Southern Highlands a de facto NCAA preview

By Ryan LavnerMarch 6, 2014, 4:33 pm

There was not an official NCAA Preview last fall at Prairie Dunes.

No matter.

This weekend’s Southern Highlands Collegiate should help identify which teams are trending upward as we reach the final leg of the 2013-14 college season. Consider it a de facto NCAA preview.

Eight of the top 15 teams in the country – including each of the top 5 (Alabama, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, California and Georgia) – will tee it up in Las Vegas in the strongest regular-season field of the year.

What’s more, 10 of the top 12 players in Golfstat’s individual rankings (including No. 1 Joey Garber, No. 2 Robby Shelton and No. 3 Brandon Hagy) will compete at Southern Highlands. 

“To have so many top teams and players get together on a good golf course, it’s great to stack them up and see where they stand,” said Stanford coach Conrad Ray. “It’s a really high-quality event with all the big teams there.”

Here’s a quick primer on the three-day event, which begins Friday:

WHICH TEAMS ARE MOST INTRIGUING?

• This is Alabama’s first start since it lost to Houston earlier this week in Cabo. That runner-up finish – against a field that did not feature a single other top-10 team – stopped the Tide’s 11-event win streak and showed the rest of the country that they could be beaten if not on their A-game.

• Cal lost one of its best players, Michael Kim, to the pros during the winter, but the Golden Bears have won each of their two starts this spring. They’re the defending champions at this event, and another victory here would send a message that they’ll still be one of the teams to beat at NCAAs. Senior Brandon Hagy has asserted himself as one of the best players in the game – he has yet to finish worse than eighth in seven starts this season – while junior Joel Stalter has a pair of wins and two other top 5s in his last four appearances.

• Can a team with four consecutive wins still be underrated? We will find out this week with second-ranked Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have notched a few big-time victories this season, but another title here would move them out from Alabama’s considerable shadow.


WHICH TEAM COULD SURPRISE?

• On paper, at least, it seems like Stanford should win nearly every time it tees it up. The Cardinal have junior Patrick Rodgers, a two-time All-American who announced this week that he would turn pro after NCAAs; Cameron Wilson, a crafty left-hander who has surged to No. 3 in the country; Viraat Badhwar, the 2013 Australian Masters of the Amateurs champion; David Boote, a decorated amateur player in England; and Jim Liu, a former U.S. Junior champion. Stanford has struggled with week-in, week-out consistency, but when all of the pieces come together, this group will be dangerous.


DOES A TEAM’S PERFORMANCE HERE USUALLY PORTEND NCAA SUCCESS?

Not always. Let’s take a look back at the team and individual champions here since 2009, the first year that the NCAA Championship implemented match play. 

2013: Cal won by double digits, but that wasn’t surprising since it won 11 of 13 events a year ago. The top 3 teams at the Southern Highlands all eventually advanced to match play at the NCAA Championship, including NCAA champion Alabama, which tied for second here. Individual winner: Patrick Rodgers, Stanford. 

2012: UNLV swept both the team and individual titles, though that didn’t help the Rebels much come postseason time. They failed to even advance past NCAA regionals, while Texas (sixth at Southern Highlands) and Alabama (T-9) eventually got the last laugh. Individual winner: Blake Biddle, UNLV.

2011: Oklahoma State had both the team and individual champion in Las Vegas, and the Cowboys eventually reached the semifinals of the NCAA Championship. Georgia, meanwhile, tied for sixth at Southern Highlands but advanced to the NCAA finals. Individual winner: Morgan Hoffmann, Oklahoma State 

2010: Host UNLV and UCLA shared the team title at Southern Highlands, but that didn’t help either school when it came to NCAAs – they both didn’t advance to match play, and neither did the teams that finished third and fourth, respectively, in Vegas, USC and Texas A&M. Oklahoma State finished 11th at Southern Highlands and eventually lost in the NCAA finals. Individual winner: Jesper Kennegard, Arizona State

2009: Since 2002, when the event was moved to Southern Highlands, UNLV has won the title outright five times and tied another (2010). This was another one of those victories, though the Rebels failed to even make the cut at NCAA regionals. The team that won the NCAA title that year, Texas A&M, was 11th in Vegas. Individual winner: Cameron Tringale, Georgia Tech


SO, WHO WINS?

The best team doesn’t always win here, as we just highlighted, so let’s go with third-ranked Georgia Tech. Making their first start in this event since 2011, the Yellow Jackets have won or finished second in five of their six starts this season, and they’re solid (and experienced) all the way down their lineup. Individually, it’s hard to look past Alabama super-freshman Robby Shelton, who has four top 5s in six starts, but there hasn’t been a first-time winner here in the past several years. So here’s predicting a Patrick Rodgers repeat. With the clock ticking on his college career, he’s ultra-motivated to hunt down Tiger Woods’ school record of 11 wins. 

Getty Images

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.

@kharms27 on Instagram

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.

Getty Images

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.  

@radiosarks on Twitter

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?’”