Simpson grinds out first major championship at 112th U.S. Open

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2012, 5:35 am

SAN FRANCISCO – Turns out The Olympic Club did deliver another Simpson, although it seems likely history will remember this version, both the champion and the championship, more favorably.

A week that began with plenty of style by way of the uber-grouping of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson on Thursday and Friday, came to a dramatic conclusion with Webb Simpson, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell delivering the substance.

For the record, Olympic remains a perfect 5-for-5 for 54-hole leaders. That’s to say, none have gone on to win any of the five Opens played on the NorCal gem, a run that includes the 1987 championship won by Scott Simpson.

But in a dramatic break from tradition this time it was not an obscure contender who emerged to upset the favorite. This time the last man standing was not the last one everyone thought would win.

Video: Final-round highlights from the 112th U.S. Open

Video: Simpson post-victory interview

After beginning the final round 30 minutes ahead and four strokes adrift of co-leaders Furyk and Graeme McDowell, Webb Simpson made his move early with three consecutive birdies beginning at the sixth, failed to birdie either of Olympic’s par 5s and scrambled for an all-world par at the last to cap a 68-68 weekend and take the clubhouse lead at 1 over.

It was a quintessential Open finish. The kind of performance one would expect from the likes of Furyk, whose victory in 2003 is the highlight of a career at the national championship that features just two missed cuts in 18 starts.

Earlier in the week, McDowell caused a minor stir when he referred to Furyk as a plodder, and for 15 holes Sunday Furyk was at his blue-collar best.

Furyk rattled off five consecutive pars to start his day before his first miscue at the sixth hole, and rebounded with six more pars, including a stretch of three consecutive tap-ins starting at the eighth to maintain a 1-up lead on Simpson. Open Golf 101.

But the Open specialist succumbed to Olympic, which had been seasoned to bouncy perfection by consecutive warm days and the U.S. Golf Association’s aversion to watering.

At the 12th, Furyk needed a 35-footer to save par. His tee shot then nestled into the deep rough short of the green at the 13th hole and he made bogey to drop into a tie with Simpson. It will be the par-5 16th hole, however, that ultimately cost Furyk his second Open title.

Needing a birdie on one of the last three holes to avoid a playoff, Furyk pulled his tee shot badly into the trees left of the fairway, needed five shots to reach the putting surface and never recovered.

“I was tied for the lead, sitting on the 16th tee … I got wedges in my hand or reachable par 5s in my hand on the way in and one birdie wins the golf tournament,” said Furyk, who closed with a 74 after an unsightly bogey at the last to tie for fourth. “I'm definitely frustrated.”

The same could have been said of Simpson had he not ended up with the silver chalice. Tied with Furyk through 15 holes, he failed to birdie either par 5 and ended up in the worst possible position when his approach at the last sailed wide of the green.

From the kind of lie major championships go to die, Simpson delicately chipped 4 feet below the hole and calmly, or so it seemed, rolled in the winner.

“Probably, one out of five at best (to get the ball up and down at the 18th),” said Simpson’s caddie Paul Tesori. “It was the worst lie I’ve ever seen. You would have called someone cheating if they would have given you that lie in competition. He could have chipped it down the fairway 30 yards. He wouldn’t have gotten another one close in 10 more shots.”

It was a shot Simpson and Tesori began working on this week to combat the high rough and hard greens. It was also the kind of championship that suited Simpson perfectly – an honest test for an honest man.

In his two previous Tour victories Simpson had not been shy crediting his faith, so much so one half expected the North Carolina native to break into a Tim Tebow pose on the 18th green before the award ceremony. But that’s not Webb.

Tesori said he reminded his boss as they played the 17th hole of a Bible verse the two had been using for inspiration all week, an attempt to find calm in the middle of a marine layer storm.

