Bunched 'board means big drama in Chapel Hill

By Ryan LavnerMay 15, 2015, 9:24 pm

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The top seven teams are separated by 10 shots here at the Chapel Hill regional. 

In other words, no spot is safe. 

Stanford may have recorded the low round of the day by nine shots Friday, but it still holds only a one-shot lead over Charlotte and is just eight shots clear of the all-important fifth spot. The low five teams after Saturday's final round advance to the NCAA finals later this month.

“You can’t slow down in this deal,” Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. “You have to put the gas pedal down. We have been in this position before, both on the other side of it and leading, so they will handle themselves hopefully and believe that every putt you make now is one you don’t have to make later.”

Among the teams that might lose a little sleep Friday are No. 1-ranked Florida State and host North Carolina. Most expected those two squads to cruise, but through two rounds the Seminoles (-6) and Tar Heels (-1) are third and tied for sixth, respectively.

Let’s start with FSU.

No. 1 man Jack Maguire turned in a second-round 69 Friday, but that’s the lowest score for any Seminole this week. If not for solid contributions from fourth man Josh Lee, who is 1 under through two days, Florida State could be in real trouble. 

The Seminoles, though, can take comfort in the fact that they've been within five shots of the lead heading into the final round of every tournament they've played this season, and won six times.

“These guys know what to do,” coach Trey Jones said. “They’ll be trying to win the tournament (Saturday).”

Every team feels pressure this time of year. Even the top team in the land isn't immune to that.

NCAA men's regional team and individual scores

Full coverage: NCAA men's regionals

“As good as the guys have played this year, how do they handle it when they get discouraged and things aren’t going their way?” Jones said. “We’ve been on offense so much this year.”

North Carolina, meanwhile, has struggled mightly on its home course.

Standout freshman Ben Griffin made a triple bogey on his last hole Friday to spoil what had been a 5-under round. Only one UNC player, Will Register, who held the first-round lead after an opening 66, is under par after 36 holes at Finley Golf Course.

“I’m glad we’re still in it,” coach Andrew Sapp said, “because we’ve played very poorly to this point. We’ve just been playing too conservatively. We’re not attacking like we normally do.”

Part of that is playing in front of the home crowd, with all of the expectations to succeed. The Tar Heels have combined to make three doubles and a triple so far, and those are costly miscues in an event where every shot is magnified.

This looks nothing like the confident team that won their home event in the fall here by 23 shots.

“I just need to remind the guys of how well we’ve played here,” Sapp said. 

Every other team will be freewheeling Saturday.

Charlotte is the No. 9 seed and ranked 50th in the country. The 49ers took the first-round lead with a 275, then followed it up with a 291.

The good news is that they’re still within a shot of the lead. The bad? They’re only seven shots clear of a pair of fourth-place squads.

"We tried to play with no expectations entering this week," coach Ryan Cabbage said, "and that won't change now." 

Florida didn’t realistically expect to be in this position either, not after No. 2 man Alejandro Tosti was left home with bacterial meningitis. Instead, the Gators have rallied around the crew that they do have here, and at 6-under 570 they’re squarely in the mix for one of the five spots. 

Kennesaw State is the No. 4 seed in the region, but the Owls are on the bubble after two rounds at 3-under 573. Austin Vick’s 69 and Jimmy Beck’s 70 helped keep their team within striking distance with one day to go. 

“Everybody knows what’s at stake,” coach Jay Moseley said. “The nerves are just something you’ve got to learn to embrace.”

Clemson appeared to be on its way to shooting itself out of the tournament when four of its players signed for a 74 or worse on Friday. Then came Austin Langdale, whose career-best 68 put the Tigers two shots out of fifth place. 

“With all of the teams this close,” coach Larry Penley said, “it may come down to a swing or two. You’ve just gotta have fun with it, but you can almost want it too much sometimes. You’ve just gotta be able to channel it.” 

The final round of NCAA regionals is always the most stressful day of the year. With so many teams in the mix, this site should be particularly entertaining. 

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”