Appleby Back in Familiar Spot in Houston

By Associated PressMarch 29, 2007, 4:00 pm
2006 Shell Houston OpenHUMBLE, Texas -- Stuart Appleby was back on top of the leaderboard at the Houston Open on Thursday with the same first-round score that propelled him to a six-shot victory last year.
 
He wasn't as excited about his 6-under 66 this time, because he knows he isn't playing as well as he was a year ago.
 
Kevin Sutherland and rookie Johnson Wagner, who was born in Amarillo, also shot 66s to share the first-round lead. Like Appleby, they teed off in the morning, before gusty wind kicked up and made the 7,457-yard Tournament Course at Redstone more challenging.
 
'The course is there to be had,' Appleby said. 'It's not a difficult course in no wind.'
 
Texans Justin Leonard, Jeff Maggert and Bob Estes were in a group of six players one shot back after 67s. Estes had the lowest round of the afternoon starters.
 
Appleby hasn't won since Houston last year and has only one top-30 finish in seven starts in 2007. The Australian birdied three of his first four holes in the early morning, when conditions were calm and the course was most vulnerable.
 
'That really set the theme for the day,' he said.
 
Appleby added three birdies on his back nine, but said the round was rougher than his score revealed. He missed seven of 14 fairways, finding a bunker with his tee shot on the par-5 fourth hole that led to a bogey.
 
Appleby still easily broke 70 for the first time this year, scoring well despite playing what he called his 'C' game.
 
'I'm not really worried about trying to just play good every week and win,' he said. 'I'm more worried about playing poorer golf better. That's probably what today was. It wasn't quite right, but it was a lot better golf.'
 
Leonard, who lives in Dallas, shot in the 60s for the first time since last October, playing what he thought was his best round since 2005.
 
The 1997 British Open champion finished 109th on the money list last year and hasn't had a top-10 finish since last February.
 
Leonard missed the cut in his first six starts this year and finally ran out of patience. He fired swing coach Butch Harmon and caddie Brent Everson and reunited with Randy Smith, the pro at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas, who was Leonard's first instructor.
 
The moment Leonard started working with his old teacher, his outlook improved.
 
'It's probably 10 percent swing and it's probably 90 percent just the surroundings, being at Royal Oaks on the back of the range,' Leonard said. 'When you make changes, it's easier to go back to what you know, because there's a familiarity there. I think that breeds confidence.'
 
Leonard has also started seeing a sports psychologist, trying to rediscover the mind-set that helped him win 10 tournaments between 1996-2005.
 
Two weeks ago at Bay Hill, Leonard tied for 75th with his childhood coach at his side and new caddie Brian Smith (no relation) on his bag. It was nothing spectacular, but Leonard saw encouraging progress.
 
Leonard spent the last two weeks working with Randy Smith in Dallas and arrived in Houston feeling good about his game for the first time in months.
 
'After the work that I've put in the last 10 days, I kind of expected to play well,' he said. 'It's a nice change of pace.'
 
Leonard kick-started his round by chipping in from behind the green at No. 2. He holed a 10-foot putt on the next hole and added birdie putts on Nos. 7, 12 and 13.
 
'It's a round that I can build on,' he said. 'I don't feel like I'm over any hump. But I got a whole lot closer today.'
 
DIVOTS
Sutherland has traditionally played well in Houston, losing a playoff to Phil Blackmar in 1997 and finishing in the top 20 three times since 2000. 'I just have a lot of success here for whatever reason,' Sutherland said. 'Sometimes trying not to figure it out is the best way to go.' ... Wagner took off his shoes and socks and rolled up his pant legs to save par on No. 18 after his approach trickled to the edge of a pond. Ankle-deep in the water, Wagner pitched his third shot to six feet, put his footwear back on and sank the putt. Fans gave Wagner some good-natured heckling during his ordeal. '(They said) 'Your legs are white, put them back on, get your shoes wet,'' Wagner said. 'It was pretty ugly.' ... Tripp Isenhour and Jeff Sluman withdrew because of back injuries.
 
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    Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

    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.


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    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.

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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    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.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    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.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    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.”


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    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.