Expert Picks: Hyundai TOC

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 1, 2013, 11:24 pm

This week marks the beginning of the 2013 PGA Tour season, as winners from the previous year have gathered in Kapalua for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel includes: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams and staff writer Ryan Lavner.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Bubba Watson: No secret here, the Plantation Course at Kapalua is a bomber's paradise. The layout ranked second on the PGA Tour last year in longest drives, and Watson is the quintessential bomber. Enjoy the show.

Group 2: Steve Stricker: Although Stricker likely spent more time in a deer stand than on a practice tee this offseason, he won the opener last year and finished 2012 strong with an eighth-place finish at the World Challenge.

Group 3: Ian Poulter: No, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions did not transition to match play this year, although that would add a measure of intrigue to the opener. But Poults' Ryder Cup romp is still fresh, making the Englishman one of the game's most confident players.

Group 4: Jonas Blixt: He didn't win the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award, but he probably should have. Last year's Open winner is poised for a breakthrough season.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Keegan Bradley: Big hitter on a long course. Most guys limp into Kapalua cold; he'll be ready to go.

Group 2: Ryan Moore: Late-season win may give momentum to produce a big 2013, something we've been waiting on for a while.

Group 3: Scott Piercy: My pick for a breakthrough season and my pick to win this tournament. Watch out, there's lots of talent there.

Group 4: Marc Leishman: Ever since Stuart Appleby was winning here all the time, I've liked going with Aussies playing in what is naturally their summer.

Ryan Lavner

Group 1: Matt Kuchar: Strong close to 2012, with top-11 finishes in each of his last three worldwide starts. Reason to like him at Kapalua, too - he was T-6 in 2011, solo third in '10.

Group 2: Steve Stricker: The 45-year-old is scaling back his 2013 schedule, but he wouldn't dare skip Kapalua. In his past four starts there, he has a win, a runner-up and two other top-10s.

Group 3: Scott Piercy: Impressed with the way he ended 2012, posting four consecutive top-15 finishes. Was T-12 in his first-ever start in Kapalua last year.

Group 4: Jonas Blixt: Another late-season bloomer who had five top 20s in his last six starts, including a win at the Frys.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Matt Kuchar: Kuchar is comfortable on the Plantation Course, where he finished third in 2010 and T-6 in 2011. Scrambling is also key, as four of the last seven winners led the field in the category and Kuch finished 2012 ranked seventh overall in the stat.

Group 2: Steve Stricker: Three times since 2005 a defending champion has won at Kapalua, so it's not such a long shot to predict Stricker to repeat. He already has a runner-up finish on this track in 2008. Proximity to the hole is a nice stat to have on your side this week, considering the sizable greens, and the Wisconsinite led the Tour in it last year.

Group 3: Ian Poulter: The fierce competitor can shine in the elite field this week where he finished T-6 in his only previous appearance (2011). He's been hot in the 'off' season, igniting a run overseas with his win at the WGC-HSBC Champions. I also like that he ranked second in scrambling last year.

Group 4: Jonas Blixt: The first-timer in Maui brings a solid resume to a course that ranked second-longest in proximity to the hole on approach last year. In 2012 he led the Tour in sand saves, was 16th in scrambling, 14th in par-breakers and second in strokes gained putting.

Will Gray

Group 1: Jason Dufner: Perhaps the most consistent player on Tour last year. His all-around game - and high birdie average - should both help him start his 2013 season on the right foot in his first trip to this winners-only event.

Group 2: Dustin Johnson: One of the hottest golfers down the stretch of 2012. Finished second in par-5 birdies or better, which should serve well on a Plantation Course that features five such holes.

Group 3: Scott Piercy: Quietly advanced all the way to the Tour Championship during the FedEx Cup playoffs last year, and his length off the tee will be a strong asset this week.

Group 4: Jonas Blixt: Made a huge jump in 2012 and may be set for an even bigger one in 2013. Will likely spend much of the early season aggressively pursuing a win - and The Masters berth that goes along with it.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”