Bradley (67) among trio of Valspar co-leaders

By Will GrayMarch 10, 2016, 11:19 pm

The Copperhead Course is always a tricky venue, but Thursday's blustery conditions made things even more taxing during the first round of the Valspar Championship. Here's how things look outside Tampa, where Keegan Bradley headlines a trio of co-leaders:

Leaderboard: Keegan Bradley (-4), Ken Duke (-4), Charles Howell III (-4), Chesson Hadley (-3), Charley Hoffman (-2), Chez Reavie (-2)

What it means: Bradley and Duke both played in the morning wave when conditions were their most difficult, but neither had much of an issue at Innisbrook. They were joined late in the day by Howell, who continues his strong start to the season, but the real winner Thursday was the course as only 24 players among the 144-man field managed to break par.

Round of the day: Bradley has struggled for much of the season, with five missed cuts in eight starts, but he got off to a hot start in the opening round with birdies on five of his first 13 holes to briefly move three shots clear of the field. While he dropped a shot on No. 6, his 15th hole of the day, a 4-under 67 was still good enough to give him a share of the lead as he looks for his first win in nearly four years.

Best of the rest: Howell strung together seven straight top-25 finishes earlier this season, and he is again in the mix after matching Bradley and Duke with an opening 67. Howell's round was bogey-free and included two birdies on each nine, including an accurate approach to the par-5 14th that left him a kick-in birdie to earn a share of the lead.

Biggest disappointment: Defending champ Jordan Spieth returned to Tampa in search of some momentum, but he didn't find any during a 5-over 76. Little went right for a visibly frustrated Spieth, who bogeyed five of his first seven holes and now sits nine shots off the lead and in danger of missing his second cut in the last three starts.

Main storyline heading into Friday: There are storylines on both sides of the standings, as Bradley remains a player to keep an eye on. Five years since his major breakthrough, he now sits outside the bubble for the WGC-Dell Match Play but could earn a spot with a timely performance this week. Spieth, meanwhile, will be fighting to make the cut and will receive plenty of attention as each round - heck, each hole - is now viewed as insight into his state for the upcoming Masters.

Shot of the day: Blayne Barber elicited a roar on the par-4 12th hole when his approach from 148 yards took one hop and landed in the hole for an unexpected eagle. The shot sparked a tumultuous inward half for Barber, who was third last month at the Honda Classic and who opened with an even-par 71.

Quote of the day: "It's tough. I need to go out there and play better, so it's really fun to feel the buzz a little when you're having a good round. It's not much fun when you're 3 over after six and you're grinding." - Bradley

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.


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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.