OHair And Oh Wow

By Brian HewittMay 12, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 THE PLAYERSExcuse me, Jimi Hendrix sang to us from a Purple Haze, while I kiss the sky.
 
Excuse the players at THE PLAYERS while they light up the sky.
 
Saturday was a wildly entertaining display of golf pyrotechnics at the Stadium Course of TPC Sawgrass.
 
It was raining birdies in the third round and precious few of them were carded by Tiger Woods, golfs answer to the M-80. Nor was there much noise at the end of the fuse of Rory Sabbatini, the first round co-leader and self-appointed big game Tiger hunter.
 
But no matter. Former U.S. Amateur champion Jeff Quinney exploded with eight birdies en route to an 8-under 64 that was one shot off the course record of 63 set by Freddie Boom Boom Couples back in 1992 and matched by Greg Norman two years later.
 
Brit Luke Donald, looking to become the first European to win this event since Scot Sandy Lyle way back in 1987, raced home with a Saturday 65. Which would have been matched by Spains Sergio Garcia if El Nino had launched a dud into the water on 18 that resulted in a fizzling double bogey.
 
Aussie Peter Lonard flashed a double eagle two into the hole with a 5-iron on the second hole from 229 yards that temporarily tied him for the lead with Phil Mickelson and Carl Pettersen. Later, Sean OHair climbed into a four-way tie for the lead after going out in a sizzling 32 that moved him from 3 under to 7-under in the seeming blink of eye. And if you did blink, you probably missed Jose Maria Olazabal fashioning sparkling birdies on the ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th. Henrik Stenson, the leading candidate for Rookie-Of-The-Year, added a tidy 66.
 
OHair is the third round leader at 9-under thanks to even more fireworks'birdies on 16, 17 and 18. His playing competitor Sunday will be Mickelson, who stacked his approach to kick in range on the final hole to finish at 8-under. Lonard and Quinney will comprise the penultimate pairing.
 
Still learning, said the 24-year-old OHair afterward. Still feeling like a rookie out here.
 
I feel like were just getting started, Mickelson said of the work he and new instructor Butch Harmon have done in just three weeks.
 
Much of the low scoring was made possible by relatively tame scoring conditions. By mid-day the average 18-hole score for the third round was almost four and a half strokes lower than the corresponding number for Thursday when the wind howled all day long.
 
Hole locations were benign on the two tough par 3s, Nos. 8 and 17. That will almost certainly change for what promises to be an intriguing Sunday. Quinney and Lonard both trail OHair by two.
 
Woods shot 73 and is 14 back of OHair. It turns out he WAS beatable this week, mostly because of his difficulty with the speed of the greens that infected his putter. Sabbatini, the man who observed that Woods was beatable, was even more so. His third round 71 was respectable but rendered unimportant by his Friday 79.
 
Mickelson, at the moment, may not look unbeatable. But he looks awfully good. His first two events under Harmons tutelage produced top fives. Now he is poised to win an event in which he has played 13 times previously with just two top 10s to show for his efforts.
 
Prior to the weekend Mickelson, who shot 69 Saturday, had hit just 11 of 28 fairways. But he offset those strays by converting 34 of 34 putts from inside 10 feet. On Friday alone he collected 13 one putts.
 
He will have a huge edge in experience over OHair in the final round. But Adam Scott was just 23 when he won THE PLAYERS three years ago.
 
Sunday likely will produce more drama than Saturday. But its hard to imagine it will serve up more excitement.
 
The most amazing day, broadcaster Johnny Miller called it.
 
As observations go, it was spot on.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
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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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    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    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.  

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    Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

    A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

    Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

    Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

    And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

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    Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

    “You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

    The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

    “He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

    But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

    And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

    It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

    That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

    “I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

    It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

    McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

    “I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

    It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

    “I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

    A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

    Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.

     

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    Own history, grow the game with Open memorabilia auction

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 1:00 pm

    Get a piece of history and help grow the game, that's what The Open is offering with its memorabilia auction.

    The official Open Memorabilia site features unique Open assets from famous venues and Champion Golfers of the Year. All net proceeds received by The R&A from this project will be invested to support the game for future generations, including encouraging women’s, junior and family golf, on the promotion and progression of the sport in emerging golf nations and on coaching and development.

    Items for auction include limited edition prints of Champion Golfers of the Year, signed championship pin flags and limited edition historical program covers. Memorable scorecard reproductions and caddie bibs are also available to bid for on the website, with all items featuring branded, serialized holograms for authenticity.

    Click here to own your piece of history and to get more information on the auction.