Major Match Play: Sizing up the 16 contenders

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 11, 2014, 12:50 pm's Major Match Play Championship is underway. Here is a look at the 16 seeds and why they were selected.

1. 1986 MASTERS – Jack Nicklaus, who most thought was washed up, wins his final major at age 46.

Significance: Final win by the game’s greatest major champion.

Drama: Even as Jack was burning up the back nine, most questioned whether he could sustain his charge. Once he was in, both Greg Norman and Tom Kite had a chance to beat or tie him.

Quality of challengers: The first Official World Golf Ranking, then known as the Sony Rankings, was released on the Monday before the '86 Masters. Going into the final round, No. 2 Greg Norman led, followed by No. 1 Bernhard Langer and No. 2 Seve Ballesteros (both T-2), No. 4 Tom Watson and No. 7 Tommy Nakajima (both T-6) and No. 3 Sandy Lyle (T-9).

Quality of winner’s play: Nicklaus shot 65, including 30 on the back nine.

Trivia: Nick Price shot a Masters-record 63 in the third round.

2. 1997 MASTERS – In his first Masters as a pro, Tiger Woods wins by 12.

Significance: The youngest (21) winner in Augusta history, Woods was also the first minority to win the Masters. He set records for victory margin (12) and total score (270, -18).

Drama: How low could Woods go?

Quality of challengers: There were none.

Quality of winner’s play: See “significance.”

Trivia: Woods shot 40 on his opening nine Thursday.

3. 2008 U.S. OPEN – Tiger Woods beats Rocco Mediate on the first hole of sudden death after an 18-hole playoff.

Significance: Woods joined Nicklaus as the only two players to win three career Grand Slams.

Drama: Woods was visibly hampered by an ailing left knee, and two days after the tournament he announced that he had sustained a double stress fracture of his left tibia and would undergo surgery and miss the rest of the season. Woods, who led by one after 54 holes and had never surrendered a 54-hole lead in a major, came to the final hole, a par 5, needing a birdie to tie Mediate. Woods reached the green in three and sank a 12-foot birdie putt. In the playoff, Woods birdied the final hole again to send it to sudden death, then won with a sudden-death par to Mediate’s bogey.

Quality of challengers: With only five wins and no majors, Mediate was an extremely unlikely challenger.

Quality of winner’s play: Woods finished 1 under in regulation and made must-make birdies at the end of regulation and the 18-hole playoff.

Trivia: Lee Westwood also had a birdie putt to tie, but missed a 15-footer. 

4. 1950 U.S. OPEN – Ben Hogan wins at Merion.

Significance: The tournament was played just 16 months after Hogan’s near-fatal auto accident.

Drama: See “significance.” Also, Hogan hit his famous 1-iron shot to the final green to set up a two-putt par and make it into a playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio. In the playoff, Hogan led Mangrum by one shot through 15 holes, but Mangrum took a two-shot penalty for picking up his ball to brush off a bug on the 16th and Hogan went on to win by four.

Quality of challengers: Mangrum had won the 1946 U.S. Open and finished second in the 1940 and ’49 Masters. Fazio had only two PGA Tour wins and later became better known as a golf course architect.

Quality of winner’s play: Plus-seven got into the playoff. In the final round Hogan failed to make a birdie and bogeyed three of his last seven holes.

Trivia: It was the final major for Tommy Armour, the 1927 U.S. Open champion and a three-time major winner. He missed the cut.

5. 1977 BRITISH OPEN – Tom Watson edges Jack Nicklaus in the “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry.

Significance: Because Watson and Nicklaus were paired in the third and fourth rounds and both shot lights out, this is widely considered to be the finest head-to-head duel in major-championship history.

Drama: Watson shot 65-65 to top Nicklaus’ 65-66. It went down to the final hole. With a one-stroke lead, Watson appeared to seal the win with an approach to 2 feet. But Nicklaus drained a 35-foot birdie putt, putting more pressure on Watson’s putt. Still, Watson made it.

Quality of challengers: Jack Nicklaus. 'Nuff said.

Quality of winner’s play: Watson’s winning total of 268 broke the Open Championship 72-hole record by eight shots.

