A Similar Look to This British Open

By Associated PressJuly 12, 2004, 4:00 pm
TROON, Scotland -- First, a U.S. Open that looked like it belonged in Britain.
Next up is a British Open played on a true links that has been dominated by Americans.
About the only thing that makes sense in this unusual year for major championships is the caliber of players winning them, which signals the most parity at the top since Tiger Woods first began to dominate golf.
Nine players have won the last nine majors going into the 133rd British Open at Royal Troon, which includes six of the top 10 players in the world ranking. Missing from that group is Vijay Singh, whom many believe has been the best player over the last 18 months.
Phil Mickelson finally captured his first major with a brilliant back nine at Augusta National and an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the Masters. He almost won the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, too, until he was done in by a three-putt from 5 feet on the 71st hole that left him two shots behind Retief Goosen.
As for Woods?
He has been closer to the cut line than contention in the first two majors, extending his drought to 0-for-8 in the Grand Slam events and maintaining the party line that his game is close -- close to what, no one is quite sure.
'Golf is waiting for someone to step out and take charge other than Tiger,' Tom Lehman said. 'There is a number of guys who have been there a lot, yet no one has gone out and taken it.'
Mickelson wasn't sure if the parity is greater than it has been in a while, saying it was a tough question to answer.
'But it's fun that we can ask it,' he added.
Some answers might be available this week at Royal Troon, the second of three consecutive majors being played on links-styled courses. The PGA Championship is at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Some players might wonder if they ever left Shinnecock Hills last month.
Both courses have troublesome bunkers lining the fairways and protecting the green. Both have fairways framed by brownish natural grasses that look like miniature wheat fields. The most dangerous hole on both courses is also the shortest -- a par 3, which at Royal Troon is the famous 'Postage Stamp' hole measuring in at 123 yards.
The good news for the players? The U.S. Golf Association is only in town as a guest.
Mickelson played a practice round at Royal Troon a week before the British Open and declared it to be in sensational shape and a tough, but fair, test of golf.
'But then again, so did Shinnecock the week before,' he said.
The USGA was so determined to protect par at the U.S. Open that it stopped watering the greens. On an overcooked course, no one broke par in the final round and 28 players failed to break 80.
Despite heavy rain in recent weeks, the rough is not awful at Royal Troon and the fairways and greens are lusher than usual for a British Open. The Royal & Ancient prefers to let wind -- the strongest defense on any links -- dictate scoring, and it doesn't lose sleep if the winning score resembles the John Deere Classic.
'It's not as tricked up as the other three majors, and I think the players realize that,' Davis Love III said.
There is one trick to Royal Troon -- get your birdies while you can.
The first seven holes run south along the Firth of Clyde with a prevailing breeze at the players' backs. The front nine is a par 36 at only 3,462 yards, and even the 601-yard sixth hole -- the longest in British Open history -- can be reached in two by most players. The back nine is dead into the wind, and is a par 35 at 3,713
'If you're even par after the front nine, you think you've lost something,' Love said. 'And if you're even par on the back, you think you did pretty good.'
Royal Troon is just north of Prestwick, where the British Open was held the first 12 years and Colin Montgomerie is famous for saying, 'If you're not under par after nine holes at Troon, you may as well go to the clubhouse at Prestwick and have lunch.'
Goosen's victory at Shinnecock Hills kept one streak alive -- Americans have not swept the four majors since Craig Stadler (Masters), Tom Watson (U.S. Open and British Open) and Raymond Floyd (PGA) in 1982.
But they have enjoyed great success at Royal Troon, five straight victories dating to Arnold Palmer in 1962. Justin Leonard won the claret jug the last time the Open was held at Troon in 1997, coming from five shots off the lead.
The best American hope used to be Woods, but that's not necessarily the case anymore.
Woods has only one victory this year, in the Accenture Match Play Championship, and he has not seriously challenged in the last three majors. Tensions ran high last month in the U.S. Open, when his caddie kicked over the lens of a news photographer on the 10th tee and confiscated the camera of someone in the gallery during the final round.
There is great scrutiny of Woods' swing, and great curiosity where the ball is going.
'Pure and simple, he can't drive the ball in the fairway,' Nick Price said. 'From all I've seen now the last five months, his off-the-tee game is so erratic, and there's no pattern to it because he's losing it right and left. Until such time as he starts getting the ball in the fairway, he's going to struggle.
'You have to be a great driver of the ball to win major championships.'
Mickelson has never finished in the top 10 at a British Open, although he has never played this well. And he has never been this excited about playing in golf's oldest championship.
'In the past, I felt not as comfortable with the type of shot that I needed to hit or the way to hit them,' Mickelson said. 'Many of the shots that I have worked on throughout the year are shots I'll be expecting to use at Troon.'
Woods narrowly made the cut at the Western Open and wound up in a tie for seventh, another top 10 that only made his game look better than it is. He was working on the low stinger shot that figures to come in handy at the British Open. But Woods, who won at St. Andrews at a record 19 under par, said British links require a variety of shots.
'You can get suckered into hitting the low ball all day,' he said. 'The problem is you start doing that, and then you can't get the ball in the air. One of the things I work on for the British Open is trying to hit the ball really high and really low, so I've got a whole arsenal I can work with out there.'
Woods said he was 'very happy' with the state of his game.
When asked to elaborate, he smiled and said, 'No.'
The answers will come at Royal Troon, where the competition figures to be tougher and deeper than ever.
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    Not DJ, not Poulter: Kisner most proud to take down Kuchar

    By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 9:34 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – On his way to this week’s Final Four at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Kevin Kisner has beaten world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and the European match play ninja Ian Poulter. But neither match could compare to his duel with Matt Kuchar early Saturday.

