Who dueled it better? 1977 Open vs. 2016 Open

By Brandel ChambleeJuly 22, 2016, 4:20 pm

There they were, fighting Mother Nature and Father Time, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson putting on a show that had us stammering to name it before it was over.

Was it the Royal Boil? The Fray on the Firth? The Melee in the Mist? The Back and Firth? The Royal Row?

Oh, hell, whatever you want to call it, it was one helluva show.

Before Sir Henrik of Stenson hit that last putt I was flat out Swedish fishing to put it into perspective, too. Was this better than the Duel in Sun?

Maybe … YES SIR! … He made the putt! He shot 63! Of course, only one man had ever done that in the final round of a major to win and as luck – fate, NBC and the R&A – would have it, he was on the call. Who better than Johnny Miller to tell us what it feels like to shoot 63 in the final round of a major to win? Not only had he been there, done that, he was at the Duel in the Sun where the final big yellow leaderboard looked like a stroll through the Hall of Fame. Right there in the top 10 with Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, ‘scuse me, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, were Hubert Green (who had just won the U.S. Open), Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Arnold Palmer, Ray Floyd, and Miller, the defending Champion Golfer of the Year.

It is peculiarity of people, myself included, that we tend to bestow originality on the most current events, especially sporting events, and in our fervor say they are the best we have ever seen. We did it after the 106th Open in 1977 and we are doing it now as we sum up the 145th. Even the stars of the Duel, Nicklaus and Watson, have chimed in and are saying the Henrik and Phil show surpassed theirs.

Before I agree or disagree I figured I would do a little digging, or adding and dividing as it were. Here’s what I found:

The average score over the Saturday and Sunday of the 1977 Open, was 72.62 and 73.35, respectively, for a total of 145.97. Given that Tom and Jack, who played together both days, shot 130 and 131 over the weekend, they beat the field by a combined 30.94 shots.

The average score over the Saturday and Sunday at Royal Troon, was 73.37 and 72.8 for a total of 146.17. Henrik and Phil, who also played together both days, shot 131 and 135 on the weekend which means they clipped the field by 29.34 shots.

Advantage, Tom and Jack.

Having won 14 majors before The Open in 1977, Nicklaus was the greatest major champion of all time. He was 37 and only a few years removed from the prime of his career. Watson was 10 years younger and in April he birdied the 71st hole of the Masters to take a one-shot lead over the Golden Bear, who was addressing his approach shot into 18 when Tom’s putt went in. Jack backed away at the roar and then after settling in again, fatted his approach and made bogey. Tom won by two.

It was the 13th runner-up finish in a major for Jack. It was the second major win for Tom, who would go on to become the most prolific Open champion in U.S. history, arguably one of the top 10 greatest players of all time – and along with Trevino (Nicklaus would finish runner-up to both four times in the majors), Jack’s biggest nemesis.

Mickelson, has won five majors. He is 46 and the sun is setting on his career. Stenson had never won a major before this year’s Open and at 40, he is not likely, historically and statistically speaking, to win another. Phil might go down as one of the top 10 players of all time, but in my opinion, to crack that list, he still has some “major work” to do. Henrik is the first male from Scandinavia to win a major and given his driver yips of a decade or so ago compared with his Hoganesque tee-to-green work now, his almost $11 million that Allen Stanford Ponzi-scammed him out of, and his practical joke nature, he is a compelling figure in many ways. But in no way comparable to the foil or the player that Watson was.

This Open had no Nicklaus and no Watson.

On the Sunday of the Duel in the Sun, Nicklaus was three up after four holes and then Watson birdied three of the next four to pull even. At the far point of the course, as they walked down the ninth fairway, the frenzied gallery broke through the ropes and rushed past Jack and Tom. Nicklaus’ caddie, Angelo Argea, said after that he thought Jack was going to get trampled and it took 15 minutes to clear the fairway. Jack sat on his bag. Tom stood and waited and then bogeyed to lose the lead. Nicklaus birdied No. 12 from 22 feet to go two up. Watson birdied No. 13 from 12 feet, and then a haymaker for birdie from 60 feet at No. 15 brought them all square.

