View From Outside the Ropes
If ever she was going to win a major, I would have bet that her first would be a Womens British Open. Her game is perfectly suited for links courses like Royal Lytham & St. Annes: Shes a good putter, shes very straight off the tee, has good control over her ball, and doesnt hit it too high. She also grew up in Scotland, so shes very familiar with this style of play. You could tell that she and her caddie (her husband, Graeme) knew exactly where to hit it off the tee. I dont think she was in any fairway bunkers. Youve got to know where these bunkers are. If you get too aggressive and try and bomb one out there, you can find yourself hitting into a bunker you didnt think you could reach, and thats almost a sure one-shot penalty.
I didnt find a single fairway bunker here in 2003, when I won my lone Womens British Open title. That was the goal that my caddie, Terry McNamara, and I had for the week. Terry said, 'I dont care what you do, were staying short of those bunkers, unless you know you can drive over them.' That strategy paid off, although I saw players hitting a lot more drivers this week than I remember in 2003. Its very hard to play conservatively and lay up short of everything, because then you can really have some long shots into the green. Its a fine balance: The conditions are constantly changing at the British Open, and you have to know when to play conservative and when you can be aggressive.
The two long birdie putts Catriona made on holes 13 and 14 were obviously huge for her confidence. She was not playing her best up to that point, just trying to hang on, but I could tell after she made the 40-footer on No. 14 that she was back in control of the tournament. No. 14 is one of the toughest holes on the course, and to walk off there with a birdie had to be a huge relief for her, not to mention a nice little buffer between her and the rest of the field. For every birdie the leader makes that late in the round, it makes it that much more difficult on the rest of the field playing ahead of her. They start to realize theyre running out of holes, and they need to make something big happen in a hurry.
Once Catriona made her third consecutive birdie on No. 15, there was no catching her.
Paula Creamer made a valiant run on Sunday. She was only one stroke back of Catriona standing on the 17th tee, and I think had she made par on No. 18 and finished at one under, she wouldve applied a little pressure on Catriona. However, she found the tall grass overhanging one of the fairway bunkers with her tee shot, and then after punching out, sent her third shot past the green up against the clubhouse. That put an end to her bid for that elusive first major.
I think its only a matter of time before Paula wins a major. She just has to go out there and let it come to her, and not get too aggressive. As I have said before, it is very easy to put too much pressure on yourself in the majors. I put a lot of pressure on myself to win majors and I think Paula does that too, although its not something that goes away easily.
I was surprised to learn that 17 different players have won the last 18 majors on the LPGA Tour. The only player with two majors during that span is Lorena Ochoa. That goes to show you that theres really no dominant player in womens golf right now. Lorena held that designation for awhile, but shes obviously not playing at her best right now. I dont know if her motivation and focus is what it used to be. Shes got a lot of other interests. Shes getting married soon and she has a very successful foundation; she changed caddies in the middle of the year. These are big changes. You have to be so hungry and motivated to stay on top year after year. And shes not there right now. We know she can do it, its just a matter of her putting all of her focus on competitive golf again.
Perhaps these majors will serve as a kick in the butt and shell come out strong next year. You never know.
Solheim Cup Thoughts I liked Beth Daniels captain picks for the American squad in the upcoming Solheim Cup. I know Michelle Wies selection raised a few eyebrows, but if you look at her stats this year, shes really performed very consistently all year long. She didnt have last year to build up her point total, but this year shes been very solid. If I were captain, I'd want someone who is peaking and is in good form, and Michelle is a very exciting player.
I could see Michelle getting paired with a veteran like Juli Inkster, Beths other captains choice. Juli gets along with everyone; that along with her proven track record as a winner and leader is why she's on the team. Not to mention that she's a fan favorite and has a lot of experience.
Annika Sorenstam writes a column for GolfChannel.com following all four LPGA majors and the Solheim Cup this season. Sorenstam played in 55 majors during her career, winning 10 and finishing in the top-10 31 times. Sorenstam now spends her time focusing on her Annika brand of businesses, which include the Annika Academy, Foundation, Course Design, Financial Group, apparel collection with Cutter & Buck as well as her signature wine and fragrance.
Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.
According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.
Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.
Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.
Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.
And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.
Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.
Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:
The Monday morning headline will be …
REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.
RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.
MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.
JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.
Who or what will be the biggest surprise?
HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.
LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.
BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.
COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.
Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?
HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.
LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.
BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.
COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.
What will be the winning score?
HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.
LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.
BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.
COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.
Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty
Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.
Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.
This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):
While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:
Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.
McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.
Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.
“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”
McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.
“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”
He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.