Royal St. George's like playing 'moon golf'

By Doug FergusonJuly 8, 2011, 1:57 pm

No other links course in England has hosted the British Open more often than Royal St. George’s. No other course on the rotation can claim the first Open champion to not break 80 over four rounds and the first Open champion to shoot in the 60s in all four rounds.

And when it comes to its terrain, Royal St. George’s is simply like no other.

“Almost like playing on the surface of the moon,” Justin Rose said.

The British Open returns to this peculiar links in the southeast of England for the 14th time next week, and about the only certainty is that a claret jug will be awarded to one of the 156 players.

Getting from the opening tee shot to the final putt is not always that simple.

“I’d swear the Royal Air Force used a couple of the fairways for bombing runs,” Greg Norman said in 1993, days before he began dismantling the course with four rounds in the 60s to win his second British Open.

After closing with a 64 in the wind, Norman described it as “the world championship of imagination.”

How quirky are some of the bounces?

“We had a bet in a practice round on the 17th hole that you had to hit a driver, and if you hit the fairway, you got $100 from everybody,” Justin Leonard said about his last trip to Royal St. George’s in 2003. “And nobody was worried about paying. Not one of us even checked to see if we had $100 in our pocket. It’s a little nutty in spots.”

Geoff Ogilvy spoke for dozens of players in a column for Golf World magazine that began, “The funny thing about Royal St. George’s is that it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s favorite course.”

Finding someone who lists it among his favorite links on the British Open rotation is about as easy as it was for Tiger Woods to find his tee shot in the rough right of the first fairway in 2003, which he never did.

“You haven’t asked Ben Curtis,” Jim Furyk said with a grin.

In his major championship debut, Curtis won the British Open at Royal St. George’s eight years ago. Upon finding him, Curtis rated it as his fifth favorite. And he’s played only seven of the Open courses.

Charles Howell III played his first British Open there in 2003, and while he can’t remember which player said it, the description stuck with him: “The world’s largest pinball machine.”

But there’s a reason this gem of a links course in Sandwich, a small town along the North Sea about an hour east of London, has hosted so many important championships.

“It’s a really good test,” Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said.

Dawson took umbrage at the idea that no one likes Royal St. George’s, at first protesting that “you’re making up a story, there’s nothing there.” Moments later, however, he conceded that opinions are largely derived from the most recent experience.

Only one player managed to break par in 2003. That was Curtis, who was No. 396 in the world ranking, playing his first major and barely known outside his neighborhood in Ohio. It was easy to suggest that a quirky course had a surprising winner, but that would be to ignore who else could have won: Vijay Singh, Thomas Bjorn, Woods, Davis Love III, Sergio Garcia, Kenny Perry. Most of golf’s best that year had a chance to win the claret jug.

Surely, Royal St. George’s does something right as it tries to define the champion golfer of the year.

Still, the R&A recognized some changes were in order. Only 30 percent of the entire field found the fairway on the opening hole last time, so it has been widened by 12 yards. The 17th fairway also has been widened by about 6 yards, so Leonard better check his wallet.

In the week before the Open, Dawson watched as U.S. Open champions Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, three-time major winner Ernie Els and four-time major champion Phil Mickelson played practice rounds. “They’ve all been raving about how good it is,” he said.

Dawson regards links courses in the rotation as children. He loves them all and refuses to play favorites, although he can discern their many differences.

“I suppose St. George’s has slightly more blindish shots than the others,” he said. “But it’s a golf course you need to get to know. It’s a wonderful piece of links land. And this is a very tough golf course.”

So why so many references to its lunar – some might even say “looney” – landscape?

“I think it’s do with its size,” Dawson said. “There’s nothing surrounding it, and apart from the 14th, there’s no real boundary.”

That tends to accentuate the humps and hillocks. Like just about any links course, the bounces are unpredictable.

“You could literally hit it down the middle of the fairway, and the guy you’re playing with could hit it right in the junk,” David Duval said. “You get down there and there’s one ball in the fairway, and it’s not yours. You had balls rolling off sideways, and that leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you execute a shot like you’re supposed to and you get up there and you’ve got nothing.”

That said, Duval can’t wait to get back. Even the bad bounces are part of the charm of links golf. Love got one of the biggest breaks ever in 2003 when his tee shot on the 14th struck a white out-of-bounds stake and caromed back into play.

All the consternation about funky bounces leaves Brad Faxon perplexed.

He played his first British Open in 1985 at Royal St. George’s. Faxon said he didn’t know if his shot was going to bounce to the left or to the right. He realized there was an element of luck. To him, that’s always been part of the game.

“When they call it the quirkiest of the courses … are you going to tell me St. Andrews isn’t quirky? They’ve got crossing holes and double greens. What is quirky?” Faxon asked. “There are mounds on the fairways, and a shot bounces into the rough. Are you telling me that doesn’t happen at any other Open course?”

Adam Scott described it as “a bit of a fiddly golf course.”

Was it his favorite?

“Muirfield you mean?” he replied with a cheeky grin. “It’s not my personal favorite, no.”

Scott certainly is not out on a limb there. As to why it causes such hesitation, he blamed that on funny bounces. Scott also attributes that to players who have too many expectations from a game that is filled with surprises.

“I think it’s because we’re all pretty spoiled, and when we hit it down the middle of the fairway we expect it to be in the middle of the fairway. But that’s not how golf works over there,” he said. “That’s why we’re saying these things. But we’re all going to have to deal with the same things. I’m going to be pretty fired up to stand on the first tee Thursday and play an Open Championship.

“I don’t care what the course looks like,” he said. “I just want to win the thing, you know?”

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Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:59 am

ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.

The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.

Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.


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“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”

Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.

There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.

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McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:29 am

ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.

Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.

“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”


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For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.

The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.

McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.

“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”

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Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 23, 2018, 12:19 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.

With the top 25 earners in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.

''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''

Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Web.com Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.

''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''


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Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.

''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''

Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.

McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.

The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling

By Rex HoggardSeptember 23, 2018, 12:14 am

ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.

For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.

“I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.

Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.

“Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”

Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.

On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.

He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.


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This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.

“The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”

Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.

He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.

There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.

Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”

Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.

It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.

Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.

“I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”

In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.

He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.

The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.