Players Championship Dodges Major Bullet
The PGA Tour's showcase event was teetering on the edge of ridicule, although not for obvious reasons. It only would have looked bad if the fifth major had needed six days to find a winner.
Was it three rain delays that left players stranded in the clubhouse with nothing better to do than complain?
Not at all.
Weather happens. Golf should be thankful it doesn't happen more often. Besides, wholesale grumbling is heard the loudest at majors, so perhaps The Players Championship made big strides this year.
It wasn't the condition of the course or 'preferred lies' that tarnished its stature, either.
Rain turned the TPC at Sawgrass into a sloppy mess, leaving tournament officials no choice but to allow players to lift, clean and place the ball in the fairway. That doesn't happen at any other major, and purists will argue that the ball should be played where it lies.
That was one of the original 13 rules established in 1744 when golf primarily was played on seaside links courses. What would the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers have thought about the Stadium Course at Sawgrass? Or a course with a name closer to home, like Muirfield Village?
A popular phrase last week was playing golf 'the way it was meant to be played.'
Noble, indeed, but that carried an entirely different meaning depending on who was talking. For rules officials, that meant playing the ball down. For players, it meant playing shots without globs of mud on the side of the ball.
Peter Dawson, the square-jawed secretary of the Royal & Ancient, was hardly offended to see players handing golf balls to their caddies to be scrubbed clean and gently placed in the fairway.
'On this type of course, when it gets as wet as this, you've almost got no option,' he said. 'I think the ball should be played as it lies, as long as you can play proper golf. But with the conditions we've had, you couldn't have done that.'
Then there was that bizarre mulligan in the second round.
Thirty players began the round without being able to lift, clean and place. Once rain made preferred lies the only option, those scores were erased and the round started over. That cost players like Jesper Parnevik, Joe Ogilvie and Skip Kendall, and rescued Ernie Els.
But the most anyone had played was four holes.
That's like a bad call in the first quarter of a football game. No one remembers, and it rarely makes a difference.
What nearly cost The Players Championship major credibility was the fifth day.
It was the seventh time this tournament had to be finished on Monday, so that was nothing new. And there is a precedent on the major scene; the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont did not end until Monday because of rain.
But the wind that shooed away the storm nearly exposed the 17th hole as the gimmick it is, and showed why one hole might be the obstacle that keeps The Players Championship from being regarded as a major.
As it stands, the tournament has 17 holes of championship golf.
The other hole is a circus.
The island-green is the most notorious par 3 in golf, perhaps the most well-known among mainstream fans.
But it is not golf the way it is meant to be played.
Fred Funk chose to aim his 3-iron from 234 yards over the water and allow the wind to bring it back to land, setting up a two-putt birdie on the 16th for the outright lead. He stood over a 5-foot par putt on the 18 that gave him the biggest victory of his career.
What was the most nerve-racking moment on the final round? The 17th tee, of course.
'It can just ruin the whole week,' Funk said.
Tiger Woods called it a made-for-TV hole, easy for him to say since it usually eats his lunch. He would have no problem if it were the eighth hole of the round, but not one second from the end.
'I don't think a hole like that should decide a tournament,' he said.
It can decide fate long before that. Bob Tway was four shots out of the lead late in the third round Monday morning when he hit four balls into the water and made a 12, the highest score ever on that hole. Two shots hit the green and spun off into the water. He went from a tie for 10th to a tie for 72nd.
'You're playing great,' Tway said quietly. 'All of a sudden, in one hole, you might as well be finishing last.'
What spared The Players Championship from embarrassment was that the strongest wind in tournament history blew from left to right. Had the direction been downwind or into the players' faces, it would have become a guessing game which club to use and how far to hit it.
One of these days, that will happen.
Golf is not meant to be fair. One only has to look back nine months to the U.S. Open, where the USGA outlawed sprinklers. Tee shots would not stay on the bone-dry green at the par-3 seventh at Shinnecock Hills, turning a classic course into a farce. But at least players could aim for the bunker and try to save par.
You can't play the ball as it lies when it doesn't stay on the 17th green at Sawgrass.
It is an exciting hole, a dramatic hole. The Players Championship might not be the same without it.
Majors test skill, patience and nerves. At times, they require luck.
But they should never demand it.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba
Conor Moore is known for his impressions of golfers, and he is back with a new video just in time for The Open.
Moore even got the thumbs up from Ian Poulter.
This is hilarious..— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) July 16, 2018
Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite
Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.
Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.
Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.
Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:
12/1: Dustin Johnson
16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose
20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm
25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods
30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed
40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton
50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick
60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson
80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele
100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen
Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC
If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.
Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.
Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.
There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.
There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.
Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.
John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.
Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.
Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.
Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.
“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”
Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.
“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”
But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.
“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”