A windy test awaits Open Championship contestants

By Doug FergusonJuly 13, 2011, 7:22 pm

SANDWICH, England – Steve Stricker can appreciate better than most how the British Open is unlike any other major.

One day after winning the John Deere Classic with a birdie-birdie finish on the green, manicured fairways of a TPC course in America’s heartland, Stricker was trying to stand upright on the lunar links of Royal St. George’s. The yardage book was more of a guide than the gospel. It was tough to control his golf ball through the air, even harder when it was bouncing along the ground.

“It’s quite a turnaround,” Stricker said Wednesday. “To learn and adapt to this style in 2 1/2 days is a challenge.”

That short time was all he needed, however, to learn what most others have about this links course in the southeast of England. It’s a strong test for golf’s oldest championship on a mild day. When the wind is up, which it has been all week, it can be a beast.

The 140th edition of this championship gets underway Thursday at Royal St. George’s, as unpredictable as any links on the Open rotation. This is the course where Greg Norman in 1993 became the first Open champion to win with all four rounds in the 60s. It’s the same course where Ben Curtis was the only player to break par when it was last here in 2003.

A dry spring has kept the rough from getting too thick, which is but a small reprieve.

“It’s a big challenge, and we are the best players in the world here,” PGA champion Martin Kaymer said. “So it should be tough. At the end of the day, everybody has to deal with the same golf course.”

Even so, it’s not always the same for everyone.

The piece of information getting most of the attention on the eve of the British Open was the weather report. The forecast is for gusts up to 25 mph Thursday morning with patches of rain, before the wind tapers off in the afternoon. The wind is expected to remain moderate Friday morning, then switch directions and return to gusts upward of 25 mph by the end of the day.

If that holds true, the players teeing off early Thursday and late Friday could get the worst of it. And as a reminder of how significant the tee times can be, remember that Louis Oosthuizen teed off at 6:41 a.m. in the second round last year at St. Andrews, missed the worst of the weather in his round of 67 and was on his way to a seven-shot win.

Among the early starters Thursday: Rory McIlroy, the overwhelming favorite to add the claret jug to his U.S. Open trophy.

McIlroy, who has not played since his record-setting win at Congressional last month, did most of his preparation last week at Royal St. George’s. He played in a strong, southwesterly wind, which is typical this time of the year. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland played at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday in a wind coming out of the opposite direction.

He played at the same time Tiger Woods used to practice, and while the gallery for McIlroy wasn’t quite as large, the kid caused a frenzy when fans tried to get his autograph after he finished. For the rest of the day, officials banned autographs in the area leading from the 18th green.

It’s a different test for McIlroy, with conditions much more firm and dry than at the U.S. Open.

“It’s firm. It’s fast,” he said. “But the thing is with this wind, you’re going to have to keep the ball low. But sometimes it’s hard to run the ball into these greens because they’re so undulating and they can go so many different ways.”

The wind direction during three days of practice has the Royal & Ancient concerned enough that it might move some tees forward. Chief executive Peter Dawson said the most likely candidates were the par-5 seventh (some players couldn’t reach the fairway) and the par-3 11th (Phil Mickelson couldn’t reach the green with a driver).

Then there’s the par-4 13th, where Stricker hit driver off the tee and driver off the deck to get it near the green.

“Now, if the wind turns around, it’s a different story,” Dawson said.

It’s different for everybody – even in the same group.

Stewart Cink, who won at Turnberry two years ago, was reminded of that while playing a practice round with Davis Love III, Lucas Glover and two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington. They came to the par-3 sixth hole, which measures 162 yards to the front edge of a green that is 35 yards deep. They all hit pitching wedge with the wind in their favor.

“Some of them were short by about 50 feet, and some of them went through the green into the rough,” Cink said. “And they all landed within 5 yards of each other.”

So what does it take on this most difficult links?

McIlroy believes the second shot will be key. Luke Donald, the No. 1 player in the world, emphasized chipping and putting because the greens are so difficult. Kaymer favored the 10-foot putts, many of which will be for par.

K.J. Choi, who won The Players Championship in May and is having one of his best years, spoke in English to describe his experience, and while the sentences were short, the meaning was clear.

“Wind very important,” he said. “This wind is the most difficult. Greens are small targets. Chipping.”

Cink came up with the best answer of all – as it relates to this British Open, and this style of golf.

“Attitude,” he said. “A lot of the field is weeded out already. They’re not accustomed to hitting good shots and being put in a bad spot. Because you don’t always get rewarded for good shots. But if you hit enough good shots, you won’t get in as many bad spots as someone who doesn’t hit a lot of good shots.”

That sounds simple enough, even though getting around Royal St. George’s can be a little complicated at times.

It all starts Thursday with a few key figures. McIlroy will try to become only the seventh player to capture the U.S. Open and British Open in the same season (that’s one thing Jack Nicklaus failed to achieve). Donald and Lee Westwood are Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, both from England, both searching for their first major on a links course that has had only one British winner since World War II.

The Americans have gone five straight majors without winning one – the longest drought since The Masters began in 1934 – and with Woods not at his best and not even playing, it’s difficult to pick which U.S. player might have a chance this week.

