Wie, Thompson both in search of second major

By Randall MellApril 1, 2015, 8:16 pm

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – They arrived at the ANA Inspiration this week searching for the powers that made their major championship breakthroughs so magical last year.

Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie will tee it up at Mission Hills looking to put the hocus pocus back in their games.

Thompson overpowered the Dinah Shore Course in winning her first major last year, electrifying women’s golf with the kind of performance so many insiders believed would make this young dynamo a dominant force. She won the Kraft Nabisco, now the ANA Inspiration, launching mammoth drives in a game of bomb-and-gouge usually only witnessed in the men’s game.

“Everyone I know who sees Lexi up close, who sees her play in person, from caddies to PGA Tour pros, says, `Dude, she doesn’t hit it like a girl. She mashes it,’” Nicholas Thompson, the oldest of Lexi’s two brothers, said of the show his sister put on last year. “She amazes people with some of the shots she can hit.”

Stacy Lewis, the best American in the game, knew what was possible when Thompson put it all together.

“As soon as she figures out her putting, she’s going to be unbelievable,” Lewis said before Thompson’s Kraft victory. “She’s hands down the best ball striker on tour.”

Thompson put it all together at Mission Hills, combining power and one of the best putting performances of her career. She needed the virtuoso effort to hold off Wie in a head-to-head Sunday duel with Wie beginning to show she was ready to realize the vast potential in her game. Thompson closed with a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 to win by three shots.

With that major championship title in hand, Thompson looked poised to launch a dominant run, but it didn’t happen. She arrives this week looking for her first victory since last year’s triumph. Though she hasn’t played poorly, picking up seven top-10 finishes over the past year, even Thompson expected more.

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“I would say I’m definitely a little surprised that I haven’t won,” Thompson said. “I know my game is very close. I’ve been working really hard on every aspect of my game. My short game, I’ve been practicing hours a day trying to improve.”

Expectations have followed Thompson since she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open as a 12-year-old and then won her first LPGA title as a 16-year-old. Now 20, she’s a four-time LPGA winner who climbed as high as No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She’s No. 9 this week.

“Golf is all about being patient,” Thompson said. “You can’t win every week. You just have to go with the same positive mindset. All you can do is try your best.”

Wie, 25, turned the disappointment of losing to Thompson into the best run of her career. In her very next start after the Kraft Nabisco, Wie won the Lotte Championship. Two months later, she broke through to win her first major, putting together every component of her game to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst.

After that Kraft Nabisco loss, Wie’s game came together brilliantly, with the return of her command with her driver and the development of her unusual “table-top” putting stroke. In eight starts after the Kraft, she finished top-10 in seven of them, winning twice and finishing third twice. But a deep bone bruise to the index finger of her right hand derailed most of the rest of her season. She also battled a bad knee last year. She missed almost two months recovering from the finger injury.

“Injuries suck,” Wie said.

With strep throat and a sinus infection impacting the start of this season, Wie hasn’t been the same formidable presence.

In six starts this year, Wie’s best finish is a tie for 24th in the season opener at the Coates Golf Championship.

“I'm a strong believer, and always been a strong believer, that everything happens for a reason,” Wie said. “I learned a lot. I think I learned a lot from last year, just how I approached it. Just from winning and losing, I think you learn from both, equally as much. Definitely, I was fired up after this event last year.”

Wie has been working hard to get the same feeling in her swing that she had at Pinehurst last summer. As part of her pre-shot routine lately, she has been thrusting her left hip outward, in an exaggerated motion, and pumping her downswing from the top. Her swing coach, David Leadbetter, says she’s looking to feel the “lag” that worked so well last year.

“I think that every week it's definitely getting better,” Wie said. “I think just from how I played in Phoenix, and how I played at Kia, just getting back to feeling comfortable. That's really what I've been working on. I just felt like I played a lot better than what my score showed, especially last week. But it's just every week feeling more comfortable and trying to work on things for the long-term, not just for that week.”

Karen Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open winner and Golf Channel analyst, can see how Mission Hills could reawaken Wie’s game. This is where Wie first emerged in a large way in the women’s game. As a 13-year-old, Wie played in the final Sunday pairing of the Kraft Nabisco with a chance to win. She tied for ninth, one of her five top-10 finishes here. As a 14-year-old, she finished fourth.

“Michelle Wie would dearly love to win this,” Stupples said. “She's been so close in the past. I think she's just waiting for her game to turn the corner. She hasn't played great this year, but it's going back to familiar ground and a course that she feels comfortable on and she loves. I think that could be the turnaround for her game.”

Hall of Famer Judy Rankin isn’t sure what to expect from Wie this week.

“I have no idea when she's going to play well,” Rankin said. “She might be 25 under at Mission Hills, and I'd be glad to see it, but I don't have a feel for when she'll play well and when she won't. It's somewhat mysterious.”

The ANA Inspiration begins with Thompson and Wie both looking to find the answers that will put them back in position to win their second major. They’re both suited to win at Mission Hills, if they can just find the magic that made last year successful for them.

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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?’”