Players A tournament where the course is the star

By Doug FergusonMay 6, 2009, 4:00 pm
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The PlayersPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ' Even with the strongest field in golf, The Players Championship is among the few tournaments where the biggest star is the golf course.
 
The Stadium Course on the TPC Sawgrass has a personality all its own.
 
Sure, it is renowned for its island green on the par-3 17th, perhaps the most notorious short hole in golf where players have hit 312 balls in the water over the last five years alone. But the shot is only 137 yards, a wedge for most players.
 
2009 The Players
Zach Johnson, getting a practice round in Wednesday, calls TPC Sawgrass all-encompassing. (Getty Images)
The winning score has ranged from a record 24-under 264 by Greg Norman in 1994 to 3-under 285 by David Duval in 1999.
 
The list of champions is as impressive as any ' Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Nick Price, Fred Couples ' yet no one has ever repeated as champion.
 
It can look easy. But it can play hard.
 
A small sampling of players in the days before The Players showed how complex this place can be. They were asked to describe the TPC Sawgrass in one word.
 
Exciting, offered three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, the only player to be runner-up in consecutive years. What I mean by that is that its not a big brute of a course with long, boring par 4s. Theres quite a lot of short, tricky par 4s out there. And theres a lot of intimidating shots. A lot of water. Its a course thats exciting at all times.
 
Even without the players this week, it would be an exciting event.
 
The Players did not have Woods last year, the No. 1 attraction in golf, and there was excitement aplenty. It ended with a sudden-death playoff ' the first playoff to start on the 17th hole ' and Paul Goydos promptly hit his tee shot into the water.
 
Tricky, is the word chosen by Woods.
 
His record is most peculiar. Woods was runner-up in 2000 to Hal Sutton, then won the next year over Vijay Singh. But he has not cracked the top 10 since then, his longest such streak of any PGA Tour event. He has never led after any round in any year except for when he rallied to win on a Monday in 2001.
 
The Stadium Course does not discriminate, offering winners who are power players (Woods, Norman, Couples, Mickelson) or short hitters (Fred Funk, Lee Janzen), stars (Price, Duval, Davis Love III) or unheralded winners (Craig Perks).
 
Only eight of the champions at Sawgrass have failed to win a major.
 
Most people consider The Players as the fifth major, which is why Steve Stricker used challenging for his word.
 
It not only challenges you physically, but it challenges you mentally, he said. Its like a major. Theres no letup on any hole. On every single shot, you have to be committed.
 
Sergio Garcia is the defending champion when The Players begins Thursday, its 28th consecutive year on a course designed by Pete Dye and often described as Dye-a-bolical, for the punishment the course metes out on whim.
 
Goydos earned more notoriety for his playoff loss than any of his two PGA Tour victories, in part because of his everyman personality that served as such a contrast to Garcias illuminating career.
 
Some debated whether starting a playoff on the 17th hole was fair or done purely for promotional purposes, but the guy who paid the steepest price had no qualms.
 
Theres no advantage to any one player, he said. All Tour players pretty much are standing on that tee equal. You can look at a hole like 16 or 18 and you say theres an advantage to a guy who hooks the ball. Seventeen doesnt favor anybody.
 
His word to describe the course?
 
Surprising, he said. When you look at each hole individually, it really shouldnt be that difficult. Its just that each hole is designed to the point where if you make a mistake or get out of position in trying to get back into position and trying to be aggressive from that point, it tends to kind snowball away from you.
 
Phil Mickelson called it interesting. Zach Johnson said it was all-encompassing. Retief Goosen called it dramatic.
 
Harrington never feels comfortable on the Stadium Course, and he pointed to the island-green 17th as the consummate hole to define the character of the place.
 
Its not a difficult birdie, but its a very difficult par, he said. Its a strange game on this course that theres a lot of holes that if you play them well, you get rewarded. And if you play them badly, you get punished.
 
Of course, no survey would be complete without the wisdom of Boo Weekley. His one-word description?
 
Flush, Weekley said.
 
Flush?
 
Yeah, flush he said. Because youve got to hit it pure, or youre going to want to flush it down the toilet.
 

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    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.


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    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.

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    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, GolfChannel.com 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.

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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

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    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.