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Punch Shot: Upset picks, cup favorite with two to go

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 13, 2017, 11:45 am

After a one-week hiatus, the FedExCup Playoffs return for the BMW Championship outside of Chicago. GolfChannel.com senior writers Rex Hoggard and Ryan Lavner were asked on the conversational tool Slack, Which player, if any, will be hampered the most by the break: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth?

The two took it from there. No moderator necessary.

Lavner: No player will be affected by the off-week – they won’t lose all of their ability because they put away the clubs for a few days, and all three needed a little break. I do, however, think it was good for Spieth. Motivation is never an issue for him, but with back-to-back runner-up finishes in the playoffs, and being thisclose to putting it all together, it was a nice reset.

Hoggard: I wouldn't think the break would impact any player considering how much golf they have been playing lately, although Johnson returning to an event where he is the defending champion (the BMW was played at a different venue last year) can only fuel his confidence.

Lavner: You're really going to play the defending champ card? He tied for seventh the last time this event was held at Conway Farms (2015).

Hoggard: OK, he's finished first-T-18 in his last two starts and looks like the guy who was unbeatable earlier this year. That work?

Lavner: Fair enough, but if we're looking at the favorites for this week, he'd be third on my list, behind Thomas and Spieth, in that order.

Hoggard: Would say all three of those players would be co-favorites for the foreseeable future until Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, et al, rediscover some form. Dark horse would be a more interesting topic?


BMW Championship: Articles, video and photos

Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


Lavner: The dark horse for this week is Patrick Cantlay. He opened these playoffs with back-to-back top-15s, continuing what has been a remarkable comeback season. It's been so impressive, in fact, that I thought he should have been one of Captain Stricker's wildcard picks for the Presidents Cup.

Hoggard: Glad you shared your views on Cantlay being a pick. Maybe Stricker could have selected Bigfoot as well? Cantlay has been a solid story, but I will be interested to see how Kevin Chappell responds after earning his spot on the team and playing well in New York.

Lavner: All right, the BMW marks the halfway point of the postseason. We know all about the top five, and how it mirrors the top five in the world ranking (shameless plug: read my story!), but who outside the magic number could crash this playoff party?

Hoggard: Have to go with Paul Casey on this one. Although he's probably going to be a bit distracted after the birth of his second child this week, the dude has done everything except win in recent weeks with top-5 finishes at four of his last six starts.

Lavner: No doubt, he's been a machine in the playoffs the last two years, but to win the FedExCup he is going to have to win at least one playoff event. That's a lot to ask of a guy who has one career victory on Tour.

Hoggard: Agreed, and his finish in Boston (T-4) seemed to suggest his bridesmaid status is starting to become an issue. Should also mention Marc Leishman as a possible party crasher. It was a tough finish for him in Boston, but he is always overlooked/underrated.

Lavner: Criminally underrated. I would throw out Justin Rose as a potential outsider. It hasn't been the best year for him since that crushing loss at Augusta, but he has consecutive top-10s in the playoffs and his record at East Lake is so good (four consecutive top-6s) that he just needs to give himself a chance to cash in.

Hoggard: There are no shortage of guys who can change the script, but it's hard to imagine how this doesn't come down to the (current) Big 3 of Spieth, Thomas and Johnson. To be honest, I'm not sure our conversation three weeks from now if, say, Leishman wins the season-long race, will be overly kind. Playoffs should identify the best, and right now those three are the best.

Lavner: But with apologies to Bill Haas and Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel, it hasn't always done that, right? As the cup moves into its second decade, are we finally OK with how this whole thing works?

Hoggard: From a general perspective (the top players competing in large markets during a time of year they normally wouldn't), the playoffs have been successful. Details, however, are always difficult for fans, players and media to understand. The Tour could help this along by simplifying the process.

Lavner: And how would you do that? I'm fine with the cutoffs for the top 100, 70 and then 30, but the Tour Championship needs a serious makeover. I would suggest a five-day event: three rounds of stroke-play qualifying, then a match-play bracket for the top 8 and the shot at $10 million. Might get a dud championship match, but at least the format would be something different.

Hoggard: The Tour has spent a decade considering a similar kind of head-to-head finish at East Lake with little success/interest, so I'm not sure we will see any significant changes there. The circuit will, however, need to tinker with the field sizes and points distribution when the schedule makeover starts in 2019. If there are only going to be three playoff events, which seems likely, there will need to be more volatility.

Lavner: Except volatility isn't a good thing for a "season-long race," which the FedEx is supposed to be. If DJ or Thomas or Spieth get bumped in the first event, then everyone is livid (and rightfully so).

Hoggard: Not sure there would be that much volatility, but there will need to be a way for those who just make the playoffs (either top 125 or top 100 on the points list) to advance. Under the current format that's not going to happen.

Lavner: Well, that's why those in Ponte Vedra get paid the big bucks, to figure out these sorts of dilemmas. Let's wrap it up with this: With two weeks to go, who is your pick to win the cup?

Hoggard: There is something strangely concerning about Spieth's finishes in the first two post-season starts (back-to-back runner-up finishes), but he continues to be the most consistent player and he has won the season-long race before. That experience will be the difference.

Lavner: I don't know about "concerning" – he got beat by the better players that week. But I, too, am going with Spieth. He has the most to gain over these two weeks, and he should come out firing on venues where he's had prior success. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking, because a Spieth FedEx title would (will?) make for a very compelling Player of the Year vote.

Hoggard: I like your thinking, but I'm pretty sure Thomas wrapped up POY with his victory in Boston, according to the players I've spoken to. See you after East Lake.

Lavner: Seems that's a Slack convo for another day.

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No indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 18, 2018, 12:25 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.

While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022.

“With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted The Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.

Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.

Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.

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Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:18 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.

Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.

“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.

Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.

Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”

“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”

There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.

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Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:07 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.

Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.

As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.

Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.

Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.

“It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.

Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.

“There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”

That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.

“I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.

Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.

In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.

“I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”

That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.

Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.

Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.

One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”

Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.

In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.

Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.

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Slumbers: Mickelson penalty 'not good for the game'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 11:44 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said that Phil Mickelson’s controversial penalty at the U.S. Open was not “good for the game,” but he did not say explicitly whether the ruling would have been any different at The Open.

Speaking Wednesday at his annual address, Slumbers said that he spoke with Mickelson last week about the incident. At Shinnecock Hills, Mickelson hit a moving ball in the third round but was not disqualified for a breach of etiquette. Instead, he received a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“In the event of a similar situation this week, clearly, the first thing is you understand the facts because you never get the same situation and there will be lots of reasons,” Slumbers said. “But we have looked very carefully at the rules, and I don’t think it was good for the game and not the right way to have played this wonderful sport, and we would make a decision based on the facts of any incident that happened later in the week.”

Rule 1-2, which includes a clause for disqualification, was not used because the infraction is covered under another rule.

“Let’s also remember that it’s a moot point for next year,” Slumbers said, “because as of the first of January 2019, there would have been a DQ option in that equivalent rule.”