    “I was more jacked to beat [Kuchar], really. Kuch is such a good player and our games are so similar,” said Kisner, who defeated Kuchar in the round of 16, 1 up. “We both made eight birdies this morning and I barely snuck out of there. I thought it was a lot of fun.”

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    By comparison, his quarterfinal bout against Poulter wasn’t nearly as electric. Kisner won two of the first four holes when the Englishman made bogey (No. 3) and when he was conceded the fourth hole, hecruised to an 8-and-6 victory for the week’s most lopsided win.

    “I don't know Ian that well, so I don't really have a history with him, other than watching him kill us in the Ryder Cup,” Kisner laughed.

    Things won’t get any easier for Kisner on Sunday when he’ll play Alex Noren in the semifinals. The Swede has been dominant this week and is considered one of Europe’s top players heading into this year’s Ryder Cup.

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    Hahn: 'My fault for not expecting the worst from fans'

    By Grill Room TeamMarch 24, 2018, 8:35 pm

    Fan behavior has made headlines all year long on the PGA Tour, and the topic of conversation doesn't look like it’s going away anytime soon.

    The latest example came on Friday at the WGC-Dell Technologies March Play, when James Hahn took to Twitter to complain that a fan deliberately yelled in his backswing on the 15th hole during his match with Jason Dufner, which he lost 3 and 2.

    “Whether we like it or not, this is where the game is going,” he tweeted. “My fault for not expecting the worst from fans. Just sucks to lose a match that way.”

    The two-time PGA Tour winner followed up his original tweet, clarifying that he can expect bad behavior from all golf fans while still loving and respecting them.

    He also pointed out a major difference in comparing golf to other sports, saying some PGA Tour players go to far greater lengths than the typical NFL star to engage with fans on a daily basis.

    The incident comes on the heels of several recent player run-ins with fans, including Justin Thomas at the Honda Classic, Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Sergio Garcia earlier this week at Austin Country Club.

    On Wednesday, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said that inappropriate fan behavior related to alcohol sales is something his staff is monitoring.

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    Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Elite Eight

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 8:25 pm

    Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

    Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

    Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

    Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

    Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

    Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

    Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

    Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

    Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

    Match 105: Bubba Watson (35) def. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28), 5 and 3. This was a tight match until Aphibarnrat’s short game failed him on the back nine, with a chunked chip at the 10th, a clumsy pitch at the 12th and a heavy heavy pitch at the 13th helping Watson win four consecutive holes. Watson played his way into the semifinals of this event for the second time in his career. He ended up fourth in 2011. Watson will meet the Justin Thomas in the semifinals.

    Match 106: Justin Thomas (2) def. Kyle Stanley (45), 2 and 1. Thomas moved into position to win more than the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship. He moved into position to take the world No. 1 ranking from Dustin Johnson. All that stands between Thomas and the top ranking now is Bubba Watson. If Thomas beats Watson in the semifinals, he is assured of going to No. 1. Thomas started slowly against Stanley, missing a 3-footer for par to lose the second hole. It marked the first time Thomas trailed in a match all week. All square making the turn, Thomas won the 10th, 11th and 12th holes and then held off Stanley the rest of the way. Thomas will meet Bubba Watson in the semifinals.

    Match 107: Alex Noren (13) def. Cameron Smith (46), 4 and 2. With birdies at three of the first six holes, Noren took an early 3-up lead. Noren, however, made it more interesting than he would have liked the rest of the way. Noren lost the seventh hole with a three-putt bogey and lost the eighth failing to get up and down for par. Smith, though, never pressed Noren after getting that opening. He failed to make a birdie the entire round. Noren, who has won six European Tour events since the summer of 2015, has been knocking on the door to his first PGA Tour title this year. He lost the Farmers Insurance Open in a playoff in January and finished third at the Honda Classic last month. Noren will meet Kisner in the semifinals.

    Match 108: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Ian Poulter (58), 8 and 6. Poulter gift wrapped Kisner an early 2-up lead, and Kisner pounced after that. Poulter, who was on such a torrid run until meeting Kisner, three-putted to lose the third hole with a bogey and then pulled his tee shot deep in a hazard to lose the fourth hole. Kisner birdied the fifth and sixth holes to race to a 4-up lead. Poulter had no answers. After making eight birdies in the morning Round of 16 , Poulter didn’t make a birdie against Kisner, who will face Noren in the semifinals.

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    Garcia bounced in Austin: 'On to Augusta'

    By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 6:55 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – For the 16th time in his career, Sergio Garcia’s week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play ended earlier then he would have hoped, but this time he has plenty of distractions to ease the sting.

    Garcia lost his Saturday morning match to Kyle Stanley, 3 and 1, marking the 15th time in his Match Play career he’s failed to advance to Sunday, but at least he has plenty to keep him busy with a newborn at home and his return to the Masters looming in two weeks.

    “On to Augusta,” said Garcia, who is not playing next week’s Houston Open. “It's exciting. Obviously when we get there, it's going to be interesting to see how we feel and everything. But it is definitely exciting.”

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    Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win last year’s Masters, his first major triumph, so his return to Augusta National will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

    His duties as defending champion will include hosting Tuesday’s Champions Dinner. No word on Garcia’s menu for the event, but various sources have confirmed it will be something “Spanish.”