Meltdowns in majors are all different

By John HawkinsJuly 24, 2012, 3:00 pm

Jean Van de Velde’s 72nd-hole collapse at the 1999 British Open had a mythological quality to it, unfolding in the Scottish mist like one of those Charlie Chaplin movies from the 1920s. The lasting moments of regulation play at Carnoustie that day were defined more by comedy than tragedy. Van de Velde actually seemed to be posing for photographers when he hopped into the burn barefoot to contemplate his fourth shot.

Without question, it remains the most bizarre scene I have witnessed as a golf writer. A total unknown on the verge of the impossible, then booting it away in such a theatrical manner, all while sporting a mischievous smirk – it was almost as if Van de Velde were pulling off the biggest prank in sports history.

Adam Scott’s collapse at Royal Lytham obviously was very different: an established and decorated player on a far more playable course – even if he’d bogeyed Carnoustie’s 18th, Van de Velde would have won by two strokes at 4 over par. Scott needed four holes and the better part of an hour to blow his big lead, which made it seem more nerve-induced. Van de Velde’s folly took about 20 minutes and seemed more like a collision with reality.


Which collapse was worse: Van de Velde's or Scott's?


That said, the Frenchman holed a 6-footer for a triple bogey, which got him into a playoff with Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard. Scott had a slightly longer par putt to force extra holes and missed. I’m not sure how you rank late meltdowns by guys about to win a major championship, but Scott, given the quality of his play through 14 holes and the variety of mistakes he made on the last four, was certainly the harder to watch.

There was a time or two when you might have wondered if Van de Velde truly wanted to win the tournament, as if he considered himself unworthy. Scott suddenly began laboring with his big advantage, much like Greg Norman did at the 1996 Masters, but that was a very different situation: a guy with a negative history playing alongside the only man who could possibly catch him – one of the wiliest and most strategtically sound competitors ever.

Norman’s six-shot lead was gone by the 12th tee. He was basically toast by the 13th green. The notion that Scott is Norman’s protégé and a fellow Australian doesn’t fly here; pressure doesn’t care about your nationality or background. Besides, the Shark was burdened by his past. Scott had no such scar tissue and performed like a champion until the 15th hole.

Watching Sunday’s gloomy homestretch with several thousand people on a live chat, what struck me was how the audience had barely shrunk a full hour after play ended. Most chat numbers take a serious hit after Tiger Woods finishes, or once the final outcome is official. This was golf-fan rubbernecking at its finest – people sticking around to absorb the ramifications of the accident, assess the damage and search for perspective.

You can’t give up a four-shot lead with four to play unless you make a series of errors, which Scott did, but it wasn’t until the 18th that he hit a bad tee shot. A poor approach and short miss for par at the 16th, then a dumbfounding blunder with an iron into the 17th, where he missed long and left – what began with a seemingly innocuous bogey at the 15th morphed into something very troublseome within two holes, at which point mental mistakes began amplifying Scott’s struggles.

The biggest occurred with the club selection on that 18th tee. Scott had hit an iron there the day before, leaving him well short of the bunkers and 173 yards in – probably a stock 8-iron for him. How on earth can caddie Steve Williams let his guy pull out a 3-wood and plant it in the face of one of those sand pits?

It made no sense, particularly when you consider how well Scott had hit his driver all week. If you’re playing for the win, go ahead and smash the big stick down there past the trouble and get yourself a wedge in. The 3-wood was the club most likely to bring a bogey into play, although it’s fair to say Scott was leaking too much oil for anything to come easily.

I don’t like giving caddies too much credit in victory, so I’ll avoid blaming Williams in defeat, but it was an illogical decision both men may live to rue. As ultra-gracious as Scott was after the collapse, I wasn’t surprised, having covered the kid from his early days as a Tour pro and dealing with him directly after several of his biggest wins.

He is as gentlemanly a guy as you’ll find, polite and courteous far beyond the norm, but there’s a part of me that wishes Scott had walked into the awards ceremony and busted something, forsaking his valor for the better part of dour. Blowing a four-stroke lead with four holes to play at the British Open is supposed to hurt. There’s noting wrong with letting people see your pain.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”