“The back nine was . . . I don't know how Tiger has won 14 of these things, because the pressure. I couldn't feel my legs most of the back nine. It grew my respect for Tiger all the more,” said Simpson, who finished at 1-over 281, a stroke ahead of first-round leader Michael Thompson and McDowell, whose 24-footer for birdie at the last to force another 18 holes slipped past the cup on the left.

“Just thankful to God. I couldn't have done it without Him.”

Simpson also thanked wife Dowd, who walked all 72 holes with him despite being 34 weeks pregnant with the couple's second child, for providing emotional support.

For Woods, who was tied for the lead after two rounds but struggled to a Saturday 75, his week on the Lake Course was also a question of faith.

Although he played his first six holes on Sunday in 6 over, Woods recovered to play his last 12 in 3 under for a 73 that left him tied for 21st at 7 over. The wait for major No. 15 continues.

“Hit the ball really well. Unfortunately I just didn't have the speed of the greens until today,” Woods said. “The way I struck the golf ball, the way I controlled it all week is something that's very positive going forward and if I would have just hung in there a little bit better yesterday and missed it on the correct side a couple times then I would have been in a better position going into today.”

Mickelson didn’t seem as upbeat following his week that ended with an 8-over 78 and a tie for 65th, his worst finish at the national championship since 1996. At least he was around for the weekend; the same could not be said for world No. 1 Luke Donald and defending champion Rory McIlroy, who has now missed four cuts in his last five starts.

Things may have been even harder on Lee Westwood, who lost his golf ball in a tree right of the fifth fairway and never recovered for another major miss.

But that was a common theme at The Olympic Club. After last year’s record scoring at Congressional, this Open was about heartbreak and holding on. Call it a return to the norm.

“Not sure if guys can have their ‘A games’ to be honest, the course just won’t allow it,” McDowell said. “Today was a grind. It was a slog.”

A slog won by a grinder, just the way the USGA likes it.

Getty Images

First Look: WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play groups

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 11:30 pm

It's officially match play time.

The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play kicks off this week in Austin, where 64 of the top players will square off in a combination of round robin play and single elimination. The top 16 players in the field will serve as top seeds in each of the 16 groups this week, while their round-robin opponents were drawn randomly from three different groups Monday night.

Here's a look at the four-player groups that will begin play Wednesday, with the winner from each of the 16 groups advancing to knockout play beginning Friday:

Group 1: (1) Dustin Johnson, (32) Kevin Kisner, (38) Adam Hadwin, (52) Bernd Wiesberger

Johnson never trailed en route to victory last year, and he'll start with a match against the Austrian. Kisner has missed three of his last four cuts, while Hadwin enters off three straight top-12 finishes.

Group 9: (9) Tommy Fleetwood, (26) Daniel Berger, (33) Kevin Chappell, (58) Ian Poulter

This group kicks off with an all-English battle between Fleetwood and Poulter, while Berger and Chappell were both members of the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team in the fall.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: Hey, loudmouth, you're not funny

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 10:30 pm

Dear misguided soul:

You know who you are.

You’re “that guy.”

You’re that guy following around Rory McIloy and yelling “Erica” at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

There was something creepy in the nature of your bid to get in McIlroy’s head, in the way you hid in the shadows all day. Bringing a guy’s wife into the fray that way, it’s as funny as heavy breathing on the other end of a phone call.

You’re that guy telling Justin Thomas you hope he hits it in the water at the Honda Classic.

There are a million folks invested in seeing if Thomas can muster all the skills he has honed devoting himself to being the best in the world, and you’re wanting to dictate the tournament’s outcome. Yeah, that’s what we all came out to see, if the angry guy living in his mother’s basement can make a difference in the world. Can’t-miss TV.

You’re that guy who is still screaming “Mashed Potatoes” at the crack of a tee shot or “Get in the Hole” with the stroke of a putt.

Amusing to you, maybe, but as funny as a fart in an elevator to the rest of us.

As a growing fraternity of golf fans, you “guys” need a shirt. It could say, “I’m that guy” on one side and “Phi Kappa Baba Booey” on the other.

