Hawk's Nest: McIlroy's power key to Open win

By John HawkinsJuly 21, 2014, 2:45 pm

At his best, he is capable of utter dominance, which tends to make all that lesser golf seem so puzzling.

There was a point during Saturday’s third round when Rory McIlroy held a 65-yard advantage over the rest of the field in average distance off the tee. Now there’s a stat you don’t see very often on the PGA Tour.

So he is outrageously long, especially for a guy who stands 5 feet 10 and weighs 160 pounds, but lots of players hit the ball a mile. What separated McIlroy at Royal Liverpool was his willingness to use his driver on holes where others were positioning themselves with long irons and fairway woods.

Irony, anyone?

Tiger Woods employed the opposite strategy to win a British Open on the same venue in 2006. Course conditions were quite different this time, but McIlroy’s driver frequency, particularly in the first two rounds, was far more the result of confidence in his swing than anything the ground was giving or taking away.

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The performance was reminiscent of Vijay Singh’s career-best stretch in 2004, when he won nine times by shortening courses with an ultra-aggressive mentality off the tee. Some fellow tour pros chuckled over Singh hitting a zillion drivers on the practice range, but he was grooving himself toward a comfort level that would ultimately serve him very nicely.

“I’ve been talking about it all year — driving is the foundation to any golf game,” McIlroy said last Friday. “If my driving is there, everything else sort of feeds off that in a way.”

If the long ball carried the Irish Lad to a four-stroke lead after 36 holes, his putter stretched it to six strokes after 54. A pair of lengthy par saves on Saturday’s front nine were easy to overlook after the eagles at the 16th and 18th — only two players would finish the week with more one-putts than McIlroy’s 34. Neither was a factor by Sunday.

“Momentum putts,” he would call them. “Some of those par putts were even more important than the ones for birdies or eagles.”

But enough data. Let’s return to the original premise: McIlroy’s fleeting dominance. Lots of things about Liverpool played into his ample skill set, most notably the gentle weather. All four days were, by British Open standards, very docile, and we all know the Irish Lad isn’t terribly fond of Irish-like elements.

As for the layout, Hoylake may not have been designed with a right-to-left player in mind, that’s how it shook out by the weekend. McIlrighttoleft, Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler all prefer a pronounced draw. While working with Butch Harmon, one of Fowler’s goals has been to reduce the curve on his ball, which has occurred, but he still turns it over more than most tour pros.

Garcia’s inability to hit a fade has been a problem at times over the years. He recasts the club on the downswing far less than he did in the early days, but he distinctly remains a player of right-to-left shape. I can recall watching Sergio trying to cut the ball on the range at Colonial years ago. Let’s just say things didn’t go well that morning.

Between the abundance of roll and absence of a hearty breeze, no wonder Dustin Johnson despised Saturday’s split-tee start — an unprecedented concession to a very gloomy third-round forecast. Johnson, a low-ball player who was four back at the time, wanted to get out there in the nasty and slop it around with McIlraingear, who hits it as high as anyone alive and might have been more vulnerable in the adverse conditions.

Come Sunday, despite the six-stroke lead, the Irish Lad appeared catchable. His iron play wasn’t nearly as sharp and the par saves weren’t going in, but with two of the game’s most talented majorless types doing most of the chasing, an intense threat never materialized.

Garcia’s valiant charge was derailed by his leaving a shot in the bunker at the par-3 15th.

Fowler performed very well and finished the day with a bogey-free 67, but he didn’t get off to the fast start that would have forced McIlroy to deal with heavier competitive duress.

No question, the best player won. The best player in the world, it should be added. Although Adam Scott held onto the top spot in the World Ranking — McIlroy jumped from eighth to second. The Irish Lad is an exceptionally gifted golfer, a prodigy loaded with physical skills that can’t be taught.

He’ll never be as bloodthirsty as Woods, however, and that is the biggest reason he mixes ineffective stretches with outstanding ones.

“Whenever you play this well, you always wonder how you played so badly before,” McIlreflction said last Friday. “And whenever you play so badly, you always wonder how you played so well.”

We’ve heard Tiger say a lot of things over the last two decades, but never anything that sensible. Or honest.

DON’T LOOK NOW, but with Fowler and Jim Furyk winding up as the only Yanks with top-10 finishes at Liverpool — and our 64-year-old Ryder Cup captain outplaying several of America’s biggest names — you have my permission to start worrying about the U.S. squad Tom Watson takes to Gleneagles in September.

