Car-Nifty Delivers The Goods

By Brian HewittJuly 19, 2007, 4:00 pm
Carnoustie is still Car-Nasty. Just not as nasty as it was in 1999. Carnoustie is definitely not Car-Nicety when long hitters like Vijay Singh and K.J. Choi need driver and fairway wood to get home on the 499-yard 18th hole Thursday during the first round of the 136th Open Championship.
 
Actually Carnoustie was more like Car-Nifty when you considered how many interesting and varied story lines developed during a day that greeted the early starters with raw weather and bathed the late finishers in cool but calm conditions.
 
There was:
 
  • First round leader Sergio Garcia shooting 65 and acting like he has wielded his new long putter for years.
     
  • Tiger Woods stalking the lead and winding up with a 2-under par 69 highlighted by a 100-foot birdie putt that found the hole on the difficult par 3 16th. A ho-hum shoulder turn putt, Woods called it. Lo and behold. Woods is gunning for his third straight victory in this event. A final pairing of Tiger and Sergio Sunday would be choice.
     
  • Rory McIlroy, the precocious Ulster-teen from Northern Ireland, who carded the days only bogey free round, a 68. This is awesome, said the baby-faced McIlroy, 18, who will turn pro in the fall. McIlroy once shot a 61 at Northern Irelands Royal Portrush, one of the great and difficult golf courses in the world. His dream, he said, is to win the Open Championship this week. He said he also wants to play on the PGA TOUR one day. Thats where all the good players are, he said. One thing McIlroy will not become this week is the youngest Open Championship winner. Young Tom Morris still holds that record. He was 17 years, five months and three days when he won at Prestwick way back in 1868.
     
  • More news on the drugs and golf front: Wednesday Gary Player touched off a firestorm of controversy and a predictable tabloid frenzy when he said he knew of players using performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, Player said, he had talked to top players who had told him of their drug use. He never, however, named names.
     
    Thursday I received this response from the PGA TOUR when I requested a reaction from Ponte Vedra Beach to Players allegations:
     
    Any conversations Gary Player had with other players about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in golf were private conversations to which the PGA TOUR was not privy, came the reply from TOUR spokesman Bob Combs in a prepared statement E-mailed to me. We dont know the identity of any individuals involved in those conversations, nor what was discussed, so we cant comment.
     
    However, it is important to note, as Commissioner Tim Finchem reiterated in recent weeks, that the PGA TOUR is formulating an anti-doping policy that is comprehensive and supported by other major golf organizations globally.
     
  • The play of Darren Clarke, who navigated the last 12 holes in 3-under, salvaged a 72 and showed more signs of re-discovering a golf game that has been a second priority in the wake of the loss of his wife to cancer last year.
     
  • The play of Japans little-known Achi Sato, who birdied the third, fourth, fifth and sixth holes before taking a header off the leaderboard. Sato finished with a 71.
     
  • John Daly, who won the Open Championship in 1995, outdoing Sato. When Daly holed his second shot for eagle on the par 4 11th, he stood at 5-under and alone atop the leaderboard. He then proceeded to double bogey two of the next three holes and close with bogeys on three of the last four to finish with a bitterly-disappointing and bloated 74.
     
  • Phil Mickelson, the second-ranked player in the world, playing beautifully everywhere but on the greens. His 71 could have been better. But he appeared to have complete control of his golf ball during a round that looked pain free. Mickelson, who missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month thanks mainly to a wrist injury, let his left hand come off the club during his second shot from the rough on the brutal 18th. But Carnoustie, as it played Thursday, agrees with him.
     
  • Irishman Paul McGinley, 40 and mired in mediocrity much of this year, getting it to 6-under through 14 holes and scrapping home nicely for his 67, which left him alone in second behind Garcia. No European has won the Open Championship since Paul Lawrie broke through at Carnoustie eighth years ago. Its just, McGinley said, a matter of time.
     
  • Once again the name of K.J. Choi among the leaders. Choi already has won tournaments hosted by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods this year. Capturing one hosted by the R&A would instantly catapult him to the head of the class of candidates for PGA TOUR Player of the Year.
     
  • The names of these players lurking within four shots of Garcia: Michael Campbell (-3), Angel Cabrera (-3), Boo Weekley (-3), Stewart Cink (-2) and Padraig Harrington (-2).
     
    Dont take your eyes off of any of them. And dont count on Carnoustie remaining Car-Nifty. Yes, the fairways are wider than in 1999 and the rough is shorter. But the weather is always a threat. And it can get very, very Nasty.

     
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    USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

    By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

    SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

    The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

    How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

    Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

    So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.



    After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

    “When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

    Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

    Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

    The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

    At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

    “They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”



    By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

    “I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

    That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

    It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

    “They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”



    But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

    The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

    “To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

    It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

    So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

    “I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”



    But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

    After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

    “It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

    Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

    Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

    @bubbawatson on Instagram

    Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

    By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

    Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

    Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

    Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

    A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

    And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

    Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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    Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

    By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

    There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

    There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

    Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

    The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

    Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

    If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

    “The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

    The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

    Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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    Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

    By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

    There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

    Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

    While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

    Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

    1. Brooks Koepka

    2. Dustin Johnson

    3. Patrick Reed

    4. Justin Thomas

    5. Jordan Spieth

    6. Rickie Fowler

    7. Bubba Watson

    8. Webb Simpson

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    9. Bryson DeChambeau

    10. Phil Mickelson

    11. Matt Kuchar

    12. Brian Harman

    On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

    Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

    European Points

    1. Tyrrell Hatton

    2. Justin Rose

    3. Tommy Fleetwood

    4. Francesco Molinari

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    5. Thorbjorn Olesen

    6. Ross Fisher

    World Points

    1. Jon Rahm

    2. Rory McIlroy

    3. Alex Noren

    4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

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    5. Ian Poulter

    6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello