Back at Hoylake, golf's landscape has changed

By Doug FergusonJuly 12, 2014, 8:22 pm

HOYLAKE, England - The British Open packs 154 years of history on links courses that have been nurtured more by time than by tractors. It returns this year to Royal Liverpool, the second-oldest golf club in England, established in 1867 before anyone in America knew much about the Royal & Ancient game.

For all its heritage, however, the charm of this major is what lies ahead. No one ever knows what to expect.

Consider the landscape.

Royal Liverpool was so brown and baked when The Open was last here in 2006 that the R&A asked players to take extra care if they smoked, and it had two fire engines stationed on the golf course. The ball rolled so far when it hit the ground that Tiger Woods hit only one driver over 72 holes and won by two shots.

Now the grass is greener than it was at Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Open.

It feels like a new course this year.

''It's lush. The greens are soft and very green. Fairways are pretty similar,'' said Rory McIlroy, who took a scouting trip to Hoylake last week. ''But I think they are going to get a spell of good weather leading up to The Open, and hopefully, it will get a bit firmer.''

He recalled watching in 2006 when ''the ball was like bouncing down a road on the fairways.'' McIlroy says he could hit as many as five drivers each round.

''It's going to be a little different,'' he said. ''There's some thick spots of rough on the course, so avoiding that and avoiding those fairway bunkers ... if I can just do that, and anyone else can do that, then they'll have a good chance.''

A greater change might be the landscape of golf.

Woods was at the height of his powers eight years ago when he won the claret jug for the third time. He was the first player in more than 20 years to repeat as Open champion. He would go on to win the PGA Championship that year, making history as the only player to capture multiple majors in successive years.

Now he makes news when he can even play in a major.

Woods has had three surgeries since he was last at Royal Liverpool - two on his left knee, the most recent on March 31 to alleviate a nerve impingement in his back, which caused him to miss the Masters for the first time, and then the U.S. Open. When the British Open begins on Thursday, it will be his first major in 11 months.

Woods returned earlier than anyone thought - himself included - three weeks ago in the Quicken Loans National at Congressional. He missed the cut, which annoyed him, and played without pain, which thrilled him.

''I hate to say it, but I'm really encouraged by what happened this week,'' Wood said. ''What I was able to do physically, and the speed I had and the distance that I was hitting the golf ball again, I had not done that in a very long time.''

He wasn't worried about the little mistakes, mainly with his short game, because he could fix them.

But how soon?

Woods is 38 and without a major in six years, leaving him at 14 for his career and still four short of catching Jack Nicklaus. It might help to return to a course where he has won before, except that this is a different golf course. And he is not the same player.

''We haven't seen Tiger really, really play well in a while now,'' two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange said.

There hasn't been a dominant player even during his time away from various injuries and surgeries over the last five years. Golf is ruled by committee.

McIlroy, with two majors by age 23, is just now starting to get his game back in order. Martin Kaymer is in the best form, having won The Players Championship and U.S. Open by going wire-to-wire in both. Adam Scott is No. 1 in the world. Phil Mickelson is the defending champion. Justin Rose is fresh off a big win at Congressional. Bubba Watson is a Masters champion again.

All have had moments of greatness, none of it sustained.

Nineteen players have won the 24 majors that have been held since Woods won his last one.

''We have all witnessed what Tiger has been able to do over his career, whether that's come back from injury and win, come back from any sort of off-course stuff and win. I mean, win the U.S. Open on one leg,'' McIlroy said. ''Is it foolish for people to write him off? I would say so. If he's playing and he's competing, he's got as good a chance as any.''

Considering the circumstances, Woods winning would be a surprise.

Then again, for as long as golf's oldest championship has been around, it is still capable of delivering a few shockers.

Mickelson produced one of his own at Muirfield last summer when he had his named etched on that silver claret jug for winning the one major that for years befuddled him. Only five years ago, 59-year-old Tom Watson came within an 8-foot par putt of being the oldest major champion. Ben Curtis was playing his first major in 2003 when he won at Royal St. George's. He was the only player to break par. The Open returned to St. George's eight years later, and 11 players had a better score than Curtis.

What happened eight years ago at Royal Liverpool feels like ancient history.

Perhaps that should be the adage for The Open. The more things stay the same, the more they change.

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Furyk remains coy about Ryder Cup picks

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk sounds like a man champing at the bit to officially fill out his American team and accelerate final plans for the matches in Paris next month.

With eight automatic qualifiers secured last Sunday, all that’s left are his four captain’s picks.

“At times it felt like it was dragging on,” Furyk told Amanda Balionis during CBS TV’s rain delay Saturday at the Wyndham Championship. “I’m excited to get to this point.”

But still in no hurry to commit to naming Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as two of his captain’s picks.

“We have some great choices and certainly Tiger and Phil look like they are in great form,” Furyk said.

Furyk, when specifically asked about Tiger’s chances as a pick:

“He’s played great,” Furyk said. “I’m in such a great position right now with so many players playing well and so many great players to choose from. The difficult part is going to be, `How do we pluck four guys out of there?’ Certainly, Tiger is in great form and has put himself in a great position.”

And on Mickelson’s chances:

“Phil does provide a lot of veteran leadership,” Furyk said. “He hasn’t missed one of these in a long time. He’s had a good season, and he’s putting extremely well. I want to say he’s second in putting stats right now. All good stuff, and we’ll see how the next few weeks kind of play themselves out.”


