The Stars Come Out in La-La Land

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 13, 2007, 5:00 pm
2007 Nissan OpenEven before they tee it up at famed Riviera Country Club for this week's 81st edition of the Nissan Open, there are two big stories surrounding the event.
First, there was the story about a certain someone who was or was not going to be in the field to try and extend his consecutive PGA TOUR winning streak to eight. That certain someone was, of course, Tiger Woods and unfortunately for the fans coming out to Pacific Palisades, the answer was no; he passed on the event.
The second story also dealt with another certain someone who no one thought was going to originally be in the field but then surprised event organizers by throwing his hat into the ring. And that someone was Phil Mickelson, who then added another surprise by bouncing back from a horrendous start this season to run away with the title at Pebble Beach.
Ernie Els
Ernie Els is making his 2007 PGA TOUR debut at the Nissan Open. (Wire Images)
So Phil's in and Tiger's out, end of story, right? Well, not quite.
Perhaps the bigger story line is: Who else will be showing up at Hogan's Alley? Answer - easily the strongest field of the year. Eight of the world's top-10 and 19 of the top-25 will be on hand to try and win the event that started all the way back in 1926 as the Los Angeles Open.
Names scheduled for the red carpet in L.A. - Els, Scott, Furyk, Goosen, Garcia, Donald, Ogilvy, Harrington - just to name a few.
And with such a loaded field, expect plenty of Oscar-worthy drama to play out just down the road from Hollywood. Last season, two-time champion of the event Fred Couples bogeyed three of his last four holes to hand the title over to Rory Sabbatini, who in turn had to hold off a hard-charging Adam Scott.
The year prior, it was Scott who needed a playoff to capture the first-place check - albeit it didn't come with all the other perks. Due to the fact that it was shortened to just 36 holes because of heavy rains, the No. 3 ranked Aussie was not credited with an official PGA TOUR victory.
And speaking of playoffs, since the turn of the century, every odd year has produced extra holes - Robert Allenby over five other players in 2001, Mike Weir over Charles Howell in 2003, and Scott's rain-shortened playoff over Chad Campbell in '05.
Heres our list of players to watch for from four different categories: Superstar (top-10 ranked player from the Official World Golf Ranking); Second Tier (guys outside the top 10, but no lower than 100); First-Timer (a player who has never won before on TOUR); Veteran (a guy who has played 10-plus years on the PGA TOUR and may or may not have won in some time).
Fred Couples
Fred Couples has good memories when he arrives at Riviera CC. (Wire Images)
Of the two times he has teed it up in this event, Adam Scott has placed no worse than second, making his average finish a mere 1.5. That's a hard stat to ignore. And couple it with the fact that Scott has risen to No. 3 in the world and he figures to be the man to beat at Riviera. His results, although limited to just one event so far, include a runner-up in the only other strong field this season at the winners' only Mercedes-Benz Championship.
In his lone start last year at Riviera, South Africa's rising star Trevor Immelman challenged for the lead before a couple of late bogeys dropped him into a tie for seventh. The narrow, tree-lined fairways this week could be an advantage to Immelman as he currently ranks 14th in driving accuracy. Ranked 62nd in the world at the end of 2005, he has steadily risen all the way up to 12th. He has a pair of top-3 finishes between the PGA and European tours' '07 schedules.
Back in the early '90s, when he briefly held the No. 1 ranking in the world, fan favorite Fred Couples used to own this event. During a seven-year stretch from 1990 through 1996, Couples produced two victories and an impressive three runner-up showings. Yes, that was in his prime, but there's no denying Freddie still has a feel for the place as shown by four top-10s in his last seven starts. (editor's note: Couples withdrew from the field on Tuesday due to an injury.)
Still just 23-years-old, Kevin Na is unfortunately having to play this season with conditions usually associated with players much older than him - under a Major Medical Extension. The Korean-born Na not only bypassed college but also his senior year in high school to turn pro at the ripe age of 17 back in 2001. He had a breakout year in the 2005 with two runner-up finishes, one coming in a playoff to Geoff Ogilvy in Tucson. But he played in only 11 events last year due to hand injury and will be looking to right the ship at Riviera.
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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.”

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    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?’”

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    Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

    “You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

    The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

    “He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

    But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    “I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

    And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

    It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

    That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

    “I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

    It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

    McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

    “I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

    It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

    “I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

    A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

    Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.


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    Own history, grow the game with Open memorabilia auction

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 1:00 pm

    Get a piece of history and help grow the game, that's what The Open is offering with its memorabilia auction.

    The official Open Memorabilia site features unique Open assets from famous venues and Champion Golfers of the Year. All net proceeds received by The R&A from this project will be invested to support the game for future generations, including encouraging women’s, junior and family golf, on the promotion and progression of the sport in emerging golf nations and on coaching and development.

    Items for auction include limited edition prints of Champion Golfers of the Year, signed championship pin flags and limited edition historical program covers. Memorable scorecard reproductions and caddie bibs are also available to bid for on the website, with all items featuring branded, serialized holograms for authenticity.

    Click here to own your piece of history and to get more information on the auction.