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Power Rankings: 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Will GrayMarch 14, 2018, 1:55 pm

The PGA Tour remains in Florida this week for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. A field of 120 players will tackle Bay Hill Club & Lodge, with the winner receiving a commemorative red sweater the likes of which the tournament's namesake often wore.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

Marc Leishman won this event last year by one shot over Charley Hoffman and Kevin Kisner. Here are 10 names to watch in Orlando:

1. Jason Day: Day has enjoyed a nice break since his runner-up finish at Pebble Beach, which itself was preceded by a playoff victory at Torrey Pines. The Aussie won this event in 2016, the highlight of three straight top-25 results at Bay Hill, and he's now heading into the Masters with some of the best form he's had since relinquishing the No. 1 world ranking over a year ago.

2. Justin Rose: The Englishman couldn't mount a rally Sunday in Tampa despite a spot in the final pairing, but a fifth-place result was still his second top-10 in his last three starts. Rose remains his reliable self these days, and his Bay Hill record includes top-15 finishes in five of his last six trips.

3. Tiger Woods: It's officially time to put Woods back on one of these rankings. A T-2 finish at Valspar execeeded every expectation, and now he makes his return to Bay Hill for the first time since winning in 2013. Four of his last five trips to Orlando have ended in victory, and he's currently playing with plenty of momentum - even though the course has undergone changes since his last visit.

4. Tommy Fleetwood: The Englishman continues to dazzle this year, picking up right where he left off last season with his Race to Dubai title. Already with a victory under his belt, Fleetwood finished fourth at Honda and T-14 in Mexico. Last year he tied for 10th in his first trip to this event.

5. Rickie Fowler: Fowler returns to action as one of the event's headliners, and his T-12 finish last year was his best result at Bay Hill since he finished third behind Woods back in 2013. Fowler's last two starts didn't produce the desired results, but he tied for 11th last month in Phoenix when he was in the mix for all four rounds.

6. Henrik Stenson: Stenson missed the cut in surprising fashion last week, and he made an early exit from Bay Hill last year as well. But prior to that the Orlando resident has felt very much at home at this event, with four straight top-10 finishes from 2013-16 highlighted by a runner-up in 2015.

7. Alex Noren: Noren nearly earned his first PGA Tour win at Torrey Pines, then was again edged out at PGA National. The Swede has put together an impressive start to the new year, with five straight finishes of T-21 or better, and seems likely to improve on last year's T-49 finish in his Bay Hill debut.

8. Tyrrell Hatton: Were it not for a poorly-placed spike mark on the final green, Hatton might have joined the playoff in Mexico that featured Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas. Instead his T-3 finish was his third top-15 result in four starts this year, and the Englishman returns to a course where he finished fourth last year in his tournament debut.

9. Adam Scott: After disappearing for the better part of a year, the veteran is finally starting to come around. Scott flashed some form during a T-13 finish at Honda, then turned heads with a third-round 65 en route to a T-16 finish last week in Tampa. He has finished T-12 or better in two of his last three trips to Bay Hill, including 2014 when he coughed up a seven-shot lead over the weekend.

10. Rory McIlroy: Time is running out for McIlroy to find his footing before rolling down Magnolia Lane. He tied for fourth at this event a year ago, his third straight finish of T-27 or better at Bay Hill. Although his form has not translated from the Middle East to the U.S. this year, it likely won't take much to get him back on track.

 

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

@CallawayGolf via @goodwalkspoiled on Twitter

Watch: Phil flops ball over guy's head from 2 feet away

By Nick MentaJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

Sure, you trust Phil Mickelson to hit a flop shot. But would you trust him to hit one over your head from 2 feet away?

Evidently, this guy did, and his faith was rewarded.

Callaway Golf sent out this Twitter video on Tuesday taken by Mickelson's bother and caddie, Tim, ahead of this week's Open at Carnoustie:

If you look closely, you can see the guy holding his ... breath.

Yeah, that's it. His breath.

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Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”