Wet and wild Open Championship on tap

By Joe PosnanskiJuly 15, 2015, 5:50 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Everybody’s talking about Friday. There are a million storylines leading into the Open Championship, ranging from Rory McIlroy’s soccer skills to Tiger Woods’ optimism to Dustin Johnson’s shot at redemption to Rickie Fowler’s momentum to the glorious history of the Old Course to what you would expect to be the biggest story: Jordan Spieth’s shot at golf history.

But every story at the moment is being eclipsed by an oncoming storm that, if you believe some of the more passionate of the weather-watchers, could be biblical. Listen to the dueling Watson weather reports.

“Are you ready for the gales?” Tom Watson asks.

“The way I like to move it, heavy winds is pretty difficult,” Bubba Watson says.

“Friday you’ll see a lot of scores in the 80s,” Tom Watson says.

“I don’t really play good in the rain,” Bubba Watson says.

“You’ll see this course takes its toll,” Tom Watson says.

“Lucky for me we don’t play every course like this,” Bubba Watson says.

This is the level of anxiousness, nervousness, excitement and panic people are having about the potential weather front coming in. At the moment – and it changes moment to moment – the forecast includes wind gusts of 25 mph late Thursday, “a spell of heavy rain” Friday morning and strengthening winds Friday afternoon that could gust up to 40 mph. Well, this is the Open Championship, and in the end, it’s all about the weather.

“How frustrating,” one reporter asked Jordan Spieth, “is it for a golfer to have something out of your control when you’re trying to do something special?”


Tee times: 144th Open Championship


“I think it’s fun,” Spieth said, and he was smiling big. This is the wonder of Jordan Spieth. Nothing seems to faze him. Nothing seems to frustrate him. He is, of course, trying to do something that has not been done since Ben Hogan in 1953: Win the first three major championships of the year. He won the Masters wire to wire and then showed mettle by winning the U.S. Open on the chewed-up greens and roller-coaster mounds of Chambers Bay. Now, he’s here at the Home of Golf, looking at a raging weather forecast, and he’s thinking it will be fun.

“We come over here because we want to embrace the opportunity of handling these conditions,” he says. “I understand that there’s a possibility for a lot of this tournament to be dependent on the draw the first few days, at least for a few strokes. … Going into it, you have to be as positive as can be.

“Friday looks like it's going to be brutal for everybody. Looks like rain and wind in the morning and then extreme winds in the afternoon. So I don't really have a preference on which one I'd rather see.”

He doesn’t get a choice. He will play Thursday morning and then again Friday afternoon, so he will likely be dealing with the high winds. Then again, he might be dealing with sideways rain. Then again, he might be dealing with bursts of sunshine and a quiet wind. In truth, he will likely be dealing with all three because that’s how it goes at St. Andrews, where locals like to say that you can get all four seasons in just 18 holes.

Spieth’s quest for his third straight major championship – and his quest to keep alive the potential for a Grand Slam – has given this Open Championship a buzz, but there remains a lingering disappointment because the world’s No. 1 player, Rory McIlroy, is not here. This seemed the perfect place to unleash a rivalry between Spieth and McIlroy, who at the moment own all four of golf’s major championship trophies. Golf really hasn’t had a competitive rivalry in a long time. But McIlroy badly injured his ankle while playing soccer with friends in early July. Throughout the week, people have contemplated sadly how dominant he might have been on a wet and windy course where, as a 21-year-old, he shot an opening-round 63.

Without McIlroy here, much of the non-Spieth attention has focused on Dustin Johnson, the bomber who three-putted the final hole at the U.S. Open and lost to Spieth. The two will be paired the first two days, which both say is a comfortable pairing even after the U.S. Open clash. Johnson’s immense talent has never been in question. He crushes his drives and has surprising touch for someone who hits the ball so far. He played in the 2010 Open at St. Andrews and played pretty well, working his way into the top 10 after the first three days and finished 14th. He says he is a much better player now than he was then.

“I think you’ve got to enjoy links golf,” Johnson says of the Old Course. “You’ve got to be able to use your imagination around here. It definitely helps the more times you play it to know the bounces, where to land the ball, where you want to be at in the fairway … I think the conditions now, they’re really good.”

Then, there’s Rickie Fowler, who is coming off victory at the Scottish Open and has moved up to No. 5 in the world. Fowler finished top 5 in all four major championships last year and he also played pretty well at the last British Open at St. Andrews five years ago. He senses this is a great opportunity for him because of his lifelong love of links golf.

And finally, there’s Tiger Woods, a two-time Open champion at St. Andrews, who has not won a major championship in more than seven years. He comes off perhaps his best round in two years – a bogey-free round at The Greenbrier two weeks ago – and he says that he’s hitting the ball beautifully on the driving range. Woods rather famously tends to put a positive spin on everything he does – he says negativity is bad for his golf – but there are numerous people around St. Andrews who believe that this time the positive talk is for real and that the Woods revival begins this week. He’s healthy, he’s hungry and he’s playing on a golf course he knows as well as anybody in the world.

“I think experience counts a lot with the varied wind conditions,” Woods says. “I think that’s where experience comes into play. You have to hit the ball well. You have to really lag putt well here. But if you haven’t seen the golf course in the various winds, bunkers that you don’t even see on the yardage book because you’re not playing it, with that wind all of a sudden they become apparent. … Over the years, this is my fifth Open here. And I’ve seen a lot of different winds.”

In other words, Woods will not dread what’s coming Friday the way some of the other golfers might. Then again, Jordan Spieth does not seem to be dreading it either. He did not arrive until Monday, after he had won the John Deere Classic. He had not had the chance to come visit the golf course this year; the closest he had come was when he played St. Andrews in the golf simulator he has in his home.

“I’m in no way saying that that's what I did to prepare for this Open,” Spieth said. “It was fun and it certainly was [valuable], just because it's so realistic. You can see kind of the start lines where you need to hit shots. But then you get out here, and it could change very much depending on the wind.”

Then Spieth smiled again. Fun? You bet.

“The course was a lot easier with 68 degrees and no breeze coming out of the air-conditioner in my room,” he said, breaking up the room. He does seem unflappable. When the wind comes, as it surely will come, we will find out of if he really is unflappable.

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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.”

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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. 

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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. 

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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.”