James Nitties Ken Duke top leaderboard at Byron Nelson

By Associated PressMay 21, 2009, 4:00 pm
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IRVING, Texas ' Fun-loving PGA Tour rookie James Nitties can get serious, too.
 
While not shy about his tour bio that lists his special interests as clubbing, girls and movies, the 26-year-old Australian is trying to stay focused on a stretch of tournaments that could culminate with a spot in the U.S. Open.
 
Its not easy, but I just made an executive decision where I have to play well over the next five weeks, Nitties said. Its not just fun and games out here.
 
Nitties finished with four consecutive birdies for a 5-under 65 Thursday to share the first-round lead at the HP Byron Nelson Championship with Ken Duke, another surprise at the top of the leaderboard.
 
Duke snapped a streak of 11 consecutive rounds in the 70s to share the first-round lead for only the second time in his 118 career starts. His putt at No. 18 stopped 3 inches from the hole, or he could have had another birdie and the lead alone.
 
You think you should do better than youre doing, and then you press the issues and dont just let it come to you, the 40-year-old Duke said. I guess thats kind of what Ive done.
 
Until the Nelson, when he had five birdies over eight holes after being even through the first eight.
 
Mike Weir, Scott McCarron, Charles Howell III and Brad Adamonis shot 66s, and Jesper Parnevik and Tommy Armour III were among a group of a dozen players with 67s.
 
Defending champion Adam Scott started with consecutive bogeys and went on to a 71.
 
Nitties, who appeared on the Golf Channels Big Break series and finished second at the PGA Tour qualifying tournament last fall, was 1 under through 14 holes. After seeing the scores, he figured hed be in decent shape with one more birdie.
 
The scores, they werent that good, so it didnt put any pressure on me to do anything crazy, Nitties said. I was thinking 2 under, Ill be happy with. Its just a solid day.
 
Nitties then knocked his approach within 5 feet at the 504-yard 15th, and 6 feet at the par-5 16th. After a 13-foot birdie at the 198-yard 17th ' his longest made putt of the day ' he closed with another 5-footer.
 
It was not the best ball-striking round, but it was a smart round, Nitties said.
 
Nitties made the cut in seven of his first 14 tournaments. His best finish was a tie for fourth in the FBR Open at TPC Scottsdale, renowned as the biggest party stop on the PGA Tour. The Nelson also is known for its lively atmosphere.
 
There are a lot of good sights out here, but my best result was at one of the biggest party events of the PGA Tour and no one thought I would do half decent in that, Nitties said. I know when to put distractions and golf into two parts.
 
As for those special interests listed on his bio, Nitties describes it as pretty brutally honest and normal for a single 26-year-old.
 
I love going to the movies. I love hanging out with mates and having a couple of drinks in bars and chasing girls, he said. Its typical of a guy. Im just the only one that actually says it and doesnt say I like hanging out and fishing, when I really do normal stuff.
 
DIVOTS PGA Tour rookie Matt Bettencourts clubs were stolen when someone smashed the window of his car outside a hotel Wednesday. His wedding ring and watch were in the stolen golf bag. With a set of clubs built at the course, the 2008 Nationwide Tour money champion shot an opening 71. Kevin Streelman, part of the group at 67, was already 4 under through eight holes despite a bogey. But he had three more bogeys after that. Vijay Singh, the worlds No. 9 player and highest-ranked after Phil Mickelsons withdrawal, shot 70.
 

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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.

    Getty Images

    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.”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    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.  

    @radiosarks on Twitter

    Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

    A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

    Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

    Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

    And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

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    Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

    “You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

    The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

    “He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

    But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

    And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

    It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

    That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

    “I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

    It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

    McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

    “I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

    It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

    “I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

    A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

    Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.