Tiger-esque: Day adds Players title to dominant run

By Randall MellMay 16, 2016, 1:26 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There was a time players trying to close out a victory didn’t want Tiger Woods in their heads.

They didn’t want him trashing things in there, rattling focus, smashing confidence and busting up their plans to win a trophy.

Tiger is in Jason Day’s head now, but this Tiger, the circa-2016 Tiger, is a welcome guest.

For Day, having his idol as a mentor is a good thing, but not so much for all those players Day is learning to beat with regularity.

With his four-shot victory Sunday at The Players Championship, Day has now won seven of his last 17 PGA Tour starts. Three of those were wire to wire, including this week’s virtuoso performance at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. Day showed the growing versatility of his game this past week, navigating through changing conditions so extreme it seemed as if he won on two entirely different golf courses.

Day, 28, won pounding driver and attacking flagsticks in a record assault on a soft course over the first two days. He won tying the course record with a 63 on his way to setting the 36-hole scoring record of 14 under. And he won scrambling on the weekend, holing one clutch putt after another to save important pars as the course grew firmer, faster and more severe.

In the end, Day led the field in both driving distance (311.6 yards per drive) and scrambling.

That’s seven titles over the last nine months for Day, five more victories than Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott, the only other players to win more than one PGA Tour start over that span.

“Well, that's Tiger-esque, that kind of a run,” said Scott, a fellow Aussie. “I try to imagine how good Tiger felt playing five years into his pro career and having won 50 events. Imagine how you'd feel confidence-wise?

“Jason must be feeling something like that at the moment. That’s an incredibly nice way to walk out on the golf course, and you can see it with Jason.”

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Scott played a practice round with Day this week.

“You can see there's that calmness inside him, calm confidence,” Scott said. “The way he's walking around, he's got that kind of unbeatable look about him.”

Colin Swatton, Day’s caddie and swing coach, said he isn’t privy to what insights Woods may be passing along to Day, but he sees real benefits showing up in Day’s game. He says the benefits are intangible, things you can’t necessarily define.

“I’ve definitely seen a change, not necessarily in how Jason plays, or how he goes about his business, but I definitely see a little bit more trust and belief in himself,” Swatton said. “I can see a lot more confidence, and that’s a very, very hard thing to get, especially if winning would make you confident, but it doesn’t always do that. I guess Tiger’s a very, very good person to go to. He’s arguably the best player in the world, and that has been my advice to Jason in the past, to lean on people who can make you better. I definitely think Tiger can do that.”

Day didn’t look so confident on the front nine Sunday, where his ball striking wasn’t crisp. He hit just three fairways on the front nine and just three greens in regulation and didn’t make a single birdie.

At the ninth, Day looked like he might be channeling the wrong Tiger Woods, when he chunked and fluffed three consecutive chips from the greenside rough. Day took three swipes to advance his ball 25 feet to the green.

“Felt like an amateur chopping my way to the pin,” Day said.

Day holed a 6-foot putt for bogey there. He called that putt the most important shot of his round because a miss would have shrunk his lead to a single shot.

“If I walk away with double bogey, I let in everyone in the field,” Day said. “That gives them a boost of energy.”

Day said the putt settled him down and helped him close hard on the back nine. He made his first birdie of the day at the 10th and didn’t give the field another opening. He refused to beat himself, closing with a bogey-free 33 on the back side.

That finishing flourish, it was as if Day wanted to impress Tiger.

“I don't know Tiger’s record for closing 54-hole leads out, but I think it's very high,” Day said. “I think he's only lost maybe one or so.”

Actually, Woods has held the 54-hole lead in 45 PGA Tour events and closed 43 of them.

Day said Woods offers him more than generous advice in their texts and phone calls. Woods motivates him to keep strengthening his hold on the world No. 1 ranking. Day widened his gap over No. 2 Jordan Spieth while extending his run atop the rankings to eight consecutive weeks.

“Tiger says he's going to kick my butt when he comes back, so I'm going to try and extend that gap, so if he does come back and he has turned into Tiger Woods again ... I've got to kind of watch my behind,” Day said. “Yeah, that's the main goal and main reason why I'm trying to extend that lead, so that I stay on top.”

Day isn’t the first player of this generation to connect with Woods, but he’s the first to parlay Woods’ reservoir of knowledge into something Tiger-esque.

Woods’ influence on Day can be overstated. Day is his own man. He plays his own game. He carries the No. 1 ranking his own way, with refreshing candor and openness. He’s different in Tiger in so many ways, and yet Tiger is the model of excellence that continues to shape Day’s dreams.

Day’s thinking big now. He said this victory was important to him because of its Hall of Fame ramifications. He says he’s burning with ambition.

“I look at that 10 PGA Tour wins, and I say to myself, `That’s not enough,’ and it isn't enough for me,” Day said. “It's just 10. I want more than 10.

“I look at Tiger, and he's got 79, or whatever it is, and Phil [Mickelson] is up there. I'm like, `OK, I want to be looked back on as one of the greats in the game.’ I'm going to try my best. I have the opportunity to do that right now, to try and work as hard as I can to really leave my footprint in this game, that has given me so much.”

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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.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”