Royal Lytham favors no one and everyone

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2012, 3:13 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – If history holds at Royal Lytham & St. Annes it will be a ball-striker who wins this week’s Open Championship, a short-game wizard, a driver, a putter, a proven commodity, an up-and-comer.

In short, there is no short list of contenders for the 141st Open, nor short answers, although if the dialogue so far is any indication it seems plausible that something surreal is in the making.

On consecutive days, Lee Westwood was asked about his “groin” (injury), Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews chief Peter Dawson was grilled as to the number of “bunker rakers” on hand for the year’s third major and one car park was deemed “unplayable” by scribes because of, well . . . standing water.

Such is the scrutiny at the game’s oldest member-member, and all this before the first meaningful shot is sent into the grey, damp skies.

Full coverage: 141st Open Championship articles, videos and photos

As for who will round the ancient links in the fewest strokes depends on who you ask. Tiger Woods – who begins a potentially eventful week vying for his 15th major championship, fourth claret jug and, at least mathematically, the world’s top ranking – figures Lytham for a ball-striker’s ballpark. Think Royal Liverpool with greener grass circa 2006.

“The list of champions here have all been just wonderful ball-strikers because you have to be able to shape the golf ball both ways here, you can’t just hit it one way,” Woods said.

Woods’ “Exhibit A” includes David Duval, who won the Open the last time it was played at Lytham (2001) with perhaps the best driver in the game at the time, Bobby Jones (1926) and Gary Player (1974).

A few hours later, Luke Donald sat in the same chair and explained why he likes his chances despite a driver that, relative to his position as the world No. 1, can be considered on the balky side of brilliant.

“Seve (Ballesteros, a two-time Open winner at Lytham) was known as someone that would hit it wild off the tee and use his short game to get out of trouble,” said Donald, who missed the cut at last month’s U.S. Open. “No matter where he was he felt like he could hole a shot. I’ve got to go into this tournament with that kind of fun attitude, that no matter how I’m hitting it there’s always a way to make a score.”

And if Donald’s take sounds more like rationalizing than reality, consider that when Ballesteros won the Open in 1979 he hit his driver nine times in the final round, found just one fairway and was 14-for-15 in par saves from bunkers for the week.

Speaking of which, Lytham’s 205 bunkers are every bit the hazard officials had hoped they would be, a truth compounded by steady rain this week which has left standing water in some of the pitted caverns, and the rough is what one would expect from an English summer – that is to say gnarly and deep.

But if anyone enjoys the clarity of an unbiased mind it is Westwood, the 39-year-old Englishman who, whether he likes it or not, has assumed the title as the “best player without a major.”

When it was suggested on Tuesday that Westwood would be a solid pick this week because of his ball-striking prowess he bristled: “If that's what it takes to win around here. People have said that the previous winners have all got a great short game,” he smiled.  “And apparently I haven't got much of a short game.”

If the tenor of the conversation seems a tad divergent it is by design. Perhaps more so than any other Open rota venue, Lytham is open to dramatically varied interpretations – one man’s walk in the park is another’s forced march.

Lytham defies definition beyond what can be gleaned from its list of champions, from the machine-like Duval to the magician that was Ballesteros the only connecting thread is each player’s status before, and after, his Lytham Open.

In simplest terms, there are no one-off champions. With respect to each winner’s career, a victory at Lytham seems to demand a complete resume regardless of strengths and weaknesses. It is a testament to the seaside linksland that the normal lament that major championship golf has been reduced to a putting contest is largely silenced here along the Irish Sea.

“Most PGA Tour events are decided by the shortest shots (putting); this is the longer the shot the more important it is,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “You’ve got no chance if you’re missing fairways. There’s plenty of space out there, you just have to hit quality shots.”

Perhaps Lytham eschews simple clarification, a no-frills field that favors neither ball-striker (Woods and Westwood) nor plodder (Donald).

It’s a reality supported by the United Kingdom’s ubiquitous betting houses. On the eve of the championship, Woods remained the favorite but his odds had dropped to 10 to 1 despite a run that includes three victories in his last eight Tour starts.

Westwood, Rory McIlroy – undone last year at Royal St. George’s by bad weather – and Donald trail Woods closely in the odds, but if Lytham proves as adept at identifying both pedigree and potential as it has been in the past the list of possible winners is as varied as the types of games that play well on the English gem.

Who will win? A ball-striker, a short-game wizard, a driver, a putter, a proven commodity, an up-and-comer.

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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."

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.