Players Ready to Battle Elements at Troon

By Associated PressJuly 14, 2004, 4:00 pm
TROON, Scotland -- From the time Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and the rest of golf's top players set foot on Royal Troon, they have lavished this piece of linksland with praise.
The greens are among the purest on the British Open rotation. The rough is thick, but not deep enough to lose a caddie. A 200-yard shot can be either a 9-iron or a 2-iron, depending on the wind.
And unlike the U.S. Open last month at Shinnecock Hills, opinions are not likely to change.
Justin Leonard won at Royal Troon in 1997 and hardly noticed anything different when he returned, a tribute to the Royal & Ancient philosophy of letting Mother Nature have more of an influence than a lawn mower. Tournament officials even considered turning on the sprinklers until it rained Tuesday night.
'I think the R&A does an incredible job of setting the golf course up fairly and maintaining the course the way it is meant to be played, and not worrying about what the winning score is,' Leonard said. 'The weather dictates that. I think that's the way it should be.'
It wasn't like that at Shinnecock Hills.
Still fresh in the minds of players is the debacle on Long Island, when the U.S. Golf Association tried to protect its most precious commodity -- par -- by keeping water off the greens until shots no longer stayed there, scores soared into the 80s and no one managed to break 70 in the final round.
Robert Allenby was asked to give three examples of how he knows this is the British Open. He didn't mention the traditional yellow-and-black scoreboards, fish and chips, or even brilliant views of the Ailsa Craig jutting out of the sea.
'The greens are playable,' Allenby said. 'The greens are not running 15 on the Stimpmeter. And the course is set up the way it should be set up. It is set up to be a true test of golf.'
Allenby, whose even-par 70 was the best score on Sunday at Shinnecock, then was asked to look ahead at a scenario where Royal Troon gets out of hand.
'They can't do it,' he said.
The best example of how comfortable the R&A is with the British Open setup is that it cares little about the winning score. The wind howled at St. Andrews in 1995, and John Daly won in a playoff at 6 under par. Five years later, there was barely a breeze and Woods set a major championship record at 19 under par.
Well done. See you next year.
'I think one of the big differences to the United States and the U.K. is that we are very fortunate that our weather patterns and nature itself allows golf courses to flourish without too much interference,' said Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A. 'I think the USGA would agree that they got it wrong on Sunday at Shinnecock, but when you're trying to set up a golf course that's a strong test for players, it can be very difficult to get it right.
'We're out to find the best player in the conditions that prevail this week.'
For the first time in more than five years, the search doesn't begin with Woods.
He is still the No. 1 player in the world, although he can lose that ranking at Royal Troon if Els wins the claret jug and Woods finishes 17th or lower.
Woods played his final practice round Wednesday morning in the kind of weather that defines the British Open -- calm, wind, rain, rain that came down sideways and then sunshine. All that before he got through the front nine.
He starts this major with an afternoon tee time Thursday, playing alongside Greg Norman and Lee Westwood. Woods has been playing links golf since he was a teenager, and knows this is the one major that is beyond his control more than the other three.
'This one presents a different challenge,' he said. 'You're going to hit a good shot and get a bad bounce, or hit a marginal shot and get a great bounce. You know everyone is going to be dealing with it.'
The betting favorite is Els, who won the Open at Muirfield two years ago and had good chances at the first two majors this year. If the Big Easy needed any additional inspiration, he might have found it Tuesday when told that a prominent USGA official suggested Els 'gave up' in the final round of the U.S. Open, where he closed with an 80.
'If I did give up, I would have shot 100,' Els said. 'I'd like to meet the guy that said that.'
Els played his first major at Royal Troon as a 19-year-old in 1989, and he considers this one of the best tests on the rotation.
He also took a dig at the USGA.
'It's a very fair, good test of golf,' he said. 'The greens are running beautiful, and I can't see the greens getting away from us this time.'
Els might have the best odds by British bookies, but the list of favorites is longer than ever. Adding to the openness of this British Open is that the claret jug has gone to 13 players in the last 13 years, the longest streak at any major.
'I think everybody will feel like they have a chance,' Padraig Harrington said. 'It's not a golf course that suits long or straight hitters. It suits everybody.'
It might even suit Mickelson.
The Masters champion has never finished higher than 11th in the British Open, but he has never prepared for one quite like this. He has played three full practice rounds, writing down notes along the way. The same shots he has worked on all year -- lower trajectory with less spin -- should come in handy at Royal Troon.
Mickelson showed up a week ago for his first round of practice and was duly impressed.
'I thought it looked sensational,' he said. 'But then again, so did Shinnecock the week before.'
Not to worry.
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    Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

    By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

    ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

    The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

    Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.

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    “The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

    Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

    There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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    McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

    By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

    ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

    Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

    “I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”

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    For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

    The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

    McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

    “I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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    Glover trails Straka at Tour Championship

    By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

    ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

    With the top 25 earners in the four-event Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

    ''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

    Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

    ''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''

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    Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

    ''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

    Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

    McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

    The series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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    Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling

    By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:14 am

    ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.

    For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.

    “I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.

    Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.

    “Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”

    Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.

    On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.

    He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.

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    This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.

    “The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”

    Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.

    He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.

    There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.

    Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.

    Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”

    Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.

    It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.

    Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.

    “I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”

    In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.

    He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.

    The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.