I know, from outside of golf, this sounds like a stodgy old geezer screaming “Get off my lawn.” That’s not right, though. It’s more like “Stop puking on my lawn.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Because McIlroy is right, in the growing number of incidents players seem to be dealing with now, it’s probably the liquor talking.

The Phoenix Open is golf’s drunken uncle, but he isn’t just visiting on the holiday now. He’s moving in.

What’s a sport to do?

McIlroy suggested limiting liquor sales at tournaments, restricting alcohol consumption to beer.

I don’t know, when the beer’s talking, it sounds a lot like the liquor talking to me, just a different dialect.

From the outside, this push-back from players makes them sound like spoiled country club kids who can’t handle the rough-and-tumble playgrounds outside their prim little bailiwick. This isn’t really about social traditions, though. It’s about competition.

It’s been said here before, and it’s worth repeating, golf isn’t like baseball, basketball or football. Screaming in a player’s backswing isn’t like screaming at a pitcher, free-throw shooter or field-goal kicker. A singular comment breaking the silence in golf is more like a football fan sneaking onto the sidelines and tripping a receiver racing toward the end zone.

Imagine the outrage if that happened in an NFL game.

So, really, what is golf to do?

Equip marshals with tasers? Muzzle folks leaving the beer tent? Prohibit alcohol sales at tournaments?

While the first proposition would make for good TV, it probably wouldn’t be good for growing the sport.

So, it’s a tough question, but golf’s governing bodies should know by now that drunken fans can’t read those “Quiet Please!” signs that marshals wave. There will have to be better enforcement (short of tasers and muzzles).

There’s another thing about all of this, too. Tiger Woods is bringing such a broader fan base to the game again, with his resurgence. Some of today’s younger players, they didn’t experience all that came with his ascendance his first time around. Or they didn’t get the full dose of Tigermania when they were coming up.

This is no knock on Tigermania. It’s great for the game, but there are challenges bringing new fans into the sport and keeping them in the sport.

So if you’re “that guy,” welcome to our lawn, just don’t leave your lunch on it, please.


Getty Images

How Faxon became 'The Putting Stroke Whisperer'

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 9:39 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – During a charity event a few years ago Brad Faxon was asked what he’s thinking about when he putts. A hush fell across the green as everyone within earshot eagerly awaited the answer.

Imagine having the chance to quiz Leonardo da Vinci about the creative process, or Ben Hogan on the finer points of ball-striking. Arguably the best putter of his generation, if anyone could crack the complicated code of speed, line and pace, it would be Faxon.

Faxon mulled the question for a moment, shrugged and finally said, “Rhythm and tempo.”

If Faxon’s take seems a tad underwhelming, and it did that day to everyone in his group, the genius of his simplicity was on display last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Before arriving at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy ranked 124th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting, losing .1 strokes per round to the field. In fact, he’d missed the cut a week earlier at the Valspar Championship when he needed 58 putts for two days and made just a single attempt over 10 feet.

It’s one of those competitive ironies that having the weekend off turned out to be just what McIlroy needed. He went home to South Florida to work on his game and ran across Faxon at The Bear’s Club.

Although Faxon’s take on the art of putting was probably more involved than it had been a few years earlier, he seemed to have touched on all the right points.

“Freed up my head more than my stroke,” McIlroy explained. “I sort of felt like maybe complicating things a bit and thinking a little bit too much about it and maybe a little bogged down by technical or mechanical thoughts.”

Earlier in the week McIlroy had a slightly different take on his putting turnaround at Bay Hill, where he led the field in strokes gained: putting, picking up 10 shots for the week, and rolled in 49 feet of putts over his last five holes to end a victory drought that had stretched back to the 2016 Tour Championship.

“Just playing around with it. Seeing balls go in in the front edge, trying to hit them in the left edge, the right edge, hit them off the back of the cup,” he said on Thursday. “Just trying to get a little bit more feel into it and a little more flow.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

If that doesn’t exactly sound like an exact science, welcome to the Faxon way. In recent years, he’s become something of F which is no huge surprise considering his status as one of the game’s best on the greens.

