Nielsen Enjoys Being the Defending Champ

By Associated PressJune 26, 2008, 4:00 pm
Champions TourEAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- Lonnie Nielsens last few days have been unlike any hes had as a big-time professional golfer.
 
This is the first time for me doing this as a defending champion, Nielsen said Thursday, the day before he was to tee it up as the reigning champion of the Commerce Bank Championship on the Champions Tour.
 
Nielsen played on the PGA TOUR full-time from 1978-83 with his best finish a tie for fifth at Quad Cities in 1979. He then became a club pro and was successful on the New York State PGA circuit, winning 32 times from 1984-2003.
 
But it was his 14-under 199 total at the Red Course at Eisenhower Park last year that gave him a two-stroke victory over Loren Roberts and his first Champions Tour win in his fourth full year on the over-50 circuit.
 
It was a big confidence boost to me, Nielsen said. You have a feeling of belonging, of getting over a big hurdle because you are playing with World Golf Hall of Famers, major champions and on and on. Everyone out here has such a great resume and that win has been a big reason for my success the last year.
 
Since winning on Long Island, Nielsen has had nine top 10 finishes, including ones in the U.S. Senior Open and British Senior Open. He tied for seventh last week and is 13th on the current money list with $574,759.
 
Nielsen smiled broadly when asked about what followed last years victory.
 
It felt like it went on for about a month. It was exhausting yet absolutely sheer joy, he said. Driving from the golf course my voice mail was full and by the time I listened to the messages, it was full again. Then we got in the plane and it was full again. We got to hotel and there were 150 e-mails. I heard from people I didnt know but they had some sort of connection with me. It was the most fun part of the whole deal. It was such a cool week and then I got to the next tournament and had the other players pat me on the back and welcome me to the club.
 
Nielsen is one of seven former champions playing in the $1.6 million event that has a first prize of $240,000.
 
Jeff Sluman, who won for the first time on the Champions Tour last week at the Bank of America Championship, said being a six-time winner on the PGA TOUR took nothing away from his latest win.
 
Its nice to win any time, any place in any event from junior golf to professional, he said, adding nothing changes to the way these golfers approach the end of a tournament. You just want to win. The rush of competition gets in your blood.
 
Nick Price has yet to win in his second full season on the Champions Tour. The three-time major champion, who was ranked No. 1 in the world during the 1990s, has seven top 10 finishes this year, including six of his last seven events.
 
I was just burnt out in 2005. I was playing the same schedule at 47 that I was playing at 31 or 32 and I hit a brick wall, the 51-year-old said. The Champions Tour has been a breath of fresh air but my game was behind. Slowly, toward the end of last year I felt it was coming back. This year I have built on that. Every week Ive had a chance to finish in the top 10 and Ive had three chances out here to win.
 
You still get the butterflies, have that apprehension. We all enjoy that when we are in control of our game. Every guy here feels the exact same way and wants to be in the hunt on Sunday on the back nine.
 
One golfer hoping to have that feeling return quickly is Peter Jacobsen, who is playing for the first time since March when he had knee replacement surgery.
 
I have a renewed spirit now. Im ready to play, but probably not ready to win, said Jacobsen, a two-time winner on the Champions Tour. The doctor told me to go play.
 
Divots
 
Other former champions in the field are Bruce Fleisher (1999, 2000), Jim Thorpe (2003, 2004), Dana Quigley (1997), Bobby Wadkins (2001), Ron Streck (2005) and John Harris (2006). The course, a county-owned public facility which hosted the 1926 PGA Championship, will be a par 71 at 7,082 yards. There are five members of the World Golf Hall of Fame in the field: Price, Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, Isao Aoki and Curtis Strange.
 

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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 all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

    Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished 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 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.”


    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.