Getty Images

Notes: Typhoon, visa flap mar Kuchar's fall sked

By Doug FergusonOctober 24, 2017, 11:59 pm

SHANGHAI – The fall schedule didn't work out the way Matt Kuchar imagined.

Kuchar signed up for three straight tournaments overseas, starting with a working vacation with his family in Japan for the Bridgestone Open, followed by the HSBC Champions and then the Turkish Airlines Open.

He made it through two rounds of the Bridgestone Open before he evacuated ahead of Typhoon Lan. And he withdrew from the Turkish Airlines Open when relations between the U.S. and Turkey reached a point that both countries suspended nonimmigrant visa services for travel between the two countries.

''It looked like things were getting to a point where it was better not to go,'' Kuchar said. ''I did some homework with a U.S. senator friend of mine who checked with the State Department. When the U.S. stops issuing visas, there's an issue.''

Kuchar played in Turkey five years ago as part of an exhibition that included Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. His strongest memory was figuring out to celebrate his son Cameron's birthday.

''We didn't know what to do for a 5-year-old in Turkey, so everyone got in bathrobes in our room and turned it into a Turkish bath party,'' he said.

In Japan, Kuchar arrived early with his wife and two sons, took the bullet train, went to a Sumo wrestling match and toured a Ninja training studio. That was great. And then the weather arrived, and they struggled to get in two rounds on Friday and Saturday as the typhoon approached.

''It was my first time to the Bridgestone Open. I was excited to be there. They've been a great sponsor for me,'' Kuchar said. ''And I had to evacuate because of a typhoon. I've had to evacuate twice in the last two years from Georgia (from hurricanes). It was strange. But I was able to get out safely, arrive here early and the wife and kids headed home.''

So the HSBC Champions will be his only four-round tournament.

''It wasn't quite what I was planning for the fall,'' he said.

Kuchar will take the next month off and then end his year at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas and the Greg Norman's QBE Shootout in Florida.

AMERICAN THREE: By winning the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in South Korea, Justin Thomas rose to a career-best No. 3 in the world and gave the Americans the top three spots in the world ranking for the first time in more than seven years.

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker were at Nos. 1-2-3 from the start of 2010 until the middle of May. Lee Westwood won the BMW PGA Championship to break up the American party, and he eventually got to No. 1.

Now it's Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Thomas. One difference is their ages. Woods was 34, Mickelson was 40 and Stricker was 43 during most of that reign. Johnson is the old man of this group at 33, while Spieth and Thomas are 24.

How long will this one last?

Thomas and Spieth are not playing for another month (Spieth in Australia, Thomas at the Hero World Challenge). Hideki Matsuyama is at the HSBC Champions to defend his title and could take back No. 3 this week. Jon Rahm can't reach No. 3 this week, though he also is playing in Dubai in three weeks.

TEXAS TROUBLE: The Houston Open is not the only Texas stop on the PGA Tour looking for a title sponsor. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Dean & DeLuca is on the verge of pulling out just two years into its six-year commitment as title sponsor at Colonial.

The Star-Telegram obtained a letter the Colonial Country Club president sent to members informing them that Dean & DeLuca has notified the PGA Tour that it may not be able to meet its financial obligations in 2018.

The board is to meet with Dean & DeLuca about possibly renegotiating terms of the contract, but the newspaper said at this point Colonial is prepared to start looking for a new title sponsor.

The tour said in a statement, ''It's important to note that Dean & DeLuca is still the title sponsor of the event, and we are in continuous conversations with them on their position with the event going forward.''

ON THE CLOCK: The European Tour is taking pace of play to a new level next year with the ''Shot Clock Masters'' in Austria, which will be the first tournament at the professional level to use a shot clock.

The clock will be set at 50 seconds for the first player hitting a shot and 40 seconds for the others in the group. Any player going past the limit will get a one-shot penalty, which will be reflected by a red card by their name on the leaderboard.

Each player will be allowed to call two timeouts during a round, giving them twice the amount of time they are allotted for that shot.

''Not only will it help us combat slow play and reduce round times, it is also further evidence of our desire to embrace innovation,'' said Keith Pelley, the chief executive for the European Tour.

The Shot Clock Masters in Austria will be June 7-10 at Diamond Country Club, which is one week before the U.S. Open and likely won't include the top players. The tour hopes it will shave 45 minutes off a round of golf.

ROOKIE RACE: It wasn't much of a race in the first place, but now it's mathematically over: Sung Hyun Park of South Korea is the LPGA Tour rookie of the year.

Now she has a month left to try to add LPGA player of the year.

Park has two victories this year, none bigger than the U.S. Women's Open. The 24-year-old Park has six other top 10s. She has a 798-point lead over Angel Yin, which at the moment is the third-largest margin since the award began in 1962. Karrie Webb holds the record with a 1,030-point lead in 1996, followed by Se Ri Pak, who won the award by 929 points in 1999.

Going into the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, Park lead the LPGA Tour money list at just over $2 million. She also leads the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average and she is No. 2 in the world. In the points-based LPGA player of the year, Park is in third place.

Park, who had 10 victories on the Korean LPGA, will receive the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award during an awards ceremony on Nov. 16 at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

DIVOTS: Derek Sprague, the former PGA of America president, is leaving Liberty National after two years to become general manager at TPC Sawgrass. ... Sergio Garcia has been awarded honorary life membership of the European Tour in recognition of winning his first major at the Masters. ... The Players Championship generated $8.7 million for local charities in northeast Florida, breaking by $200,000 a record established last year. ... Paula Creamer said on Twitter she had surgery on her left wrist and is out of the rest of the year. Creamer, who went 3-1 in the Solheim Cup, had only one top-10 finish this year and was 86th on the money list.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Six players who made it to the Tour Championship are playing all three events on the PGA Tour's Asia swing - Xander Schauffele, Paul Casey, Pat Perez, Kyle Stanley, Adam Hadwin and Jhonattan Vegas.

FINAL WORD: ''They must have a lot more money than I do.'' - Pat Perez, on the players who chose not to play the three Asian events on the PGA Tour that offered a combined $26 million in prize money.

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 each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

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

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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 of 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.