It’s the same refrain prior to every event – and especially before the majors. It’s wide open. Anybody’s ballgame. There’s no telling who might win.

Not that we were lying on those other occasions, but this time we really mean it. Seriously. The Open Championship is more open than any other recent championship.

Don’t believe the hype? Let me count the ways…

Deep field

This may sound a bit disingenuous coming off a week in which the top-ranked player in the field won on both the PGA and European tours, but we are firmly ensconced in the Age of Parity.

Three players have won multiple PGA Tour events so far this season, none more than twice. Only two have won more than once on the Euro Tour – and each of them (Luke Donald and Charl Schwartzel) own a victory in the United States at a co-sanctioned event.

“Well, I think when you look at the field, you're going to see there's probably 130 guys that could win this week, [that] have a legitimate chance,” said Ben Curtis, who won here at Royal St. George’s in 2003, the last time this tourney was contested here. “You're going to take here and there 20 that may not be feeling well or their game is really bad or whatever coming in, but pretty much anyone in the field can win this week. It's just a matter of having the right things go your way and making a few putts.”

Hey, he should know. Speaking of which…

Recent history

This course has held a dozen previous editions of the Open, yielding some of the tournament’s greatest champions.

Harry Vardon. Walter Hagen. Bobby Locke. Greg Norman.

And then there was Curtis. Nothing against the 2003 winner, but as a PGA Tour rookie with no prior top-10s to his name and the 396th-ranked player in the world, he was one of the biggest major surprises ever, becoming the first man to win his initial major start since Francis Ouimet in 1913.

Horses for courses, right? Well, this one has proven that quirky, uneven fairways, imaginative bunkering and, as five-time champion Tom Watson proffered, “the most complicated greens and the most severe greens that we play in Open golf,” tend to level the playing field.

Luck of the draw

Lucas Glover owns a major championship. There’s nothing that should or could diminish that accomplishment.

Then again, had the USGA randomly decided to place him in the early-late wave of the 2009 U.S. Open – originally playing Thursday morning and Friday afternoon – he may not own such hardware. As you’ll recall, torrential rains during the early part of the first round at Bethpage left the morning wave struggling to post decent scores, as a large majority of those who made the cut came from the late-early draw, like Glover, who parlayed good fortune into a great result at week’s end.

That’s just one example. It’s hardly a unique circumstance, either, as weather conditions often play a large part in scoring – and at the Open, such conditions can change considerably during the course of the day.

And that’s exactly what the whispers are about beforehand. According to early forecasts, the windiest conditions will come early Thursday and late Friday, meaning a tougher draw for favorites such as Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, while an easier road may be paved for the likes of Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson.

“The draw is a huge part of the Open,” concurred 1999 winner Paul Lawrie. “You hopefully get the luck of the draw and get the better part of the weather.”

Vagaries of links golf

What is the most important aspect of a player’s game this week? According to Watson, it’s the long game.

“You have to drive it well,” he said. “There’s a premium on approach shots on this golf course – the weighted shot, getting the shot the right distances, is going to be a very difficult thing to do. … Hitting the ball the right way is very critical. It’s typical of a links golf course.”

Not to disrespect Old Tom, but many other players polled have contended that this tournament will turn into a short game contest, with the sharpest flatstick determining the overall champion.

Then again, perhaps it’s less technical than mental, as the way a player deals with adversity could lead to his ultimate result.

“At the end of the day, we’re all going to play 72 holes and everyone is going to have a few bad bounces,” said Robert Karlsson, who has finished 14th or better in each of the past two years. “It’s more about how you react to it and handle it.”

So there you have it, golf fans. This week’s winner will need to drive it well, own a precise iron game, hole plenty of putts, have the right mental fortitude, overcome 155 worthy challengers, and – yes – get a little lucky, too.

Hey, it’s like I said earlier. This Open is wide open.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.