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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Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:19 am

IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.

Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.

Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.

Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.

Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."