Big Four Go After Golfs Fifth Major

By Associated PressMarch 23, 2005, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The 'Big Four' have been going their own direction for most of the year, two months of travels and trophies that lead them to The Players Championship.
 
Ernie Els was in Dubai when everyone else was at Doral. Phil Mickelson was skiing in Utah when the rest of the best were battling at Bay Hill. Tiger Woods was on his boat when he wasn't playing, while Vijay Singh was on the range the two tournaments he skipped this year.
 
The one thing they have in common is winning.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is widely regarded as the biggest of the Big Four.
'They all play well. They're all at the top of their game. They've all won one or two tournaments,' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday. 'They're joined by a lot of other players that are playing well. But Vijay, Tiger, Ernie and Phil have the opportunity this week to create some stories that could be pretty special.'
 
It doesn't always work out that way at golf's fifth major.
 
The Players Championship is the richest tournament in golf ($8 million) with the strongest and deepest field of the year, with 82 of the top 100 in the world ranking gathered on the TPC at Sawgrass, and all 146 of them capable of winning the $1.44 million prize.
 
The roll call of champions is worthy. In the 31-year history, only six champions have not won a major.
 
But the Big Four usually are a Big Flop at Sawgrass.
 
Woods and defending champion Adam Scott are the only players among the top 10 who have won The Players Championship, and Scott made it interesting last year by pulling a 6-iron into the water and having to salvage bogey with a testy up-and-down from 40 yards.
 
'Maybe I've run out of patience here in the last couple of years,' Els said. 'So I think this week I've got to be really patient, sometimes just throttle back and put the ball in play -- play it like a major.'
 
Els has only two top 10s in his 11 years at Sawgrass, and the others aren't much better. Singh has just two top 10s, his only year in contention ending with a tee shot he hooked into the water on No. 14 in 2001 when he finished second to Woods. Mickelson's best finish came last year, when he was four shots behind Scott.
 
Woods has no qualms with his record. Four years ago, he became the only guy to win The Players Championship and the Masters in the same year. He also was runner-up to Hal Sutton in 2000. And he won the first of his three U.S. Amateur titles at Sawgrass in 1994.
 
'I've had a nice run here,' Woods said.
 
But he has gone three straight years outside the top 10, and last year nearly missed the cut after opening with a 75.
 
And for those who want to throw Retief Goosen into the mix and make it a 'Big Five,' the stoic South African has missed the cut five out of six years at Sawgrass.
 
'I like the look of the course,' said Goosen, who played a practice round Wednesday with Woods. 'But for some reason, I'm just not hitting the right shots around it.'
 
Precision is everything at Sawgrass.
 
The course is not long by today's standards, measuring only 7,093 yards. Woods, Singh and Els were pounding drivers on just about every hole last week at Bay Hill, but Sawgrass is more about position.
 
And rain could change everything. The course got nearly an inch of rain overnight, and there is virtually no chance of getting it firm and fast by the end of the tournament. With more rain in the forecast later in the week, some already are bracing for a Monday finish.
 
Much of the focus is on Singh.
 
He is coming off two torturous weeks, missing a 30-inch par putt on the second extra hole to lose in a playoff to Padraig Harrington at the Honda Classic, then hitting a 7-iron into the water on the 18th hole while tied for the lead with Kenny Perry at the Bay Hill Invitational.
 
'It still plays in my mind,' Singh said. 'It's nothing that you just kind of forget about a week later. It's a disappointing thing to lose tournaments like that. But you have to look ahead all the time, and that's what I'm doing.'
 
Singh wants to win this tournament as much as any other.
 
He has a house down the street and had his annual Monday night bash with some 200 guests. When he's not on the road, he's at home on the range at Sawgrass, and probably knows this course better than anyone in the field.
 
To help his chances, he even cut out one of his practice rounds this week.
 
'This is where the biggest gathering of players are, and it'll be one of the biggest achievements of my career if I can win this thing,' Singh said. 'My focus right now is to play as I good as I can.'
 
Mickelson also is looking ahead.
 
His last PGA Tour event came at Doral, where he wanted Woods in the final round, but watched as the eight-time major winner rallied from two shots behind to beat him.
 
There has been a lot of speculation how Mickelson will respond to losing another showdown, but he already is back at work. He spent two days on the Stadium Course over the weekend, taking 8 hours in a practice round to study virtually every angle around the greens.
 
Then, he headed up to Augusta National for two days of practice for the Masters.
 
'I think I'm pretty close to being ready,' Mickelson said. 'I'm excited to get the tournament started.'
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - The Players Championship
  • Full Coverage - The Players Championship
     
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    Schauffele just fine being the underdog

    By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

    Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

    Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

    Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

    “All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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    Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

    Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

    So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

    Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

    Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Jordan Spieth: 7/4

    Xander Schauffele: 5/1

    Kevin Kisner: 11/2

    Tiger Woods: 14/1

    Francesco Molinari: 14/1

    Rory McIlroy: 14/1

    Kevin Chappell: 20/1

    Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

    Alex Noren: 25/1

    Zach Johnson: 30/1

    Justin Rose: 30/1

    Matt Kuchar: 40/1

    Webb Simpson: 50/1

    Adam Scott: 80/1

    Tony Finau: 80/1

    Charley Hoffman: 100/1

    Austin Cook: 100/1

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    Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

    By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

    For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

    By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

    But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

    As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

    “This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

    Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

    As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

    After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

    “I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

    But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

    Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

    “I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

    There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

    Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

    And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

    As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

    “We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

    Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

    Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

    The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

    Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

    It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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    Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

    One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

    McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

    McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

    “I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”