Six weeks left for players to punch ticket to Masters

By Doug FergusonFebruary 24, 2016, 6:24 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Whether the road to the Masters started at Riviera (Rory McIlroy), PGA National (Rickie Fowler) or Doral (Jordan Spieth), qualifying for the most restricted field of the majors starts with the Florida swing.

Last year ended with 89 players having earned invitations to Augusta National. Seven weeks into the new year, the number is likely to be unchanged.

The only PGA Tour winner to earn a spot so far is Vaughn Taylor, who won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The other addition was Paul Chaplet, who won the Latin America Amateur Championship. While there have been no official subtractions, Jim Furyk had wrist surgery and is hopeful of a return in May at The Players Championship, and the latest report on Tiger Woods is no report at all. It would be surprising if he returned to the Masters.

There are six PGA Tour events left for players to earn a spot in the Masters, and two of them are World Golf Championships: the Cadillac Championship at Doral, and the Dell Match Play in Texas. The latter has the top 64 in the world, and currently only seven of those players are not yet eligible for the Masters.

After two years of the Masters field coming close to 100 players or more for the first time since 1966, it most likely won't come close to that this year. Augusta National will take the top 50 in the world ranking after the Match Play. As of Monday's world ranking, everyone in the top 50 already is exempt.

Among those not yet eligible are Matt Jones (No. 52), Rafael Cabrera Bello (No. 58), Thorbjorn Olesen (No. 60), Thomas Pieters (No. 61), Marcus Fraser (No. 62), Gary Woodland (No. 63) and Ryan Palmer (No. 64).

Jones lost a good opportunity when he missed the cut at Riviera. The top 50 effectively get a free start at Doral, though Jones can still qualify if he were to move into the top 50 after the Honda Classic this week. Cabrera Bello and Fraser earned spots in Doral by being in the top 10 on Europe's money list. Pieters narrowly missed out when Nathan Holman won in Malaysia.

Woodland and Palmer are playing in the Honda Classic this week.

Let the race begin.


CHOI'S RESURGENCE: K.J. Choi was the vice captain at the Presidents Cup in South Korea. He turns 46 this year and is in the final year of his exemption from winning The Players Championship. He ended last year at No. 302 in the world.

And he is quietly making a big move.

Choi was a runner-up at Torrey Pines and he was among those tied for the lead on the back nine at Riviera until he tied for fifth. One reason for the resurgence might be his desire to play in the Olympics this summer.

''I want to play for South Korea, but I need to have wins,'' he said. ''That's why I'm training the last two months, three months, very hard.''

Choi already is up to No. 102. To make the Olympic team, he would need to move past K.T. Kim (currently No. 72) by July 6. Byeong Hun An is ranked No. 28.


HARRINGTON'S HERO: Padraig Harrington posed Tuesday with the top players from U.S. Kids Golf, 13-year-old Yae Eun Kim and 12-year-old Luke Clanton, who cited Jordan Spieth and Jason Day as their favorite players.

''You'd want to be a little older than 12 to look up to me as his idol,'' Harrington said.

His sporting heroes at age 12 were in soccer, and he really didn't pay attention to elite golf until he was 16. That would have been about the time Nick Faldo was winning his first major and Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman were battling for No. 1 in the world.

His hero? Bernhard Langer. Harrington called him the ''professional's professional.''

''Got the most out of his game,'' he said. ''Came back from the yips twice. That's just unheard of. Absolutely phenomenal how much he got out of the game from his work and dedication. I've always admired that much more so than people who it comes easy to. Bernhard Langer, it never came easy to him, and definitely a hero of mine.''


SLUMBERS ON TURNBERRY: If the British Open returns to Donald Trump-owned Turnberry, it won't be until at least 2022.

R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers, in a meeting with British golf writers this week, said negotiations have begun for the 2020 and 2021 championships. One of them will be in England to balance between English and Scottish links in the rotation.

''At no point during those discussions has Turnberry been part of that,'' Slumbers said. ''So that's where we are. And 2022 and beyond it is something we don't have to think about for a few years.''

Historically, that would not be unusual.

Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009 after an absence of 15 years. The main reason for waiting were the roads leading to the Ayrshire town. Then again, Trump pledged big upgrades to the hotel and the golf course when he bought the property.

Slumbers didn't say whether Trump's views during his campaign for the GOP nomination are causing the R&A to think twice about staging The Open there.

''We're asking the very best players in the world to come and put their names to a championship which we've written down in history, and we feel deeply that the quality of the golf course and the challenge we give them should be commensurate with the quality of the players and the commitment that the players make,'' he said. ''But we are also very focused on the macro environment. We as an organization have said that we believe golf should be open to all, regardless of gender, race, nationality or religion, and that's where we sit.''


RANKING GAME: While the Honda Classic has been gaining in strength over the last five years, this year's field is not as strong at the top as it has been in recent years.

Attribute that to a change in the world rankings. And to Tiger Woods.

For the first time since 2012, the Honda Classic will not have the No. 1 player at PGA National. Rory McIlroy was No. 1 in 2013 and 2015, and Woods was atop the ranking in 2014. Woods, out with an injury since Augusta, is now at No. 445. McIlroy is No. 3, having wasted a good chance to go back to No. 2 by closing with a 75 at Riviera.

The Honda Classic has four of the top 10 in the world: McIlroy, Rickie Fowler (No. 5), Patrick Reed (No. 9) and Branden Grace (No. 10).


DIVOTS: This will be only the third time this year that either the No. 1 or No. 2 player in the world ranking was not competing. ... Charley Hoffman and Kevin Streelman have been elected co-chairs of the Player Advisory Council. They will replace Bo Van Pelt and Mark Wilson on the PGA Tour policy board next year and serve three-year terms. ... The R&A and the Ladies Golf Union have agreed to merge. ... Simon & Schuster says it will publish a biography on Tiger Woods, to be written by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. The title and publication date have not been determined.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Bubba Watson was only the second player in the top 10 in the world to win on the PGA Tour this season. No. 1 Jordan Spieth won at Kapalua.


FINAL WORD: ''Nobody is looking at records when it comes to tournament records. All we're looking at is trophies.'' - Bubba Watson.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”