Waiting in the Wings at Winged Foot

By Mercer BaggsJune 14, 2006, 4:00 pm
U.S. OpenMAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Michael Campbell has played 10 stroke-play events around the world this year. He has missed six cuts. In four U.S. tournaments, not including the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship where he lost in the first round, hes missed three cuts ' and the one time he did make it to the weekend was in the Mercedes Championships, where there is no cut.
 
And yet the Kiwi seems to be brimming with confidence. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he was in similar form last year heading into the U.S. Open, having missed six cuts in 12 starts.
 
Michael Campbell
Michael Campbell and a host of other players are confident heading into round one.
His mediocre results a year ago didnt keep him from winning his first major championship at Pinehurst. And he believes it wont hinder him from keeping his title this time around.
 
My form coming into this week is pretty similar to last year, he said. I feel very comfortable with my surroundings now being a major winner, and being the defending champion is a label that Im actually very, very comfortable with, so Im very happy with that.
 
Campbell is also happy to be hanging in the background, waiting to surprise everyone for a second time.
 
Once again, no one sort of has given me a chance this year, apart from myself, which is the most important thing, he said.
 
Let Tiger and Vijay and Phil have all the attention and I can just do what I did last year. Fantastic. Bring it on.
 
For the first three days leading up to the start of the 106th U.S. Open all talk has centered around three topics: Tiger Woods return to competition after his fathers death; Phil Mickelsons bid for three straight major victories; and the newly implemented graduated rough.
 
In their shadows are several upper-echelon players who are being overlooked this week, including the aforementioned Vijay Singh.
 
Singh, like Campbell, is riding a wave of confidence. But while Campbells is derived from a triumph 12 months ago, Singhs comes from a win just last week at the Barclays Classic, where he ended a 10-month winless drought on the PGA TOUR.
 
All Im taking from last week is my confidence, my win, and try to follow up this week, said Singh, who noted that outside of an improved outlook, his most recent victory means little come Thursday.
 
This is a different golf tournament from last week ' different rough, different atmosphere, different feeling, totally a different mind-set.
 
Singh has won three major championships, but never this event. He does, however, have six top-10 finishes in 12 career Open starts. And he likes the way Winged Foot is playing as compared to recent venues.
 
I think whoever set up this golf course knows how to set up a U.S. Open. Previous years, I think it got a little ridiculous, he said.
 
While Singh is going for his first Open title, Retief Goosen is vying for his third. Were it not for a final-round blow-up a year ago at Pinehurst, where he led by three entering the final round and closed in 81, he would be the two-time defending champion this week.
 
As it is, he is searching for a bit of redemption, and his first victory of the year.
 
My game hasnt been that hot this year, so hopefully something will happen soon, this week, said Goosen, who won the 2001 U.S. Open on another AW Tillinghast design, Southern Hills, and in 2004 at Shinnecock.
 
At Shinnecock, the low-key South African put on a sensational putting display to hold off Mickelson. That deft stroke, though, has been missing for the better part of 06.
 
I wouldnt say Im unusually confident at the moment; my putter has been a bit cold. I havent been putting well at all, he said. But I like difficult greens, so hopefully putting well on difficult greens is going to pull me through this week.
 
Goosen is one of six players ranked in the top 10 in the world who has yet to win this season. Fellow South African Ernie Els is another.
 
Els is still trying to find a comfort level that existed prior to injuring his left knee last July. He won late last year in South Africa and came close to winning on the European Tour this year, losing in a playoff to Woods in Dubai, but hasnt been much of a factor in the States. In fact, he hasnt won a PGA TOUR event since 2004.
 
I haven't had a great year up until now, obviously. I've been looking for that one round that might turn it around for me, he said. But I've been working hard on every aspect of my game, really. The putting has been holding me back a little bit the last month or so. But, you know, I think it might be a good week for me this week because of the fact that it's the U.S. Open.
 
Els is a two-time U.S. Open winner, capturing the 1994 version at Oakmont and the 97 edition at Congressional. Furthering his positive thoughts is the fact that this venue resembles those two layouts, in that its more of a traditional, tree-lined course ' as opposed to the last two venues, Shinnecock Hills and Pinehurst.
 
I love these types of golf courses, Els said. As a kid growing up watching U.S. Open golf, I loved watching the U.S. Open when it was played at golf courses like these, Winged Foot and Oakmont, golf courses like that ' tree lined, old, traditional golf courses. It's great playing a golf course like this.
 
Els, Goosen and Campbell have given International players five U.S. Open victories in the last 12 years. On the other hand, no European-born player has won this particular major since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
 
I dont think its really coincidence, said Englishman Luke Donald. I think U.S. Opens are always set up very similar ' narrow fairways; thick rough; slopey, usually quite quick greens. This is the type of setup where a lot of Europeans arent used to that.
 
Donald, however, is accustomed to and comfortable on American courses ' U.S. Open and otherwise. The former Northwestern All-America won the Honda Classic in March for his second career TOUR title, and has made the cut in both of his previous Open appearances.
 
On the cusp of the top 10, currently ranked 11th in the world, Donald feels that it is time for him to contend over the weekend in a major championship. And if its going to happen, its most likely to happen here.
 
Ive always said U.S. Opens seem to suit my game, he said. I dont hit the ball 300 yards every time. I hit the ball quite straight. I rely on hitting fairways and hitting greens and kind of grinding out par sometimes, especially on tough courses. Thats the kind of game plan you need for a U.S. Open.
 
I would put (the) U.S. Open at the top of the majors for my chance of winning one.
 
Campbell always figured if he were to ever win a major championship that it would likely come at the Open Championship. Instead, it came here. And now that hes got one, he wants another.
 
Its amazing, once you get the bug, once you win your first major, you want more. Im not here to win one major, Campbell said. My goal is to be a multiple major winner.
 
And whether anyone believes him or not -- or whether or not anyone is paying attention at the moment -- he feels like its going to take a major effort for anyone to take away his title.
 
Being here this week makes me very excited, makes me feel very at ease with myself and very comfortable with my defense, he said. Im feeling very, very confident right now.
 
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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.

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    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

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    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.