A Royal Pain

By Mercer BaggsJuly 17, 2003, 4:00 pm
SANDWICH, England -- Tiger Woods lost a ball. Ernie Els lost his form. Greg Norman lost track of time. And more than a few players may have lost their minds.
The winds have shifted at Royal St. Georges, and theyre creating quite a stir.
By the time everything settled Thursday, unheralded Hennie Otto was atop the big yellow scoreboard. He fired a 3-under 68 to take the outright lead on Day 1 ' a day of survival ' in the 132nd Open Championship.
Norman, who won the last time this venue played host, in 1993, is one shot back, as is Davis Love III, who is seeking his fourth victory of the season.
Korean S.K. Ho and Swedens Fredrik Jacobson are at 1-under. Only five players broke par in round one.
Woods is in search of his first major title in more than a year. And he didnt help his cause early on. His very first swing of the tournament resulted in a lost ball. He took triple bogey on the first hole, and made three bogeys in a row on the back nine. Still, he managed a 2-over 73, and is just five off the lead.
'I think any time you start off the way I did, to fight back and get it back to 2-over par ' it wasnt easy, said Woods, who has won four times this year. I kept myself in the tournament.
Els embarked on his journey at the same time Woods concluded his ' just when the weather conditions started to worsen. A wind speed that started in single digits grew to 20 mph by the time Els hit the course, and reached 35 mph during his round.
The defending champion, who has won five times around the world this year, failed to make a birdie. He shot 7-over 78.
I said before the tournament, if we have tough conditions on this golf course were going to have problems, said Els. Once the clouds blew over I knew we were going to have a difficult day.
His primary problem was on the greens. Els had three 3-putts over his first nine holes, and 34 putts total.
When the wind is blowing that hard, at my height (6 feet, 3 inches), it makes it difficult to stay steady, he said.
The worlds No. 2 isnt about to concede just yet, though. He opened in 79 in this years Masters and came back to finish tied for sixth.
Thats what I need, you know. I need something special. Hopefully well get a break in the weather tomorrow morning. Thats the only thing I can hope for, he said. If I can get it back to even par by the end of Sunday, we'll see.
The weather reminded many of the third round last year at Muirfield, when Els held on for a 72, while players like Woods couldnt break 80.
I think the weather conditions there were worse ' with the rain and cold. I hung in there with my short game, he said.
Other major names had major problems as well Thursday.
Five-time Open Champion Tom Watson played his final two holes in 3-over to finish at even par. Masters champion Mike Weir had a 74, as did U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk. Vijay Singh shot 75. David Toms posted 80, while 2001 Open Champion David Duval sunk to an 83.
Phil Mickelson played a 10-hole stretch that included only one par. He was at 3-under when he reached the ninth hole, but was 3-over by the time he walked off the 16th. He was forced to call a penalty on himself when his ball moved some four inches after addressing it with his putter and shot 74.
Colin Montgomerie played only seven holes before pulling out after injuring his wrist and knee during a fall at his hotel Thursday morning. Jerry Kelly withdrew when he sustained a hand injury on the 17th ' this after suffering the humiliation of an 11 at the par-4 first.
Then there was Otto.
The 27-year-old South African, who underwent back surgery two years ago, is making his Open debut. He is most known for a tantrum he threw in the 2001 South African Masters. After shooting 80 in the second round to miss the cut, he broke all of his clubs and tossed them, along with the bag, into a river.
'I'm much calmer now, to be honest,' he stated. 'My attitude has changed. I'm still a little bit edgy sometimes, but that's changed a lot.'
Tiger might have felt like doing a little damage to his driver. The 2000 British Open champion hit only three of the 14 mounded fairways. Actually, he hit more than that, but the ball wouldn't stay on the lumpy surfaces.
'I have to say the majority of the drives I hit today werent very good. And the ones I hit well didnt end up in the fairway either, so thats a little frustrating, he said.
But none of the stray shots were more damaging than the first one. Woods pushed his tee shot at the opening hole into the shin-high heather. He ' and about 25 others ' were unable to find his ball following a lengthy search, and was forced to head back to the tee box, where he again pushed a driver into the junk.
Its frustrating when the forecaddies didnt have an idea where the ball was, Woods said of his first drive. The gallery was trying to help us, trying to tell us where the ball went in, but unfortunately we couldnt find it.
Woods eventually carded a 7. He battled back to 1-over, but bogeyed 12, 13 and 14. At the par-4 12th, he tried to evacuate a pot bunker, only to have his ball catch the embankment and ricochet left. Two holes later he had more problems in the rough, when he was only able to advance his second shot some 20 yards in the heather.
The round was salvaged, however, with birdies at 15 and 16.
Woods and company were forced to adjust to different conditions than the ones they had been practicing under earlier in the week. Thursday, temperatures in the 60s were complimented with early, scattered showers. The wind, which had been blowing in a mild easterly direction, picked up steam and shifted to the prevailing southwest.
'We're hitting totally different clubs than we did in the practice rounds,' said Woods. '(On) 16 I hit sand-wedge in the practice round and today I ripped a 5-iron; 17, I hit 3-iron, wedge, and today I ripped a drive and a 4-iron.'
Such was inevitable, said players, and when it happened, course knowledge would become paramount.
Enter Norman.
Despite being a 48-year-old with an ailing back, the Aussie proved Thursday that the course is still to his liking.
He birdied the first, eagled the par-5 fourth and birdied the par-3 11th to reach 4-under. Alone in the lead at the time, the two-time Open Champion (1986) bogeyed the par-5 14th as well as the par-4 finishing hole.
'It was a very difficult day,' said Norman, who has competed in just two prior events this year due to his back problems. 'Every hole, I hit a punch shot. I don't think I hit a full shot outside of the driver.
'This 69 has got me in pretty good momentum to take me into the next 54 holes.'
Love also dropped a shot at the last to shoot 2-under 69. Love, who has only three top-10 finishes in 16 previous Open starts, arrived in the United Kingdom eight days ago and has been living off a steady diet of different golf courses.
Its like any other Open course, he said of Royal St. Georges, where he missed the cut in 1993. If you hit it in the wrong place, youre going to pay the price.
And plenty did on Day 1.
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    Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

    SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

    The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

    It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

    “It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

    Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

    According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

    “I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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    Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

    And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

    As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

    He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

    “I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

    Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

    “I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

    Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

    Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

    “If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

    Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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    Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

    After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

    With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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    “Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

    “I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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    Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    “I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

    “I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

    On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

    Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

    Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

    “We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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    Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

    The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

    Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

    Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

    Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

    • Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

    • Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

    • Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1