Ladies First Major Looks to be Quite a Test
The course is in perfect major condition. The lush fairways are providing little roll, so the one of the longest tracks on tour is playing even longer.
The week starts with the rough about three inches long ' not U.S. Open length, yet. But it is extremely thick and penal.
As they are every year here, the greens are firm and fast. Any player who finds herself in greenside rough, above the hole, will be hard-pressed to get up and down in two.
Any player who finds herself hitting an approach shot from that lush rough has a couple of options 'neither is good. Any shot that jumps from the thick stuff has little chance of stopping on a putting surface if it lands on the green and if the plan is to land the shot short of the green and run it up, forget it. The fairways in front of the greens are too soft.
The course and the way it is set up puts a premium on ball-striking and course management. The cream should rise to the top. Which brings us to Annika Sorenstam.
The best female golfer on the planet has won the Dinah two years in a row. Shes trying to become the first player in LPGA history to win the same major three years in a row.
A few thoughts about storylines this week:
*The last time Annika had a shot at winning a major three straight times was at the U.S. Womens Open in 1997. She missed the cut.
*Annika is not the same player she was six years ago.
*Liselotte Neumann finished second to Sorenstam here last year by one stroke. This winter, Neumann was seen at Annikas home course in Orlando, getting a lesson from Sorenstams coach. Ive got to figure out how to get more distance, said Neumann.
*Granted it was in the thin, warm air of the Arizona desert, but last week, Annika averaged 286.9 yards per drive in her first tournament of the year. Thats 21 yards longer than her average last year. This week, length is a premium.
*Speaking of long driving: If Laura Davies wins this week, shell complete the career grand slam and earn the two points she needs to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
*Annika comes to mind again. The only thing she needs to do to qualify for the Hall is to complete her 10th year on Tour. This is Sorenstams 10th year and she wants to make it something special.
*If 25-year-old Se Ri Pak (last weeks winner) wins this Kraft Nabisco, shed be the youngest player to complete the career slam.
*If Meg Mallon wins this week, shed complete the career slam. Two weeks ago, Meg shot a 60.
*Dottie Pepper won this championship four years ago with a major championship record-score of 19-under par. After missing the cut last week, Dotties playing this week with one of those Scotty Cameron Titleist Futura putters. Her buddy, Jeff Sluman, sent it to her. Yes, its hideous looking, she says.
*Sorenstam, Pak, Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster have combined to win all eight of the past eight major championships 16 of the last 20.
*43-year-old Rosie Jones has yet to win a major championship, but has finished in the top-10 22 times in the majors. She tied for third here last year.
*13-year-old Michelle Wie is playing in a major for the first time in her career.
Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite
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
Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC
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.
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.
Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense
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.
“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.”
Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06
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?
“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.”