A British Open That Is Wide Open

By Golf Channel NewsroomJuly 13, 2004, 4:00 pm
TROON, Scotland -- Despite two U.S. Open titles and a wealth of talent, Ernie Els used to show up at major championships and try to convince himself he could win.
 
It was a one-sided argument that he usually lost.
 
'It was difficult for not only myself but for other players to really believe that you can go out there and play your game and think it's going to be good enough,' Els said Tuesday at Royal Troon.
 
That was at the height of Tiger Woods' incomparable run through the majors, when he won seven out of 11 majors, set scoring records in each Grand Slam event and held all four trophies at the same time.
 
Els showed up at Royal Troon with high hopes and in a new role - the betting favorite to win the British Open, the first time at a major since the 1997 Masters that the best odds were assigned to someone other than Woods.
 
And the Big Easy didn't need a betting slip to know that.
 
'Right now it's different,' he said. 'I feel that when he plays really well, he's going to shoot 67. But if I play well, I can shoot that score, as well. And I can keep doing that for three or four days. I think we're on a more level playing field now, and maybe because Tiger Woods has come back to the field a little bit.'
 
Ladbrokes listed Els as the 7-1 favorite Tuesday, with Woods right behind at 8-1.
 
To get an idea how much has changed in two years, consider that Woods was the 4-1 favorite going into Muirfield - not only to win the British Open, but to win the final two majors for the Grand Slam.
 
'Tiger will be back to his dominance, if not this week, very soon. I'm sure of that,' Thomas Bjorn said. 'But I just think everybody else sees themselves being able to play to that level.'
 
Maybe that's what gives this British Open a truly 'open' feel at Royal Troon.
 
Phil Mickelson has a green jacket to go with that wry smile, a winner at the Masters for his first major. The only thing that stopped Lefty from the first two legs of the Grand Slam was Retief Goosen, a smooth South African whose second U.S. Open victory might finally make people aware of his greatness.
 
'Where Tiger was and where he is now, I mean we're in different worlds now,' Els said. 'A lot of the players feel that we can compete with him now at the highest level. He's still playing great golf. He's still not that far off.'
 
Is he still No. 1?
 
Maybe not after this week.
 
Els had a chance to replace him last month at the U.S. Open. Two shots behind and playing in the final group, Els made double bogey on the first hole and crashed to an 80.
 
He gets another chance at Royal Troon, where a victory coupled with Woods finishing 17th or worse would end Woods' run of 257 consecutive weeks - dating to the 1999 PGA Championship - at No. 1 in the world.
 
'To be No. 1 in this day and age, with this many great players, would be quite something,' Els said. 'But for me, to win this tournament is more important. To win majors is more important for my career.'
 
Still, Els knows there is a long road ahead of him at Royal Troon, a links known for its tough inward nine holes, the tiny 'Postage Stamp' green on the 123-yard eighth hole and putting surfaces as pure as any in the British Open.
 
Mickelson has never finished in the top 10 at a British Open, his weak link in the majors. But he has never prepared so well for the Open, playing Royal Troon last Wednesday, on Friday after he missed the cut at Loch Lomond and Monday morning in what probably was his final tuneup.
 
Along the way, he has taken copious notes of where the ball is likely to wind up after traveling along the humps and bumps of the firm linksland.
 
'What I've tried to do this week ... is to understand where balls will tend to end up and try to be effective from there to the hole,' Mickelson said. 'I feel much more confident than I have in the past because I have come in and prepared properly.'
 
He also was prepared for a question about his chief rival, and whether Woods has lost an aura of invincibility.
 
'Well, that's a tough one to answer,' Mickelson said, before deciding to go no further.
 
Woods played another early practice round, teeing off by 6:30 a.m. and was off the course about three hours later. He doesn't have fond memories of Royal Troon, even though he shares the course record with a 64 in the third round during the 1997 British Open that helped him to a tie for 24th.
 
He came undone with a triple bogey on the 11th hole in the first round, a quadruple bogey on the 10th hole in the second round, and a triple bogey on the Postage Stamp on the final day.
 
All it takes is a couple of bad swings to get in trouble at Troon. And that's what has kept Woods winless in the last eight majors, with only one PGA Tour victory more than halfway through this season.
 
Woods didn't say his swing was 'close' because no one asked him - they have heard the same answer the last three months. But he has looked relaxed all week, not outwardly bothered by going two years without a major, or by the posse of players closing in on his No. 1 ranking.
 
'I've always played my best when I've gone out and stayed focused on what I have to do and not worry about anything else,' Woods said.
 
When he played his best, he almost always won.
 
Now, he might understand how Els and everyone else used to feel at majors.
 
Will it be enough?
 
Related Links:
  • TV Airtimes

  • British Open Photo Gallery

  • Full Coverage - 133rd Open Championship
     
    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Getty Images

    Schauffele just fine being the underdog

    By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

    Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

    Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

    Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

    “All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

    Getty Images

    Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

    Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

    So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

    Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

    Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Jordan Spieth: 7/4

    Xander Schauffele: 5/1

    Kevin Kisner: 11/2

    Tiger Woods: 14/1

    Francesco Molinari: 14/1

    Rory McIlroy: 14/1

    Kevin Chappell: 20/1

    Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

    Alex Noren: 25/1

    Zach Johnson: 30/1

    Justin Rose: 30/1

    Matt Kuchar: 40/1

    Webb Simpson: 50/1

    Adam Scott: 80/1

    Tony Finau: 80/1

    Charley Hoffman: 100/1

    Austin Cook: 100/1

    Getty Images

    Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

    By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

    For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

    By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

    But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

    As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

    “This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

    Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

    As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

    After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

    “I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

    But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

    Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

    “I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

    There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

    Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

    And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

    As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

    “We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

    Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

    Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

    The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

    Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

    It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

    Getty Images

    Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

    One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

    McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

    McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

    “I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”