Notes: Like Sneds, Watney trying to get back in top 50

By Doug FergusonFebruary 18, 2015, 3:17 am

LOS ANGELES – One month into the new year, Nick Watney already is putting last year out of his mind.

Watney was hampered early by a back injury that forced him out of the final round at Doral, and the birth of his first child the following week.

But those should have been merely speed bumps. He didn't need to elaborate on a season that produced only two top 10s and knocked him out of the FedEx Cup playoffs after one event.

''I didn't play well. I putted awful all year,'' Watney said. ''It was just kind of a snowball thing - putting bad and then you try to hit it closer and you miss short-side, you make bogeys.

''Then you try to make birdies and you make more bogeys. I thought about it, and for whatever reason, I played poorly last year and I know that. I know what I needed to work on. I'm doing it. And so the more distance I can put between myself and last year, the better.''

Watney tied for seventh in San Diego, just two shots out of the playoff, and he was runner-up at Pebble Beach where he opened with four straight birdies until making enough mistakes for Brandt Snedeker to pull away.

His five career victories include a World Golf Championship and a FedEx Cup playoff event at Bethpage Black. He hasn't missed a major in six years, but much like Snedeker, he started the year with no status in the big events. He fell out of the top 100 for the first time in six years.

Most painful for Watney? Watching the HSBC Champions in Shanghai on TV.

''I hate not being able to compete,'' Watney said. ''I hate not being qualified for tournaments. I want to play against the best guys, so it's very motivating.''

His recent run moved him to No. 75 in the world.

Watney's daughter, Harper, was at Pebble Beach. He is living in Austin, Texas, though plans to spend half the year in Las Vegas.

PRESSEL HONORED: Morgan Pressel has been selected to receive the Charlie Bartlett Award from the Golf Writers Association of America, given to a professional for unselfish contributions to the betterment of society.

She is being honored for the Morgan Pressel Foundation that is aimed at fighting breast cancer, which claimed her mother, Kathryn Krickstein.

Pressel has two victories, including a major, and earned just under $6 million in her career. In six years, her foundation has raised more than $3.4 million. It also has led to Kathryn Krickstein Mammovan, which operates out of Boca Raton Regional Hospital in Florida and travels throughout the county to provide affordable breast exams for those who might not be able to afford it.

Two years ago, the hospital's Lynn Cancer Institute opened the Morgan Pressel Center for Cancer Genetics to study individual risks for developing certain cancers with hereditary links.

''Carrying out the mission of the Morgan Pressel Foundation is a team effort, and an honor like this would not be possible without the hard work of many, especially my family and my community at St. Andrews Country Club,'' Pressel said of her home course in Boca Raton. ''The work that my foundation does in the area of breast cancer is very meaningful to me on a deep, personal level.''

She will be honored April 8 in Augusta, Georgia, at the GWAA's annual awards dinner.

STRENGTH OF FIELD: Most of the international stars have stayed away from America so far this year. Rory McIlroy won't play on the PGA Tour until next week in the Honda Classic. Adam Scott just had a daughter and won't play until Doral. Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer have yet to play in America this year.

It doesn't help that the Match Play Championship has moved to the end of April in San Francisco, instead of being the anchor event on the West Coast Swing.

Even so, the West Coast hasn't suffered as much as predicted.

All six PGA Tour events have had a stronger field than the previous year, based on the ranking points awarded to the winner. Both Hawaii events had their strongest field ratings since 2011. Pebble Beach had its strongest rating since 2010, and that includes the year Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson played in 2012.

The Northern Trust Open is one event that was hurt by the move of Match Play because several players typically came over a week early before the first World Golf Championship of the year. Even without those players, Riviera is expected to be the strongest field of all West Coast events.

EARNING HIS WAY: The Northern Trust Open added a wrinkle to qualifying this year.

It added a Monday qualifying spot to a college player who competed at Riviera alongside an alum. Among the pairing was Jordan Spieth playing with Kramer Hickok, interesting because the 21-year-old Spieth said they used to be roommates.

The start of the Northern Trust Open Collegiate Showcase was Will Zalatoris of Wake Forest, the only player out of 14 in college to break par. The 18-year-old freshman shot a 67 to earn a spot in the field this week.

Zalatoris finished five shots ahead of George Cunningham (Arizona). He will be making his first PGA Tour start.

''I'm really not even nervous about it. I'm only 18 and I'm learning,'' Zalatoris said. I'm here to play golf, not think about winning the tournament. It's my first PGA Tour event, so I'll see how my game stands up and we'll go from there.''

Zalatoris won the U.S. Junior Amateur, the Texas State Amateur and the Trans-Miss Championship last year.

''Will played as beautifully as I've seen any tour player play all year,'' said Haas, high praise considering Haas won the Humana Challenge. ''He could have given me three a side and taken me. We were out there for fun, and he was all business, so it was great to see him get the job done.''

DIVOTS: The PGA Tour is bringing its ''Live At'' production to perhaps the most interesting par-4 in golf - the 10th at Riviera during the Northern Trust Open. Coverage of the 10th and the par-3 16th holes at Riviera can be viewed at ... Former Riviera winner Bill Haas is at the Northern Trust Open and hopeful of staying all four days - not because of his game, but because his wife is in South Carolina expecting their second child. She is due Friday. ... Fred Couples is making his 33rd appearance at the Northern Trust Open.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Americans have won the past 11 times at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the longest streak of any PGA Tour event.

FINAL WORD: ''It's when the game is the most fun.'' - Nick Watney on being in contention.

Getty Images

Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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, 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.