Notes: Spieth has come a long way since U.S. Am win

By Doug FergusonAugust 21, 2013, 1:37 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – To realize how far he has come, Jordan Spieth only has to consider the last time The Barclays was played at Liberty National. He was about 30 miles away at Trump National, winning the U.S. Junior Amateur at age 16.

Four years later, Spieth not only is in the big leagues, he's trying to make the All-Star Game.

With a win at the John Deere Classic and a playoff loss last week at the Wyndham Championship, the 20-year-old Texan goes into the playoffs with the No. 8 seed and would seem to be a shoo-in to reach the Tour Championship.

Tiger Woods was the last player to start a season with no status and reach the Tour Championship.

''It's pretty wild,'' Spieth said. ''Each year ... I have a goal to achieve, to reach that new, higher level. And so far each year, I've been on track. This year, I maybe skipped a few steps. Like I've said before, I don't really think of my age as my age. When you're out here, everyone is your peer. New goals come up each day that I'm trying to reach out and accomplish. You can't ever really rest out here. Everybody passes you up.''

Since the FedEx Cup began in 2007, the No. 8 seed at the start has reached the Tour Championship every year.

Woods reached the Tour Championship in 1996 the old way, when it was the top 30 on the money list. He won twice in seven events after winning the U.S. Amateur for the third straight time.


OH, BROTHER: Two players are making it a little bit harder on themselves to qualify for the Tour Championship by skipping the first playoff event at The Barclays.

One is missing by choice, the other because of a family obligation.

Zach Johnson, at No. 18 in the standings, will be in Chicago this week for his brother's wedding. Only one player has started at No. 18 and failed to reach the Tour Championship - J.B. Holmes in 2010.

Steve Stricker is not at The Barclays because of his part-time schedule. He won the event in 2007 at Westchester Country Club.


DOWN TO THE WIRE: Patrick Cantlay won his second start on the Web.com Tour at the Colombia Championship in March and looked set to earn a PGA Tour card. But the former UCLA star missed three months with a back injury, only returning last week and missing the cut.

During that time off, Cantlay has fallen to No. 25 on the money list.

The top 25 after the Cox Classic this week in Omaha, Neb., are assured their PGA Tour cards for the 2013-14 season, and the next 50 are thrown in with the PGA Tour players from 126-200 in the FedEx Cup standings to fight for the other 25 cards.

Cantlay's lead over Wes Roach at No. 26 is a mere $2,807.

Farther down the list is Michael Connell at No. 75, the cutoff for getting into the series of four tournaments to vie for 25 Tour cards. Connell's lead over Zach Sucher is $126.


THE C'S HAVE IT: European captain Liselotte Neumann told her team not to look at the scoreboards Sunday in the Solheim Cup, worrying only about their match instead of what kind of comeback the Americans might mount.

Turns out it didn't matter, as Europe led early in the singles and had control most of the day.

It's the lineup that made it clear Neumann was expecting a win all along. Just look at the names at 4-5-6 in the lineup, along with the ninth spot – all of the players had a first name that started with the letter ''C.''

She revealed Sunday night that every player that has won the decisive point for Europe in their four previous wins all had names that began with ''C.''

Catrin Nilsmark in 1992. Carin Koch in 2000 at Loch Lomond. Catriona Matthew in 2003 at Barseback. Caroline Hedwall in 2011 at Ireland.

''We just tried to put all the players that their names start with a 'C' close together,'' Neumann said. ''And it worked out really good. That was the strategy.''

She smiled at the silence.

''Did you get that?'' she said. ''Did I lose you?''

The winning putt came from Matthew in the No. 6 slot.


GRAND SLAMMED: In a development that shocked no one, British Open champion Phil Mickelson has pulled out of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf because of a scheduling conflict. He was replaced in the field in Bermuda by Padraig Harrington.

Harrington won a year ago as an alternate for Ernie Els.

Mickelson shot 59 in the Grand Slam when he won at Poipu Bay in 2004. He was runner-up to Tiger Woods in Hawaii the next year. He has not played it since.


MISREADING THE TEA LEAVES: Tiger Woods was the overwhelming favorite going into the PGA Championship, particularly coming off a seven-shot win at the Bridgestone Invitational. But looking back at the whole of his career, it's not as though Woods ever had a strong record of making majors a consecutive win.

The PGA Championship was the 20th time he had gone into a major coming off a win. His majors record under those circumstances is 4-16.

Woods won the Memorial and U.S. Open in 2000; The Players Championship and Masters in 2001; the Buick Open and PGA Championship in 2006; and the Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship in 2007.

His record in his next start after winning a major is 4-10. That includes a second-round loss in the Match Play Championship in 2009, held eight months after he won the U.S. Open and then had reconstructive knee surgery.


DIVOTS: Rory McIlroy plans to play in the Australian Open this year, held Nov. 28-Dec. 1 at Royal Sydney. ... Hideki Matsuyama tied for 15th in Greensboro and easily wrapped up a PGA Tour card for the 2013-14 season. Matsuyama, who had a pair of top 10s in the majors, made $771,640. That would be the equivalent of No. 105 on the money list. ... Davis Love III ended his streak of 27 consecutive years inside the top 100 on the PGA Tour money list when he failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs. ... Eight players failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the FedEx Cup began in 2007 - David Toms, Padraig Harrington, Chad Campbell, Vijay Singh, Jonathan Byrd, Troy Matteson, Sean O'Hair and Robert Allenby. ... NBC Sports is televising the final round of the Evian Championship, the fifth and final major of the LPGA Tour season. It will be shown from noon to 1:30 p.m. EDT. ... As expected, Matt Kuchar is playing the World Cup in Australia at Royal Melbourne, one week after the Australian Masters on the same course.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Four players qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs without having a top 10 this year on the PGA Tour.


FINAL WORD: ''I don't think that golfers care about how long it takes, I think they care if they wait. I think that should be everybody's mission when they play. Don't have anybody wait on you.'' - Judy Rankin.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

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Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”

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Woods does everything but win at The Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:57 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and small victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.

Sure, after a round in which he took the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.

“Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”

But here’s where we take a deep breath.

Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with nine holes to play.

Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.

The scenario was improbable.

Inconceivable.

Impossible.

At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.

Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.

This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.

One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?

“Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.

Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.

Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.

Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.

Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.

Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.

Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.

“For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”

So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”

But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, the ball ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.

“It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”

Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.

“Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing The Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”

Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.

“She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”

But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.

Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.

“To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”

His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two new, younger additions to his clan.

Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:

LOVE THE HATERS.

After this unbelievable performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?