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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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move 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 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 of the day, 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 Web.com 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 to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's 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 Web.com 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 his playoff victory over Landry