Spieth, ZJ storylines stand out on 'Marathon' Monday

By John FeinsteinJuly 21, 2015, 3:54 pm

In 1974, after Hale Irwin had won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot with a score of 7 over par, the late, great Dick Schaap wrote an entire book on that remarkable four days. The title was “Massacre at Winged Foot.”

The only thing lacking right now for a book on the five days that finally ended in the gloaming at St. Andrews on Monday is a title. Perhaps, something simple like “Marathon” would fit. 

Without question, there were enough storylines for a book – a long one at that. 

Consider this for a moment: the continuing saga of Tiger Woods was little more than a footnote. Rory McIlroy’s absence was barely noticed once the championship began. Tom Watson’s farewell was sweet and joyous but was on almost no one’s mind even a little bit as Monday’s drama slowly unfolded. Phil Mickelson didn't make many headlines all week, but one of them was his caddie for life, Jim Mackay, looping back onto the golf course on Sunday to get a close-up glimpse of Jordan Spieth. 

The weather is often a part of the storyline at the Open Championship and that was never truer than it was the 144th time that they have played for this title. The dire predictions that were heard early in the week didn’t turn out to be entirely correct, but they were accurate enough to force a Monday finish for the first time since 1988 and for the second time in history. 

When they played on that Monday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Seve Ballesteros shot 65 to win his third Open title and his fifth major. It was his last major victory. He was 31 at the time and there was no reason to suspect that he would never again hoist a major trophy. 

Zach Johnson is 39, a couple months younger than Woods, and has quietly put together what is now a likely Hall of Fame resume.

Much like Spieth, Johnson doesn’t blow anyone away with his length, but has a mental toughness that has allowed him to put together a record that looks like this: 12 PGA Tour wins, two of them majors, and four Ryder Cup appearances, that will no doubt become five next August. One other stat: He’s now 4-1 in playoffs. His only loss came to Spieth, at the John Deere Classic two years ago. That playoff went five holes and ended with Spieth’s first victory. 

Open Championship full-field scores

Nine days ago, Spieth won the Deere in a playoff again – this time beating Tom Gillis. One shot out of the playoff after missing a birdie putt on the 18th hole? Johnson. 

Of course neither Spieth nor Johnson should have been in southern Illinois that weekend. They should have both been in Scotland preparing to play St Andrews – especially Spieth, who was trying to make history by becoming the second player (Ben Hogan, 1953) to begin a year by winning the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. 

Spieth though, is a believer in doing the right thing, which is why he played in the John Deere. He had played there on a sponsor exemption in 2013, and he thought he owed it to the tournament organizers and sponsors to come back now that he’s a star and his presence means something to the event. Johnson, who is from Iowa, is also a past Deere champion (2012) and is a local hero. So, he plays annually and then hops on the Sunday charter the tournament supplies for those players to get across the Atlantic Ocean. 

Apparently, both Johnson and Spieth knew what they were doing because, even arriving jet-lagged on Monday, they played superbly when everyone began keeping score on Thursday morning. 

And, while Johnson’s victory and Spieth’s near-miss – to call it a loss seems terribly unfair – were stories 1 and 1A after Johnson had finally lifted the claret jug, the list of dramatic storylines that unfolded was almost never-ending. 

There was Louis Oosthuizen, trying to win the Open at St. Andrews for a second consecutive time, having run away from the field in 2010 for a seven-shot win. By losing in the playoff, Oosthuizen has now finished second in three of the four majors: he lost to Bubba Watson at Augusta three years ago in a playoff and tied for second with Dustin Johnson a month ago at Chambers Bay after shooting 77 the first day. 

Speaking of Dustin Johnson, his meltdown this time around wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the three-putt on the 18th hole on Sunday at Chambers Bay but, in its own way, it was equally stunning. After overpowering the golf course for two rounds (over three days) to lead at 10 under par, Johnson shot 75-75 the last two days to drop from first place to a tie for 49th. On Sunday, he beat one player among the 80 who made the cut – Ryan Fox, who shot 76. On Monday he beat five players. 

Johnson is a breathtaking player to watch when he is at his best. He is also breathtaking to watch at his worst. Everyone knows his best 72 holes on a major weekend will be plenty good enough to win. The question remains whether he can get to that finish line. Seventy-one good holes, as Johnson has painfully learned, aren’t good enough. Neither are 36. 

One of the players Johnson beat on Monday was Paul Dunne, the Irish amateur who went from playing in the NCAA Championship for UAB a couple months of ago, to being tied for the lead at the Open Championship after 54 holes, a feat last accomplished by an amateur 88 years ago when Bobby Jones had the 54-hole lead. It was entirely predictable that Dunne came apart and shot 78 playing in the final group with Oosthuizen on Monday, but he too was an amazing story. 

So was Marc Leishman, who shot 64-66 the last two days to get into the playoff, four months after he thought he might lose his wife, Audrey, to a rare disease called myopathy that causes muscles to stop functioning. Audrey has recovered and was home with their two children watching her husband almost win the Open. After his ball landed in a divot on the first playoff hole leading to a bogey, Leishman summed up the entire week best: “In the end,” he said, “it’s still just golf.” 

Not surprising that he would take that approach. 

There were other stories: Adam Scott bolting into contention Monday, then melting down (40) on the back nine and, of course, Jason Day coming <em>so</em> close yet again, his putt to get into the playoff on 18 stopping several inches short of the cup. “There will be other majors,” he said resolutely. One hopes that he will win one soon. 

In the end though, the story of “Marathon” will focus on two men: Zach Johnson and Jordan Spieth. Johnson was absolutely brilliant on Monday, shooting 66, including a twisting 25-foot birdie putt on 18 that he absolutely had to have, and a 1-under performance, after starting birdie-birdie, in the playoff. His 15-footer on No. 1 right on top of Oosthuizen’s opening birdie, might well have been the turning point of the soap opera that didn’t end until Oosthuizen’s miss for birdie on 18 almost an hour later. 

In his own way though, Spieth was every bit as extraordinary as Johnson. There was no doubting his disappointment when his final birdie putt from the Valley of Sin veered 2 inches left, meaning he would finish one shot out of the playoff. And yet, after an exhausting, pressure-filled week, he not only went through all the post-round interviews, he went back outside to the back of the 18th green to watch the playoff finish. 

When it was over, he was one of the first to congratulate Johnson. One thing we know for certain about Spieth: he wins with class and he loses with class. That, in itself, is breathtaking to watch. 

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

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

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”