Duval Answers Challenge
Playing in his first 72-hole event in10 weeks, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket birdied the 15th, 17th and 18th holes to capture the Buick Challenge by two strokes over Nick Price and Jeff Maggert.
'It's surprising to come back this way,' said Duval, whose final round 65 earned him $414,000.
Thirty starts removed from his last victory at the 1999 PLAYERS Championship, Duval is a PGA Tour winner for the 12th time.
It's been a frustrating season for the former No.1-ranked player in the world. Putting problems cost him a couple of chances to win earlier in the year. An errant 6-iron cost him a chance to win his first major at the Masters. And until this week, the public's last image of Duval was of him hopelessly flailing away in the Road Hole bunker at St. Andrews.
Then, when things finally seemed to be clicking, a bad back sidelined the 28-year-old.
He missed the season's final major, the PGA Championship. He missed the $5 million WGC-NEC Invitational.
And quite simply, he just missed playing.
Lying on his couch, Duval wondered when, and if, he would play again. And would he be able to compete at the level he was accustomed to?
He answered those questions this week.
Trailing Maggert by two shots entering the final round, Duval found himself in sole possession of the lead by the time the final group made the turn.
Following a front-nine 5-under-par 31, Duval was at 17-under, one shot clear of Maggert and Price.
Maggert, who was trying to become the first wire-to-wire winner of this event in 23 years, birdied the 10th to reclaim a share of the lead; and then took the outright lead with another red number at the par-3 12th.
Meanwhile, Price looked as if he was beginning to falter. In search of his first Tour win since the 1998 FedEx St. Jude Classic, the Zimbabwean bogeyed the 9th and 11th holes to fall two shots off the lead at 15-under.
Price regrouped with birdies at the 12th and 13th holes, but couldn't close the gap on Maggert. Playing alongside Price, Maggert also birdied the 12th and 13th to retain a two-shot lead over his playing companion at 19-under-par.
That lead was cut to just one when Price birdied the par-5 15th.
With three holes remaining, Maggert led the way at 19-under. Price was one back at 18-under. And Duval stood in third place at 17-under.
Then things got really interesting.
An errant tee shot at the par-3 16th led to a bogey 4 for Maggert. With two holes left, the scoreboard showed Maggert and Price tied for the lead at 18-under, with Duval just one shot back.
Playing in the penultimate group, Duval stuck his approach shot at the par-4 17th to two feet. The tap-in birdie made it a three-way tie for the top spot at 18-under.
That logjam didn't remain for long.
Approaching from the fairway, both Maggert and Price missed the green at the 17th. Both made bogey.
That meant a par 4 at the last for Duval would secure him at least a spot in a playoff. But Duval didn't want that. He had already lost once this year to Dennis Paulson in sudden death at the Buick Classic.
No, there would be no playoff this Sunday. Duval made sure of that by sticking another approach shot within three feet of the cup. It was Duval's eighth birdie of the day. It turned out he didn't need it, as both Price and Maggert parred the 72nd hole, but it was a great way to complete his comeback.
'This is a spectacular week for me,' said Duval. 'Everything that happened this year on the golf course, then to follow it up that disappointment with the injury, then to come back and do this..it's an absolute dream.'
Maggert's Sunday dream turned into a nightmare down the stretch. For the day, Maggert carded seven birdies, but he also posted five bogeys en route to a 2-under-par 70.
'I just made a few too many bogeys,' said a disappointed Maggert, who is now 1-8 when taking a 54-hole lead into the final round. 'David played awfully good today. Me and Nick played well all day but we kept stumbling at the end and David made birdies.'
While the season is winding down, Duval is just getting started. Armed with good health and improved confidence, Duval is ready to 'get after it.'
Said Duval: 'This is the best I've felt in a long time, certainly this calendar year.'
And the year's no over just yet.
Schauffele just fine being the underdog
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.
Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.
Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.
“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”
Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.
“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”
Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1
Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.
So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.
Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.
Jordan Spieth: 7/4
Xander Schauffele: 5/1
Kevin Kisner: 11/2
Tiger Woods: 14/1
Francesco Molinari: 14/1
Rory McIlroy: 14/1
Kevin Chappell: 20/1
Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1
Alex Noren: 25/1
Zach Johnson: 30/1
Justin Rose: 30/1
Matt Kuchar: 40/1
Webb Simpson: 50/1
Adam Scott: 80/1
Tony Finau: 80/1
Charley Hoffman: 100/1
Austin Cook: 100/1
Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.
For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.
By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.
But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.
As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.
“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”
Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.
As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.
But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.
After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.
“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”
But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.
Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.
“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.
There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.
Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par.
And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.
As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.
“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”
Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.
Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.
The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.
Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.
It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.
Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.
One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.
McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.
“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”
McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.
“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”