A collection of favorite major championships

By Rex HoggardOctober 23, 2012, 9:36 pm

Like Forrest Gump's mother always told him, major championships are like a box of chocolates ... you never know what you are going to get. So in honor of this week's playing of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, our writers offer up their personal favorite major championships.

By RANDALL MELL

Filing back through the 46 major championships I’ve been fortunate to cover, and the countless majors I’ve watched on television, here are my picks:

Masters: It would be nice to be able to say Jack Nicklaus winning in ‘86, but I sheepishly confess I may be the only golf follower alive my age who didn’t actually see a single shot of the Golden Bear’s win live, or at least on live TV. I have to go with Tiger Woods’ record 12-shot romp in ‘97. It was the first Masters I ever covered.

U.S. Open: Standing behind the 18th green at Pinehurst on that drizzly Sunday in '99, I marveled watching Payne Stewart make a final 15-foot putt for par to win. You could feel his elation but admired the tenderness he showed Phil Mickelson with Lefty losing practically on the eve of becoming a father for the first time. Stewart’s unexpected death four months later adds to the weight of the memory.

British Open: It wasn’t the best played, for sure, but Jean Van de Velde’s collapse at the 72nd hole at Carnoustie in '99 was as compelling theater as you’ve ever seen in golf. Theater of the absurd, perhaps, but a most unforgettable finish with Paul Lawrie prevailing in a playoff.

PGA Championship: Sitting behind the 18th green on late Sunday afternoon in 2000, I had a look right down the line as Woods putted from 6 nerve-racking feet to try to force a playoff with Bob May at Valhalla. It's still stupefying remembering how many spike marks Woods’ putt bounced over and yet somehow found the hole. It felt like he willed that tricky downhill putt into the hole to set up his playoff victory.


By JASON SOBEL

Well, I’m not quite as – how shall I put this? – “experienced” as some of my more veteran colleagues, so please excuse the relative newness of my favorite major championships that I’ve attended, as I’ve only been covering ‘em since the turn of the century.

For the Masters, I’m going with super-newness in last year’s edition of the event. I know Phil Mickelson’s first was one to remember, and I can still feel the goosebumps from Tiger Woods’ ball trickling in on 16 back in 2005. But I defy you to pop in a DVD of last year’s tournament – from Rory McIlroy pulling one into the cabins on No. 10 through a roller-coaster back-nine that included a myriad of leaders – and be able to walk away even for a few seconds to grab a bag of Doritos. Charl Schwartzel’s name isn’t the sexiest on the winner’s list, but that final round was as dramatic as you’ll ever see.

I never thought I’d witness a cooler U.S. Open than my first one in 2000, when Tiger obliterated the field. Then I went to the 2002 version at Bethpage – near where I spent my childhood – and had a blast covering the event through the eyes of the raucous fans. Each of those was surpassed, though, in 2008, when a perfect storm swirled around Torrey Pines, with the game’s biggest superstar (Woods) with a variety of injuries (torn ACL, fractured leg) defeating a lovable challenger (Rocco Mediate) in a sudden-death playoff (18 holes weren’t enough) at a beautiful locale (it doesn’t get much more scenic than Torrey, Pebble Beach notwithstanding).

My pick for the Open Championship is more for what almost happened than what did, but it was still amongst the most memorable majors we’ll ever witness. Had 59-year-old Tom Watson been able to get up and down from behind the 18th green at Turnberry, this one would have gone down in history as the most improbable of all tournaments. Instead, Watson missed his par attempt, then saw his effort thwarted by Stewart Cink in a playoff. I’ll always remember him walking into the interview room afterward, looking out at the forlorn faces of the awaiting media throng and saying, “This ain’t a funeral, you know.”

Call me obtuse, but my favorite PGA Championship occurred just one month later. Even casual fans could recite Tiger’s major record with a 54-hole lead by heart: 14-for-14. As in, 100 percent. He’d never lost one on a Sunday afternoon, and it didn’t seem likely that would happen at Hazeltine, either, especially with relatively little-known journeyman Y.E. Yang in hot pursuit. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Woods played conservative golf, while his opponent aimed for the flagsticks with nothing to lose. The result was a scene that no one before had witnessed – Woods turning a Sunday morning lead into a loss at a major.


By REX HOGGARD

In particular order, the 1986 Masters is the runaway “Best in Show” when grading the Grand Slams. At 46-years-young, two seasons removed from his last PGA Tour title and six years adrift of his last major, the Golden Bear played his last four holes in 4 under to win his 18th major and sixth green jacket.

Tiger Woods, fittingly, wins the second leg with his one-legged victory at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Playing on a broken leg and with a blown-out anterior cruciate ligament, Woods finished his third round birdie-eagle and forced an 18-hole playoff, which he won over Rocco Mediate with a clutch birdie on the 72nd hole.

John Daly’s Cinderella ride at the 1991 PGA Championship easily qualifies as the best story from “Glory’s Last Shot.” A last-minute alternate who had to drive all night just to make his first-round tee time emerges as an unlikely champion. He may not have been the most memorable major champion, but there are few stories in golf that are more inspiring.

Finally, it is Jean Van de Velde . . . eh, Paul Lawrie at the 1999 British Open. Sure, the Scot won the claret jug, but it was the Frenchman knee deep in the burn that will always define that bizarre week at Carnoustie.


By RYAN LAVNER

2012 Masters: Freddie Couples in contention at the midway point. King Louie Oosthuizen’s albatross in the final round. Then Bubba Watson’s miraculous shot from the pine straw – and then the waterworks on the 10th green. Gee, this wasn’t a bad first Masters to cover.

2008 U.S. Open: This major, perhaps more than any of his other 13, will define Woods’ legacy. At Torrey Pines he was playing on a broken leg, writhing in pain after every shot . . . and he still won the most demanding test in golf! I called in sick at work that Monday, too, for the unlikely playoff with Rocco. My boss knew the reason.

2002 British Open: Ernie Els won the tournament, of course, but this Open, at least for me, kick-started my fascination with golf’s oldest tournament. The weather was the big winner, remember. Tiger was blown away during a Saturday 81. It was a battle of attrition. I enjoy watching that type of golf . . . well, once a year.

2011 PGA Championship: The playoff may not go down in tournament lore, but it was a compelling final hour in regulation. It was a stark juxtaposition: Jason Dufner free-falling, major-rookie Keegan Bradley surging. It ended with Bradley in the parking lot, packing up his courtesy car, alone, and marveling, “Can you believe that?'

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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.”