There was a bit of guffawing after the skipper beat Woods by five shots in England, but, hey, at least the Man Formerly Known as the Dude in the Red Shirt jumped from 72nd to 70th in the latest Ryder Cup standings. Across the board, America’s performance this past week was dismal.

Among the top 20 in U.S. qualifying, just six players managed top 20s at Liverpool. Five guys, including points leader Bubba Watson and the lead balloon formerly known as Patrick Reed, missed the cut. Most of the rest were sprinkled among the back half of those who completed 72 holes.

Nobody really cares how Webb Simpson’s doing, however.

“He needs to get into the mix to get some points to get some money to get in the FedEx Cup [playoffs],” captain Watson said of Woods. “That’s what I was hoping he was doing this week.”

Doesn’t sound like the skipper was thrilled about beating Eldrick by five.

Watson did reiterate that he would pick Tiger “if he’s playing well and in good health,” one of which definitely isn’t happening. The long-term problem is obvious: Woods might allow himself just two more starts before the playoffs, and if he doesn’t perform well at Firestone or Valhalla, he doesn’t qualify for the postseason.

At that point, Watson has to leave him home.

Stay tuned. Should get even more interesting.

MY SATURDAY CHAT was inundated by complaints about the split-tee start — the first such precaution ever taken in the British Open’s 143-year history. I’m guessing some of those gripes came from the West Coast, where people aren’t accustomed to waking up at 3 a.m. to watch a major championship.

If it makes anyone feel better, it did start pouring shortly after the completion of third-round play, but I’m thinking that only makes some of the dissenters angrier. At best, I would call the split-tee decision a pragmatically inclined risk. At worst, I would call it a foolhardy copout.

We’re talking about a tournament that has a longstanding policy of asking the participants to perform in whatever conditions Mother Nature deals them. Rain or shine, the British Open carries on without competitive compromise. By sending the players off in threesomes on the first and 10th tees, however, a compromise is exactly what occurred.

I’m left to wonder if the third round in 2002 had anything to do with the decision — Woods’ pursuit of the Grand Slam was derailed by horrible weather, and a considerable portion of the field was left without much chance of contending the next day. I’m also left to wonder if ESPN had a say in the matter, as a lengthy afternoon delay wouldn’t have done much for television ratings in a nation that has never made the British a must-watch event.

Golf from 6-10 a.m. Eastern is better than no golf at all, although no golf at all is pretty much the same as a 0-0 World Cup semifinal.

Oh, well. What’s done is done.

WE INTERRUPT THIS regularly scheduled diatribe to say a kind word or three about Sergio Garcia.

Yes, I know — many of you are about to click to another link, but I cannot help myself.

Sergio fought like hell to make a game of it Sunday. He brought a level of mild suspense to the final round, at least until he left that shot in the bunker at the par-3 15th, but even then, our balding El Nino did not quit.

“I felt like I did almost everything I could,” Garcia summarized afterward, “and there was a better player. It’s as simple as that. You don’t have to look for other things. It’s just that simple.”

My goodness, haven’t we come a long way? I was the only writer in the locker room at Carnoustie in 2007, when Sergio began sobbing in his father’s arms after losing in a playoff to Padraig Harrington. It was a powerful moment — Garcia asked me to leave once he noticed I was there, and I obliged — but then he came into the media center and whined about all the bad breaks he’d gotten.

That ruined it for just about everybody, and in the seven years since, a live microphone has basically been Sergio’s worst enemy. The I’m-not-good-enough-to-win-a-major lament at the 2012 Masters, which was actually said in Spanish to a scrum of European media, came off as both weird and sad, but it hardly ranked after Garcia’s racially inflected comments about Woods last spring.

To see Sergio walking up the 18th fairway Sunday — hand on his heart, blowing kisses to the crowd— was a genuine and touching moment. This might not have been the most interesting British Open ever played, but with the split tees, Tiger getting throttled and Garcia so gracious in defeat, it was a bit unique.

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Kisner (66) leads Open by 1, Woods 5 back

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 7:44 pm

The course was playing firm and the winds never truly gusted, but it was still quite a mixed bag for some of the world's best during the first round of The Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things stand as Kevin Kisner moved into the lead in search of his first career major:

Leaderboard: Kevin Kisner (-5), Erik Van Rooyen (-4), Tony FInau (-4), Zander Lombard (-4), Brandon Stone (-3), Brendan Steele (-3), Ryan Moore (-3)

What it means: Van Rooyen took the early lead in one of the first groups of the morning, and he remained near the top despite a bogey on the final hole. But that left a small opening for Kisner to eke past him, as the American put together a round with as many bogeys as eagles (one apiece). Already with two wins on the PGA Tour and having challenged at the PGA Championship in August, Kisner tops a crowded leaderboard despite never finishing better than T-54 in three prior Open appearances.

