Key to British Open victory will be off the tee

By Doug FergusonJuly 18, 2012, 9:03 pm

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – It's rare to see Tiger Woods hit iron off the tee on a par 5, except in links golf, and especially at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

With a stiff breeze in his face on the 598-yard 11th hole, he most likely could not reach the green in two. The idea was to be able to get there in three shots, which meant staying out of trouble off the tee. His low bullet of a shot stopped 10 paces short of feeding into a pot bunker. If the shot had gone much longer, Woods might have had to blast out sideways, and still had some 300 yards left to the green.

The key to this British Open is to get off to a good start – not just on Thursday, but on every hole.

''At most PGA Tour events, the shorter the shot, the more important it is,'' Geoff Ogilvy said. ''This one, the longer the shot the more important it is.''

The tired adage of ''drive for show, putt for dough'' doesn't necessarily apply at Lytham.

''The easy part is around the greens,'' Ben Curtis said. ''The hard part is off the tee.''

Royal Lytham is the shortest course on the Open rotation over the last decade, and it's on the smallest piece of property, tucked a mile or so away from the Irish Sea and surrounded by homes and a railway. The challenge comes from 206 bunkers, and thick grass from a wet spring that should keep the spotters busy looking for balls.

The powerful hitters can hit over the bunkers, as long as they avoid the next set of traps. But it's not so simple to think that players can hit well short of the bunkers for a longer shot into the green, because they might not be able to reach the green.

''It's a tee-shot golf course,'' Graeme McDowell said, who grew up on Royal Portrush and knows a thing or two about links golf. ''The second shots are not particularly taxing. There's not a lot of trouble around the greens. There are bunkers, but not a lot of heavy rough. You've got to position yourself off the tee to give yourself a chance. You've got to keep it out of the bunkers. It's a good test. I don't think you can hide on this golf course.''

The defense of any links course is pot bunkers and the wind. Woods famously won his first claret jug at St. Andrews in 2000 by going the entire week without hitting into a bunker. But there's something different about Royal Lytham that can make it look particularly daunting. Accuracy is important. So is the right distance.

''You get very cautious off the tee,'' Ogilvy said. ''It's not like St. Andrews, where you can go away from the bunkers, hit the middle of the green and two-putt from 60 feet all day. Here, you've got to take them on. There's a distance requirement, as well as a line requirement, so it's a two-dimensional drive. And if it were yellow, it would be three-dimensional.''

By yellow, Ogilvy was referring to the color of the grass.

This is a green Open, and it's not about the environment. Links golf is notoriously fast and tough in dry conditions that bake the grass, such as St. Andrews in 2000 and Royal Liverpool in 2006, both won by Woods. It was at Liverpool where Woods only hit one driver the entire week – on the 16th hole of the first round, and it went into the 17th fairway – on his way to a two-shot win.

Woods most likely won't leave that Tiger head cover on his driver all week at Lytham. The par 5s at Liverpool were much shorter, and the turf was so brittle that Woods was hitting 3-iron some 300 yards. He didn't need a driver there.

''Got to hit probably a few more 3-woods and drivers here than I did then,'' he said. ''The bunkers are staggered differently here. You can't just either lay it up or bomb it over the top. There has to be some shape to shots. I think that's one of the reasons why you've seen the list of champions here have all been just wonderful ball strikers, because you have to be able to shape the golf ball both ways.''

The list of Open champions at Royal Lytham is impressive – David Duval and Tom Lehman, both formerly No. 1 in the world, won the last two times. The rest of the winners showcased in the brick clubhouse are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Then again, trying to figure out the next winner isn't that simple.

Next to the 206 bunkers, the number getting the most attention at this major is 15 – the number of players who have won the last 15 majors. An even greater sign of parity is that the last nine major champions had never won a major before.

The streak could go to 16 if the betting favorite – Woods – were to win his fourth claret jug and get back on track in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors. Or the 16th different major champion could be No. 1 or No. 3 in the world ranking. Those guys would be Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, both from England playing on home soil, both trying to capture their first major title.

Along with the hazards are the elements, which tend to play a big role in links golf. This week, the forecast has been a mystery.

Carl Pettersson wasn't planning to come to the course on Wednesday because the forecast was for an 80 percent chance of heavy rain. This was supposed to be the worst of the bad weather. He showed up wearing sunglasses.

The Royal & Ancient puts out an update three times a day on the weather, and the only thing that can be trusted is the small print at the bottom: ''This forecast may be amended at any time.'' Don't hold your breath, but rain is supposed to clear overnight and leave mostly dry conditions until some clouds arrive on Sunday.

Then again, the rain already has left its mark with incredibly thick rough some 10 yards off the fairway.

''We always say with the rough, we leave it to nature,'' R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. ''And nature this year has given us the thick stuff.''

One player not getting much attention this week is Rory McIlroy, who went from the high of reaching No. 1 earlier this year to missing three straight cuts. At 23, this will be his first Open at Lytham, yet he played more than a dozen times on this course during his amateur days.

He is aggressive by nature, but McIlroy sounds like he knows where to pick his spots.

''You're going to have to be very smart off the tees here and just sort of plot your way around, just to navigate your way through all these fairway bunkers,'' McIlroy said. ''If you can do that – put your ball in the fairway – you do have chances to be aggressive going into some of the greens.

''As I said, the whole key this week will just be trying to drive it on the fairway.''

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'Get in the squad car!': Fan ejected for heckling Garcia

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 11:46 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Early Wednesday morning at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about fan behavior in recent weeks.

Although Monahan stressed that anything that impacts play inside the ropes would not be tolerated, he did address an incident like what happened a few weeks ago when a fan yelled for Justin Thomas’ ball to “get in the bunker.”

“That’s part of what our players have to accept,” Monahan said. “In any sport, you go to an away game in any other sport and people aren’t rooting for you. Sometimes out here you’re going to have fans that aren’t rooting for you, but they can’t interfere with what you’re trying to do competitively.”

That theory was put to the test later on Wednesday when Sergio Garcia found himself in a similar situation on the 12th hole at Austin Country Club and the fan was removed from the course.

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“The guy obviously was shouting not very nice things at me. So I pointed him out to my [police] officer and then he decided to get him out of the course because he was being disrespectful not only to me but to everyone around,” said Garcia following his Day 2 match, a 2-up victory over Dylan Frittelli.

“Crowds in our game have gotten bigger. So obviously it's not just golf crowds that you get now. And sometimes unfortunately you get one or two guys that are probably having too much fun and a little bit too much liquid and unfortunately it happens.”

Last weekend at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy suggested the Tour should consider limiting alcohol sales on the course and he was again asked about fan behavior on Thursday.

“What is too much? If they are not shouting in your backswing then it's OK? It all depends,” McIlroy said. “I made my comments last week on St. Patrick's Day when everyone was just a few too many deep. I don't know, I'm all for people coming out here, having a good time. I think what happened to Justin Thomas at the Honda, that went over the line.”

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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.