Leonards Run Begins at Home

By Mercer BaggsMay 8, 2001, 4:00 pm
For Justin Leonard, the dominos start to fall on Thursday in Irving, Tx.

Leonard will play the next four weeks on the PGA Tour, beginning with this weeks Verizon Byron Nelson Classic and culminating with the Memorial Tournament.
From Lord Byrons tournament to Jack Nicklaus, Leonard is preparing himself for the U.S. Open, which, in turn, will go a long way to determining whether or not he makes this years Ryder Cup team.
The 101st U.S. Open will take place at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. Following his four-week stretch, Leonard will skip the FedEx St. Jude Classic, which directly precedes the Open.
Leonard is playing for the first time since the Shell Houston Open, where he tied for fourth two weeks ago.
The finish was Leonards first top-10 since the Mercedes Championships in January. In between Hawaii and Houston, the 28-year-old missed five cuts and failed to break the top-25 in four other starts.
However, it wasnt as bad as it looked on paper.
I saw some positive things through that, Leonard said on Tuesday. And even through the missed cuts, and the 73s and 74s, there were stretches in the rounds where I actually played some pretty good golf.
The root of Leonard's lackluster results was easy to trace. He spent the first five months of the season refining his swing.
Despite winning the 2000 Texas Open and collecting a trio of runner-up finishes, Leonard wasnt happy with his play a season ago. His felt his swing was faulty, unable to sustain the pressure of four full rounds.
Ive shortened my swing and Ive simplified my swing, said the 1997 British Open champion. Ive taken a lot of the excess movement out of my swing by a different position at address. And basically, Ive got a better understanding of what Im trying to do in the golf swing and how it is supposed to feel.
Leonard knew his swing overhaul would be painful in terms of his performance. In fact, he was more surprised than anyone when he finished inside the top-10 in his first two starts of the 2001 campaign.
I set myself up for a big fall with those first two events, he said. Now, I feel like Im playing at a more consistent level.
Im not working on eight different things anymore. The last couple of weeks Ive spent trying to move the ball up a little bit in my stance, and just checking my alignment. You know, thats as simple as it gets. And Ive gotten very comfortable with it.
Leonards simplistic approach will be tested mightily this week outside Dallas. Thirteen of the top 20 players in the world are in attendance this week, including Tiger Woods, who is making his first appearance since winning his fourth consecutive major and third straight overall event at the Masters Tournament.
In addition to the impressive field - which also includes Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh - Leonard will also have to battle a pair of courses that have caused him a bit of turmoil over the years.
Though hes a Dallas native and a former All-America at the University of Texas, Leonard has yet to crack the top-20 in seven prior Nelson starts.
Last year, he opened in 80 and missed the cut.
Leonard and the rest of the 156-man field will alternate play over the first two days on the TPC at Las Colinas and the Cottonwood Valley Course.
Both tracks are a par-70. Las Colinas, the host course, will be ultimate battlefield over the weekend.
The purse has climbed to $4.5 million this year, with $810,000 going to the winner ' thats $90K more than Jesper Parnevik collected in winning last year.
But Leonard isnt concerned with prize money.
With three major championships left on the calendar and the Ryder Cup looming in late September, Leonard has more than money on his mind.
Youll recall it was Leonard who sank the controversial 45-foot clinching birdie putt in the 1999 Ryder Cup. He currently stands in 22nd place on the 2001 points list.
And to get to where he wants to go, Leonard is relying on an old clich ' one step at a time.
Thursday is first. Thats my first priority, said Leonard. Sunday night, my priority is Fort Worth and what I do at the Colonial. Ill take the first challenge Ive got and put everything into that.
If I play poorly these next four weeks, you know, the majors are out, Ryder Cup is out. I never put all of my eggs in one basket.
But I just know Ive got a really good feeling about my game, and the tournaments that are coming up, and, you know, Im just really looking forward to this week and this whole summer.
That first domino will fall Thursday morning at 11:50am CT at Las Colinas.
Full field and tee times for the 2001 Verizon Byron Nelson Classic
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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

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 all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished 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 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.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

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.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

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.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

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.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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.