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Furyk doesn’t have to make his first three picks official until Sept. 4, with the final pick to be named six days later. While Woods and Mickelson may be locks, Furyk won’t be rushed.

“There’s still time.” Furyk said. “We are in an exciting part. We have eight guys. I’m still talking to them, gathering some information. The vice captains have been talking a lot. It’s been fun seeing the banter and the texts going back and forth.

“We’ll see how the next few weeks play themselves out.”

Furyk, by the way, is in contention at the Wyndham Championship. He was tied for 11th, six shots off the lead when interviewed in the weather delay.

So, if he wins, would he resurrect talk of being a playing captain?

“The odds are about zero right now,” Furyk said. “Now that I’m kind of knee deep, and we’re getting that close to the Ryder Cup, I really don’t think it’s possible to do both, be a player and a captain. The duties would be too great. And my game, I haven’t played well the last couple years. I’ve been battling injuries and battling myself. I’m excited, I have been feeling a lot better here the last few months and I’ve started playing some good golf.”

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Aiken, Waring tied at Nordea; Olesen three back

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 5:45 pm

MOLNDAL, Sweden – Paul Waring of England and Thomas Aiken of South Africa share the lead, three shots clear of their rivals, after the third round of the Nordea Masters on the European Tour on Saturday.

Waring was tied for first place with Scott Jamieson after the second round and shot a 1-under 69.

While Jamieson (75) slipped down the leaderboard, Aiken caught up Waring after shooting 67 - despite three straight bogeys from No. 15. He bounced back by making birdie at the last.

Thorbjorn Olesen (67) and Marc Warren (66) are tied for third.

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Koepka: 'Surreal' Woods waited to say congrats at PGA

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 3:47 pm

Brooks Koepka was moved by the respect shown when Tiger Woods waited for a half hour at scoring last Sunday to congratulate Koepka for his PGA Championship victory at Bellerive.

While Koepka stands as an example of the new athletes Woods has attracted to the game, he laughs hearing people compare his body to an NFL player’s.

Those were among the observations Koepka shared Friday on "The Dan Patrick Show."

“That was surreal,” Koepka said of Woods waiting to congratulate him. “To hang around on 18, I wasn’t expecting it. It was probably the coolest gesture he could have done.”

Koepka credits Woods for drawing him to the game.

“He’s the reason I am playing,” Koepka said.

Koepka said playing with Woods in contention was a noisy experience that went beyond the roars Woods created making birdies in front of him.

“Even when he makes contact, you know what shot he’s hitting,” Koepka said. “That’s how loud people are.

“When they are putting [his score] up on the leaderboard, you hear it three holes away.”

About those NFL player comparisons, Koepka said his parents wouldn’t let him play football when he was growing up.

“I wasn’t big enough,” he said.

Koepka said he marveled meeting former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

“To be compared to them, it makes me laugh,” Koepka said. “I’m about the size of a cornerback, maybe a free safety.”

Koepka said he’s just over 6 feet tall and weighs 208 pounds.

“I saw Brian Urlacher give an interview,” Koepka said. “It was kind of funny. He said he was impressed at how big I wasn’t ... If I stand next to Justin Thomas, I’m going to look big. Golf doesn’t really have many big guys.”

Koepka told Patrick he is impressed at the athletes just now coming into golf.

“I see the young guys coming out of college,” Koepka said. “They are bombing it past me. They hit it so far, they are leaving me in the dust. It’s hard to think of, because I’ve been one of the longest hitters on tour.”

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McIlroy skipping first FedExCup playoff event

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 3:19 pm

Rory McIlroy committed to playing the FedExCup Playoffs opener at The Northern Trust, the PGA Tour announced after The Open Championship last month.

But McIlroy left the PGA Championship last week saying he might need to skip the opener to regroup, and that’s just what he is doing.

McIlroy wasn’t on The Northern Trust field list published Friday on the PGA Tour’s website.

“I need to assess where I'm at,” McIlroy said leaving Bellerive last week. “I think the best thing for me to do right now is just sort of take a couple days off, reflect on what I need to do going forward.

“The best thing might be to take that first FedExCup week off and work on my game and come back, hopefully, in a better place for Boston.”

McIlroy also skipped the FedExCup opener in 2015, choosing to make his start in the playoffs at Boston that year. It appears he will do the same this year.

“Historically, the first FedEx playoff event hasn't been my best event of the four,” McIlroy said. “I've played well in Boston. I've played pretty well in the other two.”

McIlroy left Bellerive saying he would do some work on his game and see if he felt ready for the playoffs opener as part of a run of big events leading into the Ryder Cup.

“There's a lot of room for improvement,” McIlroy said. “My swing really hasn't been where I want it to be. It was pretty good at the start of the year. I had a couple of months to work on it, but it's just sort of regressed as the season went on and you start to play tournaments, you start to fall back into some of the habits that you don't want to fall back into."

McIlroy has won once over the last two seasons – at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March – but he has given himself other chances this year with some frustrating finishes. Overall, he has five finishes of third or better in 2018. He got himself in the final pairing with Patrick Reed at the Masters but stumbled to a T-5 finish. He tied for second at The Open last month.

“Inconsistency with the swing has been the big area,” McIlroy said. “If you look at my statistics, especially with approach play on my irons, and even my driving, even though it's been OK, there's been a two-way miss, with sort of everything throughout the bag, and that obviously isn't a good thing. So that's something I need to work on.”