Trivia: The 36-hole leader was current NBC Sports golf on-course reporter Roger Maltbie. He finished T-26.

6. 2000 U.S. OPEN – Tiger Woods wins by a staggering 15 shots at Pebble Beach.

Significance: It was Woods’ first U.S. Open win and the margin was the largest in any major championship.

Drama: The only drama was waiting to see how big Woods’ margin would be. He led by 10 after 54 holes and increased the margin to 15 with a final-round 67.

Quality of challengers: Challengers? What challengers?

Quality of winner’s play: In finishing at 12 under, Woods became the first player to finish an Open at double digits under par.

Trivia: It was Jack Nicklaus’ final U.S. Open. He missed the cut.

7. 1913 U.S. OPEN – Francis Ouimet beats Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff at Brookline.

Significance: A watershed event for American golf, with Brookline resident Ouimet taking down two British superstars and becoming the first amateur to win the Open.

Drama: Ouimet, a local favorite, had to birdie two of the last six holes to get into the playoff.

Quality of challengers: Vardon and Ray were two of the best of the day and Vardon was one of the best of all time.

Quality of winner’s play: Of the 16 Opens that had been played over 72 holes, Ouimet’s score of 304 ranked as the seventh-lowest.

Trivia: Ouimet's caddie was 10-year-old Eddie Lowery, who went on to become a significant figure in golf in his own right.

8. 1960 U.S. OPEN – Arnold Palmer stages what is at the time the biggest comeback in U.S. Open history, rallying from seven strokes behind in the final round to win.

Significance: With 18 career PGA Tour wins, including the 1958 and 1960 Masters, Palmer was the game’s biggest star.

Drama: After driving the green on the par-4 first hole and making birdie, Palmer played the first seven holes in 6 under, then played the next 11 in even par. He won by two shots over amateur Jack Nicklaus.

Quality of challengers: Though still an amateur, Nicklaus was already highly regarded. Tied for third were Julius Boros, Dow Finsterwald and Jack Fleck, all of whom had won a major. Ben Hogan, seeking a fifth U.S. Open title at age 47, was tied for the lead going to the next-to-last hole, but finished bogey-triple.

Quality of winner’s play: Palmer’s 65 was the lowest final round in U.S. Open history.

Trivia: Nicklaus'  second-place finish was the best showing by an amateur at the U.S. Open since Johnny Goodman won in 1933.

9. 1962 U.S. OPEN – Nicklaus beats Palmer, 71-74, in an 18-hole playoff at Oakmont.

Significance: It was the first win for Nicklaus and came in heavily pro-Palmer country.

Drama: It was the beginning of golf's greatest rivalry, Nicklaus vs. Palmer. They were paired in the first two rounds in front of a heavily pro-Palmer gallery.

Quality of challengers: Palmer was the game's top player.

Quality of winner’s play: They finished 1 under in regulation, a good score for an Open.

Trivia: Nicklaus became the first player since Bobby Jones in 1931 to hold the U.S. Amateur and Open titles simultaneously.

10. 1930 U.S. AMATEUR – Bobby Jones defeated Eugene Homans, 8 and 7, in the match-play final.

Significance: It was the final leg of Jones’ Grand Slam. Jones remains the only golfer ever to win the four major championships of the day in a calendar year.

Drama: No one had ever won the Open and Amateur championships on both sides of the pond, and Jones was arguably the greatest golfer of the day (and certainly the greatest amateur).

Quality of challengers: Jones’ semifinal victim was Walker Cup teammate Jess Sweetser, whom he beat, 9 and 8.

Quality of winner’s play: Jones was medalist, tying his own record for lowest qualifying score. He won the final match, 8 and 7.

Trivia: Jones, though only 28, retired from competitive play two months after the tournament.

11. 1975 MASTERS – Nicklaus beats Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf by one shot.

Significance: Nicklaus became the first (and still only) player to win five Masters. This was also the Masters that included an African-American player for the first time (Lee Elder).

