Grain of sand muddies U.S. Women's Open finish

By Randall MellJuly 11, 2016, 3:30 am

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – The USGA ought to bring in an exorcist.

The spirit of the game suddenly seems a cruel, wicked entity.

Or maybe a witch doctor is in order.

The U.S. Women’s Open appeared to end under a curse almost as dark as what plagued the U.S. Open last month.

Now is the summer of our discontent, made glorious winter by the cold heart of the Rules of Golf.

What in the name of Bobby Jones is happening to our national championships?

Brittany Lang emerged as the winner Sunday from a fog of confusion in yet another USGA-hosted event. She defeated Anna Nordqvist in a three-hole aggregate playoff to win the U.S. Women’s Open with fans gaping in dumbfounded wonderment over how another rules controversy could scar yet another national championship.

How disorienting was it all?

USGA president Diana Murphy introduced Brittany as Bethany in the trophy presentation, then kept referring to her as Bethany. It was cringeworthy to viewers who remembered Murphy’s strangely tongue-tied delivery at the U.S. Open trophy presentation, which ignited unflattering speculation in the Twitterverse.

Poor Brittany Lang, she deserved better than that finish, as did Dustin Johnson in his U.S. Open victory at Oakmont.

U.S. Women’s Open: Articles, photos and videos

This was the moment of Lang’s golfing life, just as it was the pinnacle of Johnson’s career, but we couldn’t fully appreciate what either achieved with so many questions over video reviews of breaches swirling over their finishes.

“You never want to win with a penalty or something like that happening, especially to Anna, who is a friend of mine and a great player and a classy girl,” Lang said. “It's unfortunate. I still had to play pretty damn good golf to get up there. So, I’m really proud of myself.”

Lang was tough in every way you have to be to win a U.S. Women’s Open, her second LPGA title and her first major championship triumph.

In a nutshell, the controversy Sunday was over Nordqvist grazing a few grains of sand not visible to the naked eye as she pulled back a 5-iron in her takeaway while hitting a shot to the 17th green on the second playoff hole. She was in violation of Rule 13-4b. There was no disputing that once Fox showed a zoomed-in replay. You can’t ground your club in a bunker.

Sunday’s controversy at CordeValle Golf Club was yet again about the timing of the application of a penalty discovered in video review.

At the U.S. Open, the controversy was twofold. It was over whether Johnson violated Rule 18-2, whether he actually caused his ball to move a millimeter or so while over a putt at the fifth hole on Sunday at Oakmont. It was also over the USGA’s decision to inform Johnson at the 12th hole he might be penalized for a breach but the ruling would be delayed until he finished his round. The delay threw the championship into limbo, with players uncertain what Johnson’s score really was or if he actually led the championship at all.

At CordeValle Sunday, Nordqvist was informed of her breach after hitting her third shot into the 18th green at the third playoff hole. She was told there that she was getting a two-shot penalty. The controversy was over whether the USGA should have acted more quickly upon seeing the video evidence.

Nordqvist didn’t dispute the penalty, but she questioned why it took as long as it did to penalize her.

She hit the disputed shot while in a fairway bunker at the 17th and she was informed of the penalty after hitting her third shot into the 18th hole.

“It was quite a long time in between,” Nordqvist said. “With all the cameras and all the tension, you would figure that they would have told me just when it happened, or when we were walking up 17. And certainly not after I hit my third shot [at the 18th], and before Brittany hit her third shot.

“It certainly changed her game plan. But, hopefully, we can all learn from it and we can all get better.”

At week’s start, USGA senior manager director of competitions John Bodenhamer was asked how the Dustin Johnson fiasco would affect rulings at this U.S. Women’s Open.

“We will expedite our decision-making throughout the process, the rule-making, rule-decision process,” he said. “And we will communicate with players in a decisive manner.”

So that’s the real issue here.

There’s no question the USGA was more “expeditious” and more decisive with its Nordqvist ruling, but were officials expeditious enough? Did they still take too long applying the penalty, and did they do so in a way that gave Lang a competitive advantage?

Rules officials told Nordqvist she was being penalized after she hit her third shot into the 18th, but they told Lang before she hit her third shot there.

The 18th is guarded by some trouble, with Sunday’s pin tucked hard against water at the front of the green.

Lang acknowledged hearing about the penalty led her to hit a safer shot. Initially, she said she thought she needed to make birdie and was going to attack the flagstick with a soft-landing lob wedge. After she was alerted to the penalty, she put away the lob wedge and hit a sand wedge to the middle of the green.

So should the USGA have acted more quickly? To be fair, there are extenuating circumstances.

Bodenhamer said he and senior director of rules Thomas Pagel were at the 17th green when they were informed that Fox TV had called to ask if any rules issue was detected with Nordqvist hitting her shot from the bunker at the 17th. They called a USGA staffer monitoring the broadcast. That staffer relayed that he watched the original Fox video three times, but nothing was detectable. Still, Bodenhamer and Pagel drove to the compound a few minutes away to see for themselves. Once there, Bodenhamer said Fox’s close-up video was available, which clearly showed the violation.

“We immediately notified the referee, who as quickly as he could notified Anna and Brittany,” Bodenhamer said. “That's the sequence of events.”

Why didn’t the USGA halt play when first informed there may be an issue?

“We wait until there’s conclusive evidence,” he said. “When we left for the compound, it wasn’t there.”

To be competitively fair, why didn’t they wait until Lang hit her third shot to tell her about Nordqvist’s penalty?

“Our decision was to ask our referee to inform both players as soon as possible,” he said.

The USGA can’t win in this summer of their discontent.

Even resolving to be more expeditious and decisive, the organization finds itself under assault.

Somebody call an exorcist, because apparently the Rules of Golf and Video Review needs some divine intervention to fix.

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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.”