Confident Shark Ready to Attack

By Mercer BaggsAugust 23, 2001, 4:00 pm
There was a time when Greg Norman would headline any tournament he entered. Such is not the case anymore.
 
But every now and again, Norman regains his confidence, and with it his form and his swagger.
 
Thursday was one of those days.
 
With a leaderboard that any major championship would cherish, its Norman whose name is at the top.
 
The 46-year-old Australian shot a 5-under-par 65 to tie Jim Furyk for the lead after the first round of the $5 million WGC-NEC Invitational at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, OH.
 
Right now its as confident as Ive felt in two or three years on the golf course, Norman said.
 
Four Ryder Cuppers are tied for third place ' three from Europe and one from the U.S. Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn and Tiger Woods all opened in 4-under 66.
 
Woods, the two-time defending champion, is still recovering from a bout of food poisoning that allowed him only three practice holes prior to teeing it up on Thursday.
 
Im feeling a little bit better, Woods said. I was kind of worried about my stamina for today, but Ive been all right today.
 
Norman was more than all right on Thursday.
 
Winless since capturing the World Series of Golf at this venue in 1997, Norman made seven birdies and two bogeys en route to his lowest round of the season on the PGA Tour.
 
Norman birdied his first two holes. Following a dropped shot at the par-4 6th, he chipped in from 24 feet for birdie at the par-3 7th.
 
He then found something in his putting stroke while walking down the 10th fairway.I was questioning myself why I wasnt releasing the putter, he said, and I started thinking about how I used to putt and I lifted my shoulders a little more. Once I got my shoulders a little more elevated, all of a sudden the putter started to release.
 
It proved quite effective. Norman rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 12, a pair of 15-footers at Nos. 14 and 16, and a 30-footer on the 17th.
 
Though, he ended his round with a two-putt bogey at the last.
 
I still believe I can (win), said Norman, who has 18-career PGA Tour victories to his credit. I still hit the ball long enough and I still have a lot of mental aptitude, and so I still want to keep on going.
 
Norman started his season with a tie for fourth at the Bay Hill Invitational, but has since failed to notch a top-20 in nine tour events.
 
He is, however, healthy after undergoing hip and shoulder surgeries the past few years.
 
I feel great, he said. As long as I still feel like I can win, Im going to stay here and still play. Now, I may never win again, but if I still do believe I can win, thats fine.

Furyk - winner of the season opening Mercedes Championships - made three birdie putts over 15 feet, chipped in from roughly 20 feet at the 16th, and concluded his day with a 25-foot birdie at the 18th.
 
Im obviously very happy, said Furyk. Sixty-five is a great score on this course, under these conditions.
 
Tigers not worried about course conditions, but rather his physical condition.
 
Some Chinese food disagreed with Tigers tummy; that, combined with the intense Atlanta heat at last weeks PGA Championship led people in the gallery to say, He looks bigger on TV.
 
Woods ' who said he has lost nine pounds in the last eight days ' started slowly on Thursday, parring his first seven holes before sinking a 15-foot birdie putt at the 8th to make the turn in 1-under 34.
 
Following four more pars to start the back nine, Woods birdied Nos. 14, 15 and 16 to end the day one off the lead.
 
Im pleased with the way I hit the ball, said Woods. I come in here with a lot of confidence, just because I hit the ball really well on Sunday (at the PGA Championship). Ive been working on a few things over the summer and its starting to come together at the PGA and then it really came together on Sunday.
 
While Tiger had a breakthrough Sunday, Montgomerie had an I-want-to-break-things Sunday. Montgomerie signed an incorrect scorecard in the final round of the PGA and was disqualified.Rather than fly from Atlanta to Akron, Monty decided to take the scenic route, driving the majority along I-77.
 
I was starring at 77 for a long time, said Montgomerie earlier in the week. I hope Im not staring at that number on Thursday.
 
That was certainly not the case, as the 38-year-old Scot recorded seven birdies and three bogeys.
 
A victory this week wouldnt make up for another majorless season, but: I suppose its all thats left, isnt it, quipped Montgomerie.
 
We start the year with a number of goals, and four of which have gone by the wayside. The fifth goal, I suppose you look forward now to the Ryder Cup and look forward to the experience, and then you look at the World Golf Championship events.
 
News, Notes and Numbers
 
*Experience allows for rest at Firestone. Neither Phil Mickelson, nor David Duval played a practice round before teeing it up Thursday. Norman played but 18 holes, while Woods played only three. All are past winners at Firestone Country Club, and all were under par in the first round. Mickelson shot 3-under 67 and Duval shot 69.
 
*Clarke made the only eagle in the first round, posting a three on the par-5 2nd hole.
 
*The last time Norman held at least a share of the lead after a round at an official PGA Tour event was in 1997, when he won the NEC World Series of Golf by four strokes.
 
*Furyk and Woods were the only players to post a bogey-free round on Thursday.
 
Full-field scores from the WGC-NEC Invitational
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”