Conditions and conformity changed at PGA Championship

By Jason SobelAugust 6, 2012, 6:45 pm

AKRON, Ohio – There was a telling story making its way through golf's inner circle this past week. One agent was speaking with his player and – in classic agent-speak – told him, 'I really like your chances at the PGA Championship.'

To which the player, a world-class talent enjoying a standout season, replied: 'How can you like my chances?'

Without missing a chance to pump up his man, the agent countered: 'You're playing really well and that course suits your game and you've been playing well in majors and...'

The player stopped him with a reminder: 'There are 156 players in the field. Every one of them has a chance to win. So my chances are 1-in-156. They're terrible.'

Such is life in golf’s Brave New World, where the list of contenders is nearly equal to the entry list. That notion is even more prevalent at major championships, the last 16 of which have been won by 16 different players, giving the game’s elite tournaments a revolving door sensation.

Tee times: Rounds 1 and 2 at the 94th PGA Championship

Tee to green: Nobilo's video tour of The Ocean Course

Here’s a significant sign of the times: Of the top 10 players currently listed on oddsmakers’ boards for this week’s PGA Championship, only three have won a major before.

“It’s just really tough to win out here. You’ve got maybe a 1 or 2 percent chance of winning the events you enter over your career,” said Jason Dufner, who needed 164 starts to win his first title, then replicated the feat two starts later. “What happens at the majors is the cream of the crop rises to the top. They give themselves a better chance to win. The higher your skillset is on tougher golf courses, generally speaking, the better you’re going to play.”

It’s that last notion which compels four-time major champion Phil Mickelson to proffer a conflicting opinion.

“No, it’s not harder than trying to win a major with Tiger [Woods] at his best,” he said of the 14-time major champion. “Nobody has ever played to the level that he has.”

On the eve of the PGA, it can be debated whether it’s tougher for players to win based on the current climate or easier due to the lack of a singular dominant force. What can’t be argued is that the current landscape has indeed changed in recent years.

That’s speaking metaphorically, of course, but the literal landscape will take on a different dynamic this week on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

In advance of the tournament, the PGA of America made the following announcement: “All sandy areas at the Ocean Course will be regarded as ‘through the green’ and not designated as ‘bunkers,’ for the 94th PGA Championship.”

On the surface, it could be considered the Dustin Johnson Rule, in effect absolving any player of the same judgment error that caused Johnson to lose a chance at winning the PGA two years ago at Whistling Straits. In reality, though, it’s a local rule which has been employed in other events on this course in the past; this year’s decision simply falls in line with those of prior years.

And yet, it’s still going to look awfully strange.

Think about it: With sandy areas not designated as bunkers, competitors will be given the opportunity to not only ground their clubs, but move any loose impediments and even take practice swings. Imagine that? There could be a player standing in a greenside bunker – er, “sandy area” – on the final hole Sunday afternoon with a one-shot lead and rather than being at the will of the unknown, he will be able to test the playing surface by taking a few whacks  at the sand.

The question remains, though: As creatures of habit who are accustomed to hovering a club over the ball in these situations, what will they do?

“I don’t know,” Mickelson admitted. “I really don’t have an answer. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll probably treat it like a bunker, I guess. I don’t think I’ll pick away sand behind the ball. I don’t think – but maybe if I’m in a fairway bunker-sand-waste area, I might. I don’t know.”

““It will be strange in a greenside bunker,” Matt Kuchar claimed. “Taking a practice swing will be weird.”

“There’s no advantage to it, I think,” Johnson explained. “It’s actually a little strange if you’re in a greenside bunker and ground your club. I mean, I’m not going to.”

“I’m not all of a sudden going to start grounding my club,” said Bo Van Pelt. “You can take a practice swing in there, so from that standpoint it’s a good thing. You can test and see how much sand there is.”

There’s no doubt that throughout this week’s PGA Championship, it will be compared with the 1991 Ryder Cup that was held on the same venue and dubbed, “War by the Shore.” If this week’s event needs a nickname, it could do worse than, “A Changed Landscape.”

The look of golf’s turnstile of major champions has been altered in the past four years, but that may pale in comparison to the vision of the world’s best players grounding clubs, moving loose impediments and taking practice swings around the sand-laden Ocean Course.

It may not provide a specific advantage to anyone, but that’s just part of the norm. It seems like nobody has an advantage at the majors these days anyway.

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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 all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

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

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 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

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.