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Stenson, DeChambeau co-lead API; Woods seven back

By Doug FergusonMarch 16, 2018, 11:27 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Henrik Stenson gave himself another chance to win at Bay Hill, and he made it a little bit tougher on Tiger Woods.

Stenson made three big par saves at the turn to keep the round from getting away from him, ran off three straight birdies on his back nine and posted a 3-under 69 that gave him a share of the 36-hole lead Friday with Bryson DeChambeau in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The chilly weather warmed in the afternoon, just not enough for Woods to do the same. He didn't make a birdie until the 12th hole, never had a birdie putt inside 12 feet - except for the par 5s on the back nine - and did well to scrap it around for a 72 to go into the weekend seven shots behind.

''I didn't hit the ball close, I didn't hit the ball well,'' Woods said. ''But I was just hanging in there ... just try not to shoot myself out of the tournament.''

DeChambeau finished strong with an 8-iron into 7 feet for eagle on the par-5 16th and an approach to 4 feet for birdie on the 18th, giving him a 66 and his third time with a share of the 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour.

''I think every week I'm good enough to win or play my best,'' he said. ''It's just sometimes a kick here, a break here and that's just what happens.''

Stenson and DeChambeau were at 11-under 133, two shots clear of PGA Tour rookie Talor Gooch (70).


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Stenson had a two-shot lead going into the final round in 2015 at Bay Hill and stumbled at the end after getting put on the clock. Two years ago, he was tied for the lead with five holes to play until two bogeys over the next three holes.

His putting carried him to a 64 in the opening round, and it saved him again on Friday.

''I made some great par putts and a bunker up-and-down, so that was really key today to keep the round going,'' Stenson said. ''I didn't drop a shot, where I could have easily dropped three shots on those holes. So that was crucial.''

Temperatures were around 50 when he teed off, and it was clear Stenson has been gone from Sweden too long, living in Dubai and more recently in Orlando. If not for the tournament, he described this as a day to sit in the clubhouse with hot chocolate and wait for it to get warm.

''I might be Swedish, but I've gone soft ,'' he said. ''I lived in a nice climate for too many years.''

He was strong when it mattered. Stenson shanked a fairway bunker shot short and right of the green on the 16th and pitched some 70 feet long, from where he had to make an 8-footer to escape with par. He found the front bunker on the par-3 17th, hit out to 15 feet and made that one, and then saved par from the bunker left of the 18th green down the slope toward the green, holing a 5-foot putt.

Stenson settled down from there and ran off three straight birdies, two from close range, the last one from 20 feet on the fringe.

Ten players were separated by five shots going into the weekend, a group that includes Rickie Fowler (71) and Patrick Reed (70). Rory McIlroy was slowed again, this time with a pair of bogeys to start his back nine, though he could accept a 70. McIlroy was six shots back, which felt like a little bit more considering the way Stenson is playing.

Stenson is renowned for his ball striking, and 12 birdies over 36 holes would suggest he's dialed in this week.

''Henrik has played great,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm going to have to play very, very good golf on the weekend to catch him, but I'm in a better position this Friday than I was last Friday, so I'll take anything I can get.''

Woods walked off the course early Thursday afternoon just one shot out of the lead, and the margin keeps getting wider - four shots back by the end of the opening round, now seven shots back going into the weekend.

It was clear early that this would be a struggle, especially when he ran a putt off the green and onto the fringe at No. 9 for this second bogey. He at least managed to birdie the par 5s on the back, and had a tough par save on the 15th. With his ball plugged near the side of the lip, he swung a little harder to make sure the shaft didn't get stuck banging into the side of the turf and holed a 20-foot par putt.

The disappointment was his wedge play. He never got anything particularly close.

''Today was just a bad day,'' he said.

Woods, coming off a runner-up finish last week at Innisbrook, is an eight-time winner at Bay Hill, most recently in 2013 when he last played the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He trailed after 36 holes in four of those victories, including a seven-shot deficit to Vijay Singh in 2008.

''There's a lot of guys between myself and the lead,'' said Woods, who was tied for 17th. ''And if it gets warm like it's supposed to get on the weekend, then we're going to make some birdies.''

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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.


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.

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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.”


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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.