A Vintage Year in Europe

By November 6, 2003, 5:00 pm
European TourLike a fine wine, the 2003 European Tour season will go down as a vintage year.
Beginning the year with a wee bit hangover following a fantastic win in the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry, the party continued on in 2003. There, some of the 'poster boys for a good time' enjoyed wonderful comeback seasons as well as breakout seasons.
And then there's Ernie Els, who seemingly is just getting better with age as he celebrated his first-ever ascent to the top of the tour's Order of Merit (money list). Though shut out of the majors in 2003, the easy-going, broad-shouldered South African had his game - and maybe more importantly - his mind at it's peak.
He posted four victories on the European Tour, including the unofficial World Match Play title, along with three runner-up finishes. The Big Easy also picked up a couple of impressive wins on the PGA Tour and finished his year with a staggering seven wins worldwide.
Though it's easy to see why Els is the top story in 2003, several other individual story lines that are worth noting are that of Darren Clarke, his good buddy Lee Westwood and a couple of twenty-somethings in Fredrik Jacobson and Paul Casey.
Clarke, who has won a title in six consecutive seasons dating back to 1998, has finally righted the ship that had drifted a little off course. He fell from third on the Order of Merit in 2001 all the way down to the 22nd position in the 2002 season.
But with the help of world-renowned golf instructor Butch Harmon, Clarke has rebounded and enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his career. An impressive win at the WGC-NEC Invitational in August over the likes of Tiger Woods, Davis Love and Vijay Singh moved Clarke to second in the final Order of Merit standings, the highest finish of his career.
Clarke's pal Westwood, however, is a slightly different story, though much more dramatic. Not only did the 26-year-old Englishman get off course, but his ship nearly sank before an amazing comeback late in the year that now has him back among the game's elite.
Recall in 2000, Westwood knocked the irrepressible Colin Montgomerie off his perch atop the European Tour's Order of Merit after the Scotsmans incredible seven-year run. Westwood racked up six victories on the year, including seven other top-5 finishes and was poised to take a seat next to today's golfing greats.
But an almost eerie slide soon took hold following the 2000 season that eventually plummeted Westwood's world ranking from fourth all the way down to 215th in August.
After missing the cut in six of his first nine events of the year, Westwood finally notched one of only three top-10s in three years at the Smurfit European Open, where he tied for ninth. Following a couple more respectable finishes in the ensuing weeks, Westwood then shocked the world with an astonishing back-nine 30 at the BMW International to win the title going away.
Im fairly emotional, said a tearful Westwood moments after completing his round. Its been more than two years since I won. This is a big moment.
There were times when I thought about putting the clubs away and not ever getting them out again and calling it a day, but that would have been the easy thing to do. I battled it out, and hopefully this is one of many rewards.'
Westwood, though, was not yet finished with his turnaround. Another title followed at the Dunhill Links Championship in September, which eventually landed him in seventh on the final Order of Merit list.
Jacobson, 29, capped off a remarkable year with a thrilling win at the season-ending Volvo Masters Andalucia. His four-hole sudden-death victory over Carlos Rodiles was his third win of 2003 and he became the first Swede to ever accomplish the feat. For Jacobson, 2003 was his coming-out party.
Casey, the European Tour's Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year in 2001, notched a pair of early victories and added 12 top-10s for the year. The biggest final-round comeback of season, by Argentinas Ricardo Gonzalez at the Telefonica Open de Madrid, kept Casey from joining Els and Jacobson as the only winners of three events in 2003.
With 2004 bringing another Ryder Cup, a quick look at the point standings for the European side finds a very young and very talented group of players. Jacobson and Casey are among them - as well as fan favorite Ian Poulter. In fact, seven of the top 10 on the list are still in their twenties.
And although it might not necessarily be a totally new face for the European Tour, it most definitely signals a changing face. Either way, it was a very good year.
A vintage year.
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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

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?’”