Between 1991, the year he won the first of eight Tour titles, through 2005, the year he won his last, Faxon ranked outside the top 20 in putting average just four times, and he led the circuit in that category three of those years. But in recent years he’s come into his own as a putting guru.

“The first clinic I attended that a Tour player gave, it was Hale Irwin, and he talked about rhythm and tempo, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear more than that,” Faxon explained. “I thought there would be more technical stuff. I thought it was the default phrase to take pressure off the player, but the more I’ve learned about teaching the best players in the world don’t have many complicated thoughts.”

Faxon’s career has been nothing short of impressive, his eight Tour titles spanning two decades; but it’s his work with players like McIlroy and Gary Woodland that has inspired him in recent years.

A man who has spent his life studying the nuances of the golf swing and putting stroke has created a teaching philosophy as simple, or complicated depending on the player, as rhythm and tempo.

“He teaches me, which is a good thing. He doesn’t have a philosophy,” Woodland said. “I was around him a lot in 2011, 2010, it’s unbelievable how well he can relay it now. He has video of a million guys putting and he’s one of the best to do it, but he can show you that you don’t have to do it one certain way and that was good for me.”

For Woodland, Faxon keyed in on his background as a college basketball player and compared the putting stroke to how he shoots free-throws. For McIlroy, it was a different sport but the concept remained the same.

“We were talking about other sports where you have to create your own motion, a free-throw shooter, a baseball pitcher, but what related to him was a free-kicker in soccer, he mentioned Wayne Rooney,” Faxon said. “You have to have something to kick start your motion, maybe it’s a trigger, some might use a forward press, or tapping the putter like Steve Stricker, sometimes it’s finding the trigger like that for a player.”

Faxon spent “a good two hours” with McIlroy last weekend at The Bear’s Club, not talking technique or method, but instead tapping into the intuitive nature of what makes someone a good putter. Midway through that session Faxon said he didn’t need to say another word.

The duo ended the session with a putting contest. Putting 30-footers to different holes, the goal was to make five “aces.” Leading the contest 4-2, Faxon couldn’t resist.

“Hey Rory, after you win Bay Hill this week you’ll have to tell the world you lost to Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” Faxon joked.

McIlroy proceeded to hole three of his next four attempts to win the contest. “I’m going to tell everyone I beat Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” McIlroy laughed.

Maybe it’s the way he’s able to so easily simplify an exceedingly complicated game, maybe it’s a resume filled with more clutch putts than one could count. Whatever it is, Faxon is good at teaching. More importantly, he’s having fun and doing something he loves.

“I have a hard time being called a teacher or a coach, it was more of a conversation with Rory, being able to work with someone like Rory is as excited as I’ve ever been in my career,” Faxon said. “It meant much more to me than it did Rory.”

Getty Images

Frittelli fulfilled promise by making Match Play field

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Dylan Frittelli attended the University of Texas and still maintains a residence in Austin, so in an odd way this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is a home game for the South African who plays the European Tour.

Frittelli actually attended the event last year as a spectator, when he watched the quarterfinal matches on Saturday afternoon, and made a promise to himself.

“I told a lot of people, I was running into them. I said, ‘I'll be here next year, I'll be playing in this tournament,’” said Frittelli, who climbed to 45th in the world ranking after two victories last year in Europe. “People looked at me, you're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64. It was a goal I set myself.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Frittelli’s next goal may be a little payback for a loss he suffered in college when he was a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s. Frittelli is making his first start at the Match Play and could face his old Longhorn stable mate this week depending on how the brackets work out and his play.

“We had the UT inter-team championship. Coach switched it to match play my senior year, and Jordan beat me in the final at UT Golf Club. It was 3 and 2,” Frittelli said. “So I'm not too keen to face him again.