Z. Johnson's story prevails above others at Open

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2015, 9:12 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – It was neither historic nor heartwarming, but the hurried final hours of the 144th Open Championship were infinitely entertaining.

A championship many didn’t think would ever end wrapped up with the masses pining for more when the proceedings were drawn to a close by Zach Johnson, who with a relatively mundane par at his 76th hole made the transition from being arguably the game’s most underrated major champion to an undisputed Hall of Famer.

It was a strangely orderly finale to what otherwise felt like a Grand Slam fire drill.

A day that began with three players tied for the lead quickly descended into a game of musical chairs, with eight players holding at least a share of the lead, and the event’s first playoff since 2009.

Johnson, already an 11-time PGA Tour winner and major champion, took his turn at the top with a birdie at the 10th hole after an opening nine of 31. He staked his claim to the claret jug with a charging 30-footer for birdie at the last for a final-round 66 more than an hour before the trailing game completed their round.

From there he watched and waited. He watched Jason Day, one of the 54-hole leaders, play his final 12 holes in even par to finish a stroke out of the playoff.

He watched Adam Scott move into a share of the lead with a birdie on No. 7 only to endure another painful Open collapse playing his last five holes in 5 over.

“It's hard to digest it all at the moment,” an emotional Scott said after a closing 71. “Maybe it was too much to ask today.”

He watched Sergio Garcia do what Sergio Garcia does, which is come agonizingly close to his first elusive major only to find a way to lose. But mostly he watched Jordan Spieth, the 21-year-old new standard in golf come closer to winning the single-season Grand Slam than anyone since Tiger Woods in 2002.

Although disappointed, Spieth didn’t disappoint, keeping pace with the frenzy with one clutch putt after another. He rolled in a birdie putt at No. 6 from 11 feet to move to within one stroke and bounced back from a stunning four-putt – his first four-putt in ... well, forever – with a 15-footer for birdie at No. 9.

At the 16th hole the would-be king – he would have unseated Rory McIlroy atop the Official World Golf Ranking with a victory at St. Andrews – charged in a 50-footer for birdie to join the traffic jam atop the leaderboard, but he failed to convert from 5 feet at the 17th hole for par and missed the green at the last to end his historic run.

“I think the way that I played this week and especially today would have won the U.S. Open by more than just a shot,” said Spieth, who tied for fourth a stroke out of the playoff after a closing 69. “The kind of golf that was played by the field this week, it just took some special golf. Whoever comes out the champion, that's a hell of a major.”

It was also a hell of a run for Spieth.

To put his effort in perspective, consider that the last time a player won the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same season (Ben Hogan in 1953), the now-iconic Old Course Hotel was just a field and the road that defines the 17th hole was still a railway.

It was all part of one of the strangest Open Championships in recent memory, with play being halted by both rain and wind at various points, which is the competitive equivalent to a breakfast ball on the first tee of the Old Course.

It just doesn’t happen. Not at the Open, and certainly not at St. Andrews.

In the playoff, Johnson – who finished 72 holes tied with Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman at 15 under – struck first with birdies at the first two extra frames in the four-hole aggregate session. But, like he did in regulation, he made a mess of what has become the most difficult hole in major championship golf, missing his approach at the 17th hole short and hitting his third shot over the green.

But at an event that was defined by putting and wedge play it only stands to reason that Johnson – who earlier this week referred to hitting “a lot of loft,” which is golf geek speak for short approach shots – would prevail with a par at the last to beat Oosthuizen by a stroke.

“The key certainly for the week is patience and perseverance, without question, and I think in the playoff in particular,” Johnson said. “It was truly about just making the best of the opportunities, because you know the other two guys are not going to let it slide.”

As a general rule the golf gods are a cruel lot far removed from sentimentality and bouts of nostalgia, just ask the likes of Garcia and Scott, bridesmaids again at the game’s oldest championship.

But on Monday at the Home of Golf the cosmic caretakers peered through the gloom that had descended on St. Andrews and saw another tale worth telling.

It wasn’t Spieth and his attempt at the single-season Grand Slam, or Scott whose claret jug visions were undone by that familiar balky broomstick, or even Garcia and his ghosts of Opens past.

Instead, it was Johnson and his story of limitless determination. A bona fide grinder from way back, the kid from Iowa is the exception to the Tour player norm, humble and hardworking with a chip on his shoulder that he has come by honestly, through the hardscrabble days on the mini-tours to two major championships.

“On Sunday [at Royal Lytham in 2012] he was paired with Ernie [Els]. That showed him what could happen. That showed him that he just needed to stay patient,” said Dr. Morris Pickens, Johnson’s sport psychologist. “He’s always played golf knowing what he can do and what he can’t do. A lot of guys play full bore and come over here and have to switch their mindset. Zach didn’t have to do that.”

It was signature Zach, workmanlike and wildly understated. He didn’t overpower the softer side of the Old Course as many had predicted Dustin Johnson would, he simply picked it apart one swing at a time and outlasted a collection of contenders that would have filled the adjacent R&A clubhouse.

After his win at the Masters in 2007, Johnson defined himself as a guy from Cedar Rapids. On Monday at the Old Course he offered an update.

“I’m a normal guy from Cedar Rapids who lives in southeast Georgia who has a green jacket and something most guys don’t get to drink out of right now,” he smiled with a nod toward the claret jug.

After the hectic give and take of a manic Monday the playoff was otherwise anti-climactic with Oosthuizen missing a 4-footer for par at the third extra hole (No. 17) that would have knotted him with Johnson, but then the golf gods had already given so much.

Who would have thought a major played without both Woods and McIlroy – widely considered golf’s past and present – could have been so compelling?

The 144th Open was neither historic nor heartwarming, but there was more than enough heartbreak and heroics to fill the void.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)