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Punch shot: Tiger vs. Phil for $10 mil

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 6, 2018, 9:37 pm

With the news Friday that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are in negotiations to play a $10 million, winner-take-all exhibition match, we assembled two of our senior writers, Rex Hoggard and Ryan Lavner, to break down what it all means:

LAVNER: OK, Rex: What do you make of the report that a $10 million Tiger-Phil made-for-TV exhibition is likely to happen?

HOGGARD: I think it might be a decade or so too late, but still a novel idea. These are two players who carried the game for 20-some years and anything that puts them head to head in a match (even one that's made for TV) is worth watching.

LAVNER: Agree. It's a decade too late, but it also never would have happened a decade ago. It's also probably a concession that we'll never get the showdown that we REALLY want: Tiger vs. Phil, Sunday afternoon at a major.

HOGGARD: It's amazing to think that Tiger and Phil were paired together in a PGA Tour round just 34 times. I'm also interested in hearing Tiger's side of this. This seems to have been Lefty's idea and I'm curious how much TW will embrace what will be an "exhibition."

LAVNER: We've been writing and talking all year about how this is a new Tiger, how he's friendlier and more mellow than in his prime. This is the best example yet. But it also adds a little context to their practice round at Augusta and their friendly banter at TPC Sawgrass. By that point they were already deep into negotiations. Does it now seem a little sleazy that they were playing us all along?

HOGGARD: Sleazy? No. Premeditated, absolutely. Phil doesn't do, or say, anything off the cuff. He's had a plan for this for some time. And what does Tiger have to prove with this? It's not like $10 million is going to impact his bottom line, and on the historical scorecard, Phil's really not a match.

LAVNER: The money - the same as the freakin' FedExCup bonus - is not life-changing for either player. And there's sure to be a charitable component. So there has to be something else at play here. It's hard to imagine that they're actually really good friends who want to travel the world playing exhibitions together, so to me it's just another opportunity for Tiger to rehab his image as he transitions into the next chapter of his life.

HOGGARD: Cynical much? There may be something to that, although after his U.S. Open snafu Phil's image may need a little nip/tuck as well. Phil has always said you play for whatever (money) makes you nervous, and since we both agree $10 million isn't going to get either player deep breathing on the 18th tee, may I suggest an alternative: Winner is given a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team this year in Paris, loser gets the keys to a vice captain's golf cart. Thoughts?

LAVNER: And ruin Jim Furyk's 18 months of planning? The nerve!

HOGGARD: Fine, loser has to wash the winner's dinghy. Better?

LAVNER: How do you feel about the idea of exhibitions in general? Like them or hate them? Want to see more of them?

HOGGARD: The right players at the right time are good for the game, particularly in developing countries. Imagine the impact this match could have if it were played, for example, in India?

LAVNER: I don't know how much it'd necessarily grow the game, but I grew up watching the "Battles at (fill in the blank)" and the "Wonderful World of Golf" series. It'd be a blast to watch today's stars duke it out.

HOGGARD: Agree, but it has to be the right stars at the right time. This is about the show as much as it is the competition. To prove the point, what impact, if any, would a Phil victory in this match mean? The answer: not much.

LAVNER: I don't think it even matters who wins this particular duel. I really don't. It's more about watching Tiger and Phil go head to head -- something we, sadly, never got to see during the prime of their careers.

HOGGARD: OK, what would be the head-to-head, primetime match you'd want to see most? DJ vs. Brooks? JT vs. Jordan? Rory vs. PReed?

LAVNER: Lest you forgot, DJ and Brooks just went head to head, and it wasn't must-see TV … Spieth-JT, Rory-PReed, Sung Kang-Joel Dahmen would all be wildly entertaining, if not ultimately significant.

HOGGARD: True, true. Getting back on point. What kind of "entertainment" action would you give Tiger vs. Phil? Given recent play, this would be interesting.

LAVNER: Based on recent trends, it depends if they're going to be putting on bermuda, bent or poa annua.

HOGGARD: Have to be a neutral site. Let's go with Cypress Point in October.

LAVNER: Give me Phil in 18 holes, Tiger over 72.

HOGGARD: Interesting. Let's "talk" later. Finally, if not Phil, who would you most want to see Tiger go head-to-head with in this kind of match?

LAVNER: Since I'm fairly certain that Tiger can take the now-78-year-old Jack Nicklaus, I'd love to watch Tiger compete in a Tiger Babies battle royale, going against Jason Day, Rory and JT - all of whom idolized Woods growing up.

HOGGARD: I like that, but given his track record against the Italian, I'd pay admission to see Tiger play Francesco Molinari. Or we can just wait until the Ryder Cup when they are matched up for a Sunday singles duel.

LAVNER: You might be the only person on the planet pining for that matchup.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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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, 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

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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.