Reflections on 2008

By Brian HewittOctober 6, 2008, 4:00 pm
You are the Insider. You are fresh from a weeks vacation in western North Carolina that included, among other things, a round of golf at a special Tom Fazio design called Brights Creek.
You have chilled out by watching a little playoff baseball (Oy, the Cubs); eating a lot of good food (Mmm, barbecue) and checking out the vice presidential debate (Palin loses on points but avoids the big gaffe).
While you are chilling you are chilled by the developments in the economy. The $700 billion bailout, after a false start, finally gets approved. And you wonder the exact affect all this news from Wall Street will have on golf. One thing is for sure, golf, like every other sector of our country, will be impacted. Time will tell us how and how much.
You also have enough spare time to sit back ruminate on what has happened on golfs biggest stages in 2008. There is a lot of important golf left for a lot of players. And the Fall Series is compelling enough for golf fans, if not necessarily so for the general sports fans who have moved on to football and the remains of the baseball season.
My reflections keep coming back to what a long shadow Tiger Woods casts over the game. When Woods shut his season down to have knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in June, that shadow was gone. And it gave several players a chance to get out from under his dominance.
Five players come immediately to mind. They are Anthony Kim, Sergio Garcia, Camilo Villegas (who played in the same threesome the first two days at the PGA Championship), Vijay Singh and Hunter Mahan. Tiger is still No. 1 by a wide margin and Phil Mickelson hangs onto the second spot.
But Singh has hustled his way back up to No. 3 on the strength of a FedEx Cup victory that earned him a cool $10 million. Would Big Daddy have had that kind of success and scored that kind of swag if Woods had been around? Not likely, it says here.
Garcia, Kim and Villegas hold down the fifth, sixth and seventh spots respectively in the world rankings. Mahan has come from relative obscurity and ranks No. 35 after a revealing Ryder Cup in which he showed the world how much game hes really got.
Sure there are others who benefitted from Woods absence. Padraig Harrington won two majors but hed already broken through at the British at Carnoustie in 2007. Kenny Perry dreamed of playing Ryder Cup golf in his home state of Kentucky. And he tailored his schedule. And he did what he set out to do. Critics be damned.
But Garcia, Kim, Villegas and Mahan, all still in their 20s, got the kind of face time they would not have received with a healthy Woods playing his normal brand of abnormal golf.
Garcia, Kim and Villegas, more so than the laid back Mahan, positively basked in the light. And this was every bit as good for golf ' which craves new blood and talent in the limelight ' as it was good for their three healthy egos.
Garcia didnt win a match at the Ryder Cup and Harrington chased him down from behind Sunday at Oakland Hills in the PGA. But he won a Players (while Woods was away getting ready for his brief comeback at Torrey Pines); he putted better; and he absolutely lived at the top of the leaderboards the last two months.
Kim captured Woods own event at historic Congressional after besting an elite field on an elite golf course (Quail Run) at Wachovia. He also thrashed Garcia in the marquee Sunday singles match at Valhalla in the Ryder Cup.
Villegas, he of the defined biceps and the refined short game, won the last two big events of the season ' the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship. Arguably, nobody has more momentum going into 2009 than the photogenic Colombian.
You can be sure Woods has taken notice of the advent of the young guns who would snatch his position in an instant if they sensed weakness. What you cant be sure of is how much Woods will listen to his doctors.
It may be the most important decision he ever makes as it relates to his golf career. To a man, all the players who have had reconstructive knee surgery, say they came back to soon and it slowed their return to form.
My gut feeling, listening to the words and watching the smoke signals coming out of the Woods camp, is that theres a good chance he wont be ready for the Masters in April. I wouldnt be surprised if his first event back is the U.S. Open at Bethpage where he won in 2002.
I hope I am wrong, but only if his knee is fully healed. Woods is the most precious resource we have at the top level of the game today. He must be conserved ' like a national park.
Anyway, until he returns, the players to watch for now are Singh and Mahan and, to a greater extent, the ascendant and flashy stars that are Garcia, Kim and Villegas.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
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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, 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.