This One Open to All

By Mercer BaggsJune 10, 2003, 4:00 pm
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Tiger Woods will not win this years U.S. Open. Or so say a few brave prognosticators.
 
They say Olympia Fields straight-forward, relatively short demeanor will provide more competition than last year ' when he was the only man to finish under par, or in 2000 ' when he won by 15 strokes.
 
To that, Tiger agrees: The depth of challengers is greater than that of a year ago.
 
Reason No. 2 Tiger wont win ' so they say ' is because Woods hasnt won in his last ' Oh, my gosh! ' four whole starts. Hes encountered yet another slump. To that, Woods says: I dont think Ive ever been in a slumpEver since I came out of the womb and Ive started playing golf, Ive had a pretty good career.
 
En garde!
 
Woods enters the second major of the season trying to become the first player since Curtis Strange, in 1988 and 89 to successfully defend his Open title.
 
Hes won the Masters two years in a row, and done the same at the PGA Championship. He has only one British Open crown, and tied for 25th the following year. After winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he tied for 12th in 2001 at Southern Hills.
 
Olympia Fields has drawn comparisons to Southern Hills, where Retief Goosen won in an 18-hole playoff over Mark Brooks, and where Tiger tied for 12th.
 
It wasnt a beast like the Black Course, where several players complained it suited only one kind of player ' the kind who won.
 
This course is certainly more of an open venue ' as in open to all. At 7,190 yards on the card, it is just 24 yards shorter than the Black Course. But the North Course's length is spread throughout its entirety. There are no 260-yard required carries off the tee, and only one par-4 hole ' as opposed to four at Bethpage ' in excess of 475 yards.
 
It is because of the difference in venue ' not just between this year and the last, but from year-to-year over the years ' Woods says makes it so difficult to repeat as champion.
 
I think when you go to certain courses, they just fit your eye. And, all of a sudden, the next year its a completely different golf course, he explained.
 
This one seems to fit many an eye. Including that of Masters champion Mike Weir, who believes his game is more suited to succeed at a U.S. or British Open venue than at a lengthy Augusta National.
 
One of those two tournaments I thought would have been my first (major victory), he said.
 
What makes me feel that I can have a chance hereIm not going to be hitting 3-woods and 5-woods and 3-irons into every hole. Theres going to be a couple of holes like that, but for the most part its going to be a lot of mid-irons, which I think is the overall strength of my game.
 
Davis Love III is a bomber off the tee who enjoys his share of traditional set-ups ' like Winged Foot, where he won the 1997 PGA Championship. He said he also likes the novelty of playing a new layout.
 
Were thrilled to get a course like this, especially one that not anybody in this field really knows the golf course. So its a fresh, new thing for us, and its very exciting, he said.
 
This course lets more people in the game than Bethpage.
 
Phil Mickelson agreed: Out of the number of players in the field, I see a great number of players that could potentially win, he said.
 
Mickelson, of course, is still in search of that elusive first major championship ' he's now 0-43, if you're keeping count ' though he does have a pair of runner-up finishes in this event (1999 and 2002).
 
On the other hand, Ernie Els is a two-time Open champion. He prevailed in 1994 at Oakmont and again in 1997 at Congressional.
 
'It's absolutely the same,' Els said when asked how this course compared to the two on which he won. 'It's not playing all that long, but I think the way the USGA set it up this year it's very fair at the moment. The greens are difficult, very undulated. They've got a lot of break on them.'
 
Els got off to a torrid start this season, capturing the first two tournaments on the PGA Tour, and winning four times worldwide before March. But he hasnt won since, thanks in part to a nagging wrist injury.
 
This wrist is not an issue at all,' he said, but added that putting is. 'I don't feel very comfortable with the putter. But I spent a lot of time last week (practicing), and so it's just a matter of time, I think, before I start playing the way I want to play again.'
 
The same can be said for Woods. He is no stranger to success in the Chi-town area. He won the 1997 and 99 Western Opens at Cog Hill in Lemont. He also won the 99 PGA Championship at Medinah.
 
He got a sneak peek at Olympia Fields a couple of weeks ago when he played a practice round with Michael Jordan. By his caddies estimation, Woods managed to break par that day.
 
Monday, he got in another 18 holes, playing without haste with Hunter Mahan and Thomas Bjorn. Tuesday, he played another early-morning practice round in the rain with Mark OMeara, Jay Haas and Jay's son Bill..
 
Its a little different than what we played nine days ago. They cropped the rough last night. I dont think theyre going to cut it again for the rest of the week, so it should get up a little bit, he said.
 
But the greens are certainly faster than we were playing, and theyll get up to speed for the tournament. Other than that, everything is the same.
 
And, no need to worry, everything is on track with his game, despite having failed to crack the top-10 since his victory at Bay Hill in March.
 
My game is pretty good, I think. I hit the ball well in Germany, I just didnt make any putts ' and if you saw the greens, youd know why. Then I hit the ball well at Memorial, and I just had nine holes there Saturday afternoon that cost me my chance of winning the tournament, he said.
 
Im hitting the ball well this week so far. Im pleased at the signs that Im showing.
 
And, getting back to that perceived slump, Woods says much of what he does is hyperbolized ' on both extremes.
 
I think Ive had some success, but I think sometimes all of you can be a bit dramatic in your writing styles ' very flowery at times, he told the media. Ive hit some good shots, but they havent been that good. And then Ive hit some bad shots, and they havent been that bad.
 
Touch.
 
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  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.