One marathon day down, two more to go at U.S. Open

By Ryan LavnerJune 18, 2016, 1:46 am

OAKMONT, Pa. – After 13 hours of nonstop golf, Andrew Landry is still atop the leaderboard at the 116th U.S. Open, even though he struck just one shot Friday. Only now he has company, with Dustin Johnson bombing his way into a share of the lead after a near-flawless display at Oakmont.

After firing the first bogey-free round in an Open here since 1994, Johnson putted for birdie on all but two holes in the second round. Opting to finish in darkness, Johnson’s stress-free 69 pushed him to 4-under 136.

“I felt like I played really good all day,” he said. “Very pleased with how it went today.”

More than a quarter of the way through this disjointed Open, the leaderboard lacks some of the familiar names – Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are a combined 20 over par – but it has reignited the best-player-without-a-major debate and also turned the spotlight onto a familiar protagonist.

Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, with 26 top-5s in majors between them, all were inside the top four when the second round was suspended.

Their early standing should come as little surprise. 

U.S. Open: Full-field scores | Live daily blog | Photo gallery

Star-crossed at golf’s biggest events, Johnson was still one of the pre-tournament favorites based not only on his recent form (consecutive top-5s on Tour), but because of a venue that so perfectly fit his brawny game. A long, straight driver enjoys a massive advantage at Oakmont, and Johnson has been lethal off the tee, finding 71 percent (20 of 28) of the fairways while leading the field in driving distance, at 318.8 yards a pop.

“He played awesome,” Garcia said.

Westwood, now 43, shared second place two months ago at the Masters, while Garcia has regained his form, winning last month at the Nelson. The Spaniard closed out his day with a 50-footer for par on a course he described as the most difficult he’s ever played.

The rest of the picture here is less clear, with an eclectic cast of characters from major rookies to grinder-types to promising Europeans. Yet as Day 2 drew to a close, it was instructive to keep these early results in perspective: Only 47 of the 155 players have completed 36 holes, and half the field hasn’t even started its second round.

That’s why Landry, ranked 624th in the world and playing in his first major, was still at the top. Early Friday morning, he didn’t even bring his staff bag or his caddie to the course. His only task was cleaning up a 10-foot birdie putt that gave him an opening 66, the low first-round score at an Oakmont Open. 

Prior to this week, Landry hadn’t been inside the top 20 after any round this season, but now he’ll sleep on the lead at his national championship for the second consecutive night. Cooped up indoors after his early finish, Landry, sporting a new, clean-shaven look, returned to the course late Friday afternoon to spend about an hour at the practice area. His second round begins at 7:11 a.m. ET Saturday.

Among those who have yet to begin their second round: two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson (1 under), defending U.S. Open champion Spieth (2 over) and world No. 3 McIlroy (7 over). 

No U.S. Open is complete without a chorus of complaints, of course, and so it was Friday that some of the early-late starters groaned about their misfortune, as they endured three weather delays in one round while the other half of the field (including Johnson, the co-leader) played as many as 36 holes in a single day on a soft, gettable course.

The numbers suggest their grumblings were at least somewhat justified: The scoring average for the early-late starters (75.22) was nearly two shots higher than the afternoon wave (73.27). There were five more under-par rounds on the course when play was finally called, at 8:42 p.m. ET, after 13 consecutive hours of golf.

Oakmont’s slick, sloping greens have frightened members and Open competitors for years, but they haven’t been as fearsome over the first two days here, after nearly three inches of rain in a 36-hour span. The greens are rolling about a foot slower than the USGA hoped, allowing players to putt more aggressively. And the surfaces are soft and receptive, eliminating any fear that well-struck wedge shots would take a firm bounce and bound over the back. It’s a testament to Oakmont’s classic design – and its long, dense, penal rough – that only six players who have started two rounds remain under par.

Over the next two days, Oakmont will only get firmer, speedier and scarier, with a forecast that calls for low humidity and high temperatures in the upper-80s. (Hello, mud balls.) It’s a safe bet that Daniel Summerhays’ second-round 65 will stand as the low score of the week. One of the last players into the field as an alternate, Summerhays surged into a tie for seventh, just three shots off the clubhouse lead. “I need to think about that round, just sear it right into my memory,” he said. More importantly, he’s already signed two scorecards while the rest of the field is playing catch-up.

Indeed, another marathon day looms Saturday, with golf scheduled from sunrise to sunset. In 24 hours, the leaderboard figures to look much different.

Getty Images

Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

Getty Images

McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

Getty Images

What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x