For all the crazy comments about this course, there’s a reason the Open is at Royal St. George’s for the 14th time, the most of any course not located in Scotland.

“We believe Royal St. George’s is a true Open Championship test,” said Jim McArthur, chair of the championship committee for the R&A. “It’s very much based on the strategic player rather than muscle. The course is in terrific condition. The wind perhaps is a wee bit stronger than we would like at the moment, but we like that wind on links courses.”

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Runner-up McIlroy: 'I should have closed it out'

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 5:18 pm

After taking the 36-hole lead by three and taking a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round, Rory McIlroy failed to keep pace with Francesco Molinari on Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship.

Struggling with a two-way miss throughout the weekend, McIlroy fell four down to Molinari through 10 holes.

The Ulsterman attempted to mount a late charge, with birdies at 12 and 17, but when his eagle putt at the 72nd hole came up inches short, and when Molinari's ball opted not to spin back into the water, the comeback bid came to an end.

His final round of 2-under 70 left him in solo second, two shots behind the champion.


Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship


"I’m just disappointed I didn’t play better over the weekend," McIlroy said. "I was in a great position after two days and struggled yesterday and sort struggled today again, as well. I just couldn’t get it going. I let Francesco get a few shots ahead of me, and I couldn’t claw that back.

“I played some good golf coming down the back nine, hit some better shots, but I need to work on a few things going forward."

McIlroy ended an 18-month worldwide winless drought earlier this year with his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but hasn't claimed victory on the European Tour in two years, since the Irish Open in May of 2016.

"I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead, I should have closed it out this week," McIlroy said. "But that’s not taking anything away from Francesco. He played a great weekend and bogey-free around here is some playing. He deserved the win, I need to do a little more work, and I’m looking to forward to getting right back at it at Memorial next week."

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Molinari holds off McIlroy to win BMW PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 3:20 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England - Francesco Molinari's path to the biggest win of his career at the BMW PGA Championship was drama-free until he sized up his approach to the 72nd hole.

Rory McIlroy, his closest rival three strokes back, had just hit to 20 feet to set up an eagle chance. Molinari was between clubs for his third shot and faced a delicate wedge over the water protecting Wentworth's pretty 18th green.

His ball landed short of the pin and span back toward the water. The spectators held their collective breath - so did Molinari - but it came to rest on the fringe, just short of trouble.

''Just a bit of luck at the right time,'' Molinari said, with a smile.

After McIlroy came up inches short with his eagle putt, Molinari rolled in for par from 6 feet for a 4-under 68 that secured a two-stroke victory at Wentworth on Sunday. It was the fifth win of his career, and his most satisfying.

''If I could pick one tournament to win in my career, it would be this one,'' the Italian said at the prizegiving ceremony.

A Sunday shootout between Molinari and McIlroy at the European Tour's flagship event never really materialized.

They entered the final round tied for the lead on 13 under but while McIlroy sprayed his drives left and right, Molinari was the model of consistency and established a three-shot cushion by the turn after birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 8.

From there on, it was a clinic in front-running from Molinari, who laid up when he needed to and picked up his only shot on the back nine with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 12th.

McIlroy birdied the par 5s at Nos. 17 and 18 but mounted his victory charge too late.

''I didn't feel intimidated at all,'' Molinari said of his head-to-head with the former world No. 1. ''It's just the last couple of holes, he's basically thinking eagle, eagle. I'm thinking par, par, and that makes the whole difference.

''Sometimes I just get too drawn on what the other guy is doing, and I was really good today, hitting good shots and focusing on my process and not worrying about anything else.''

Molinari played his final 44 holes bogey-free. He only dropped two shots all week, one of them coming on his first hole.


Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship


He will likely climb into the world's top 20 on Monday and has moved into the automatic qualifying places for the European team for the Ryder Cup, which he hasn't played since 2012 when Europe beat the United States in the so-called ''Miracle at Medinah.''

''I'm playing well enough that I shouldn't really worry too much about that,'' Molinari said. ''I should just keep doing my own thing and hopefully things will take care of themselves.''

Molinari previously had five top-10 finishes in the last six years at Wentworth, including being runner-up to Alex Noren last year.

On that occasion, Noren closed with a 10-under 62 and the Swede embarked on another last-day charge 12 months later, a fifth birdie of the day at No. 12 briefly drawing him to within two shots of Molinari.

It was the closest he came, with a bogey at the next virtually ending his bid for victory.

With a 67, Noren was tied for third with Lucas Bjerregaard (65), a stroke back from McIlroy.

McIlroy, the 2014 winner at Wentworth, played what he described as one of his best rounds of 2018 on Friday, a bogey-free 65 that left him with a three-shot lead.

He struggled off the tee in shooting 71 on Saturday and started the final round with errant drives on Nos. 1 and 3 (both right, into spectators) and No. 4 (left). After a bogey at No. 10, he was the only player in the top 10 over par but he birdied the three par 5s coming home to salvage what was otherwise a disappointing Sunday.

''With a 36-hole lead,'' McIlroy said, ''I should have closed it out this week.''

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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 LPGA.com 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 LPGA.com 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.”