Troons Top Ranked Contenders

By Mercer BaggsJuly 14, 2004, 4:00 pm
They don't always win, but they're always among the favorites. When it comes time to project the top contenders at a major championship -- save the dark horses and the chic picks -- you need look no further than the players at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.
 
Here is a detailed look - including pros and cons - at the top 10 players in the world and defending champion Ben Curtis as they ready for the third major of the season, the 133rd British Open at Royal Troon.
 
Woods, Tiger Name: Tiger Woods
World Ranking: 1st
Appearances: 9
Best Finish: 1st (2000, St. Andrews)

 
The Facts: Woods has been the betting favorite at every major since he won the 1997 Masters. This time, he shares that honor with Ernie Els. But is Tiger the man to beat? Woods has yet to win a stroke-play event this season. He's inconsistent off the tee and his normally reliable putter has taken the week off each of the first two majors. Even he had a little chuckle prior to the Western Open when he once again said he close to putting it all together. But he is Tiger Woods, and he is an eight-time major champion. And the 2003 British Open was one of the few majors over the last two years in which he had a chance to win.
 
Quote: 'I'm very happy with it.' ' Tiger Woods, when asked after the Western Open about the overall state of his game heading to the British Open. When asked if he would expound on that statement, he responded, 'No.'
 
Ernie Els Name: Ernie Els
World Ranking: 2nd
Appearances: 13
Best Finish: 1st (2002, Muirfield)

 
The Facts: Els has won three times around the world this year. His game is there, but what about his head? Els has had to endure a pair of crushing defeats in the first two majors. Phil Mickelson ripped the green jacket off his shoulders at Augusta. He was able to overcome that and put himself in position to win the U.S. Open. But, paired in the final twosome with friend and rival Retief Goosen, he shot 80 Sunday at Shinnecock. That one may prove more difficult to overcome.
 
Quote: 'It would have been great to defend my title at Loch Lomond, but I cant complain about finishing tied-third. I played a lot better over the weekend and felt like my game was coming together pretty nicely. That puts me in a positive frame of mind for this week.' ' Ernie Els, on his website, discussing the state of his game heading into his weekend.
 
Vijay Singh Name: Vijay Singh
World Ranking: 3rd
Appearances: 15
Best Finish: T2 (2003, Royal St. George's)

 
The Facts: Singh has plenty of positives and plenty of negatives. Positives: hes won seven PGA Tour events over the last two years; he is a two-time major champion; hes coming off his best-ever British Open finish. Negatives: he hasnt won a major since 2000; he had to defend at the John Deere instead of coming over early and acclimatizing himself; he blew last years British. Singh birdied four of his first seven holes Sunday at Royal St. Georges, but bogeyed four of his final 11, including the par-3 16th, to lose by a stroke. He needs to find a way to carry over his winning ways into the majors.
 
Quote: 'I have not won the British Open, so this could be a good omen. Im just going to take a positive out of it and see if I can go over there and win the damn thing.' ' Vijay Singh talking about playing in the U.S. the week before the British Open for the first time.
 
Phil Mickelson Name: Phil Mickelson
World Ranking: 4th
Appearances: 11
Best Finish: T11 (2000, St. Andrews)

 
The Facts: Mickelson would be the man to beat if this was any other major. But this is the British Open, where Lefty has never finished inside the top 10. This is a different Mickelson, however, than in years past so maybe there will be a different result this time around. This Mickelson is more consistent, more cautious, more confident. This Mickelson is also a major champion. He won the Masters and could easily have won the U.S. Open. He cant win the seasonal Grand Slam this year, but the career Slam would look like a strong possibility if he can get one here. He also got in some extra practice rounds at Troon last week, before and after missing the cut in the Scottish Open.
 
Quote: 'In the past I did not feel comfortable with the types of shots you need here, meaning less spin, lower flight, letting the ball run up. I feel more comfortable now and I'm expecting to use many of the shots I have worked on throughout the year.' -- Phil Mickelson on becoming comfortable playing in the British Open.
 
Love III, Davis Name: Davis Love III
World Ranking: 5th
Appearances: 17
Best Finish: T4 (2003, Royal St. George's)

 
The Facts: This is the major Love wants to win the most, and he had a great opportunity to do so last year. Like Woods and Singh, Love was in position on Sunday to capture the Claret Jug. He overcame a horrible start in the final round, but bogeyed the 17th, when he needed birdie, to finish two back. Love turned around his British Open luck at Troon in 1997. After missing the cut in six of his first 10 Open starts, he tied for 10th at Troon and has since finished 21st or better each year.
 
Quote: 'They might say the most important (major) for me to win is the Masters, but it's not. I would say the most important one for me, to make me feel good at the end of my career, would be the British Open.' ' Davis Love III talking about the importance of winning the British Open.
 
