Punch Shot: Best West Coast storyline this year

The Northern Trust Open wraps up an eventful West Coast swing. What has been the primary storyline over the first couple of months on the PGA Tour in 2016? Our writers weigh in:


The biggest storyline from the West Coast swing is that the top Americans have realized it’s a Ryder Cup year.

Jordan Spieth long ago clinched his spot on the team at Hazeltine, but he added a win in Hawaii for good measure. Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson both probably should have won over the last two weeks, but their near-misses will still go a long way toward ensuring that they’ll make the trip to Minnesota as well.

Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker and Brooks Koepka have quietly notched a few top finishes, while Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker both made it back into the winner’s circle in California.

Victories like Dufner’s at the CareerBuilder Challenge and Snedeker’s at the Farmers Insurance Open could prove especially important. Everyone expects Davis Love III’s squad to be much younger than the team he took with him to Medinah four years ago, which is likely a promising development. But having Americans – and veteran Americans at that – play well this early in the season bodes well and could allow Love to get more creative with one of his four captain’s picks come September.



It was a typical Left Coast swing for Lefty: plenty of inspired play interspersed with dollops of dubious moments. In other words, it was entertaining.

Phil Mickelson began his year with a tie for third at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since last June’s FedEx St. Jude Classic; missed the cut at Torrey Pines and sandwiched flashes of brilliance between a pair of relatively pedestrian rounds (even-par 71s on Days 2 and 4) at TPC Scottsdale.

Last weekend’s finish at Pebble Beach, however, was quintessential Lefty. He opened with rounds of 68-65-66 to take a two-stroke lead into Sunday only to struggle with his ball striking when he needed it the most, hitting just nine of 18 greens in regulation in the final round.

His title bid came up one stroke short and drops the curtain on what should be considered a step in the right direction for a player who has been less than consistent since winning the 2013 Open Championship, his last Tour triumph.

Mickelson split with swing coach Butch Harmon this off-season and began 2016 with a cautiously optimistic outlook.

Although a runner-up showing at Pebble Beach, where he’s won four times, isn’t what we’ve come to expect from a Hall of Fame player it’s an encouraging sign that the 45-year-old still has plenty to prove.


The biggest storyline of this West Coast swing has been a player who hasn’t even won: Phil Mickelson. He dominated the conversation from PGA West to Torrey Pines to Pebble Beach.

It was a busy four weeks: He shined in his season debut, added a few new terms to the golf lexicon (“face awareness” and “divot entry point”), publicly shamed a 17-year-old for discussing details of their offseason wager, bombed out in his hometown event, grabbed a 54-hole lead for the first time since Merion in 2013 and botched a 60-foot up-and-down on one of the sport’s most famous holes to fall one shot short of a playoff with a 39-year-old journeyman. Phew.

The big-picture takeaway here is not just that Mickelson, at 45, is still capable of winning tournaments. If the Masters were held this week, he’d be on the short list of contenders, an idea that seemed unimaginable just a few months ago, when his game lacked any direction and his confidence was in shambles. Lefty has been the biggest revelation of this Left Coast swing.


The rejuvenation of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the old “Clam Bake” theme is the West Coast’s best storyline.

The fact that celebrities are now recruiting Tour pros to come play there is a notable development.

Here’s why: My wife almost never watches golf. She wouldn’t know Justin Rose from Justin Thomas, but she knows who Justin Timberlake is. She wouldn’t know Chris Kirk from Chris Wood, but she knows who Chris O’Donnell is. So there I was Saturday, watching the pro-am on the couch with my wife next to me playing Words with Friends on her cell phone when she heard Ray Romano’s name mentioned.

“Ray Romano’s playing golf on TV?” my wife asked. “Yeah,” I said. “So is Bill Murray, Mark Wahlberg, Justin Timberlake and Huey Lewis."

She set her phone down, and for the first time in years she watched golf with me. Yes, the most devoted golf followers among us may get annoyed seeing celebrity amateurs mixed into the weekend action, but there is an appeal to the old Clambake that golf’s diehard fans shouldn’t dismiss. There’s a reach outside the sport’s niche that is still good for the game in measured doses. It’s a worthy tradition nice to see thriving there at Pebble Beach.

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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.”