Prognosticating the PGA

By John HawkinsAugust 10, 2011, 5:12 pm

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – America’s major drought stands at six, the longest such streak in golf history, and if you’re looking for positive signs that it will end at this week’s PGA Championship, you’ll need a magnifying glass. A European hadn’t won this tournament in 74 years before Padraig Harrington hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy in 2008. Y.E. Yang’s stunner over Tiger Woods in ’09 and Martin Kaymer’s playoff victory last August make the PGA an apt reflection of the game’s shifting power balance.

It might get worse before it gets better. Here are my favorites heading to Atlanta Athletic Club.

Rory McIlroy (12-1): In golf’s what-have-you-done-lately universe, he’s not the hottest player in town, but he is the best. A long, straight ball works just about anywhere, but at this ballpark, it’s an absolute requirement, which is why neither Woods nor Phil Mickelson will be around Sunday afternoon. Is McIlroy ready to get back to the business of winning big tournaments? Guess we’ll have to see, but I suspect he’ll be in the mix with nine holes to play.

Lee Westwood (14-1): You can’t have a favorites list at any major without him on it. Westwood’s putting has cost him dearly at big tournaments over the years, but only recently has he enlisted the help of guru Dave Stockton. It’s not so much that he’s a lousy putter – he just never makes one when he really needs to. Maybe his time will come. Maybe it won’t.

Jason Day (15-1): He keeps knocking on the door at the biggest events, and at some point, the talented young Aussie will finish the job. He drives it too well and makes too many putts not to win a major in the near future. Maybe this isn’t the week, but runner-up finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open suggest he’ll become the first player from Down Under to claim a green jacket. Only a matter of time with this kid.

Dustin Johnson (16-1): Still America’s best hope despite the shank that ended his hopes at the British Open. Johnson drives it straighter than any of the jumbo hitters, and though his low ball flight won’t do him any favors at AAC, it’s hard to imagine the PGA of America letting the greens get too firm in the sweltering Georgia heat. Is there scar tissue from past failures? There has to be. And the guy keeps showing up.

Bubba Watson (25-1): If you’ve got to be really long or really straight to have a chance this week, Bubba’s in the hunt. His towering shapes off the tee will serve him well at AAC, but nobody will winthis tournament from the rough, regardless of how benign it is. The playoffloss to Kaymer at Whistling Straits last year was his first real taste of the highest level, and though a lot of good things have happened since, Watson’s summer has only been so-so. No top 20s since the victory in New Orleans. Needs to keep his chin up when the bad breaks come to get him.

Steve Stricker (30-1): My sense is that AAC won’t be a “putter’s course,” meaning solid tee-to-green play is essential, but Stricker has evolved into a terrific all-around player whose penchant for finding the hole only complements his ballstriking. The numbers across the board are superb: first on the PGA Tour in par-4 performance, first in birdie-conversion percentage, first in GIRs from inside 100 yards. Here’s another stat – Stricker ranks fourth when comes to hitting the green from a fairway bunker. Remember that shot to win the John Deere? AAC has a lot of sand.

Tiger Woods (30-1): A lot of good things would need to happen for Red Shirt to even find a spot in the Sunday hunt. Talk all you want about rust and the wounded leg, but Woods’ return at Firestone was marred by the same problems that have nagged him for years. He doesn’t drive it straight, and though nobody does a better job of escaping trouble, AAC is too long and too buffered to allow much of a Seve impersonation. Tiger’s fairway percentage has dropped below 50 percent, which qualifies as ghastly. Still not enough evidence to suggest Big Comeback starts this week.

Adam Scott (35-1): Wouldn’t have been considered for this list until the victory last week, which was bigger than the 2004 Players because Scott had basically disappeared from the game’s top tier. His putting woes may not be a total thing of the past, but again, you won’t need to hole a bunch of 20-footers to win this PGA. The knock on Scott has always been a faulty short game, but driving the ball has never been an issue. A good tool to have in your arsenal this week.

Ryo Ishikawa (50-1): Last week’s strong performance in Ohio reaffirmed the Bashful Prince’s vast potential – and could go a long way toward turning around what has been a mediocre year on both sides of the Pacific. No question, the tsunami-related devastation in his homeland left a mark on the kid’s psyche. At age 19, Ishikawa has one of the purest and most effective putting strokes anywhere. He has also played in enough premium-field events to know what he’s in for, if not what it takes to walk away with a title. This week, it will require a very robust tee ball and some cold towels.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.