Toms Howell hoping to continue to rebound

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2009, 5:00 pm
50th Bob Hope Chrylser ClassicLA QUINTA, Calif. ' David Toms has been reacquainted with an old friend.
He showed up at the Sony Open with that familiar red-and-white golf bag of Cleveland Golf. Toms likes to say that 11 of his 12 victories came with the club company, including his PGA Championship, three Ryder Cup teams and a World Golf Championship.
But he also knows that whats in his head is just as important as whats in his hands.
Absolutely, its wanting to do better, Toms said. And its putting the time into doing better. That doesnt mean more time, just more focus when I take time. Its easy to get away from that when youre not playing well. My goal this year is to make it count.
All that counts is who won, and that would be Zach Johnson.
The former Masters champion went through a dry patch similar to Toms for most of last year until he took a six-week break to evaluate his game and chart his course, then won the Valero Texas Open and Sony Open in a span of six starts.
What was fascinating about the leaderboard at Waialae, however, was the next three players behind him: Toms, Adam Scott and Charles Howell III.
All of them took a big step toward rebounding from a dismal year by their own standards.
Toms tied for second with Scott, who recorded his first top 10 on the PGA Tour since he tied for eighth at the Wachovia Championship last May. Scott prides himself on consistency, but he was consistently MIA the latter part of last year.
He split up with his longtime girlfriend and continued to play, often looking as though he was on autopilot. He had only one top 10 worldwide the final eight months of the year, missing the last month with a recurring knee cap injury.
Its important for me to play well in these first three weeks to get my mind back to where I like it to be, said Scott, who is defending his title this week in the Qatar Masters. Im really motivated, and I feel like the drive is back. It had certainly gone a little off-track there at the end of last year, so Im feeling good about things.
Howell turns 30 this summer, but he already is overlooked when the conversation turns to the surge in young players.
Even though he has won twice, has 10 runner-up finishes and has played on the Presidents Cup team twice, Howell is coming off the worst season of his career. He was 69th on the money ' certainly no reason to panic ' but the better barometer of his season is that he plunged to No. 137 in the world before his fourth-place finish in the Sony Open.
There are noticeable changes this year.
Howell has added about 20 pounds to what always was a rail-thin frame, and his hair is slightly longer. He looks older, his eyes reflecting experience of someone who has been toiling on the PGA Tour longer than anyone under 30. The Sony Open was his 249th start.
He left swing coach David Leadbetter for the second time, switching to Sea Island-based Todd Anderson and is trying to get away from his obsession with mechanics that led to a singular style of play.
I felt like a pitcher who only had one pitch, he said. Now Im trying to learn three or four pitches.
Despite his failure to birdie the par-5 18th, his back nine Sunday was an attention-grabber the way he gave himself birdie opportunities and holed enough putts (and one chip-in) to at least give himself a chance.
I havent played a tournament in two months, Howell said. For the first week, Im pretty happy.
Beyond winning, the immediate goal for Howell ' who grew up in Augusta, Ga. ' is to get into the Masters. He has not missed it since 2001, qualifying in 2007 with a strong West Coast swing that began with a runner-up finish at Waialae.
Toms isnt eligible for the Masters for the first time since 1997, and that bugs him.
Every time I see those previews for the Masters, it drives me crazy, he said. Im working toward that.
Its not just Augusta. He also isnt eligible for the Accenture Match Play Championship, which he won four years ago, or even The Players Championship because he finished out of the top 125 on the money list last year.
He wound up at No. 131. Toms probably could have played more in the Fall Series, but some of those events fell on the same week as LSU football games that he didnt want to miss, and he doesnt apologize for that. He recently bought a house in Baton Rouge.
Just one of my hobbies, Toms said. If someone had a different hobby, that might interrupt their golf schedule. Its always been that way for me, and it always will be, as long it makes sense. Missing the FedEx Cup is one thing. But in the fall, when I get to spend time with friends and family, thats what Im going to do.
He did just that last summer, the highlight of an otherwise forgettable season. Toms took six weeks off during the summer, even skipping the British Open, to restore his health and spend time with his wife and two children at their Louisiana lake house.
He didnt record his first top 10 until September and ended the year at No. 116 in the world ranking.
The runner-up finish at the Sony Open bumped him up to No. 76. Equally important as the result was the ease with which he played. Toms found himself pressing last year in the few opportunities he had. He looked like the old Toms at Waialae, constantly applying pressure without seemingly breaking a sweat.
Thats how he used to be. And thats how he wants to be again.
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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 each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

    Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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    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 of 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, 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.”

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    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.