The Open is wide open

By Jason SobelJuly 13, 2011, 2:33 pm

SANDWICH, England – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Anyone can win this week’s tournament.

On second thought, don’t stop me.

Yeah, I know. It’s the same refrain prior to every event – and especially before the majors. It’s wide open. Anybody’s ballgame. There’s no telling who might win.

Not that we were lying on those other occasions, but this time we really mean it. Seriously. The Open Championship is more open than any other recent championship.

Don’t believe the hype? Let me count the ways…

Deep field

This may sound a bit disingenuous coming off a week in which the top-ranked player in the field won on both the PGA and European tours, but we are firmly ensconced in the Age of Parity.

Three players have won multiple PGA Tour events so far this season, none more than twice. Only two have won more than once on the Euro Tour – and each of them (Luke Donald and Charl Schwartzel) own a victory in the United States at a co-sanctioned event.

“Well, I think when you look at the field, you're going to see there's probably 130 guys that could win this week, [that] have a legitimate chance,” said Ben Curtis, who won here at Royal St. George’s in 2003, the last time this tourney was contested here. “You're going to take here and there 20 that may not be feeling well or their game is really bad or whatever coming in, but pretty much anyone in the field can win this week. It's just a matter of having the right things go your way and making a few putts.”

Hey, he should know. Speaking of which…

Recent history

This course has held a dozen previous editions of the Open, yielding some of the tournament’s greatest champions.

Harry Vardon. Walter Hagen. Bobby Locke. Greg Norman.

And then there was Curtis. Nothing against the 2003 winner, but as a PGA Tour rookie with no prior top-10s to his name and the 396th-ranked player in the world, he was one of the biggest major surprises ever, becoming the first man to win his initial major start since Francis Ouimet in 1913.

Horses for courses, right? Well, this one has proven that quirky, uneven fairways, imaginative bunkering and, as five-time champion Tom Watson proffered, “the most complicated greens and the most severe greens that we play in Open golf,” tend to level the playing field.

Luck of the draw

Lucas Glover owns a major championship. There’s nothing that should or could diminish that accomplishment.

Then again, had the USGA randomly decided to place him in the early-late wave of the 2009 U.S. Open – originally playing Thursday morning and Friday afternoon – he may not own such hardware. As you’ll recall, torrential rains during the early part of the first round at Bethpage left the morning wave struggling to post decent scores, as a large majority of those who made the cut came from the late-early draw, like Glover, who parlayed good fortune into a great result at week’s end.

That’s just one example. It’s hardly a unique circumstance, either, as weather conditions often play a large part in scoring – and at the Open, such conditions can change considerably during the course of the day.

And that’s exactly what the whispers are about beforehand. According to early forecasts, the windiest conditions will come early Thursday and late Friday, meaning a tougher draw for favorites such as Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, while an easier road may be paved for the likes of Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson.

“The draw is a huge part of the Open,” concurred 1999 winner Paul Lawrie. “You hopefully get the luck of the draw and get the better part of the weather.”

Vagaries of links golf

What is the most important aspect of a player’s game this week? According to Watson, it’s the long game.

“You have to drive it well,” he said. “There’s a premium on approach shots on this golf course – the weighted shot, getting the shot the right distances, is going to be a very difficult thing to do. … Hitting the ball the right way is very critical. It’s typical of a links golf course.”

Not to disrespect Old Tom, but many other players polled have contended that this tournament will turn into a short game contest, with the sharpest flatstick determining the overall champion.

Then again, perhaps it’s less technical than mental, as the way a player deals with adversity could lead to his ultimate result.

“At the end of the day, we’re all going to play 72 holes and everyone is going to have a few bad bounces,” said Robert Karlsson, who has finished 14th or better in each of the past two years. “It’s more about how you react to it and handle it.”

So there you have it, golf fans. This week’s winner will need to drive it well, own a precise iron game, hole plenty of putts, have the right mental fortitude, overcome 155 worthy challengers, and – yes – get a little lucky, too.

Hey, it’s like I said earlier. This Open is wide open.

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Woods on firing shot into crowd: 'I kept moving them back'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:14 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It added up to another even-par round, but Tiger Woods had an eventful Friday at The Open.

His adventure started on the second hole, when he wiped a drive into the right rough. Standing awkwardly on the side of a mound, he prepared for a quick hook but instead fired one into the crowd that was hovering near the rope line.

“I kept moving them back,” he said. “I moved them back about 40 yards. I was trying to play for the grass to wrap the shaft around there and hit it left, and I was just trying to hold the face open as much as I possibly could. It grabbed the shaft and smothered it.

“I was very, very fortunate that I got far enough down there where I had a full wedge into the green.”

Woods bogeyed the hole, one of four on the day, and carded four birdies in his round of 71 at Carnoustie. When he walked off the course, he was in a tie for 30th, six shots off the clubhouse lead.

It’s the first time in five years – since the 2013 Open – that Woods has opened a major with consecutive rounds of par or better. He went on to tie for sixth that year at Muirfield.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.