As the two waited on the 16th tee, Tom said to Jack, “This is what it’s all about, isn’t it?” To which Jack answered, “You bet it is.” Pars at No. 16 kept them even. On No. 17, a driver and 3-iron gave Tom a look at eagle on the par 5, while Jack had little more than 3 feet for a 4. Tom missed and tapped in for birdie and then Jack missed the only putt anyone can remember that he needed to make.

Tom chose a 1-iron at the last and found the fairway. Jack hit driver, blocked it to the right and finished just left of the gorse. Tom hit his second tight and Jack, having to make a contrived backswing to miss the gorse, sent fescue flying and his ball finished 35 feet. It looked to be over.

As Tom was walking toward the green he turned to his caddie Alfie Fyles and said, “Nicklaus is going to make that long putt, I know him too well.” Right on cue, Jack made the putt and then almost in tandem, as he was quieting the crowd Tom tapped in for a one-shot win.

In one of the most memorable acts of sportsmanship anyone can remember, Jack put his arm around Tom’s neck as the two walked off the green.

Sunday at this year’s Open began with an anticipatory nostalgia and a parallel flirtation with the Duel in the Sun. Henrik and Phil were six and five clear of third place as they teed off. Phil stuffed his approach at the first and Stenson missed a par putt from 6 feet, and their roles and the arithmetic were reversed.

Stenson birdied four of the next five holes. Phil had an eagle and a birdie in that stretch, and they were all square as they played the shortest hole in The Open rota. Stenson birdied the Postage Stamp par-3 eighth to go one up and that’s how they turned.

They traded birdies at No. 10. Stenson bogeyed for the second time of the day at No. 11 and they were all square again. At No. 14, the Swede made a 20-footer to go one up and drawing yet another comparison with the Duel made a 50-foot putt for birdie from just off the green at No. 15 that put him two up. Phil’s eagle putt at the par-5 16th missed by the narrowest of margins and Henrik holed his 6-footer for birdie. They both parred No. 17 and so with one hole to go Stenson had a two-shot lead on the 18th tee.

Stenson took less than driver off the tee and stopped just short of the pot bunker on the right that Greg Norman so famously found in the playoff in 1989. Phil found the fairway, and hitting his approach first had the chance to put pressure on Henrik, but came up some 40 feet short. Henrik’s second finished 15 feet away. After Phil missed, the outcome, which even a three-putt wouldn’t change, was clear, but Stenson’s 15-footer gave him a piece of history and history outright. He is just the second man to shoot 63 in the final round of a major and his 264 is the lowest score in major history.

Watson’s score of 268 was the lowest score by eight shots in the history of The Open. Stenson’s score of 264 bettered the mark, which had previously been lowered by Norman to 267 in 1993 and tied by Mickelson this year, by three.

Watson’s and Nicklaus’ back and forth, where Nicklaus had the lead for 12 of the 18 holes, with Watson only gaining the outright lead at the 17th and being pushed to the final putt, was comparatively more in doubt than Henrik’s and Phil’s. Phil had the outright lead after only one hole, that being the first and trailed by two at the last and lost by three.

Henrik and Phil, with a palpable generosity of spirit all day, did their part to uphold the traditions of this game, just as Tom and Jack did 39 years before, with the exchange that Watson and Nicklaus had on the 16th tee so wonderfully summing up what they were doing. Like a magnifying glass focusing light from the sun, they were putting all of their energy into a task, and yet were not so focused on what they were doing, that they couldn’t pause to enjoy it and provide it with their own legendary commentary.

Among the gobbledygook athletic idioms passed from one generation of kids to another, like grandfather’s watch, is that nobody remembers who finished second. Au contraire, even if the Back and Firth lost to the Duel in the Sun, nobody will ever forget it. 

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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.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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, GolfChannel.com 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.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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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.