Hawk's Nest: Johnson trending toward Hall of Fame

By John HawkinsJanuary 7, 2014, 2:40 pm

Considering that it lasted for about 20 minutes, it was a fairly busy offseason. Tiger Woods gained ground on Jack Nicklaus by picking up a 38th birthday candle. Rory McIlroy got engaged. And Will Ferrell was given another 10,000 chances to remind everyone that he’s just not very funny.

I would bet against Ferrell taking class-clown honors in a seminary school. LeBron James trying to hit golf balls while Kevin Hart makes fun of him? Quite funny. McIlroy vs. that cocky robot on the practice range? Pretty funny. Some curly-haired dude firing stoner-friendly sarcasm in a ’70s suit? Mute button, please.

(Hey Hawkins, you’re not exactly Richard Bleeping Pryor. Let’s move on …)

NEVER MIND WHAT the Chinese calendar says – welcome to the Year of the Question Mark. Can Woods finally hunt down major title No. 15 and rekindle serious talk of his scaling Mount Nicklaus? Any chance McIlwrongturn stumbled upon the user’s manual for his golf swing en route to the jewelry store? If Phil Mickelson can win a British Open, might he finally claim his own national championship, a landmark title that has eluded him no less than a half-dozen times?

Really, how good is Jordan Spieth? Is there another Spieth waiting in the on-deck circle? Is Dustin Johnson finally ready for his close-up? Matt Kuchar, major champion? What happened to that British Invasion of a few years back? Adam Scott: man, myth or legend?

Will the United States ever win another Ryder Cup on European soil?

INQUIRING MINDS WANT to know, so Vanna spins the wheel, which comes to a stop on … Scott. It may mean absolutely nothing, but I love that last year’s Masters champ began his ’14 season at Kapalua – and will stick around to play in this week’s Sony Open. Back when I was flying halfway around the world to get an early sunburn and cover the old Tournament of Champions, the young Aussie seemed to have other things on his mind besides winning in Maui.

There was the year he frittered about on the beach with actress Kate Hudson, which bought Scott a few jabs from the paparazzi, which might have had something to do with his spotty attendance since. Not that you can’t play good golf while a pretty young movie star rubs lotion on your back, but after finishing solo second at Kapalua in 2007, Scott finished well off the pace on return trips in ’09 and ’11.

“A couple of times I’ve qualified and decided not to come, and I’ve ended up regretting it because I like coming here so much,” Scott admitted last week.

Pardon my optimism, but I see more to it. I see a guy hungry to become the No. 1 player in the world and eager to capitalize on his excellent late-season play in Australia. A guy who wants to develop the mental toughness necessary not only to unseat Woods atop the world ranking, but to perform well in any potential showdown.

More often than not in recent years, Scott has begun his PGA Tour schedule at Riviera in mid- to late-February. You might think he wouldn’t want to change a thing, coming off such a magnificent year, but his playing in Hawaii amounts to a minor alteration – he’ll still skip the first four California events on the West Coast swing. I don’t see how cutting a 10-week break in half is anything but a positive sign.

IT WASN’T MORE than a couple of years ago that I was pleading for Matt Kuchar to win more golf tournaments. On the “Grey Goose 19th Hole” in late 2011, we were asked if Kooch was the best player not to win a major, and I smirked. The guy had three career victories at the time. Steve Stricker, by comparison, had 11.

The fascination with identifying the “best player never to …” has always struck me as a bit odd – shouldn’t we be talking about the guys who have won majors? Still, the question is raised all the time on my live chats, so I’m cool with the premise, and Kuchar is now my pick. First and foremost, he wins premium-field events, including a Players, a WGC Match Play and a Memorial in the last 20 months.

You go all the way back to 1998, when Kooch was just a big, smiley amateur with his dad on the bag. Even then, he had a knack for performing well on golf’s grandest stages. I believe that to be a quality you never lose. Some guys embrace the most intense pressure. Others say they love it but really don’t.

Kuchar’s game has journeyed a thousand miles forward since ’98, when one veteran Tour pro described his golf swing as “having more moving parts than a Tom Landry offense.” The winning score at each of his last three victories has landed on either 12 or 13 under par, so Kooch is an outstanding tough-course player, which is generally what they hold the majors on.

It’s easy to see his career trending steadily toward a major title, more than, say, Dustin Johnson, whom I’m still not convinced has the mental toughness to avoid trouble down the stretch or get himself out of it at crucial moments. Kuchar is my best player not to win a major, but not for long.

