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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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

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Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.