Steve Stricker shares lead at Deutsche Bank

By Doug FergusonSeptember 4, 2009, 9:00 pm
DeutscheBank Logo 2007NORTON, Mass. –  Steve Stricker birdied his first two holes, and Tiger Woods could see what was coming. Walking to the next tee Friday at the TPC Boston, Woods said to his caddie, “He’s going to shoot 62.”

Woods’ instincts were off by one. Stricker shot 63.

With superb command of his driver and his typical dose of great putting, Stricker ran off five straight birdies and only once came close to a bogey to share the first-round lead with Jim Furyk in the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Furyk, without a victory in more than two years, shot his 8-under 63 in the afternoon. He had five birdies in his opening six holes, settled in for a diet of pars, then closed with consecutive birdies for his lowest round of the year.

They were two shots clear of a group that included Masters champion Angel Cabrera, Justin Leonard, Retief Goosen and Scott Verplank, who had dinner with Stricker on Thursday night and had a minor bout of food poisoning.

Stricker felt fine, and looked even better.

“To get off to a birdie-birdie start just kind of got the day started in the right direction,” Stricker said.

In a reversal, it was Woods who had the best seat for a great round. The world’s No. 1 player hit ordinary shots to the green, hit one tee shot into the bushes for a penalty shot and failed to convert five birdie chances he had inside 12 feet. He wound up with a 70.

“I didn’t really do much of anything positive today,” Woods said. “I didn’t feel good over any shot today. Didn’t drive it very good, hit my irons worse and didn’t make any putts. Other than that, it was a good day.”

The PGA Tour Playoffs seem to bring out the best in Stricker. This was the 26th time in 37 rounds during the FedEx Cup playoffs that he shot in the 60s, and this one included a pair of birdie putts inside 7 feet that he missed.

At the middle of his round, however, everything was perfect.

“It was unbelievable,” Woods said. “He made one mistake there at No. 7, but other than that, you’d be hard-pressed to find a shot that he hit off line.”

First came a wedge that spun back to 4 feet on the par-5 18th, followed by a 15-foot birdie on the first hole, then another wedge to a par 5 that stopped 4 feet away. The pin on the par-3 third hole is hidden behind a bunker, yet it was clear from the loud cheer that Stricker had hit another one stiff.

Woods hit his shot at No. 3 into about 10 feet, then flicked his broken tee at Stricker’s elbow.

Like that was going to stop him.

Stricker found his ball a foot from the cup for a tap-in birdie, and finished off his birdie streak with a drive on the 294-yard fourth hole that just went over the back of the green. Having practice that putt up the slope on Thursday, knowing it was slow up to the green, he rapped it to 3 feet.

Woods and Stricker are friends and for years were managed by the same agent. There was a time that Stricker felt slightly intimidated by Woods, although those days are gone.

“He does some incredible things,” Stricker said. “I guess I’m to the point where I’m comfortable with what I’m doing, and I’m not really worrying about him. He’s going to hit those great shots and he’s going to make those great putts. I can’t do anything about that.

“He can do all those great things, and I’ll just do the things that I need to do try to play well.”

Stricker did all the right things on a splendid day of sunshine, as did Furyk.

Furyk noticed Verplank off to a hot start when he arrived to practice. Before Stricker had finished, Furyk was well on his way. He birdied the first four holes, hit a 7-iron to 8 feet on No. 6 and holed a 30-foot putt on the 14th hole before his great finish.

The only finish that matters to Furyk is on Labor Day when the tournament hands out a trophy. He has not won since the Canadian Open two years ago, and it gnaws at him. Once No. 2 in the world, he has fallen to No. 13 in the ranking.

“I’ve had two pretty solid years,” he said. “I wasn’t able to win last year in ’08, and I haven’t been able to win this year in ’09, and yeah, it absolutely eats at me,” he said. “That being said, I wouldn’t be a competitor, I would have a lot of trust in my game if it didn’t bother me. But I’m at ease on the golf course.”

This was a good day to be at ease, with 64 out of the 99 players breaking par. The worst score belonged to Robert Allenby (76), partially because of the pure conditions, and because only the players on top of their games are still competing in these playoffs. The top 70 qualify for next week in Chicago.

Troy Matteson started at No. 125 at The Barclays, moved up to No. 83 with his tie for 20th, and continued going strong with a 66. He was joined by Geoff Ogilvy and Sean O’Hair.

Padraig Harrington also put together another solid round with a 67, while Phil Mickelson continued to sputter. He three-putted his first hole and four-putted the ninth to offset three birdies in his round of 71.

Woods attributed so many missed chances at Liberty National on putts that often broke multiple times before reaching the hole. He worked some on his short game during his three days at home, no more than usual.

“I really putted well on the weekend, I just didn’t make a lot of putts,” he said. “When you’re lipping out a lot of putts, you’re not putting poorly. Those greens were a tough read for a bunch of people.”

Woods has a hard time finding much fault with anything this year, except for not winning a major. His five victories are twice as much as anyone else, and he still holds the No. 1 stop in the FedEx Cup standings going into the second week of the playoffs.

The big surprise is Heath Slocum, who was planning a trip to Switzerland this week for the Omega Masters on the European Tour until he won last week at Liberty National. That moved him from second-to-last place at No. 124 to No. 3, right behind Woods and Stricker.

Players have been debating whether Slocum earned too many points, and they tried to balance his rocket rise with the notion that he did beat a field at The Barclays that included the top 124 players on the PGA Tour.

The top 100 qualified for the Deutsche Bank (minus Paul Casey, who is injured), and that number will be pared to the top 70 players in points going to the third round next week at the BMW Championship outside Chicago.

Woods is virtually a lock to at least contest for the $10 million prize that comes with the FedEx Cup, especially the way he has played over the last two months—two victories, two runner-up finishes.

“This last stretch, I think I’ve hit the ball pretty good,” Woods said. “I’ve putted well in stretches. Some people have alluded to other things, but that’s not too bad for my last four events. The overall year has been very consistent.”

He missed the FedEx Cup playoffs last year recovering from knee surgery. The last time he played the Deutsche Bank was in 2007, when he tied for second, four shots behind Phil Mickelson. Woods took nine more putts than Mickelson that day.

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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.”


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.