AROUND THE TIME Zach Johnson qualified for the PGA Tour in 2003, his search for an experienced full-time caddie led him to Damon Green, who had spent years working for Scott Hoch, one of the most consistent money-winners of his generation. Hoch was still active 10 years ago, but at age 47, his future was on the Champions Tour, which might have been one reason the rookie approached Green.

“I’d like you to work for me,” Johnson said.

“Work for you? I can beat you.” the caddie replied.

Now let it be known that Green is more than a very good golfer – you may recall him contending well into the weekend at the 2011 U.S. Senior Open. He collected more than 70 victories during his years as a mini-tour player, so we’re not talking about some 3 handicap with an attitude.

“Tell you what,” Johnson proposed. “We’ll play next week, and if I beat you, you come work for me.”

Zach would knock off Damon by a couple of shots – the best loss of Green’s life. The two men have been together since, and if there’s a story more symbolic of Johnson’s competitive tenacity, I’d love to hear it. Monday’s victory at Kapalua was the 11th of Johnson’s career. Only Woods, Mickelson and Vijay Singh have collected more on the PGA Tour over the last decade.

I don’t know if Johnson is a Hall of Fame candidate at this point, but he’s hanging around a few guys already in. There is something to be said about the company you keep.

AS MANY OF you know, this year’s major championship sites offer Woods a golden opportunity to get off the schneid and resume his pursuit of Nicklaus’ all-time record (18). To call it now-or-never time is probably a bit of a stretch, but unless they start playing the U.S. Open at Firestone or move the Masters to Bay Hill, Sir Eldrick might want to get busy in 2014.

Pinehurst, Royal Liverpool, Valhalla. Three Tiger-friendly venues where Woods has performed well in the past, although all three come with a caveat. Let’s start with the Donald Ross masterpiece in North Carolina – Woods finished T-3 at the U.S. Open in 1999 and solo second to Michael Campbell six years later.

They were two very different U.S. Opens in terms of weather and course conditions: cool and very cloudy with some rain in ’99; hot and dry in ’05. It’s not like Tiger won either event, as his putter betrayed him down the stretch on both Sundays, so to think of Pinehurst as a mortal lock is certainly a reach.

Royal Liverpool hosted the 2006 British Open, where Woods won his 11th major title with one of the best ball-striking weeks of his career. Tiger’s father, Earl, had passed away 2 ½ months earlier, which is why the grieving son looked so unprepared at the U.S. Open that June – his first missed cut as a pro at a major.

It led to an ultra-motivated Woods at the British, which was played on a bone-dry racetrack that allowed him to completely eschew his driver. He hit it just once all week, on the 16th hole of the first round, then dominated the field with 3-woods off the tee and middle-irons in. What are the chances of those same conditions occurring again? Tiger won a unique British Open in very impressive fashion, but clearly, there is the possibility of a limited carry-over effect.

Onto Valhalla, where Woods outlasted Bob May in an unforgettable playoff – another performance for the ages. That was at the 2000 PGA, more than 13 years ago, before Pro-V1s and another equipment-related advances helped narrow the gap between Tiger and the rest of his fellow competitors.

He was virtually unstoppable that summer, pushed by the rapid emergence of Sergio Garcia and the brilliance of David Duval, a tireless worker whose 24-year-old body really hadn’t begun to break down. These are different times, a different competitive landscape, and the man trying to reclaim an outrageous level of supremacy feels far more pressure than he did at the turn of the century.

I do believe Woods will win one of the four in 2014, but I also think Johnny Miller made a terrific point during the Friday telecast from Kapalua when he said Tiger gets a little “freaked out” when he doesn’t win the Masters. The tournament Nicklaus himself once predicted Woods would win “10 or 12” times has become an annual exercise in frustration.

To make an honest run at Jack, Tiger needs a fifth green jacket.

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Storms halt Barbasol before Lincicome tees off

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2018, 11:29 pm

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - Brittany Lincicome will have to wait until the weekend to resume her bid to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Overnight storms delayed the start of the second round Friday in the Barbasol Championship, and an afternoon thunderstorm suspended competition for good. The round will resume Saturday morning with much of the field still to play.

The second stoppage at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came 20 minutes before Lincicome's scheduled tee time.

Lincicome was near the bottom of the field after opening with a 6-over 78 on Thursday. The first LPGA player since Michelle Wie in 2008 to start a PGA Tour event, she needs a huge rebound to join Babe Zaharias (1945) as the only female players to make the cut.

Troy Merritt had the clubhouse lead at 15 under, following an opening 62 with a 67.

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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.”