Wanted: Daly's big name and a big game

By Mercer BaggsMay 8, 2016, 11:04 pm

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Amid a stiffening wind and under ever-darkening clouds, John Daly made his way around the U-shaped fence surrounding the scoring area at The Woodlands Country Club.

One by one, he signed autographs and was peppered with encouragement. Some seeking his signature likely had no idea he had just triple-bogeyed the 17th hole.

“Thanks for coming out.”

“Seven birdies today, John!”

“Welcome to the tour, man.”

“You’ll get ‘em, JD!”

However much was absorbed is unknown. Daly exited stage right without sharing his thoughts with writers and print media (though he did talk to Golf Channel TV reporters).

It was an exhausting and entertaining PGA Tour Champions debut for Daly. He played four pro-ams and 54 holes of tournament golf, fulfilled who-knows-how-many sponsor obligations, and provided as many fans as he possibly could with an autograph or a photograph.

The Insperity Invitational routinely draws a good crowd, particularly on Saturdays, when it hosts the 3M Greats of Golf – a scramble event featuring nine legends of the game. Daly’s appearance, however, secured more fans throughout the week.

Hundreds followed him on Day 1, maybe a little less on Day 2 (many were watching the Greats), and Day 3 was more subdued, but still impressive by tour standards.

Official attendance records aren’t kept, because tickets aren’t sold. Fans got in free thanks to the funds of corporate sponsors.

It was never a madhouse, but it wasn’t a “freak show,” either. Kenny Perry used the latter term earlier in the year to describe the way, in his opinion, fans and media view the PGA Tour Champions, saying the circuit doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

A steady diet of a competitive Daly can help change that.

A good example: Ten minutes after Daly teed off in the final round, Perry’s group was announced on the first tee. The hundred-plus people who once were there, outside the ropes and under the shaded seating, were now up the fairway. Less than 30 fans remained.

High-profile players are key to the tour’s popularity.

Officials know that, using a system that takes into account PGA Tour wins, major victories and career earnings in determining a player’s status.

Card members know it. No one had a negative thing to say about Daly’s arrival, knowing that his presence increases interest. Increased interest helps the tour, which benefits all involved.

And the guys who used to carry the tour know it.

The biggest concern is, outside of Daly, where are the big draws? Davis Love III won last year on the regular tour and is competing full time, also so he can stay connected to potential members of his U.S. Ryder Cup team. Vijay Singh has played seven career senior events. Fred Couples has only played in two this year. Greg Norman and Nick Faldo don’t play at all.

There are recognizable names and faces who transition to the elder circuit ever year. The potential 2017 crop includes: Jerry Kelly, David Toms, Steve Stricker and Steve Flesch. But will they draw a crowd?

As Hale Irwin, who won more Champions events (45) than anyone, pointed out, the biggest names in today’s game are in their early-20s. “There’s a lot of players in between [22 years old and 50],” Irwin said. “And how many of them are we, collectively, focused on? That’s part of the issue.”

And when a big name does become eligible, like Ernie Els will be in late 2019 or Phil Mickelson in the summer of 2020, is there a desire to play?

In 1990, Lee Trevino won more money ($1,190,518) on the senior tour than leading money winner Greg Norman did ($1,165,477) on the PGA Tour. Gary Player pointed that out. Irwin also noted that he accomplished the same feat in 1997, out-earning Tiger Woods, $2,343,364 to $2,066,823.

Of course, Woods turned the compensatory system on its ear.  Bernhard Langer won $2,340,288 to lead all seniors last season. Jordan Spieth earned $12,030,465, officially, and then some on the regular tour.

“Will it be driven by money? Absolutely not. They’re going to have enough money,” Irwin said of a player’s motivation to play full time on the PGA Tour Champions. “Will it be driven by competitive fires? Most likely.”

And if that desire burns, it might keep them challenging the younger set. “If they can still play, you don’t blame them for doing it,” Dave Stockton said.

The PGA Tour Champions is not the Senior PGA Tour. The newer version has lots of skill, plenty of competitiveness and its share of Hall of Fame players. But it’s missing those older faces.

Saturday’s scramble, which included Jack Nicklaus, Player, Trevino, Irwin, Stockton, Ben Crenshaw, Tony Jacklin, David Graham and Tom Weiskopf, was the week’s biggest draw. On this tour, in the eyes of fans, nostalgia trumps true competition.

In an ideal world, you’d get both and maybe Daly can provide that but, “It’s not going to be easy for him,” Trevino said.

“[A player] came up to me a couple, three or four years ago, and he says to me, ‘You know, I didn’t know it was this difficult to win out here. … and it was Mark O’Meara. Mark thought he was going to come out here and just march right through everyone, and it’s difficult.”

“It’s all up to John,” Nicklaus said. “How well he does is up to him.”

Daly wasn’t expecting much this week. He likely would have taken a top-20 finish (he tied for 17th), if offered to him on Thursday. He played almost as many competitive rounds this week as he had all year, missing the cut in the Qatar Masters and the Puerto Rico Open.

Now comes the interesting part. Daly, who hasn’t had full-time status on the PGA Tour since the end of 2006, plans to play a full Champions schedule. He is slated to compete in nine of the next 10 tournaments on the calendar – in addition to starts at the Open Championship and PGA Championship.

If he can avoid injury and fatigue, he should continue to draw support. And if he can find a way to contend, it will be an even bigger boost to the tour.

Wading through the crowd late Sunday afternoon, having bypassed the print press, Daly quickly paced into the sanctuary of the clubhouse.

When Daly threw an iron into Lake Michigan at last year’s PGA Championship, he said it was a sign of how much he cared.

Maybe this was another one of those signs.

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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 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.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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.

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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.