Round of the day: Kisner started slowly, as a bogey on No. 5 dropped him to 1 over on the round. But that proved to be his lone dropped shot of the day, and he quickly rebounded with an eagle on the par-5 sixth. Kisner added four birdies over his final 11 holes, including three in a row from Nos. 13-15, and successfully navigated the difficult closing stretch to post the only 66 of the day on the par-71 layout.

Best of the rest: Van Rooyen held a four-shot lead heading into the final round of the Irish Open two weeks ago, but he fell apart at Ballyliffin as Russell Knox rallied for victory. He's off to another surprisingly strong start after a 4-under 67 that included only one bogey on No. 18. Van Rooyen has never won on the European Tour, let alone contend in a major, but he's now in the thick of it after five birdies over his first 15 holes.

Biggest disappointment: Two major champs were among the short list of pre-tournament contenders, but both Patrick Reed (+4) and Dustin Johnson (+5) appear to already be out of the mix. Reed has finished T-4 or better each of the last three majors but made only one birdie in his opener, while Johnson was the consensus betting favorite but played his last three holes in 4 over including a triple bogey on No. 18.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Kisner is no stranger to the top of the standings, but keep an eye on the chase pack a few shots back. The group at 2 under includes Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, while Tiger Woods is just five shots off the pace after an even-par 71 that featured three birdies and three bogeys as Woods made his return to The Open for the first time since missing the cut at St. Andrews in 2015.

Shot of the day: Stone put his head on his hands after pulling his approach from the rough on No. 18, but his prayers were answered when his ball rattled off a fence, bounced back in bounds and rolled to the front of the green. One week after winning the Scottish Open with a final-round 60, Stone turned a likely double into a par to close out his 68.

Quote of the day: "I've been taped up and bandaged up, just that you were able to see this one. It's no big deal." - Woods, who had KT tape visible on both sides of his neck after a bad night of sleep.

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Rory 'convinced' driver is the play at burnt Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – There are two distinct schools of thought at this week’s Open Championship - that Carnoustie is either best played with a velvet touch and a measured hand off the tee, or that it makes sense to choose the hammer and hit driver whenever and wherever possible.

Count Rory McIlroy in the latter camp.

Although the Northern Irishman’s opening 2-under 69 may not be a definitive endorsement of the bomb-and-gouge approach, he was pleased with his Day 1 results and even more committed to the concept.

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“I’m convinced that that's the way that I should play it,” said McIlroy, who hit just 4 of 15 fairways but sits tied for eighth. “It's not going to be for everyone, but it worked out pretty well for me and I would have taken 69 to start the day.”

From the moment McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, made a scouting trip to Carnoustie a few weeks ago, the 2014 Open champion committed himself to an aggressive gameplan, and there was nothing on Thursday that persuaded him to change.

The true test came early on Thursday, with McIlroy sending his tee shot over the green at the 350-yard, par-4 third and scrambling for birdie.

“That hole was a validation for me. It proved to me it’s the right way for me to play here. It was a little personal victory,” said McIlroy, who played his opening loop even but birdied Nos. 12 and 14 to move under par.

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Report: USGA, R&A to 'severely restrict' green books

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 6:42 pm

The detailed yardage books that many players rely on to help read greens at various tournaments could soon become a thing of the past.

According to a Golfweek report, the USGA and R&A are poised to "severely restrict" the information offered to players in green-reading books, which currently include detailed visuals and specifics about the location and severity of slopes and contours on each putting surface. The change is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Green-reading books have come under scrutiny in recent years as their use has increased, seen as both an enemy of pace of play and a tool that can take the skill out of reading the break on putts.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

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"We believe that the ability to read greens is an integral part of the skill of putting and remain concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round," the R&A said in a statement. The USGA also reportedly issued a statement that they plan to update their review process on the books "in the coming weeks."

Speaking to reporters after an opening-round 72 at The Open, Jordan Spieth seemingly implied that the rule change was all but official.

"I don't think we're allowed to use them starting next year, is that right?" Spieth said. "Which I think will be much better for me. I think that's a skill that I have in green reading that's advantageous versus the field, and so it will be nice. But when it's there, certain putts, I certainly was using it and listening to it."

According to the report, new language in the Rules of Golf is expected to address the presentation of the books and "end the current level of detail."

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'Super 7' living – and loving – frat life in Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It’s not exactly “Animal House Scotland,” but it’s as close as the gentleman’s game allows itself to drift toward that raucous line.

For the third consecutive year, some of golf’s biggest and brightest chose to set up shop on the same corner of the Angus coast, a testosterone-fueled riff session where feelings are never spared and thick skin is mandatory.

Among the eclectic “Super 7” who are sharing two houses in Carnoustie this week are defending champion Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Kisner – a group that ranges in age from 24 (Spieth) to 42 years old (Johnson).

The tradition, or maybe “guy’s week” is a better description, began in 2016 at Royal Troon when Spieth, Fowler, Thomas, Walker, Johnson and Dufner all roomed together. Kisner was added to the mix this year and instead of baseball – the distraction of choice in ’16 – the group has gone native with nightly soccer matches. Actually, the proceedings more resemble penalty kicks, but they seem to be no less entertaining.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

For the record, his flat mates will attest to Dufner’s abilities as a goalie, although asked about his chances to make the U.S. national team Thomas was reluctant to go that far.

“As a U.S. citizen, I hope he does not make our team, but he's a pretty good backyard goalie,” Thomas said.

The arrangement comes with a litany of benefits, from the camaraderie to the improved logistics of having so many VIPs under the same roof.

“Honestly, it just makes everything really, really easy because there's a lot of cars going to and from the golf course. They know our address. We have food essentially at our beck and call. And we have friends. I mean, we have some women [wives] in there to keep the frat house somewhat in order,” Johnson said. “But I mean, every individual there is great. It's fun.”

But this goes well beyond some random male bonding for what at the moment represents nearly one-third of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. This is a snapshot into a curious side of golf that’s as rare as it is misunderstood.

Unlike team sports, golf is a lonely pursuit. A player can collect as many swing coaches, sports psychologists and handlers around them as they wish, but there’s a connection between athletes at this level that creates a unique flow of ideas that’s normally only present during the annual team events, be it a Ryder or Presidents cup.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this level, players talk a language only they understand that’s littered with the kind of insider give-and-take one would expect from PGA Tour winners and major champions. Between the two houses, which are adjacent to each other, there are eight major victories.

“I have zero, so I don't know how many they have,” Kisner joked when asked about his accomplished roommates.

Kisner is southern like sweat and sweet tea and can trade good-natured jabs with the best of them, but given the pedigrees assembled between the two houses he seems to understand the importance of listening.

“Everybody is just really chill, and it's a lot of fun to be around those guys. There's a lot of great players. It's really cool just to hear what they have to say,” Kisner said. “Everybody's sitting around at night scratching their head on what club to hit off of every tee.”

It’s worth pointing out that The Open winner has come from this group twice in the last three years, including 2017 champion Spieth, who took no small measure of inspiration from Johnson’s victory at St. Andrews in ’15.

Nor is it probably a coincidence that four of those players now find themselves firmly in the mix and all within the top 20 at Carnoustie, including Kisner who will have bragging rights on Thursday night following a first-round 66 that vaulted him into the lead.

“I probably get to eat first,” he smiled.

In their primes, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player would occasionally share a house, they even vacationed together from time to time – you know, SB1K68 – but the practice fell out of favor for a few generations. It’s hard to imagine Greg Norman enjoying a friendly kick-about with any of his contemporaries and even harder to think that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson could share a cab ride, let alone a house for a week.

Some say this type of fellowship is the product of a new generation who grew up playing junior golf against each other and logically took their bond to the big leagues, but that ignores the 40-somethings (Johnson and Dufner) in the frat.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of America’s Ryder Cup rebuilding efforts or an affinity for non-stop one-liners and bad soccer. Or maybe it’s a genuine appreciation for what each of the “7” have to offer.

“[Kisner] is good friends with all those guys, he likes to cut up and have a good time and talk trash. It’s a good little group,” said Kisner’s swing coach John Tillery. “This last year or two and the Presidents Cup and being on the teams with those guys has just escalated that.”

Some seem to think these friendships run a little too deep. That sharing a bachelor pad and dinner for the week somehow erodes a player’s competitiveness. But if the “Super 7” have proven anything, other than American golfers probably aren’t the best soccer players, it’s that familiarity can be fun.