Drama, distress among top players entering Open

By John FeinsteinJune 6, 2014, 11:10 am

During the three days leading up to the start of the U.S. Open every year, the most popular man on-site – certainly among those wearing media credentials – is USGA executive director Mike Davis.

A big part of the story at every Open is the golf course and its setup. Since Davis spends several years preparing each Open layout for its close-up, then several weeks making final decisions on setup, everyone wants a few minutes of his pre-Thursday time.

Davis will certainly be in demand next week to talk about re-designed Pinehurst No. 2, but the mad dash for him may not be as intense as it would normally be before the first meaningful tee shot takes flight.

That’s because the 114th U.S. Open presents a unique set of off-course-leading-to-the-golf-course story lines. Heck, the fact that the No.1 player in the world – Adam Scott – is having some Sunday difficulties of late leads to little more than a raised eyebrow.

Consider three names: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. With all due respect to Scott and his legion of female fans, these are the three most famous golfers in the world. And right now, the one with the least on his mind is McIlroy – who recently broke off his engagement and ended a three-year relationship with a glamorous tennis star.

In fact, it’s a toss-up as to who has the most tsouris (that’s Yiddish for stress) between the two old pals, Woods and Mickelson. Woods’ golf career could be in jeopardy. Mickelson’s life could be in jeopardy.

Okay, those are absolute worst-case scenarios, but let’s think about all this for a moment.

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Woods had back surgery on March 31. Since then, he has gone into hiding, breaking silence to say on his website that he has no idea when he’ll play again; and taking part at a news conference promoting the tournament he hosts at Congressional Country Club to say that he still has no idea when he’ll play again.

There have been no leaks – which usually come through agent Mark Steinberg to Tiger-friendly media outlets – since then indicating that he’s starting to fully swing a club or that the doctors have cleared him to do anything more than the “gentle” chipping and putting he has talked about.

Some people think Woods will be in England next month for the British Open, which is being played at Royal Liverpool, a golf course he dominated when the Open was last played there in 2006. But Day 1 of that championship is only six weeks away. In the grand scheme of recovery from back surgery that’s not very long. It’s worth noting, too, that the doctor who did the surgery on Woods said that an elite athlete could normally be “back in the field,” in three to four months – but might need longer than that to be as good as he was when 100 percent healthy.

If Woods was a normal human being you would think he would need at least one warm-up event before Liverpool. But Woods isn’t normal. He came back after post-Masters knee surgery in 2008, showed up at the U.S. Open, won – and played an extra 19 playoff holes – and then needed more surgery right after that.

Never count him out. But the smoke signals coming from his camp have, at least until now, not been terribly encouraging.

The world knows even less about what’s going on with Mickelson. Last Thursday, two FBI agents showed up at the Memorial wanting to talk to him. As you might expect, he suggested they speak to his lawyers. No doubt they have or will.

The Wall Street Journal subsequently broke a story saying that Mickelson is being investigated by the SEC – the Securities and Exchange Commission, not the Southestern Conference – and by the FBI for possible insider trading. Specifically, the Journal reported, there were questions about Mickelson’s involvement with billionaire investor Carl Icahn and big-time Las Vegas gambler Billy Walters in a 2011 deal involving Clorox stock.

It’s no surprise that Mickelson says he did nothing wrong. And none of us has any idea what’s involved here. We do know this: According to the Journal story, the investigation started over a year ago. When Mickelson became aware of it is anybody’s guess but since his victory at Muirfield last summer, he has not been a ball of fire on the golf course. Everyone knows the numbers for this season: no wins, no top-10 finishes and a missed cut at the Masters for the first time since 1998.

Very un-Mickelson like.

Perhaps it’s coincidence. Perhaps the psoriatic arthritis is starting to affect his game. Perhaps he’s finally starting to show his age as he approaches his 44th birthday next week.

Or, perhaps he’s got something on his mind. Those who deal with the SEC on a regular basis are unanimous in saying it is a nightmare – regardless of whether you are innocent. The SEC is relentless and doesn’t make anything easy for anyone who is being investigated – for ANYTHING. Perhaps that’s what they have to do in order to get their jobs done. But it is almost impossible to believe that the presence of SEC and FBI investigators in anyone’s life can be terribly pleasant.

All of which makes McIlroy’s emotional announcement of his break-up with Caroline Wozniacki two weeks ago seems like, well, puppy love by comparison. Not that a three-year relationship or a broken engagement should be taken lightly. Certainly McIlroy didn’t do that. But he’s 25 and she’s 22. They will both move on to other relationships and it’s possible that McIlroy now feels he’s brought closure to a phase of his life that needed closure.

Neither Woods nor Mickelson appear likely to find closure with their current predicaments in the near future. Next week, Mickelson has to deal with all the normal questions about finally winning a U.S. Open with the SEC and the FBI lurking over his shoulder. Woods, even when he comes back, will have to show the world that he can be Tiger Woods again.

Daunting tasks in both cases.

Mike Davis won’t be lonely next week but he’ll probably have more free time than usual.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 12:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Friday, Day 2 (Times ET)

1:30-8:20AM (Watch): On a rainy Friday morning at Carnoustie, Rory McIlroy shot 69 to reach 4 under, while Zach Johnson fired a 67 for the early lead. Click here or on the image below to watch.

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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Fleetwood, with his fancy umbrella, fires 65 on Day 2

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 12:34 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood looked like an Open rookie when he set out on Friday under gray skies and a cold, steady rain.

Because the Englishman doesn’t have an equipment sponsor he made a quick turn through the merchandise tent for an umbrella – but at least he didn’t have to pay for it.

“We stole it,” he laughed when asked about his Open-brand umbrella. “We got one given for free, actually. We didn't steal it. We don't always carry an umbrella. So it just so happens this week that we've got a nice Open Championship [umbrella]. It looked quite nice, the yellow and the course.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

It was Fleetwood’s only rookie move on Day 2 at Carnoustie, posting a flawless 65 to move into an early tie for second place at 5 under par.

Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, a 9-under 63 he shot last fall during the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, but given Friday’s conditions and the difficulty of this course during The Open, his 65 on Friday might have been better.

“It's not a course record, but it's pretty good,” said Fleetwood, who was stroke behind leader Zach Johnson. “If you went out, you wouldn't really fancy being 6 under out there. So I think that's a good indication of how good it was.”

It was a dramatic turnaround for Fleetwood on Friday. He said he struggled with his ball-striking, specifically his tee shots, on Day 1, but he was able to turn things around with an hour-long session on the range following his opening round.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 10:15 am

Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.

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McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 6:53 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.

McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.

But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.

Said Harmon:

“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.

“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”

McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.

“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”

McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.