Three-time winner gets shot at hero Woods

By Doug FergusonAugust 2, 2012, 12:39 am

AKRON, Ohio –  Branden Grace is playing the opening two rounds of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with Tiger Woods, the biggest draw in golf and a seven-time winner at Firestone. It was a clever pairing because they are the only players with three wins this year.

Grace is a powerful South African who won the Joburg Open, the Volvo Golf Champions at Fancourt and the China Open.

He also is the third African player, who is not well known in America, who be paired with Woods at the start of a World Golf Championship. By the look of things, Grace is in better position than the other two.

It was at Firestone in 2005 when officials decided to put Woods with Marc Cayeux of Zimbabwe, who was making his first trip to America.

Just his luck, Cayeux burned the inside of his left hand on a barbecue the week before, leaving a quarter-sized hole in his hand. Unwilling to miss such a big event, he wore a thick glove and fought through the pain to post a 71. The toughest part of Cayeux was getting to the seventh green, going to mark his ball and seeing the words, ''PRACTICE'' on the side of his Titleist. A range ball somehow got into his bag.

He sheepishly called over Woods and Niclas Fasth, and then a rules official, but was not penalized because he was using the same ball.

Three years later at Doral, officials looking for a rising international star decided to put Woods with a young South African named Louis Oosthuizen. Upon arriving in America, he watched on TV as Woods buried a 25-foot putt to win Bay Hill, and then get a message from South African Airways that his clubs had gone missing. They didn't arrive until the night before the opening round.

About the only thing Grace might have to battle is idol worship.

''He's my role model since I started playing golf,'' Grace said. ''Tomorrow is a little bit of a dream come true.''

Grace has come a long way in a short time. He got his European Tour card through Q-School, then came out roaring. He won in back-to-back weeks in South Africa, winning in a playoff at Fancourt that included Ernie Els.

''I promise you at the end of last year, I would have dreamt of playing with Tiger first two rounds at Bridgestone,'' Grace said. ''But it shows you if you stick your head down and keep grinding and keep playing, you never know what can happen.''


TOMS RETURNS: David Toms didn't plan a six-week break in the middle of the year. He didn't plan to miss the British Open.

After his tie for fourth in the U.S. Open, Toms flew home to Louisiana from San Francisco with plans of taking two weeks off and returning at The Greenbrier. If he felt strong enough, he was going to play the John Deere Classic before going over to England for the British Open.

''I got home Sunday night, and Monday morning I went to tie my shoes and my back went out,'' Toms said. ''I was in bed for 2 1/2 days and didn't move. I couldn't do anything for two weeks.''

He had a cortisone injection and let it heal, but he was not prepared to play Greenbrier or John Deere, and he didn't fancy his chances at the Open. And with hopes of playing seven straight weeks through the FedEx Cup playoffs, he felt rest was in order.

''I'm sure my back was bothering me during the U.S. Open, and then that long flight coming home,'' he said. ''I didn't hit a shot for two weeks. After that, it was chipping and putting. I wasn't ready to play golf. I wasn't going to be competition. And then you've got the long flight over, links golf ... I felt zero percent of zero is zero, right? I wasn't confident I was going to play well.''


LONG PUTTERS: The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient are looking into long putters and belly putters, focusing mainly on anchoring the putter to the body and whether any decision should fall under the rules of golf or an equipment ruling. If it's under the rules, a change would not take place until 2016.

Whatever the case, Keegan Bradley might say he had a hand in any decision.

Bradley became the first player with a belly putter to win a major last year at the PGA Championship. Then, Webb Simpson used a belly putter in winning the U.S. Open, and Ernie Els used a belly putter to win the British Open, by one shot over Adam Scott, who uses a long putter.

''There's been a lot of belly putters winning,'' Bradley said. 'I don't think that's a bad thing. I just think it all happened at once. My generation of golfers have been using these putters for a long time. In the past, I think it was a lot of the older guys who felt they couldn't use anything else. I think this generation is different and a little more willing to try things. You're just starting to see it.''

Bradley had a good stroke with the short putter, but decided to try the belly. So if there's a change, ''I'm not scared at all to have to putt with a short putter,'' he said.

That might be different for someone like Carl Pettersson, who has used a long putter dating to his amateur days, or Tim Clark, who also has used a long putter in playing in the Presidents Cup and winning The Players Championship.

And then there is Ernie Els, who decried the longer putters a few years ago until he switched with the famous line, ''As long as it's legal, I'll keep cheating like the rest of them.'' Now, the Big Easy is trying to work his way back to a short putter.

''By the end of the year or so,'' he said. ''But don't cast that in stone. I think I've still got four years maybe with the long putter, so I've still got a bit of time. But eventually, I want to get to the short putter because I feel back in the day, that was my best method of putting.''

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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.