Garcia keeps major dreams alive at Oakmont

By Randall MellJune 18, 2016, 1:53 am

OAKMONT, Pa. – Sergio Garcia can’t win at Oakmont Country Club ... right?

Really, if he’s finally going to break through to win his first major championship, it isn’t going to be in a U.S. Open ... is it?

Those golf gods Garcia once famously complained about will surely send frogs, locusts and fiery hail for him to play through if he has a chance come Sunday ... right?

Yet there he was Friday, gamely fighting through a long, tough day of more holes than anyone should care to play on this “ugly, old brute.” Garcia did more than hang in there in a grueling 36-hole marathon. He got into contention showing off his formidable arsenal of ball-striking skills, and at the very end, his underappreciated scrambling skills.

From 165 yards out at his last hole of the day, Garcia got up and down for par.

He holed a 51-foot putt to ignite a roar around the clubhouse.

Beaming, with his putter thrust skyward, Garcia left Oakmont with hope that maybe something magical awaits this weekend.

“This week, my head has been good,” Garcia said. “Even though I went through a couple of stretches where I didn't hit the ball that great, I stayed with it. I think my short game was really good. I chipped well. I putted well. So that was important. And I'm going to need more of that throughout the weekend.

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“It’s definitely the toughest golf course I’ve ever played. There’s no doubt about that.”

With Thursday’s weather suspensions, Garcia was among those players sentenced Friday to a double dose of Oakmont, and he did more than survive. He thrived.

In his first 18-hole trek, Garcia opened with a 2-under-par 68, equaling his lowest opening round in his 17 U.S. Open appearances. In his second trek, he posted an even par 70.

At 2-under 138, Garcia is tied for fourth, two shots off the lead.

“We know how difficult the U.S. Open is, and here at Oakmont, it’s even tougher,” Garcia said. “Physically, at the end, I could feel my legs tightening up a little bit. But we're so happy we got it done. We don't have to come back tomorrow until the afternoon. We can rest a little bit, take a nice, hot bath and get ready for tomorrow.”

Garcia, 36, fired at one flagstick after another through Friday, giving himself one birdie chance after another. And while Garcia couldn’t convert as many as he would have liked, he was relentless, attacking on a course where you aren’t supposed to be able to attack.

“I'm very happy to finish at 2 under,” Garcia said. “I didn't play that great this afternoon, but I thought I scrambled nicely and I made a couple big putts when I needed to.”

Garcia couldn’t make a larger statement about what he’s still capable of than to win at Oakmont, maybe the most complete test the U.S. Open offers. There’s no faking it around here. You have to have every facet of your game working to win this week and Garcia’s on his game through two rounds.

By winning here, Garcia couldn’t make a better statement of far he has come as a player and how hard he has worked to overcome the flaws that have held him back on the game’s major championship stages.

Garcia is 0 for 70 in majors with four runner-up finishes.

Even coming off a victory at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his last start, Garcia wasn’t a premium pick to win at Oakmont. Why? There is his putting and how these wickedly quick greens demand a dependable stroke. Mostly, though, there is his head and heart.

There’s no getting around why Garcia would shock a lot of pundits winning here.

Oakmont demands a larger dose of patience than just about any other U.S. Open venue. It requires unwavering belief and a certain resolute attitude.

And these haven’t been Garcia’s strengths in majors.

Jordan Spieth basically said it takes twice the patience to win the U.S. Open as it does other events.

“You have to have the patience for two rounds, each round,” Spieth said at week’s start. “It’s no more relevant than at a U.S. Open.”

Jason Day said it takes a certain frame of mind to win majors.

“You have to come in to major championships and your attitude has to be on point,” Day said. “You have to have a good attitude regardless of what the situation is.”

We’ve been here before going into weekends with Garcia, and we’ve seen them end with Garcia beating himself up.

We’ve heard him complain the golf gods are against him. We’ve heard him in vulnerable moments thinking out loud about how maybe he doesn’t have what it takes to win majors, how maybe he should just play for second place. He has said those things in frustration, in heated moments in the wake of some stinging defeats, but it hangs there now over every chance he gives himself, including this one at Oakmont.

And that’s probably why Garcia made a point to talk about how his head was in such a good place over Friday’s long haul. In the past, we’ve heard Garcia almost reluctant to make too much of a fast start in majors. Not Friday. He was glowing. He was excited.

After a bad drive at the ninth, his last hole, Garcia found himself in trouble, in deep grass in a gulch. He hacked out to 165 yards, then pulled his approach left on the green, 51 feet from the hole. There was no resignation there, no sense he was blowing all the good things he did this day. There was just joy after burying the putt.

Garcia is a little bit like golf’s version of Sisyphus in Greek mythology.

Sisyphus was the king the gods punished by compelling to roll a boulder up a hill, a damned task in that he spends eternity trying over and over again to roll the boulder to the top, only to see it roll back down without ever reaching the peak.

For Garcia, Oakmont’s a daunting hill to climb, but a glorious one if he reaches his peak.

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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

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.”