Backspin Just Looking

By Dena DavisMay 4, 2009, 4:00 pm
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FROM THERE TO O'HAIR: Five weeks after blowing a five-shot lead at Bay Hill against Tiger Woods, Sean O'Hair was able to clinch a victory ' and perhaps some redemption ' over the world No. 1 at the Quail Hollow Championship. O'Hair rallied from a three-shot deficit Sunday for a one-shot victory over Lucas Glover and Bubba Watson. Woods finished two back.
Backspin The kid with a history of folding, made back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th holes and kept his hands (and his head) steady at 10-and-2 to charter the green mile and cross the finish line first ' and all with you-know-who looming behind him as an Object That May Appear Closer Than It Is. OHair's come a long way in the last few years, and even in the last few weeks. After starting the season as No. 59 in the world and now at a career-high 12th, the 26-year-old suddenly appears closer to a major champion candidate than some ahead of him in those rankings.

I'M A LOSER, BABY...: As David Feherty pointed out, Tiger Woods was not a champion Sunday. 'Its difficult to think of you as a loser, Feherty said in his post-round interview with Woods, but hey, youre a loser.' Entering the final round, just two shots out of the lead, Woods wasted several birdie chances and an eagle opportunity (when he drove the green on the par-4 14th and almost four-putted), closing with 10 straight pars for a 72. While, on Thursday, Woods did card a back-nine 30 (he started on No. 10), on Friday, he bogeyed 16 and 18 to finish even par. And on Saturday, bogeys at Nos. 17 and 18 gave him a disappointing 70.
Backspin Years ago, Tiger once (maybe more) said firmly, 'Losing sucks.' On Sunday at Quail Hollow, however, he was a lot more jovial about his loss with Feherty: I was (a loser). And not even first loser, either. Tiger freakin' Woods doesnt stumble down the stretch and Tiger freakin' Woods doesn't joke around about losing afterward. But as we saw on Masters Sunday, Tiger has had problems shutting the proverbial door in crucial moments lately, seeming more pedestrian than herculean when a victory was within reach. What has happened to the Tiger we know ' or used to know? The red-caped crusader used to be robotic, methodical and predatory. In Charlotte he was a friendly goldfish in a kiddie pool rather than a ruthless shark in dark waters. Barely recognized the dude. Perhaps, after the 9-month layoff and with another baby in tow, that distinct killer instinct is little less killer. We can't remember a time when, on a Tiger Blood-In-the-Waters-Red Sunday, we saw the him hang around after losing, to spend time with the guy who bettered him. It's still TBD on whether this new Eldrick is here to stay, but this softer side of him is indeed curious. One upside, though, might be something Cup captains might want to utilize in team competition ' where camaraderie and chemistry help a team flourish. Playful Tiger seems more and more like a candidate for Team USA.

PANTS PARTY USA: John Daly returned to the golf scene this week ' while still serving the six-month suspension from the PGA Tour ' and not without some fanfare. But how else would you expect Long John to re-enter the little white dimpled sphere stratosphere? Armed ' or panted ' with a new wardrobe (thanks to Loudmouth Golf), a more svelte look (thanks to lap-band surgery), and a new social media life (thanks to Twitter), the fan favorite 43-year-old posted scores of 70-72-74-69.
Backspin For awhile there, we were worried JDs pants and tweets would get more attention than his play on the course. Err, well, maybe they did. Thanks to his studious, daily tweeting, we learned that Daly's many things, including that his stomach surgery doesn't stop him from craving white cheddar popcorn and Olive Garden breadsticks. While he's gone low on the poundage, not so much with his golf score. However, there's hope. One highlight was his Sunday in Spain where he closed with a 69 to tie for 31st ' and that is certainly laudable. Its just that we couldnt hear it over his pants calling audibles. As much as JD's personality is fun for the game, seeing the two-time major winner actually win a tournament again, would be even more fun.

IN THE PINK: Eight-time LPGA winner Paula Creamer has been dealing with a mysterious stomach ailment for over five months. And doctors and specialists have no answer for it. Creamer has played through the pain and discomfort, though, with six starts on tour this season and her best performances coming back-to-back with third-place finishes. She had to withdraw from the Phoenix tournament, however, because the malady had gotten the better of her that week.
Backspin Willis Reed?, Kirk Gibson? Tiger Woods? Wimps. Creamer might be the LPGA version of the Game 5, 1997 NBA Finals Michael Jordan, except for more than one game, try several tournaments. Hyperbole aside, we realize the 22-year-old hasn't put a 'W' in the win column, but the Pink Panther has still put herself into contention a few times in 2009, for a tenacious 'E' in the effort column. The young LPGA star is a great talent with a great personality ' fiery, competitive, and heart-on-her-sleeve passionate. We hate to see this sickness drain the color from her cheeks. The color pink misses her at her best, and so do we.

DOUBTING THOMAS(ES): Thomas Levet shot a 4-under 68 Sunday at that one tournament where John Daly was playing, for a two-stroke victory to become the first Frenchman to win five European Tour titles. Why does his name sound familiar?
BackspinYou may remember Levet from 2002 at Muirfield where he finished second at the Open Championship after blowing a chance to win by bogeying the final hole of the four-hole playoff to fall into sudden death with Ernie Els, where he again bogeyed to lose. Levet suffers from severe vertigo, which almost forced him out of the game. So it's a heart-warming story to see him overcome that obstacle to notch a victory at the Spanish Open and continue to have a solid career, rather than disappear into obscurity as many have after such hardships. Which made us wonder about another Thomas ... Thomas Bjorn. Bjorn also came close to winning a major title ' twice ' at the 2003 Open Championship and at the 2005 PGA Championship, both times finishing as a runner-up. Where the heck has the Dane been? Welp, he was right there on the leaderboard in Girona, Spain, finishing four shots back of his namesake. Surely, print and web editors around the sporting world are now rooting for his full career comeback, if only for 'Bjorn Again,' to be put into bold headlines.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods were paired Wednesday in the Quail Hollow pro-am ... Sergio Garcia missed the cut in Charlotte after posting a 71-78 Seve Ballesteros, who is currently undergoing his fourth round of chemotherapy, made his first public appearance since undergoing four separate surgeries to remove a cancerous brain tumor. He attended a Spanish league match and received a standing ovation from the fans.
Backspin Remember when we mentioned Jordan above? Peyton Manning, you sir are no MJ. Get his Airness back on the links with Tiger to Cut. That. Meat. ... Your 2008 Players champion would like to take this opportunity to once again thank Tiger for not playing last year because now it seems El Nino may never win a big tournament again. Odd that Woods and Garcia have more in common now than before: Both don't seem like their old selves ' and neither can seem to make a clutch putt down the stretch ... It's really good to see Seve, the five-time major champion, again. After reading an old golf magazine from the 70s, in which the author questioned whether the Spaniard could be a star in golf being so wild off the tee, it's sweet to know he hit it right down the middle of the fairway of life with a memorable, Hall-of-Fame golf career, with a memorable, Hall-of-Fame spirit to match. When you've seen a loved one suffer through similar circumstances as Seve's, you cannot underestimate how valuable even these ordinary moments ' like attending a soccer match ' can be for lifting everyone's spirits.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage ' Quail Hollow Championship
  • Full Coverage ' Open de Espana
  • Complete News Headlines
  • @kharms27 on Instagram

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.  

    @radiosarks on Twitter

    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?’”

    Getty Images

    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.