DJ's fall creates wide-open Open entering final round

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2015, 7:47 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Thank Dustin Johnson for some drama entering Monday’s matinee.

Had the South Florida slugger abused the Old Course’s front nine like he did on Thursday, when he pounded his was to a ridiculously-easy looking 5-under 31, the final round of the 144th Open Championship would have been relegated to a formality.

But DJ didn’t run away and hide the claret jug, playing the benign links in 3 over par. And after one of the most unforgiving days in recent major memory, the field largely dismantled the softer side of the Old Course.

All total, 63 players posted under par scores on Sunday. From unplayable to unprotected in less than 24 hours.

Only at St. Andrews.

The assault started with Marc Leishman, who rounded the ancient turf in 64 strokes to move from a tie for 50th and into contention at 9 under; followed by two-time Open winner Padraig Harrington, who posted a flawless 65; and an amateur named Paul Dunne, who took the lead with a birdie on No. 10 on his way to a 66 and a spot in Monday’s final pairing.

“This is not a golf course that the leaders tend to come back on, so you really do have to be somewhat there or thereabouts going into [the final round],” Harrington said.

Of course, Harrington made those comments before Johnson imploded with bogeys at his three closing holes and a traffic jam ensued at the corner of Golf Place and Grannie Clark’s Wynd.

When the birdies finally stopped falling there were 11 players within three strokes of the lead held by the threesome of Louis Oosthuizen, the champion golfer the last time the Open was played at the Home of Golf, Jason Day and Dunne.

“You can’t count the guys behind us out,” figured Day, who will set out in the final round in contention for the second consecutive major. “It’s just too bunched.”

Perhaps, but there will be one name from the pack that is sure to draw an inordinate amount of attention on Monday.

Jordan Spieth, looking to become just the second player to ever win the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same season, played a pedestrian opening loop and appeared bound for a similar meltdown to the one Johnson suffered after he used his putter three times at the ninth to drop a shot. He was then informed by a rules official to step it up, which only added to his frustration.

“Walking off of [No.] 9 green was as frustrated as I've been in a tournament other than off of 14 yesterday morning,” admitted Spieth. “I don't normally ever display frustration. I did both times. I couldn't hold it in. I think I punched my golf bag. I didn't want to hit [caddie Michael Greller], so I figured I'd hit my golf bag.”

And then he took a metaphorical swing at the field. 

The would-be winner of the first three legs of the single-season Grand Slam answered with birdies at Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 15 to move to 11 under par and just a stroke off the lead.

His play brings into sharp focus a long-held axiom that without wind the Old Course is vulnerable to all sorts of scoring accomplishments – more than once on Sunday the whispers of a possible 62 could be heard across St. Andrews – and the Open becomes a putting contest.

Advantage Spieth.

At least the nod would go to Spieth after he found a fix for a balky putting stroke that led to 37 putts in a second round that stretched to two days when play was delayed early Friday by torrential rain and Saturday by winds that whipped to 40 mph.

Spieth adjusted midway through his round on Sunday in time to convert birdie putts of 8 feet (Nos. 1 and 7), 12 feet (No. 10), 15 feet (No. 12) and 5 feet (No. 15).

“I just had been aligned a little left. Every putt was missing just a little off the left side of the hole, so I just tried to adjust, and by the time we got to [Nos.] 10, 11, I had made the adjustment,” said Spieth, who closed with a 66. “To shoot 4 under with no bogeys on the back was a great comeback from Friday, Saturday and the front nine today.”

On Monday he will be paired with Day, who held a share of the lead with Spieth through three rounds at last month’s U.S. Open before fading into a tie for ninth as he battled the effects of benign positional vertigo.

The Australian also got off to a slow start relative to the rest of the field on super Sunday, but closed with a 33 for a share of the lead in his ongoing quest to crack the major ceiling.

“Over the last few years I've been in contention at major championships, I've learnt the biggest thing for me is just to understand that tomorrow is going to be a tough round,” Day said.

“There's going to be a lot of wind, there's going to be a lot of rain, there's going to be a lot of guys that are going to shoot low scores. I just need to really stay patient and let the birdies come.”

Oosthuizen, who finished runner-up at the U.S. Open and was also pacing the field after three rounds when he won the 2010 St. Andrews Open, seems certain to add to Monday’s finale as well, while Dunne, despite his solid play this week, would appear to be a refreshing long shot considering that Bobby Jones was the last amateur to win the Open, in 1930.

Yet for all the compelling possibilities on a busy leaderboard it is Spieth – who at 21-years-old is perched on a historic pinnacle – who will begin the closing loop with the most attention.

“He's a heavy favorite tomorrow, just being one shot back. Everyone knows it,” Day said.

Unlike the alternative, however, he’s not the only favorite.

After Saturday’s tempest, Mother Nature and the Old Course yielded and the field was thankful. But most of all, they were thankful that Johnson didn’t turn the final round into a foregone conclusion.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.