Miller: Not all 63's are created equal

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2017, 11:48 pm

ERIN, Wis. – In a cruel twist, Johnny Miller was on-site at Erin Hills on Saturday afternoon as one of the most talked-about rounds in golf history was replaced in the record books.

Forty-four years to the day after Miller’s famed round at Oakmont, Justin Thomas sank an 8-foot eagle on the final hole to fire a 9-under 63 and post the lowest score in relation to par in U.S. Open history.

Miller’s 8-under 63 in the 1973 Open endures as one of the greatest feats in the sport, in large part because of the difficulty of the course (Oakmont), the magnitude of the moment (final round), the field average (only three other players broke 70) and the stars he overcame to win by one (Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf).

And so forgive Johnny for not being ready to cede the spotlight just yet.

“Taking nothing away from 9 under par – 9 under is incredible with U.S. Open pressure,” Miller told by phone. “But it isn’t a U.S. Open course that I’m familiar with the way it was set up.”

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The U.S. Open has long been defined by its length and narrow fairways, by hack-out rough and concrete, lightning-fast greens. At more than 7,800 yards, first-time host Erin Hills might be the longest course in tournament history, but it also features 50-yard-wide fairways that have played even wider after two rainstorms earlier this week.

Watching the action Saturday – he was on hand for a sponsor outing – Miller said the U.S. Open, with the leader at 12 under and a record 42 players under par, was unrecognizable.

“It looks like a PGA Tour event course setup,” he said. “I’m not sure where the days of the 24- to 29-yard-wide fairways that we played every time went. It’s interesting to see where the USGA has gone with the U.S. Open, being a little more friendly than in years’ past.”

Whenever he’s been asked about Tiger Woods’ quest for 19 majors, Jack Nicklaus always said that no one wants to see their records broken. That’s human nature.

But Miller seemed unconcerned about his place in golf history, confident that his famed round at Oakmont would stand the test of time, even if his mark was eventually toppled.

“For one, the greatness of my round is the 63 in the last round of the U.S. Open to win by one,” he said. “Everything else is way secondary. If somebody does it tomorrow to win the U.S. Open by one, that’s the specialness of my round. And secondly, Erin Hills isn’t exactly Oakmont.”

Miller called the conditions here the “perfect storm for a good score.” The sprawling, linksy design was the first par-72 Open course since 1992. The widest fairways in tournament history gave big hitters the freedom to bash away with driver. And the rain-softened greens allowed players to go pin-seeking with their iron shots and, in Thomas’ case, even with 3-woods.

“The course wasn’t designed to be soft, and if it was going to be soft, it should have been 26- or 27-yard-wide fairways,” Miller said. “That’s what made it easy. The guys weren’t afraid to bomb it.

“It was never that way in the U.S. Open. It was always about really tight fairways and having to be a great driver. This went totally against the tradition of the U.S. Open.”

Even Thomas, who is at 11-under 205, one shot back, conceded that the usual uncomfortableness of the U.S. Open has been lacking this week.

“It’s what the USGA and U.S. Open is known for is making you hate yourself and hate golf and just really struggle out there,” he said. “But it’s different being like this. Just being in a U.S. Open and seeing and hearing so many birdies. Usually those roars are for pars, but it’s fun.”

Thomas, of course, was focused less on Miller and more on trying to shoot 62, the barrier that still has never been broken in major championship golf. After going out in 31 – highlighted by his mini-golf, 90-degree birdie on No. 5 – Thomas set his sights on history when he blasted a 3-wood to 6 feet on the drivable 15th. He missed the short eagle putt, but he tacked on a 25-footer for birdie on 17.

Needing an eagle on the last to knock Miller off his perch, Thomas had 299 yards to the flag. He smoked a high cut that landed on the front edge and rolled out to 8 feet.

“I knew he could get it there,” said Jonathan Randolph, who was paired with Thomas on Saturday. “But I didn’t know he could hit it that high and that soft.”

Thomas raised his putter and walked in the eagle putt to break the record.

“A 63 for a par 72 is a heck of a score,” Miller said, “even if it was the Milwaukee Open.”

In the media tent afterward, Thomas was asked what he would say to Miller the next time he saw him.

“I don’t know, but I’ll be pretty happy,” Thomas said. “I wish he was calling it just to hear what he would have said.”

Considering Johnny’s candor, perhaps it was best he was not.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.

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Notah: Driver is Tiger's No. 1 pre-Masters concern

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 5:49 pm

Tiger Woods mounted a Sunday charge at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, sending shockwaves through Bay Hill when it looked as though he might finally claim PGA Tour victory No. 80.

But the charge came to an end at the par-5 16th, where Woods had missed wide-right three days in a row before going OB-left on Sunday en route to bogey.

Woods’ API performance featured just a handful of drivers each day, as firm and fast conditions allowed him to make frequent use of a 2-iron off the tee.

That strategy led to a second top-5 finish in as many weeks, but if Woods wants to win again, if he wants claim another major, he is going to sort out his issues with the big stick.

A guest Monday morning on the Dan Patrick Show, Golf Channel’s Notah Begay believes the driver will be a focus for Woods in his pre-Masters preparation.

“Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver. … Any time he has to turn a shot right to left with trouble on the left, he struggles a little bit,” Begay said.

“Off the sixth tee, off the ninth tee, there was some errant shots. And then we saw the really horrible tee shot yesterday at 16. He talked about in the post-round comments. He just didn’t commit to a shot, and the worst thing that a professional athlete can do to themselves to compromise performance is not commit.

“And so he made a terrible swing, and that’s the miss that is really difficult for him to recover from, because the majority of his misses are out to the right. So, when you eliminate one half of the golf course, you can really make your way around … a lot easier. When you have a two-way miss going, which sometimes creeps into his driver, it really makes it difficult to take out some of the trouble that you’re looking at when you’re standing on the tee box.

“So he has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”

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McIlroy trails only Woods in Masters betting odds

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 5:47 pm

After rallying for victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy is once again among the betting favorites for the upcoming Masters.

McIlroy was available at 16/1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook last week, listed behind six other players. But after his three-shot win at Bay Hill, his odds were trimmed to 10/1, leaving him behind only betting favorite Tiger Woods.

Next month will mark McIlroy's fourth opportunity to close out the final leg of the career Grand Slam by slipping into a green jacket. Here's a look at the current betting odds, with the first round only 17 days away:

8/1: Tiger Woods

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas

14/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose

16/1: Jason Day, Jon Rahm

18/1: Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson

25/1: Paul Casey, Bubba Watson

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama

40/1: Henrik Stenson, Marc Leishman

50/1: Alex Noren

60/1: Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Tyrrell Hatton, Thomas Pieters

80/1: Branden Grace, Brian Harman, Tony Finau, Charley Hoffman, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay

100/1: Zach Johnson, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner