De Jonge takes AT&T lead; Woods 1 shot back

By Doug FergusonJuly 1, 2012, 1:00 am

BETHESDA, Md. – Saturday at Congressional was not the first time Tiger Woods has played before so few fans.

There were those 6 a.m. practice rounds at the British Open. Or the occasional PGA Tour event where fans were evacuated because of a thunderstorm and hardly anyone returned at twilight when play resumed. There surely was the odd junior event he played when he was 8.

But teeing off in the late afternoon at the AT&T National, on a steamy but sun-filled day on a fabled course in a golf-mad area like Washington?

Woods had the largest crowd of the day, even though it never topped 100 people. Brendon de Jonge, who had a 2-under 69 to take a one-shot lead, had as many birdies (three) as people in his gallery on a strange, silent Saturday at Congressional.

A violent wind storm overnight that toppled dozens of trees and littered the course with limbs forced tournament officials to keep spectators and all but the essential volunteers away from Congressional for the third round. Considering the amount of debris, it was amazing they even played.

''I've played in front of people like this,'' Woods said. ''But not generally for an 18-hole competitive round.''

De Jonge was steady in the sweltering conditions for a third straight round in the 60s, which gave him his first 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour. One shot behind were Woods (67), Bo Van Pelt (67) and S.Y. Noh (69).

De Jonge, a South African going for his first PGA Tour win, made his final birdie on the 12th hole with a wedge out of the rough that climbed over a ridge and settled about 12 feet behind the cup. It was worthy of applause, but there was only one person in the gallery to see it - Kandi Mahan, the wife of Hunter Mahan.

Indeed, this was a day like few others on the PGA Tour.

A few volunteers, tournament staff and club members tagged along after Woods, and provided about the only noise of the round. They watched him and Van Pelt get off to a quick start, and then match pars on the back nine to get close to the lead.

''I told Tiger that was a Bo Van Pelt crowd, so I was used to that,'' Van Pelt said. ''I was very comfortable with 10 or 15 people watching me play golf. No, it was just nice to get it in. I think we're all fortunate that nobody got hurt out here last night. It's a credit to the grounds staff that they got this golf course ready. I'm sure if you saw pictures of what it looked like at midnight, the fact that we played golf today is a minor miracle.''

De Jonge was at 7-under 206 and will play in the final group with Van Pelt and Woods, who is going for his third win of the year. Woods won the AT&T National the last time it was held at Congressional in 209.

Billy Hurley, the Navy veteran who grew up in the area, had a 66 and was two shots back, along with Mahan, who stumbled to a 73.

Sunday might be a return to normal, at least with the noise, especially with Woods in the final group.

The final round will be threesomes going off both sides, giving the grounds crew even more time to clean up the course. For Saturday, it did well to put chainsaws to the toppled trees and collect the hundreds of branches scattered across the fairways and pile them up outside the ropes.

It was the debris, along with some loose limbs, that led officials to turn back spectators for the third round. The Saturday tickets will be honored Sunday, which could make Congressional even more raucous.

The third round was anything but that.

''It was like being on the Nationwide Tour again,'' Kevin Chappell said after a 72 that left him 4 over.

The last time Jim Furyk played on a Saturday, he had thousands of people lining the fairways of Olympic Club in the U.S. Open. What a contrast to Congressional.

''It was peaceful, but just odd,'' Furyk said. ''It's fun to get fan interaction, and hear cheers when you hit a good shot. We had more people on the Nike Tour than now.''

No one was complaining. They were playing. And it didn't take long for them to realize why no one was there.

Just walking up the first fairway, there were piles of branches off to the side. Behind the second tee, an enormous tree - or what was left of it - was split in half. On the 14th hole, a 75-foot tree had crashed across the fairway. When the round was under way, only a 15-foot section of the trunk remained on its side.

De Jonge made the adjustment quickly.

He hit a 3-iron into 2 feet on the par-3 second hole, the toughest of the day at Congressional, and kept it simple after that. He added a two-putt birdie on the par-5 sixth, made his last birdie on the 12th and dropped one shot coming in on the 14th.

''There was just no buzz, and it was hard to get the adrenaline going,'' he said. ''Kind of felt like you were playing a Tuesday practice round or a qualifier. But I obviously understand why they had to do it.''

Asked the smallest gallery he had played before in the past, de Jonge smiled and said, ''One, probably.''

And Saturday?

''I think we had three today,'' he said. ''Maybe four for a couple of holes, but then he left us.''

Mahan was lining up a putt on the second hole when two people were walking up the cart path behind him, forcing caddies to ask them to stop. CBS Sports analyst David Feherty described it best when he said, ''They have two people watching, and they're not even watching.''

Woods was worth seeing, at least on the front nine.

He holed an 8-foot birdie putt to start his round and got off to a quick start by taking five putts in the opening six holes - a short bunker save on No. 2, a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 3, a wedge from 76 yards to tap-in range for par on the fourth, an easy up-and-down from just off the green on No. 5, and then his biggest moment.

After missing the green to the left on the par-5 sixth, he had an uphill lie in buried grass and holed out for an unlikely birdie. Woods offered a moderate fist pump as the gallery - they numbered 73 at that point, not counting TV crews and other media - cheered.

Woods said his mild response was more about the day of the week than the decibel levels from the gallery.

''I don't really get that fired up on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday,'' he said. ''I think for me, I just understand I still have so far to go. It's Saturday. What did I have, 20-odd holes to go? So it's a long ways to go.''

But at least he cut into the five-shot deficit he faced at the start of the day, as did Van Pelt. The Oklahoman ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch to close out the front nine, then scrambled for a few solid pars, including a tough bunker save on the 17th, to get into the final group.

It's another chance to play with Woods, this time with a trophy at stake, and this time with some noise.

''I feel like I got cheated on 6 when he chipped that ball in because a normal crowd, that would have got really loud,'' Van Pelt said. ''So I'm disappointed I didn't get to hear that cheer when he made that flop shot.''

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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.

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No indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 18, 2018, 12:25 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.

While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022.

“With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted The Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.

Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.

Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.

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Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:18 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.

Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.

“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.

Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.

Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”

“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”

There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.

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Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:07 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.

Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.

As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.

Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.

Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.

“It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.

Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.

“There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”

That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.

“I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.

Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.

In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.

“I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”

That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.

Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.

Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.

One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”

Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.

In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.

Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.