Retief Goosen Name: Retief Goosen
World Ranking: 6th
Appearances: 9
Best Finish: T8 (2002, Muifield)

 
The Facts: Despite his lofty credentials, Retief Goosen surprised most everyone ' except himself ' by winning his second U.S. Open. Goosen, however, wont be able to sneak up on the field at Troon as he did at Shinnecock. The two-time European Order of Merit champion, who also won the Smurfit European Open two weeks ago, has four career top-10 finishes in the British, including a tie for 10th in 1997 at Troon. He took last week off to recharge his batteries after two tiring -- and victorious -- weeks.
 
Quote: 'I think my better golf will come later in my career now that I've started to learn more about the game. I'm looking forward to the next 10 years. I feel I can pull off another couple of majors.' ' Retief Goosen on his future after winning two U.S. Open titles.
 
Mike Weir Name: Mike Weir
World Ranking: 7th
Appearances: 5
Best Finish: T28 (2003, Royal St. George's)

 
The Facts: Weir has won the Masters, has a pair of top-5s in the U.S. Open and has a pair of top-10s in the PGA Championship. But hes never cracked the top 25 at the British Open. Still, he believes this event, above all other majors, suits his game best. Weir missed the cut in his Masters defense and then rebounded with a tie for fourth at Shinnecock ' his best finish since defending his Nissan Open title in February.
 
Quote: 'It's not about overpowering the golf course at the British Open, it's about positioning and having a good short game and good imagination around the greens, and I've always felt like that would be good for me.' ' Mike Weir on how the British Open fits his game.
 
Padraig Harrington Name: Padraig Harrington
World Ranking: 8th
Appearances: 8
Best Finish: T5 (2002, Muirfield; 1997, Troon)

 
The Facts: Harrington has the game to be a major champion; he lacks the confidence. Self-doubt has hampered Harrington in his quest to become Europes best. He is still the highest ranked player from his continent, though, and has a solid record in the majors. The Irishman has four times finished tied for fifth in a major, including twice at the British. In fact, his first top-5 in a major came at Troon in '97.
 
Quote: 'It's not like I've had a lot of majors where I've had the experience of being in contention, and a lot of those top-5 finishes have been good weeks where I've run into a top-5. But hopefully I'm getting to the stage where I can compete from Day 1 through all four days and get myself in a position on Sunday to win.' ' Padraig Harrington on competing in majors.
 
Furyk, Jim Name: Jim Furyk
World Ranking: 9th
Appearances: 8
Best Finish: 4th (1998, Royal Birkdale; 1997, Troon)

 
The Facts: Furyk points to last year's British Open as when his wrist really began to take a turn for the worse. He had surgery in December and was able to make a rapid return in time to defend his title in the U.S. Open and compete in the Western Open, where he tied for seventh. His wrist is not much of a concern now, but he's still trying to regain his top form. Furyk had three top-10s in his first four Open appearances, including a tie for fourth at Troon in '97, but has missed the cut in each of his last three starts.
 
Quote: 'The wrist is feeling fine. I've been asked that a lot. Eventually I'll get a sign on my bag saying: 'The wrist is fine, thanks for asking.'' ' Jim Furyk on getting question after question about the state of his left wrist.
 
Sergio Garcia Name: Sergio Garcia
World Ranking: 10th
Appearances: 7
Best Finish: T8 (2002, Muirfield)

 
The Facts: It may not be fair, but it may be true: Garcia is the best player today without a major victory. The 24-year-old Spaniard is racking up top-10s in the majors, with seven in his last 12 starts. He has finished in the top 10 in each of his last three British Opens. Garcia is a two-time winner on tour this season. The only thing going against him is the final-round 80 he shot while in contention in the U.S. Open. Surprisingly, this will be his first start in Europe this season.
 
Quote: 'My goal is to win a major any time as soon as possible. But the thrill of putting yourself in contention and having a chance at winning tournaments, that's a great feeling, too. I've just got to keep doing the things I've been doing and hopefully I will win one soon, but I think that it's just a matter of time.' ' Sergio Garcia talking about breaking through and winning his first major.
 
Ben Curtis Name: Ben Curtis
World Ranking: 41st
Appearances: 1
Best Finish: 1st (2003, Royal St. George's)

 
The Facts: A Curtis repeat would be only slightly less surprising than when he won last year as the 396th ranked player in the world competing in his first-ever major championship. He has played in 25 events on the PGA and European tours since winning at Royal St. Georges; he has 11 missed cuts and one top-10. The last player to repeat as Open champion was Tom Watson in 1983. Curtis has been preparing for this week for a long time, having traveled to Scotland to play Troon in May. He missed the cut last week at the Scottish Open.
 
Quote: 'You know, hopefully I'll go out there and win again but if not, it's always a fun experience to defend.' ' Ben Curtis on his title defense.
 
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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.