First-timers in prime position for major glory

By Randall MellJune 17, 2017, 1:31 am

ERIN, Wis. – The mystery’s opening up to us.

With Erin Hills hosting a U.S. Open for the first time, we wondered what kind of player this newcomer to golf’s major championship stage would favor.

Going into the weekend, we know with certainty now.

Erin Hills favors a player who has never won a major championship.

That’s a wonderful thing for Paul Casey (71), Brian Harman (70), Brooks Koepka (70) and Tommy Fleetwood (70).

At 7-under overall, they shared the lead at Friday’s end.

None of them has won a major.

It’s also a wonderful thing for Rickie Fowler (73), J.B. Holmes (69) and Jamie Lovemark (69).

They’re each one shot back.

None of them has won a major, either.

It keeps going like this.

Nobody among the top 18 heading into the weekend has won a major.

Yes, it’s a bunched leaderboard, and anything still seems possible with 18 players within three shots of the lead and 23 within four shots, but that’s your storyline halfway through the 117th U.S. Open.

It’s head scratching how bereft this leaderboard is of players who have proven they know how to win a major.

Sergio Garcia (71) and Martin Kaymer (69) are the major championship winners highest on the leaderboard. They are tied for 19th.

While four shots back doesn’t seem like much, it’s more than you think in a U.S. Open, especially with so many players in front of Garcia and Kaymer. 

Nine of the last 10 U.S. Open winners were first, second or third through 36 holes.

Nineteen of the last 20 winners were within two shots of the lead through 36 holes.

It’s looking like Erin Hills wants to be the Robin Hood of major championship golf, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

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Apparently, this golf course doesn’t care much for those guys rich in majors and/or world ranking points. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Jason Day missed the cut. That’s the first time the top three players in the world have all missed the cut in a major since the world rankings were introduced in 1986.

Eight of the top 12 players in the world missed the cut.

McIlroy left shaking his head.

He loved Erin Hills, a long golf course with the widest fairways in U.S. Open memory, a setup that seemed perfect for one of the game’s best drivers.

“The golf course is great,” McIlroy said. “It lets you be aggressive. You can get on runs where you can make birdies. Not your typical U.S. Open setup. But I'm a big fan. I think it's going to produce a really good winner at the end of the week.”

It’s strange how this golf course closed its doors to so many of the best players in the world and opened its doors to so many unproven on stages this large.

Check out Cameron Champ.

The big-hitting 22-year-old amateur from Texas A&M shot 69 Friday to move into a tie for eighth, just two shots off the lead. This is the first U.S. Open he has ever played in, the first major, too.

“This is kind of the first time I’ve been in the spotlight,” Champ said.

Same with Xander Schauffele (73), who is playing in his first U.S. Open. The 23-year-old Tour player is also two shots off the lead.

“It's funny,” Schauffele said. “I'll sign some autographs and kids will be like, `Dad, who is that?’”

Harman, a two-time PGA Tour winner, is playing in just his third U.S. Open, but he is still an unlikely frontrunner. He missed the cut in his first two U.S. Opens. He’s a short hitter excelling on a course that measured 7,839 yards on Friday, the longest layout in U.S. Open history.

“If you hit good shots, you have a chance for birdies here,” Harman said.

With all the controversy that complicated the last two U.S. Opens, there’s a fairness to the setup at Erin Hills that’s impressing the field through 36 holes. The lack of wind they usually get here helped immensely with that on Friday.

“The big number is there on every hole, and that's what gets your attention,” said Wisconsin’s Steve Stricker (72), who’s tied for 55th. “But they do give you plenty of area to hit it off the tee. There is ample room to hit it, so it's really fair.”

When pros say that it’s “fair” at a major, it usually means it’s a little too easy, but the allure of Erin Hills is how it can look so easy and still be penal.

Yes, 42 players are cumulatively under par, the most through two rounds in U.S. Open history. But world No. 1 Johnson, No. 2 McIlroy and No. 3 Day all struggled unexpectedly. Johnson shot a 75, McIlroy a 78 and Day a 79 on the first day.

“I said yesterday, this has been my best preparation going into a major, I felt like, in my career,” Day said.

Fowler made it look easy Thursday, shooting 65 with his 7-under total equaling the lowest 18-hole score in relation to par in U.S. Open history.

We saw Hideki Matsuyama and Chez Reavie equal that with 65s on Friday. Matsuyama missed a 12-foot birdie at the last for a record-setting score.

We saw Adam Hadwin equal a U.S. Open record, making six birdies in a row on Thursday.

And we saw Casey play what may be the round of the tournament because of the way it ran the gamut. His play Friday captured how easy and how penal Erin Hills can be. Casey grabbed his share of the lead with a 71 that included a triple-bogey 8 at the 14th hole.

“Not every day you enjoy a round of golf with an 8 on the card, but I'm a pretty happy man,” Casey said.

There are a lot of players without majors happy the U.S. Open is being played at a first-time venue.

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

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In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.