Despite stumbles, DJ keeps HSBC lead through 54

By Doug FergusonNovember 2, 2013, 11:33 am

SHANGHAI – For 16 holes, Dustin Johnson looked like the player who has won every year since turning pro and has played on two Ryder Cup teams. Starting the third round of the HSBC Champions with a five-shot lead, he blasted his way to 10 birdies and was running away from the field.

As for the other two holes, it was a reminder that no lead is safe in his hands.

All those birdies were offset by two double bogeys, the last one cutting his lead in half going into the final round of this World Golf Championship. About the only thing that cheered him up Saturday afternoon was a 6-under 66 for a three-shot lead over Ian Poulter.


WGC-HSBC Champions: Articles, videos and photos


''It's a good score,'' Johnson said. ''I'm definitely happy with what I shot. I'm just not happy with the way I finished. Making two doubles, there's no excuse for that, especially the way I'm playing right now.''

Johnson ran off five straight birdies to close out a 30 on the front nine of Sheshan International and a five-shot lead over Poulter. For his next trick, the 29-year-old American hit wedge four times from inside 100 yards before he could get the ball on the green at the 10th hole. He had to make a 12-foot putt for double bogey.

He followed with another run of four straight birdies, hitting a 5-iron into 15 feet for a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th, and a 3-iron to the front of the 16th green for a chip-and-putt birdie that stretched his lead to six shots.

Everything changed in the final half-hour of a soft, gentle day for scoring in Shanghai.

Poulter, who shot 30 on the front nine without making birdie on either of the par 5s, closed with a birdie on the par-5 18th for a 63. He thought that was a good day of work, even though he wasn't making up any ground on Johnson.

''This golf course gives up a lot of birdies, and he's a good player,'' Poulter said. ''And in this form, he's going to make a lot of birdies. I just need to do my thing tomorrow and make a lot more than what he does. I'm going to have to see what happens coming down the stretch.''

Poulter was talking about Sunday afternoon. He didn't realize he would be getting some help on Saturday.

Johnson's tee shot sailed to the right and into the middle of the lake on the 18th. It appeared that he could have dropped further up the fairway, but playing partners Boo Weekley and Bubba Watson didn't offer much help as to where (or if) the shot ever crossed land before it entered the hazard. Not wanting to take any chance, Johnson opted to return to the tee. He ripped another drive down the edge of the water, this time with his draw to reach the fairway.

But his approach went left near the lip of a bunker, and he did well to blast out to 15 feet and take two putts for his 7.

Johnson was at 18-under 198 and will be in the final group with Poulter and Graeme McDowell, who had a 64 and was four shots behind.

Rory McIlroy birdied three of his last five holes for a 67 and was six shots behind, along with Graham DeLaet and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, who each had a 65.

They still had an outside chance, though so much of that depends on Johnson and how to he responds to his pair of double bogeys.

''I'm still a little mad from my double bogey on 18,'' Johnson said. ''Obviously, to have a three-shot lead going into the last day is good and I'm looking forward to the challenge. I still have to play really well. The guys that are right behind me, they're playing very well, too. So it's still going to be a tough day tomorrow. Got to come out and make a lot of birdies.''

That wasn't the problem – for Johnson and most everyone else.

Martin Kaymer, who won the HSBC Champions two years ago by tying the course record with a 63 in the final round, went one better. The German started with six birdies in seven holes and thought briefly about a 59 with three straight birdies on the front nine that put him at 10-under with three to play. He missed an 8-foot birdie on No. 7, failed to birdie the par-5 eighth and had to settle for a course-record 62.

Kaymer was eight shots behind.

''I've shot 59 before and I thought, 'There's a chance,' especially after my birdies on 4, 5, 6,'' Kaymer said. ''But you can't make them all.''

McDowell was six shots out of the lead when he finished and it looked as though he might lose ground to Johnson. Even so, McDowell has a lot at stake on Sunday at No. 2 on the European Tour money list, and he could move past Henrik Stenson in the Race to Dubai if he were to finish alone in second.

''From here, it looks like Dustin is going to have to beat himself for anybody to have a chance to catch him,'' McDowell said. ''Race to Dubai points will be very important to me. I have a lot to play for tomorrow. If not the trophy, second place will certainly be worth my while.''

And then, the trophy became a little more realistic.

''I have to do my thing tomorrow,'' Poulter said. ''It's only Saturday. You can't win tournaments on Saturday. It's all about playing well on Sunday.''

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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?’”

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Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

“You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

“He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

“I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

“I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

“I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.