Hawk's Nest: A little controversy's not a bad thing

By John HawkinsMarch 10, 2014, 4:00 pm

You’ve gotta love a kid who steps up to the microphone and declares himself one of the top five players in the world, as 23-year-old Patrick Reed did Sunday evening after winning at Doral. It’s not like Steve Sands needed to trick up the question or goad Reed into donning a Cassius Clay mask during the post-victory interview.

Braggarts simply don’t exist in pro golf, so any departure from the humility-steeped, cliché-stacked quickie behind the 18th green should be embraced with open ears. Truth be told, and it frequently isn’t, these types of straight-to-the-viewer Q&A’s have become perhaps the biggest waste of breath in all of sports.

Whether it’s some ESPNer talking to an NBA coach after the first quarter or a devoutly religious wide receiver taking the opportunity to thank his Lord and savior, the 35-second chat packs all the nutritional value of a Kit Kat bar. Unless it involves Erin Andrews and Richard Sherman, we’re talking about a photo-op with sound.

After ticking off his various accomplishments as both an amateur and professional golfer, however, Reed submitted his claim as one of the very best in the game. And good for him. Never mind that what he did at Augusta State University has no bearing on his position in the world ranking, or that a couple of weak-field victories (prior to this one) really don’t count when it comes to reaching the PGA Tour pantheon.

In a world full of caution, where how you say it has become more important than what you say, Reed punched passivity right in the nose. If this guy even contends at the Masters, I say we consider a redesign of Mount Rushmore.

SPEAKING OF REDESIGNS, I suppose the dead-calm weekend at Doral will help everyone forget what happened Friday, when Gil Hanse’s version of the Blue Monster appeared inadequate as a Tour venue in a heavy South Florida breeze. There are no hard-and-fast rules in determining when a course becomes unfair, as the U.S. Open has reminded us over the years, but the second round in Miami was a rarity.

We just don’t see actual PGA Tour events where iron shots land in the middle of a lengthy green and end up in the water, as was the case with Dustin Johnson’s approach at the par-5 eighth. Phil Mickelson’s second into the 18th Thursday also blew my mind – it tumbled down a false front on the green’s left edge and rolled into Lake Donald, or whatever they’re calling it nowadays.

Player reaction was predictably strong, especially given the high praise Hanse’s remodeling job had been accorded earlier in the week. Nobody loves a hypocrite, at least until the wind blows. “Good shot after good shot [repeatedly] ended up in the water because there was no good place to go,” Mickelson said. “I expected a little bit more from Gil, because he’s really good.”

As gripes go, my personal favorite came from Graham DeLaet: “I’d bet $1,000 to any ‘scratch’ golfer that they wouldn’t break 90 on that course [Friday].” Given that it costs about $450 to play the Blue Monster under Doral’s new ownership, you probably need to have a real job to even consider accepting DeLaet’s offer, but the message is clear.

“Look forward to coming back next year and playing Trump Doral after the changes,” tweeted Billy Horschel, who said he had three balls land on a putting surface but end up wet. “Should be a good course then.”

Changes? Didn’t they just blow up the place? First and foremost, there were some critical tee- and pin-position mistakes Friday by the Tour, which rarely errs on the side of extreme difficulty. It’s as if the field staff never saw the 30-mph winds coming, which is hard to explain. We’re talking about Miami – at a resort no more than 10 minutes from an international airport.

That front-left pin Thursday on 18 – the one that cost Mickelson at least a stroke – didn’t work. Again, we’re talking about a substantial, almost wholesale redesign, but then, the Tour consistently does an outstanding job at setting up first-time venues. This was a perfect storm, so to speak, and it will be interesting to see how Camp Ponte Vedra reacts to the situation.

As much as I disapprove of some of the stuff I saw earlier in the week, I also like the idea of a World Golf Championship being won at 4 under par. It enlivens the non-existent WGC brand and gives this tournament a more distinct competitive identity. We’ve got enough 22 unders on the schedule. Tweak a few flagsticks, and Doral will be just fine.

LET’S MOVE ON to another Donald – the Englishman named Luke. As big a deal as was made of the British Invasion in 2010-11, when Lee Westwood and Donald held Nos. 1 and 2 in the world ranking, the only Brit currently in the top 10 is Justin Rose (seventh). Westwood has fallen to 36th, Donald to 25th, and neither is exactly trending north.

In Donald’s case, the numbers do not adequately explain his decline. His rise to becoming one of the game’s best was predicated largely on improved ball-striking; neither his percentages nor his rankings in those categories have fallen off much, if at all. He remains one of the game’s best putters. His short game is still much tidier than most.

As consistent as Donald was at the peak of his career, I stand by my theory that “control players” have a much more difficult time winning tournaments (and climbing to the top of the ranking), simply because every week, at least a couple of bombers are going to get hot with the putter.

You look at Dustin Johnson, who, at this point in 2014, appears on the verge of becoming a top-three player. Without question, Johnson’s mid-range putting has held him back in the past. This year, he ranks 10th in the overall putting stat and third in par-4 scoring. If a guy with that kind of length hits his wedges close and makes his 10-footers, he’s going to win tournaments.

On the average, Donald drives the ball 26.5 yards shorter than Johnson. This enormous discrepancy in distance doesn’t mean anything if Donald hits his 8-iron as close as Johnson hits his gap wedge – or if Donald holes five 10-footers per round to Johnson’s two. If Johnson converts his opportunities, however, it’s no longer a fair fight, pun intended.

When you widen the lens and see long hitters such as Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson and Scott Stallings all among the top 30 in strokes gained per round through 10 events, you begin to understand the plight players such as Donald face. Fifteen yards means a ton at this level. When you double that difference, it can seem almost insurmountable.

AS FOR MY man Patrick Reed, he has all the tools. He’s 32nd in driving distance and 23rd in putting, although the year is still young. Who cares if he’s 114th in driving accuracy? Hitting it in the fairway doesn’t mean much on the PGA Tour – Tour pros of all shapes and sizes can hit a 9-iron on the green from the rough. Simply put, long and crooked is not a bad thing to be.

What I love about Reed, however, has nothing to do with his statistical profile. This kid may not slam the door down the stretch, but he manages to shut the thing – they don’t cut your first-place earnings by 20 percent if you blow a big lead but hold on to win. I wanted to see him win a premium-field event, and he did that Sunday.

He missed a 3-footer for par at the 14th and held himself together. He made a stupid play off the tee at the par-4 16th – laying up with an iron into a lousy lie in a fairway bunker – then responded with a terrific second just off the back of the green. Reed got it done, and at the end of the day, that’s all anyone needs to remember.

I’m not sure the guy is one of the five best players in the game, but Reed has soared to 20th in the latest world ranking. And he is trending north, unlike a couple of guys I know.

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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.”