DJ finds groove with less-is-more approach

By Rex HoggardAugust 25, 2017, 8:18 pm

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – When things aren’t going the way a player would have hoped on the course the default plan is normally more – play more, practice more, press more.

But then Dustin Johnson isn’t most players.

A man of few words, Johnson’s change in competitive fortunes this week at The Northern Trust can be summed up in one word – less.

Less speed going back, as in a slower back swing, and less work on the range following a week spent relaxing and spear fishing in the warm clear waters of the Bahamas following the PGA Championship.

We’re not talking Hideki Matsuyama back swing slow, just enough of a pace adjustment to allow the bomber to find the rhythm in that powerful swing that made him literally unbeatable for a solid stretch this spring and the consensus favorite heading into the Masters.

There’s no exact explanation for how things got out of sync. The injury that forced him to withdraw from the Masters is an easy enough starting point, but that flawless swing just hasn’t been the same since.

“I'd have liked to play better in the majors. Getting hurt before Augusta, which is going right into the major season, didn't really help, especially for the momentum and how good I felt like I was swinging, and everything was going in a really good direction,” he said. “But I feel like I've got it back on the right track. I feel like I'm swinging well again.”

Although he hasn’t been willing to blame his pedestrian play on that lower back injury, he did say on Friday at Glen Oaks that he’s been “fine the last month or so,” which suggests there was a healthy slice of the summer when he wasn’t 100 percent.


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For two days on Long Island, however, he’s looked more like the March DJ, when he won back-to-back World Golf Championships, than the June DJ, when he missed back-to-back cuts at the Memorial and U.S. Open.

He’s fifth in the field this week in driving distance, fourth in greens in regulation and first in strokes gained-tee to green, a statistical snapshot of a player’s advantage over the field average.

Put another way, he looks like the world’s top-ranked player, an advantage he has maintained despite his relatively average play this summer which includes just a single top-10 finish since the first week of May.

“Besides the bump on [Nos.] 4 and 5 for him, if he hits the two fairways, he's probably at 10 under,” said Jon Rahm, who went head-to-head with Johnson at both of his WGC victories this year. “Yesterday he hit it unbelievably good. He shot 5 under missing putts. Not many people were probably able to say that yesterday.”

That “bump” came on Nos. 4 and 5 on Friday, when Johnson played his second shots from the wrong holes following wayward drives and resulted in back-to-back bogeys on his way to a 1-under 69.

“I just hung back a little bit on both those drives,” Johnson explained. “One I held on to and it sliced, and the other one I released, and it just went straight down the left side.”

Johnson also added a new putter to his bag this week, a TaylorMade prototype similar to the Scotty Cameron he used to win the 2016 U.S. Open, but statistically he’s not exactly killing it on the greens and he conceded that it hasn’t been his putting that’s held him back the last few months.

Johnson’s advantage begins with his driver and ends with a vastly improved wedge game that ultimately laid the foundation for both his first major victory in ’16 at the U.S. Open and his ascent to the top of the World Golf Ranking. But neither area had been living up to the ridiculously high standard that he set earlier in the season.

That was until he arrived in New York. For two rounds, DJ’s play and position on the leaderboard have been more familiar, which is particularly imposing on a course like Glen Oaks, which qualifies as a bona fide bombers ballpark.

“This one is right up DJ's alley, but there's not many courses that don't fit him,” said Fowler, who is tied for the lead with Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Jhonattan Vegas at 6 under. “Long courses, they become somewhat shorter for him, and the shorter courses, can basically take driver and lob-wedge and putter.”

That Johnson took a distinctly less-is-more approach to his return to form is only apropos for a player who has a history of doing things at a slightly different pace.

Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

5/2: Rory McIlroy

7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

9/2: Justin Rose

5/1: Brooks Koepka

15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

10/1: Adam Scott

12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.