Open at Troon should restore a sense of order

By Rex HoggardJuly 13, 2016, 3:56 pm

TROON, Scotland – By comparison, this week’s Open promises to deliver a measure of competitive clarity to a season defined by distractions and dissension.

After weeks of waiting, the Olympic torch has been doused, rather than lit, by those who chose not to make the trip to Rio.

The surreal spectacle of last month’s U.S. Open has quietly faded into the background.

And the wildly premature declarations of a Big 3 have at least been tempered by parity and a party crasher.

If Jason Day is the byproduct of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy having a baby, as the Australian joked last year, Dustin Johnson has evolved into a freakish hybrid of all three in recent weeks.

Johnson overcame the demons of past major misses at Oakmont last month, with or without a one-stroke penalty, and added a World Golf Championship to his resume in his follow-up start.

That Johnson seems just as adept on the links of Scotland as he is on the fields of Oakmont only makes his status as a potential game-changer that much more imposing.

Last year at St. Andrews, Spieth was paired with Johnson for two deflating days and watched as DJ took a one-stroke lead after opening with rounds of 65-69.

“I played with Dustin the first two rounds and thought, 'Man, there’s nobody beating him this week,'” Spieth said. “He was just absolutely tearing it up.”

Imagine what the bomber can do now, without the weight of so many near-misses heavy across his broad shoulders.

But as impressive as Johnson’s run has been, the other members of golf’s foursome de jour could just as easily be considered the favorite, including McIlory, the 2014 champ who was dubbed the Ringo Starr of the game’s Fab Four by some in the U.K. media this week.

“Those guys are having a great run at the minute,” McIlroy said. “I'm pretty confident that if I go out and play my best golf, I'm going to win more times than not. I've got four major championships, and I'd love to add to that tally, just as those guys would love to add to their one or two majors that they have and just keep going.”

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Lost in the Dustin hype are Day’s three victories this season, including his triumph at The Players. Day's seven-win, year-long run was sparked last year at St. Andrews when his birdie bid to join the impending playoff came up inches short. He's been a different player ever since, and his close call last year would suggest the Australian has found an answer to his links questions.

“It was just a strange feeling that I felt so calm about things, and no matter what happened, it was going to be OK. I think subconsciously I just finally got over the hurdle that, it's your time to start winning and play well,” Day said when asked to describe last year’s loss at St. Andrews.

Spieth, separately, rebounded from a spring swoon with his second victory of the season at Colonial. He finally seems to have worked his way through a two-way miss that cost him a second green jacket in April.

And even McIlroy, who has now played five majors since last he overpowered a major field, has flashed signs of his familiar form, with a victory at the Irish Open in May and top-5 showings at The Memorial and French Open.

For those who have waited patiently, the stars seem to have properly aligned for the new wave of young ... well, stars. This Open appears to have providence after weeks of chatter about Olympic no-shows and condensed schedules.

And while the Big 4 will dominate the dialogue, Royal Troon’s penchant for identifying otherwise obscure champions – Todd Hamilton, for example – makes it unwise to dismiss the other 152 players in the field.

When Justin Leonard won The Open in 1997, he’d been on the PGA Tour for just three years. He wasn’t exactly a household name. The same could certainly be said for the aformentioned Hamilton.

Although the club’s pedigree includes plenty of heavy-hitting champions, most notably Tom Watson in 1982 and Arnold Palmer in ’62, the strength of Royal Troon is in its competitive simplicity.

“I don't think it's a bomber's course, as such. I think our motto here, “tam arte quam marte,” which [in Latin] means ‘as much with skill as by strength,’” said Colin Montgomerie, who grew up playing Troon. “This course demands both, strength and skill.”

Royal Troon is widely considered the Open’s fairest test, and perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay to the layout is that it’s adept as a venue, not as a talking point.

Royal Troon will stand as a stage and not a distraction, unlike some other major championship venues. It also seems certain there will be no rules snafus or blunders like those that marred last month’s U.S. Open or the 2010 PGA Championship.

“The referees that we have here are highly experienced referees. A lot of them work on the major tours and the major amateur events all year around,” said Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A. “Our feeling is that the standard of the refereeing that will be out there this weekend is second to none.”

In other words, there will be no rules entanglements, no golf course set up issues, no distractions - just a sense of order that only the chaos of a Scottish summer can cause.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

John Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge, and moved to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means:

This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff. Rahm had missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18, his birdie bid found the cup.. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest:

A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt slid by on the right side of the hole. This is his best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day:Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day:

"One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.