Tiger reaches the point of no return

By Joe PosnanskiJuly 16, 2015, 5:32 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Thursday at St. Andrews was a day for supernatural phenomena, large and small. It was a day when 46-year-old Retief Goosen and 46-year-old Paul Lawrie, who have not been heard from in years, vaulted toward the lead. It was a day when 49-year-old 1990s icon John Daly, circus and pants and all, made birdies, and a 21-year-old kid from outside St. Louis, Jordan Niebrugge, shot the lowest-ever round for an amateur at the Open Championship. Phil Mickelson made a little run. Mark O’Meara and Bernhard Langer made little runs. Heck, even 65-year-old Tom Watson managed to get his score to 2 under before aging rapidly on the back nine.

And somehow, with all that magic dust blowing in the Scottish wind, Tiger Woods still looked positively hopeless.

In many ways, his 4-over-par 76 in the first round of the Open was the low point of this painful Tiger Woods crash. True, picking Woods’ low point in this nightmarish season is a bit like picking the worst part of the Adam Sandler movie “Jack and Jill.” When you think the hot dog proposal by Al Pacino has to be the worst part, you’re countered by Jill’s stupid jokes about her nephew who is Indian. And at some point you have to admit, as a friend of mine likes to say, that distinctions at that level are not worth making.

Still, I think the argument can be made that this was the worst because it was all there for him. As bad as Tiger’s 82 was at the Phoenix Open, well, he was kind of in between swing changes and he “couldn’t find the bottom” or whatever golf talk he came up with. As bad as his withdrawal the following week — the famous “glutes not activating” withdrawal — was, well, he was not healthy, and he was confused, and he took some time off. As awful as his 85 at the Memorial might have been, well, he did make the cut there and as he said, “We have moments where we go backward.” As dreadful as his 80 at the U.S. Open was, well, it was Chambers Bay, which was a quirky golf course that magnified his flaws.

But this … this was the ideal setup. Dreams don’t come in this clearly. Here was a healthy Tiger Woods coming off his best tournament in months. He was playing a golf course that has been his personal playground; twice he has won Open Championships on the Old Course, and the first time in 2000 he played golf about as well as it has ever been played.

And the conditions were so wonderfully benign as he teed off that every single player in the three groups in front of him and the one group behind him broke par on the front nine. Earlier, David Lingmerth set an Open nine-hole recor, starting with a 29. Later, an amateur named Paul Kinnear — who told the Daily Mail, “Four weeks ago my mum was looking for a job for me as a van driver” — shot 31 on the front. That front nine was downwind, the greens were pillow soft, and the fairways were as wide as Kansas. You could not miss.

And Tiger Woods went out and shot 40 on the front nine.

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Open Championship full-field scores

Every hole was a nightmare. On the first, he chunked his second shot into the Swilcan Burn, a shot that looked like it was hit by a 10-handicapper. On the second, his second shot seemed like an optical illusion — he left it 40 yards short of the green, as if he was laying up. On the third, he spun his second shot back off the green. On the fifth, he pulled his drive into some junk, pulled his second shot into some kind of canyon, chunked his third shot nowhere close and three-putted from there. On the seventh, he missed a 4-foot putt for par.

On the back nine, he bogeyed the 10th, birdied the par-5 15th, made a couple of nice shots and a couple of terrible ones, and he finished with a 76, 11 shots behind Dustin Johnson and nine shots behind the man trying for a Grand Slam, Jordan Spieth. This year, in a statistic worked out by the Augusta Chronicle’s Scott Michaux, Woods and Spieth have played 18 competitive rounds in tournaments together. Spieth has outscored Woods by 108 shots.

This one was awful to watch. Yes, it has often felt awful watching Tiger Woods lately. It is agonizing to watch a legend grow old, but this was different. There seems no return from this one, no reason to believe tomorrow will be better, no rationale for hope.

Woods has been one of the most thrilling athletes of my lifetime, a magnificent force of nature who has made me gasp and scream and come alive. His duel with Bob May at the PGA Championship is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen. His hole-out on the 16th at Augusta in 2005 – where he chipped the ball toward a speck of sunshine and watched it roll back to the hole – still gives me chills. His play at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2000 was the greatest golf I’ve ever seen anyone play, and he followed that up with his virtuoso performance at St. Andrews at the 2000 Open Championship. No one – not Nicklaus, not Hogan, not Snead, not Jones – ever played golf like that.

And so, even though I did begin sensing and writing about Tiger’s decline five years ago, I never wanted to believe it. Even as I predicted Tiger would absolutely not break Jack Nicklaus’ record and the furious emails poured in – and boy did they pour in back in those early days of the Tiger drought – I found myself thinking: “I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.”

Even when he kept getting injured, even when he stopped winning, even when he decided to keep changing his swing and talking about weird golf adjustments that sounded like they were made up (baseline shift?), I wanted to believe. Even this year, as things have fallen apart, I have sat in news conferences with Tiger Woods and listened to him talk and thought, “Maybe, just maybe, he’s going to find something.”

There are no illusions left. Thursday was heaven-sent. Somewhere, at some golf course he was designing or at home on his tennis court, Jack Nicklaus himself probably heard about this day and wanted to pick up his clubs. And Tiger Woods was all but helpless. “Discouraging,” Woods said when it ended. “Yeah, I was a little – angered a little bit.”

He then tried to talk about how he played better on the back nine because his mind is magnetically pulled to positive thoughts; that’s part of what once made him so great. But even he couldn’t put his heart into it. There was nothing positive to grab. The end is here for one of the greatest golfers who ever lived. You never know when a magical week will happen, of course. Tom Watson had one at age 59 at Turnberry. Jack Nicklaus had several, including a Masters where he charged though he was 56. Greg Norman almost won the 2008 Open though he had not been a factor at a major in almost a decade. Fred Couples somehow manages to get on the leaderboard at the Masters in his 50s.

Tiger Woods could have those magical weeks still, but it’s becoming clear: That’s what it will take. Magic. And as Thursday proved, sometimes even magic isn’t enough.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1