Its All About the Long Ball
Now he might be overshadowed by some powerful company.
The theme for this year's edition of the 'Battle at the Bridges' is all about the long ball, featuring four players renowned for their prodigious length off the tee -- Woods and Hank Kuehne against Masters champion Phil Mickelson and John Daly in an 18-hole match.
ABC Sports will broadcast it live at 8 p.m. EDT, with ESPN picking up the first hour of the match.
Daly led the PGA Tour in driving distance for eight consecutive years, a streak that ended last year when Kuehne won the distance title by averaging a record 321.4 yards off the tee.
'I've played with Hank a lot, but we don't really pay attention to how long we hit it,' Daly said. 'What matters is your score. In the Skins Game in Canada, we hooked up and went back and forth a few times. He hit it five yards past me, I hit it five yards past him. We really don't think about it that much.'
Mickelson has sacrificed distance this year in an effort to have more control, and it already has paid off with a victory in the Masters and close calls in the U.S. Open and British Open. Still, he has spent most of his career salivating over distance, and he took some heat last year for joking that Woods 'hates that I can fly it past him now.'
As for Woods?
He might have to get used to hitting first Monday on The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe.
Woods finished out of the top 10 in driving distance for the first time last year, and concedes that he's not as long off the tee as he used to be. 'I kind of dink it around,' he often says.
The better-ball match is all about making birdies and shooting the lowest score, but there is a twist this year. Four holes have been designated for a long-drive competition, with each of them worth $75,000.
'Normally, I'd be ecstatic about a long-drive championship,' Mickelson said. 'But against Hank Kuehne, John Daly and Tiger Woods, I'm less than thrilled -- except that my partner, John Daly, is one of the longest guys in the game and probably holds his own.'
Along with the 18-hole match and the long drive contest, the third way of keeping score -- and perhaps the most important -- is the television ratings.
The national rating climbed as high as 7.6 in the second year of these hit-and-giggle affairs, when Sergio Garcia beat Woods on the 18th hole at Bighorn in 2000. Since the exhibition switched to a team format the following year, however, ratings have steadily declined. It dropped to 4.6 last year, when Mickelson and Garcia beat Woods and Ernie Els.
If it's true that everyone digs the long ball, this could be just what Monday Night Golf needs.
Woods always draws a big audience beyond regular golf fans, but he now has help from Mickelson, whose popularity soared even higher with his Masters victory. Plus, there is the fascination of two guys who swing from the heels.
Well, at least Kuehne does.
The former U.S. Amateur champion has tried hitting less club off the tee, but can't seem to get it in the fairway. After a while, he figured he was better off bashing his driver.
'At this point, I'm not really changing the way that I play golf because I really wasn't hitting the club that you're supposed to hit into the fairway ... into the fairway,' Kuehne said. 'I was actually hitting less fairways with that than the driver. So, I just play golf the best way I know how, and that's how it will be.'
Woods has increased his distance slightly this year by going to a larger driver with a graphite shaft. Statistically speaking, he is not the shortest hitter in this foursome, ranked No. 7 in driving distance. Kuehne is No. 2 on tour, followed by Daly, while Mickelson weighs in at No. 29.
'I have sacrificed a little bit of distance and have gained more accuracy,' Mickelson said.
Daly, whose grip-it-and-rip-it method has long been a gallery attraction, has gone to a control cut to keep the ball in the short grass. He's still long off the tee, just not as long as he could be. He can't argue with the results, having won at Torrey Pines in February for his first regular PGA Tour victory in 10 years.
'That's why I've had a better year this year, because I don't care about distance right now,' Daly said. 'If I tried to hit a big draw like I used to, I could probably hit it 25, 30 yards farther. But I wouldn't be able to control it.'
Still, they all figure to reach for a little something extra Monday night -- especially on the four holes where the longest drive will be handsomely rewarded.
Organizers can only hope the ratings come up big, too.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Schauffele just fine being the underdog
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.
“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.”
Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1
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.
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
Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat
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.
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.
Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16
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.
“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.”