Just What They Wanted

By Mercer BaggsApril 9, 2006, 4:00 pm
Hootie Johnson speaks few words. He makes his point and then hes done. He asks not for an opposing opinion nor cares for a rebuttal.
We are very comfortable with what we are doing with the golf course for the Masters Tournament, said the Augusta National Golf Club chairman during Wednesdays press conference.
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson has now won each of the last two major championships.
He explained ' once again ' that the most recent changes to Augusta National ' the addition of 155 yards; the narrowing of fairways; the planting of even more pine trees ' were done so to make the course play, in terms of club selection, like it did in the days of Saint Bobby Jones.
In other words: to keep players from hitting a damn pitching wedge into every green.
But that may have been a veiled explanation. There may well have been an ulterior motive to the alterations.
Pride and prejudice are to Augusta National members like green and jacket.
But this has nothing to do with race or gender; it has to with prestige and pedigree.
Masters champions are a rare and special breed. When you look down the list of past winners, from Horton Smith in 34 to Tiger Woods in 05, few names seem out of place (see Claude Harmon, Charles Coody, Herman Keiser, Tommy Aaron and Larry Mize).
And thats the way Johnson and Co. want to keep it.
They have, I believe, no desire to drape their rayon and wool around the shoulders of Ben Curtis or Shaun Micheel or Todd Hamilton or Rich Beem. That was evident when they rescinded invitations to all PGA TOUR winners in 2000, saying, in essence, Winning the B.C. Open does not make you worthy of playing in our toonamint.
By making this course even longer and even tougher, theyve significantly reduced the chances of a surprise winner, and further increased the winning odds ' which were already great to begin with ' of Woods and Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. Theyve given more hope to Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
Thats just what they wanted to do; and, judging by this years results, thats just what theyve achieved.
Thats not to say that they would have been opposed to seeing Fred Couples or Jose Maria Olazabal win again; or perhaps the well-established and popular Darren Clarke; or some player on the cusp of greatness ' maybe even an up-and-coming Chad Campbell.
But while Rocco Mediate would make for a great story at the U.S. Open, and Miguel Angel Jimenez and his ponytail would look nice holding the claret jug, and Tim Clark may one day be a fine winner of the PGA ' Masters champions, in Green Jacket eyes, they are not.
At least, it seems, they would prefer them not to be.
By contrast, golf observers, at least those who arent rooting for or against any one player, are more interested in the race than the ultimate outcome. We care more about who is contending and how hotly the contest is being contested, as opposed to who first crosses the line.
The leaderboard during this final round was a fans dream. There wasnt a What the hell? name in the mix.
While the Green Jackets may have been rooting for a Big Five winner, fans were just happy to see them all with a chance at the start of the day. If Mediate, Jimenez or Clark should best them, then so be it.
Of course, none of them did.
This had all the makings of a glorious, sunset Sunday finish.
The leaderboard was outstanding, but U.S. Open-style groans seemed to far outnumber Masters-style roars. Bird chirps echoed in the silent pines.
Eagles and birdies were replaced, for the most part, with pars and bogeys ' and whatever in the world you call Mediates 10 on the par-3 12th.

To be fair, though, Olazabal did shoot 66, and should have shot at least 65.
And, while it wasnt a 31 this time around, Mickelson did close with a 35 for a 69 and an overall 7-under 281, which was equal to or lower than seven of the last 13 winning totals. He didn't make a bogey until it didn't matter.
Any lack of scoring by the field, it appeared, was attributable more to nerves and missed putts than to an inability to handle the courses length.
All in all, red numbers mattered little to the Augusta faithful.
They got everything they wanted out of this, the 70th Masters Tournament.
They got the course they wanted. They got the leaderboard they wanted. And, most importantly to them, they got the champion they wanted.
Which brings us to this: should Mickelson win the next two major championships, he will complete the career Grand Slam. And, having won the 2005 PGA Championship, should he win the next two, he will have won all four in succession.
It's time to start talking about the possibility of: the 'MickelSlam.'
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    Schauffele just fine being the underdog

    By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

    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.

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    “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.”

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    Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

    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.

    Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    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

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    Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

    By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

    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.

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    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.

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    Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

    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.

    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    “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.”