Tiger Should Make it Five in a Row But If Not
Let's say one thing here and put it to bed early - if Tiger is playing well, forget it. It's over. But if he's not playing particularly well and someone else is playing very well, then it could be a horse race. Sergio Garcia certainly has a chance.
Garcia had to take a lot with him when he left Fort Worth after winning his first U.S. tournament, the MasterCard Colonial. There's no way to gauge how much of a confidence boost it gave him. It doesn't seem like he would be particularly well suited to the concise shots that have to be hit around the Track that Hogan Built - but he did it. He finished 64-65 at the Nelson on a course that was nowhere near as difficult as this one, then came and went 66-63 on the weekend to nail the Colonial. And he did it against Phil Mickelson, who is No. 2 after Tiger amongst the world's golfers. Mickelson doesn't do Sundays, at least very well, but he still would have won at Colonial had it not been for Garcia.
Garcia is just 21 years old, of course, and he would be finishing his senior year in college had he attended. He beat a field in Fort Worth that included just about every top golfer in America save Woods, and he looked confident doing it. Over 72 holes, that is plenty of time for all the warts to come to the surface. And believe me, there weren't many.
'Ben Hogan and me - everyone talks about how similar we are,' Sergio said while making his victory remarks following Colonial. No, I don't think he meant it the way it sounded. But let's recognize one thing right off - Hogan at 21 wasn't nearly as good as Sergio at 21. Of course, Hogan at 30 or 35 was an entirely different matter. But then, the Sergio at 35 is going to be a lot better than the Sergio of 21.
No, he's not as polished as Tiger, not as gifted off the tee or on the green. He may not even be the second-best or third-best, but you don't know what will happen if a hot golfer such as Garcia stays on fire for a month.
A lot of players said that the winner of Colonial should be a favorite at Southern Hills. The courses are very similar and they have the same architect in Perry Maxwell. Both are par-70s, and both have rather small greens. Sergio Garcia, perhaps?
Woods will, of course, be the favorite. He didn't win Colonial because he didn't play it. He was busy that week winning in Germany. He only played at Colonial one time, in his rookie year of 1997, and he was in contention all the way until he self-destructed on the back nine Sunday.
He should win at Southern Hills, regardless of how you slice it, dice it and chop it. He may not have as big an advantage with the shorter holes and tighter fairways, but an advantage is still an advantage.
But if not Tiger - and if not Garcia - then who? Here's a list of possibles, and why they should or shouldn't contend:
PHIL MICKELSON - Never on Sunday, he seems to be saying this year. However, he has beaten Woods a couple of times before. This year he has been in the top three seven times. That seems to be just dandy, until you realize that those seven have netted him exactly one victory. Three of those Tiger didn't play. One of them (Bay Hill) Tiger won after bouncing a ball or two off gaping spectators, defeating Mickelson in the process.
Mickelson seems to have developed the art of missing the three-footer at the most inopportune times, or blowing his driver into the next area code when it absolutely, positively has to be in-bounds. If he ever fixes such recurring tendencies, watch out! He's 30, which is considered the prime golfing age. And he is a hot golfer - every day but Sunday.
LEE WESTWOOD - Normally he would be expected to lead the contingent from Europe, but this year his wife just had a baby and he's not thinking golf at the moment. It's probably too early to make him a serious contender.
VIJAY SINGH - Early in the year, he made some threatening noises, but lately he's back to missing the putts again. If he gets his game straightened out, he could be a problem. He certainly has the right kind of head for it.
DAVIS LOVE III - Oh, what an enigma. For four or five years he was the ultimate professional when it came to the majors. Last year he took a back seat. This year he looked suspiciously like a contender again with three or four great tournaments on the West Coast, but now it's the same old thing - injuries. This time it's a problem neck. He has had to withdraw from three tournaments, and there's not much time get the rust out.
HAL SUTTON - The real thing. Unfortunately, at 43, he picks up dings to his body and they can linger on. He's not a great putter, but at Southern Hills it's not how many 30-footers you make, it's how many 5-6 footers. He doesn't seem intimidated by Woods, though he certainly respects him. A U.S. Open trophy certainly isn't outside the realm of possibility.
ERNIE ELS - The big fella just isn't gonna make it this time. He tried to make a swing change right before he teed it up in the Byron Nelson, and of course it didn't work. It's a little too late to expect him to catch a wave this time.
JESPER PARNEVIK - Another one that won't be intimidated by the Feline Factor. He has the right kind of game for a course like Southern Hills. His record hasn't been particularly sparkling of late, but he has a knack of heating up at the most unexpected times.
DAVID DUVAL - This guy seems to find it at the majors every time. He is injured pretty often, but if he can swing a club, he'll probably finish in the top-10 - he has the past three years at the Open, you know.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE - It looks like the years ran out on him. During the '90s, it seemed so certain that one day he would win one of these things. But the last two or three years have not been kind to him as far as the majors are concerned. And it doesn't look like this year will be much different.
TOM LEHMAN - Has the right attitude, but looks again like a top-10er without much hope of being a top one. He has won only once since 1996, two if you're counting Loch Lomond in Scotland in 1997. He's 42 now, and while that doesn't mean as much in this Open, he never has been the same golfer since he separated a shoulder at the British Open in 1998.
David Toms, Joe Durant, Jim Furyk, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn all rate a mention. Each of them has played well at some time the past two seasons, though it would frankly be a shock if any of them won.
It would frankly be a shock if anyone won but Tiger, as a fact. But you can dream, as well as a whole bunch of golfers. And Sergio, who did beat a sick Tiger last year in 18 holes of match play in prime time, still is young enough to dream.
Schauffele just fine being the underdog
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.
Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.
Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.
“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”
Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.
“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”
Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1
Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.
So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.
Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.
Jordan Spieth: 7/4
Xander Schauffele: 5/1
Kevin Kisner: 11/2
Tiger Woods: 14/1
Francesco Molinari: 14/1
Rory McIlroy: 14/1
Kevin Chappell: 20/1
Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1
Alex Noren: 25/1
Zach Johnson: 30/1
Justin Rose: 30/1
Matt Kuchar: 40/1
Webb Simpson: 50/1
Adam Scott: 80/1
Tony Finau: 80/1
Charley Hoffman: 100/1
Austin Cook: 100/1
Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.
For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.
By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.
But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.
As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.
“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”
Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.
As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.
But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.
After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.
“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”
But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.
Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.
“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.
There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.
Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par.
And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.
As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.
“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”
Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.
Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.
The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.
Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.
It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.
Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.
One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.
McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.
“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”
McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.
“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”