Notes: Muirfield's No. 14 could yield a lot of birdies

By Associated PressOctober 2, 2013, 8:55 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – The signature 14th at Muirfield Village can be a birdie hole for Tiger Woods – and maybe even a once-a-month hacker.

It's all about the approach, and that will lead to a lot of strategy at this week's Presidents Cup.

Off the tee, it's a relatively easy long-to-middle iron to a generous fairway, the ball coming up just short of a pleasant brook that bisects the hole and then snakes along the right side of the green.

From there, it's a lofted iron to the kidney-shaped green, bounded by three menacing sand traps on the left, with an abrupt slope to the creek on the right.

To add yet another element of suspense to this week's Presidents Cup, the PGA Tour, which sets up the course for the biennial team competition, toyed with the idea of shortening the par-4, 325-yard 14th so that long hitters could bomb away.

From the looks of it, few will take the bait.

Phil Mickelson - known for never shying away from a risky shot – probably won't even pull out driver. (Then again, with Mickelson, you never know for sure.)

''No. 14 will be up to each player,'' he said Wednesday on the eve of the start of the four-day event. ''As a player who likes to go for it, even I have a hard time understanding the advantage of going for it. Very simply put, there's water right, bunkers left with a green that's so severely pitched you can't stop it on the green.''

He's certainly not alone.

U.S. captain Fred Couples sounded as if he would discourage any of his players from going for it.

''On the 14th I watched Hunter (Mahan), Webb (Simpson), (Bill) Haas and (Brandt) Snedeker play the hole,'' Couples said. ''They all tried to drive the green. Three of them could actually reach the front part - it depends on where the pin is, but it's (still) a very difficult shot. Most players can probably get it up and down in front of the green but there isn't much room.''

The International team will decided as matches progress.

''It depends on the day,'' assistant captain Tony Johnstone said. ''I think some of the guys will go. Some of the guys feel that it's never the right option, that they would rather just knock it short and chip it on and they'll make more 3s from there. It's going to depend on the day, how the matches are going, how the guys are feeling, where the wind's blowing. But these guys are all world-class players, so it's whatever they desire to do.''

Keegan Bradley, who will be paired with Mickelson in the better-ball matches on Thursday, said the distance makes it particularly debatable to go for it off the tee.

''It's very difficult on that hole if you go for it and don't hit the green,'' he said. ''You're going to see a lot of guys still laying up because it's so brutal. But it's definitely right there.''

THREE'S A CHARM:The legendary year of Jordan Spieth added yet another chapter on Thursday.

The 20-year-old, who didn't have a PGA Tour card a year ago but won one time and played his way onto the U.S. Presidents Cup team, aced the signature 12th at Muirfield Village during a practice round.

''I got good video of him getting the ball out of the hole if you want to see it,'' U.S. assistant captain Davis Love III said.

He drained a 7-iron from 176 yards for his third hole in one – and second this year after jarring a shot at Puerto Rico.

Spieth was playing with Woods, Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker.

''Tiger had already hit and he hit an 8-iron and it looked like he went after it, so I went ahead and hit kind of a smooth 7,'' the Texan said. ''It started at the flag and never really left it. I had flown the green a couple days before and I thought it was perfect. It took a little while to trickle and I thought it was going to be about a foot short. All of a sudden it dropped.''

Spieth swapped high fives with everybody in his group, including the caddies and officials. The crowd behind the green roared.

''It was really cool,'' he said. ''A cool environment that we had so many people around.''

DO AS I DID: K.J. Choi has won 17 times around the world. That includes the 2007 Memorial Tournament – held on the same Muirfield Village layout that is hosting the Presidents Cup this week.

He did not make the International side, but still is working in an official capacity this week. He's handling analysis for the television feed back to his native South Korea and is acting in an advisory role to the 2015 Presidents Cup, which will be held at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in Incheon, South Korea.

It figures that he ought to provide some perceptive comments for both sides because of his success at Muirfield Village.

Asked if he thought the International side would win, he laughed and said, ''I wish!''

THAT'S MR. COUPLES, TO YOU: Couples, the U.S. captain, said he was approached by a younger man during a practice round on Tuesday.

''I met (Jordan Spieth's) father, who is probably eight years younger than I am, which is really weird,'' Couples said to loud laughter. ''I wasn't expecting that, but he came up and said, 'I'm Jordan's father.' I looked and thought he was 30 years old.''

Asked if Mr. Spieth addressed him as Mr. Couples, he cracked, ''No, he didn't, actually, but I told him to from now on.''

CHANGE IN SCHEDULE: International captain Nick Price believes that the way teams are chosen and other factors favor the United States. Maybe that's why the Americans are 7-1-1 in Presidents Cup play.

One area where Price was able to get the rules changed was the schedule. Play on Thursday will get under way with four-ball, or as it is commonly known, better-ball competition.

Traditionally, the first day was devoted to foursomes or alternate-shot play.

In four-ball, the low score for each pairing counts within the group. For example, if Ernie Els has a birdie at the fifth hole while paired with Brendon De Jonge in their match with Stricker and Spieth, and the Americans each par it, the Internationals win the hole.

''When Ernie and I went to see (PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem) last year, just to talk about it, that was one of the concessions that he made,'' Price said. ''Both Ernie and I felt it was very important just to change it from the hardest format (foursomes) to the better-ball. That was a positive move for us.''

The International side has seven first-time participants in the Presidents Cup. Since foursomes is a format that none of those rookies has played before in international competition, Price believed it was advantageous to push that new experience back a day.

OTHER KEY HOLES: While many might be watching to see if someone goes for the green at the par-4 14th off the tee, there are several other decisions that will need to be made by players.

Snedeker takes us on a quick tour of the course and the choices made during the better-ball competition.

''Obviously, I think the par-5 fifth will be an important one on aggressive, you want to be there. If you're both in the fairway, who's going to go and who's going to lay up?'' he said. ''(The par-5) No. 11 will be a decision off the tee. If you want to be aggressive and hit driver and try to get down there and knock it on in two or lay back and play it as a three-shot hole. It depends on what your partner does, how you play that hole. And then 14 will be the only other one I could see being an issue.''

DIVOTS: Jay Haas Jr. is caddying for his brother, Bill Haas. Angel Cabrera's bag will be carried by his son, Angel Cabrera Jr. ... NBC will provide more than 890 live hours of coverage of the Presidents Cup. The competition will be on Golf Channel from 1 to 8 p.m. EDT on Friday and Saturday, then carried on NBC from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. ... It may be the International team, but several players live at least part of the year in the States: Jason Day (nearby Westerville, Ohio), Brendon de Jonge (Charlotte, N.C.), Graham DeLaet (Boise, Idaho), Ernie Els (West Palm Beach, Fla.) and Marc Leishman (Virginia Beach, Va.), in addition to team captain Nick Price (Hobe Sound, Fla.) and assistants Mark McNulty (Orlando, Fla.) and Shigeki Maruyama (Los Angeles). ... The two sides had similar success (or lack of it) at the 2013 Memorial Tournament, held in June at Muirfield Village. Each team had two players miss the cut, the Americans had a 2-1 edge in top-10 finishes and the Internationals had a 6-4 advantage in those finishing in the top 50. However, the trump card is Matt Kuchar of the U.S. won the tournament.

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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, 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.  

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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?’”