Drama: Weiskopf, who had won the week before at Greensboro, was trying to win his first Masters after three runner-ups. Miller and Weiskopf, playing together in the final pairing, both had birdie chances to tie at 18 – Miller from 20 feet, Weiskopf from 8. Nicklaus sank a long putt at the 16th.

Quality of challengers: Weiskopf was an 11-time winner on the PGA Tour. Miller had won 14 times, was best known for his final-round 63 in winning the 1973 U.S. Open.

Quality of winner’s play: Despite a third-round 73, Nicklaus finished at 12 under.

Trivia: Miller shot 30 on the front nine in a 65 on Saturday.

12. 2001 MASTERS – Tiger Woods completes the "Tiger Slam."

Significance: Woods’ victory gave him wins in four consecutive majors, a run that began with his 15-stroke runaway with the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Drama: Woods led Phil Mickelson by just one shot going into the final round. David Duval tied for the lead with a birdie at the 15th, but gave the shot back at the next hole. When Duval failed to birdie the 18th, Woods needed only a par to win, but he made birdie for a two-stroke final margin. Mickelson was third, three shots back. It was Woods' second Masters and sixth major title.

Quality of challengers: At the end of 2000, Duval was No. 3 in the world, Mickelson No. 4.

Quality of winner’s play: Woods finished at 16 under, just two shots off his record 18-under finish in 1997.

Trivia: Chris DiMarco led the first two rounds, but finished T-10. In 2005 he would take Woods to a playoff at Augusta before losing.

13. 1923 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP – Gene Sarazen defeats Walter Hagen in 38 holes.

Significance: A clash of titans. Sarazen won his third of seven majors and Hagen already had three of his 11 majors. Hagen would go on to win the next four PGAs, giving him five overall.

Drama: These were the top two players of the era. Sarazen was the defending champion and Hagen had won in 1921.

Quality of challengers: Hagen was one of the greatest players of all time.

Quality of winner’s play: Match play – hard to judge.

Trivia: Hagen had skipped the previous year's PGA Championship in favor of lucrative exhibition matches.

14. 2000 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP – Tiger Woods defeats Bob May in a three-hole playoff.

Significance: Woods became the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three majors in a calendar year.

Drama: Shooting 66-66-66 after an opening 72, unknown May gave Woods all he could handle. May made an 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that forced Woods to make his own 6-footer for birdie to extend the tournament. Woods won the playoff by one shot.

Quality of challengers: May was an unknown going into the tournament and has done nothing of note since. No one finished closer than 5 shots to Woods and May.

Quality of winner’s play: At 18 under, Woods and May set a PGA Championship record for score to par.

Trivia: It was Jack Nicklaus’ last PGA. He missed the cut.

15. 1954 MASTERS – Sam Snead defeats Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff, 70-71.

Significance: Snead and Hogan were the game’s top two players. Between them they had won the previous three Masters (Hogan was defending champion) and had 15 wins in majors.

Drama: Snead and Hogan were tied after 13 holes in the final round and remained that way through 18. In the playoff, they were tied after nine. Snead took a one-shot lead on 10 and never again trailed. He won by one shot despite bogeying the final hole.

Quality of challengers: See “drama.”

Quality of winner’s play: Snead’s regulation total of 289 is tied for the highest winning score in Masters history.

Trivia: Billy Joe Patton led after the second round and during the fourth, threatening to become the first amateur to win the Masters. He finished one shot out of the playoff.

16. 1953 BRITISH OPEN – Ben Hogan wins at Carnoustie.

Significance: Hogan became the first (and still only) golfer to win the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in a calendar year.

Drama: Not much on the leaderboard (Hogan won by four). It was Hogan’s first British Open – and turned out to be his only one.

Quality of challengers: Amateur Frank Stranahan was the only other American on the leaderboard, but Roberto De Vicenzo and Antonio Cerda of Argentina, Dai Rees of Wales and Peter Thomson of Australia were quality players. (Thomson would win the Open Championship each of the next three years and five times in all.) 

Quality of winner’s play: Hogan’s final-round 68 broke the course record.

Trivia: The tournament had no exemptions. Even defending champion Bobby Locke had to qualify.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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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, 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

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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.