The Sweet Taste of Sugarloaf
It falls the week before what is perhaps the most anticipated major of the four - The Masters - and its results have no effect whatsoever on the field at Augusta. Even with those strikes against it, the BellSouth Classic came out smelling like a rose in 2002 because it drew a quality field, a fairly dramatic finish and the golf course offered a sister-like feel to Augusta National.
Who enjoyed his time spent at the TPC at Sugarloaf the most? Thats easy, the winner, Retief Goosen. If youre looking for a confidence boost heading into a major, hoisting a trophy is an instant injection of self-assurance. He takes a relatively brand new putter and seven worldwide victories in a 10-month span along with him on his ride to Magnolia Lane.
Who had the second best time? Thats a little harder to answer. Its a toss-up between Jesper Parnevik and the Hooters Tour graduate Zach Johnson. For Zach, the reasons are obvious. As a Monday qualifier, he practically made more in one event than he did in an entire season in years past.
For Jesper, its not about money. Its about winning his first major. When I had the chance to ask him how he felt about his game on a scale of 1 to 10 after shooting a Sunday 65 in extremely difficult scoring conditions, he blurted, 10!
At the start of the week, Parnevik was concerned about not being able to play a much-needed draw off the tee for his go at The Masters. By weeks end, he told me he seems to have worked it out.
Whats truly amazing about the success stories of all these men is they can be overshadowed by the simple fact that Phil Mickelson didnt win.
Coming off of a three-week stretch in which Lefty faced much criticism about his aggressive style of play, Phil was under the microscope at the BellSouth Classic, just like hell be at The Masters. Once again, Mickelson had the opportunity to bring home the first place check thanks a two shot lead over Retief Goosen with only 14 holes remaining in the tournament, and once again, Mickelson was left answering questions about the one that got away.
You must respect the fact that this 20-time PGA Tour winner continues to give himself chances, and you must empathize with his duty to address those nagging two-foot putts that seem to plague him as of late. But the bottom line is, when is he going to win that first major title?
It is a question we all want answered, including Phil. But just for a moment, put all of those repetitive thoughts aside and ask yourself who are your top three favorite golfers to watch. Does the worlds No. 2 golfer make your list? Think about the drama he provides - last years Masters, last years PGA Championship, the 2002 Bay Hill Invitational and the Players Championship - he always seems to be there and he always leaves us wanting more.
While Phil continues his steadfast effort to play through the judgment that comes his way, he always seems to contend. His colleagues Davis Love and David Duval didnt win a major until they turned 30. Mickelson even said that the next 10 years are going to be his biggest window of opportunity on the PGA Tour.
Hes flashy, hes talented and he has a way of catching the critics eye. You get the feeling that come the back nine on Sunday at Augusta, the name 'Mickelson' will be right there.
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.
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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.
Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.
But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.
“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”
Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.
“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”
After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.
In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.
No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.
Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.
“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”
And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.
Let it go.
Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.
“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”
It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.
During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.
Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.
“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.
McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.
It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.
“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”
The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.
Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.
The only thing left to do?
Let it go.
Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.
Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.
Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.
There is, however, one running wager.
“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”
Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.
Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.
“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.