Woods' arrival steals the PGA spotlight

By Jason SobelAugust 6, 2014, 8:39 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In this latest installment of “Scenes from a Parking Lot,” our hero makes his triumphant return in a silver Mercedes SUV courtesy car, all eyes and camera lenses affixed to him nearly pulling into a rival’s spot before backing up and self-correcting – his first successful recovery shot of the week.

Other societies anticipate visiting royalty or dignitaries in this manner. We await a guy with some back issues.

More than 60 members of the media encircled Tiger Woods as he arrived at Valhalla Golf Club for the 96th PGA Championship after three days of indecision and speculation. Even before he slid out of the driver’s seat – which was breaking news, of course, because when we last saw him, back pain had forced him to the passenger’s side – he was the focus of everything from professional video cameras to amateur iPhone photographers.

It recalls Al Czervik’s line to Mr. Wang in “Caddyshack”: “Hey, Wang! What's with the pictures? It's a parking lot!”

There are few previous stories which so deftly illustrate Woods’ polarization amongst the masses and how every other golfer pales in comparison.

In the minutes prior to his arrival, the parking lot was a veritable who’s who of the game’s other superstars, none of whom so much as drew a glance. Defending champion Jason Dufner strolled past, usual nonplussed look on his face. Former winner Keegan Bradley walked by with Brendan Steele, the two of them laughing at the scene while Bradley clicked a few photos on his phone. Hunter Mahan came through with a wry smile, asking, “What’s going on over here?”

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Photo Gallery: Woods' Wednesday practice round

And here’s the kicker: Even Rory McIlroy went past, largely unnoticed, with the claret jug dangling from his hand. That’s right – the oldest trophy in golf got big-timed by the impending possibility of German engineering.

In the wake of all this pomp and circumstance after 72 hours of indecision, we should be asking ourselves one big, fat, rhetorical question: Shouldn’t we have seen this coming? 

This is the same Woods whose last major victory was a 2008 U.S. Open title that was won despite a torn ACL and multiple leg fractures. In recent years, with so many aches and pains and other maladies affecting his rapidly aging body, Woods often invokes that triumph as the pinnacle of his playing-through-pain career.

He still believes that since he was able to claim the hardware while in pain that week, then he’s capable of claiming it while in pain any other week, too.

For an admitted adrenaline junkie, he’ll never receive a greater rush between the ropes as that sudden-death playoff victory. But he will keep trying.

And why shouldn’t he? Much of the speculation since he withdrew from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday centered around whether he should cut his losses and rest up as opposed to rushing back into competition.

News flash: The next tournament Woods cares deeply about after this one doesn’t happen for another eight months. As long as his doctors have told him there’s no potential long-range damage, there’s really no reason to sit home and watch on TV instead.

Even though he’d never admit it – we all know the usual refrain; he expects to win each and every time he tees it up – Woods is essentially hoping to cash in a lottery ticket this week.

Unlike just about every other tournament he played over the first 15 years of his professional career, he’s no longer the prohibitive favorite. While it seems inconceivable that he could return from not only debilitating back pain but a debilitating driver and putter to somehow win, it’s not completely implausible that his pain level remains low and he gets his “feels” and “explosiveness” right.

In the parking lot, waiting for Woods to arrive Wednesday afternoon, one veteran caddie didn’t bite at the notion that he’s essentially fishing without any bait this week.

“This is a perfect course for him,” the caddie said of Valhalla, noting its lack of trickiness and the fact that Woods could likely eschew driver off the tee for a 3-wood instead.

Just minutes later, the 14-time major champion slowly drove around the corner toward the parking lot, the focus of so many video cameras and iPhone photos. He emerged from the SUV, put on his spikes and marched up the steps to the clubhouse.

Finally, it was time to go to work.

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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.

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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, GolfChannel.com 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.