Tour cards on the line at Disney World
At No. 126 on the money list, it’s only business. Baird joins others at the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Classic on Thursday who are near the cut line to keep their PGA Tour card. Only the top 125 will have full status next year.
The pressure to perform and living about two hours away in Jupiter, Fla., forced him to rethink doubling the event as a family vacation.
“I’m like, ‘What are we doing? We’re coming up for the week because we got free Disney passes?” Baird said. “If I play well, I think we can afford the Disney passes.”
Probably more than that.
Players who finish No. 126-150 on the money list will get conditional status, allowing them to enter more than a dozen tournaments. But it can be a hectic year figuring out schedules each week. Not to mention hoping for sponsor’s exemptions or missing out on some of the most prestigious tournaments.
And what a fitting site for the finale.
The place that declares at the entrance gates “Where Dreams Come True” will crush as many hopes as it fulfills this weekend. With so many in search of that fairy tale ending, some will inevitably fall short.
“It’s a great place to come play,” Baird said. “Obviously, I don’t think I’m up here because it’s a great place to play.”
Nerves are often all over the course, too.
Players overswing on drives. They short-arm putts and take chances they otherwise wouldn’t. Even around the plush clubhouse, complete with a playroom for kids, these are anxious times for many.
“I can imagine that guys just want to get out there and get things rolling right away and get it over with so they don’t have to think about it for another 12 months,” said Troy Merritt, who is at No. 121 on the money list.
At least Merrit has another incentive.
Merritt leads Rickie Fowler and Aaron Baddeley by one stroke in the Kodak Challenge. The contest designates a hole at 30 tournaments and keeps score throughout the year, and the lowest score for those who played at least 18 holes wins the $1 million prize. This week’s hole is No. 17 on the Magnolia Course.
But the major payday is merely a subplot this week. Stephen Ames, who has won it two of the last three years, is out with a back injury.
Even for those who are safe, the stress from others is clearly visible.
“Guys get a little more serious, guys have their swing coaches out or they have their psychologist out, really trying to do whatever they can to try and keep their cards for next year,” said Baddeley, who’s assured of keeping his full status. “You don’t laugh at them because you could be in that position.”
Last year, only two players who started inside the top 125 at Disney fell out and lost their cards: Former No. 1 David Duval and Robert Garrigus. Duval rebounded this year and will have full status after he earned enough money despite playing fewer tournaments. Garrigus enters at 122nd and again is in danger of not having full status.
Maybe nobody knows that feeling of barely missing the final cut more than Baird.
Baird finished 126th in 2005 in one of the worst ways imaginable: An event in Mississippi was rained out and rescheduled at the end of the season. If the tournament had been canceled, he would have never lost his card. As it turned out, Baird went from 125 that week to 126.
But Baird isn’t overly concerned about keeping his full status this week. The 38-year-old believes he could enter enough tournaments next year to get back his card if things don’t go his way at Disney. He’s already signed up for qualifying school just in case.
Of course, a solid outing and he won’t have to worry about his schedule.
“I’m not going to downplay it. There’s a significant difference,” Baird said. “You’re going to get to pick and choose your tournaments, and that’s huge.”
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.”
Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.
Hoylake in 2006.
That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.
So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?
“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”
With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?
“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”