Stock Watch: Highs and lows from 2015

By Ryan LavnerDecember 8, 2015, 2:04 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf. This is the year-ending edition.

RISING

Jordan Spieth (+10%): He is already the face of the sport, at age 22. The only question: How can Spieth possibly top one of the best seasons of all time?

Lydia Ko vs. Inbee Park (+8%): The 18-year-old sensation and the newly minted Hall of Famer combined for 10 wins and three majors in 2015, with their duel for player of the year coming down to the final hole of the final event. We can’t wait to watch how this respectful rivalry develops.

Big 3 (+7%): Remember all of the apprehension about who will fill the void in the post-Tiger era? It seems silly now, with three dynamic, affable, articulate under-28 stars putting the game in a chokehold.

Youth Movement (+6%): From Ko to Spieth, from Lexi Thompson to Justin Thomas, from Brooke Henderson to Matt Fitzpatrick, the 2015 golf year was dominated by players who can barely enjoy their breakout years with an adult beverage. The best part? Even more studs are in the pipeline.

Rickie Fowler (+5%): Overrated no longer, Fowler has toned down his Crayola look and committed himself to maximizing his considerable talent. His Players victory was the most thrilling tournament of the year, and he added Ws against top-notch fields in Scotland and Boston. The next step is to win a major – and to create a Big 4.

Bryson DeChambeau (+4%): One of the most fascinating amateurs in years took his game to the next level with victories at both the NCAAs and U.S. Amateur – just the fifth player to complete that double dip in the same year. Set to turn pro after the Masters because of his college team’s postseason ban, the quirky DeChambeau will continue to be one of the most talked-about players next summer.

U.S. cup teams (+3%): Sure, the Americans got walloped like never before at the Walker Cup, but the red, white and blue also staged an incredible rally at the Solheim Cup, continued their dominance in a down-to-the-wire Presidents Cup, and brought a new level of attention to Ryder Cup news conferences after Tiger Woods was named an assistant captain.

Kevin Kisner (+2%): No top player made a bigger jump in 2015, rising from No. 236 to No. 18 in the world rankings. At 31, Kiz is entering the prime of his career and now must be viewed as a serious contender to win a major and earn a spot on his first Ryder Cup squad.


HOLDING STEADY

Rory McIlroy: His decision to play soccer in the middle of the season cost him a shot at two majors and the playoffs, but his 2015 was far from a complete disaster, with four victories worldwide. Motivation should not be an issue in ’16.

Henrik Stenson and Stacy Lewis: They had nearly identical seasons, combining for no wins and 16 top-3 (!) finishes as the game’s next generation of stars pushed them into the background.

Bubba Watson: Quite literally, he held steady – he’s No. 4 in the world, just as he was at this time last year. He is one of the most enigmatic talents, a player capable of blowing away the field when engaged, but he lacks the week-to-week consistency of Spieth, Day and McIlroy.

Dustin Johnson: After returning from his six-month hiatus, he put on an awe-inspiring power display at Doral but also, incredibly, added to his long list of major meltdowns, three-putting from 12 feet at Chambers Bay and kicking away a 36-hole lead at St. Andrews. He’s too talented not to break through for at least one major … right?


FALLING

Jason Dufner (-1%): A new body didn’t lead to different results, as Dufner had one of the biggest slides in 2015, finishing in the top 10 only twice and dropping from 38th to 129th in the world.

Anchorers (-2%): Life without the long putter began in earnest for the likes of Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley, and it resulted in the worst years of their career. Throw in longtime anchorer Bernhard Langer, and these players’ transition will continue to be a major storyline to watch in 2016 and beyond.

Team Europe’s Old Guard (-3%): Before Graeme McDowell’s victory at Mayakoba, it looked like a lost year for the Ryder Cup stalwarts, with Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Thomas Bjorn all dropping out of the top 50. Don’t be surprised when a new-look European team heads to Hazeltine.

Phil Mickelson (-4%): Winless for more than two years, Lefty axed the best swing coach on the planet in hopes that a few new ideas will coax one more major out of his 45-year-old body.

Suzann Pettersen (-5%): The villain of the Solheim Cup, Pettersen’s unsportsmanlike conduct overshadowed the competition, ticked off players on both sides of the pond and ensured that she’ll get a frosty reception during the 2017 matches.

Michelle Wie (-7%): After the best year of her career, she was more like the Big Uneasy in 2015, battling injuries and ineffectiveness during a forgettable season. A bona fide superstar, it’s reasonable to wonder whether Wie still has the drive to be one of the world’s best players.

Tiger Woods (-9%): After three back surgeries in 19 months, an uncertainty hangs over Woods like never before. At this point, it’s no guarantee that he will tee it up next year, or ever again.

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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?’”