Things I Cant Believe
Its the best sport you can cover for so many reasons. The most impressive is the class that some players exhibit in the midst of competition ' the self-policing of themselves as they compete for millions of dollars.
Along the way ' there are the things that make you go wow. And as we head toward Augusta and the Masters Tournament in just a couple weeks, Ive seen and heard some things I just cant believe this year.
So heres my list, beginning with the PGA TOURs most recent winner.
* How in the name of the World Golf Rankings is Vijay Singh ranked seventh? Are you telling me that Adam Scott (fourth) is better? Or what about Henrik Stenson and Ernie Els (fifth and sixth?) Els hasnt won on the PGA TOUR for years, not months. Itll even out eventually but this is ridiculous.
* Whens the last time Tiger Woods got to within one shot of the lead on a Sunday during the front nine and didnt end up winning the tournament? It happened at Bay Hill on Sunday. That double-bogey and triple-bogey down the stretch lead to an inward nine of 43 and 76. I still cant believe it. Now the question is is the meltdown a sign of things not going his way at Augusta? I cant believe it is.
* Can you believe players are second-guessing the potential of a shortened field at the newly created AT&T National? A.K.A. - The Tiger Woods Invitational. some are chapped at the possibility. I can believe theyre hurt, but I cant believe theyd make such a public fuss about any event Woods brings to the table. Last years 125th on the money list made almost $661,000. Add in endorsement money and its plenty more than that. These days you can lose your card and still pay off your mortgage with a check ' thanks to Tigers presence. Rocco Mediate said last week on GOLF CHANNEL that the rank and file need to shut up. That comment from Mediate, I can believe.
* Two weeks from the Masters and no honorary starter? I cant believe it. Arnold Palmer is reportedly giving it a second thought after being offered the role after his record 50th (and final) Masters appearance three years ago. Lets hope he takes it and brings Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus along with him in the coming years.
* John Rollins is currently fifth among Americans on the Presidents Cup standings. Hard to believe when I looked at it. But Rollins is for real. Hes seventh in scoring average and third in total birdies and the all-around ranking. Then again, I couldnt believe Brett Wetterich made the Ryder Cup team, so Ill need to warm on Rollins quickly.
* What happened to Ernie and Retief? I still cant believe theyre missing among PGA TOUR winners this year. Heck, I cant believe they didnt win last year. Five years ago if youd have told me Ernie Els was going to injure his knee, Id have said his talent was good enough to win on one leg. Now Im confused.
* I picked Justin Leonard to win again this year. So far, seven starts and just one cut made. He earned about $10,000 at Arnies Invite which doesnt exactly make me feel confident about things. I hope he does.
* Cant believe neither Annika nor Lorena didnt win in Mexico a few weeks back. I figured Annika would do it. I couldnt believe Ochoa didnt factor and I really cant believe Meaghan Francella ended up stealing the show.
* This is the first week for the Nationwide Tour in the states? Cmon. I cant believe we cant get a few events before late March. Given that Mark Wilson made it 200 former Nationwide Tour winners in the winners circle on the PGA TOUR, Im ready to see whos going to be next years Charley Hoffman or Boo Weekley. Lets go already!
* Can the 'Florida Swing' be any better? I cant believe how good things have gone over the last few weeks. The Honda Classics move to PGA National was a home run and the finish was a Grand Slam. The PODS Championship is another great test and the Calcavecchia story was terrific. The Arnold Palmer Invitational made it three great courses in three weeks. Suddenly the run to the Masters is like a marathon if you play them all. Every course feels like a major. Well see about Doral this week.
* What I cant believe is that Houston is now the week before Augusta. It felt strange when the schedule came out. Im guessing that by next week it will feel completely wrong. And thats no slight on the folks in Houston who know as much about hospitality as any group on the PGA TOUR.
* And I cant believe the Masters is almost here and I really cant pinpoint a favorite. Sure, Tigers the guy to beat. But do you feel safe in picking him? I cant believe he wont get it figured out, but I also cant believe youd feel safe in taking him against the field right now.
* Cant believe my vacation is over and its back to work this week. Sunburn after a ski trip to Colorado where the temps were near 60 degrees???? How does that make sense?
And finally, I cant believe the number of you who chime in with your comments each week. It's great and I appreciate it. See you on the Sprint Pre/Post Game this week.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open
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.
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.
Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com 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.
Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty
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.
McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses
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.”
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.