Wie, Thompson make up dream final pairing at Kraft

By Randall MellApril 6, 2014, 2:34 am

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Who needs the cover of Golf Digest?

Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie didn’t have to dress provocatively Saturday to give women’s golf a jolt of attention.

Wie and Thompson put on a shot-making clinic in the third round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship to give the women’s game a dream final pairing for Sunday’s finish at Mission Hills Country Club.

In a week where Golf Digest’s decision to put Paulina Gretzky on the cover of its May issue frustrated so many of the pros playing here, Wie and Thompson delivered style and substance in bids to win their first major championships. They’re a pair of 6-footers with dynamic games and stories.

Thompson vs. Wie?

This is golf theater at its best for the women. It’s Wie, 24, the former phenom who pulled her battle-scarred mind and body off the mat to fight for a second chance at her dreams. And it’s Thompson, still the phenom at 19, the player so many believe will become the dominant force Wie hasn’t yet become.

Thompson and Wie pulled away from the pack Saturday with stellar shot making.

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With a 4-under-par 68, Wie moved into a tie for the lead with Thompson (69). At 10-under 206, they’re two shots ahead of Charley Hull (66) and Se Ri Pak (71).

Thompson and Wie said they’re looking forward to their pairing together.

“We both have very similar games,” Thompson said. “We’ll be bombing it off the tee, I’m sure. I don’t know how much talking there will be, but it’s going to be a great day.”

Actually, Wie isn’t bombing it around Mission Hills. She’s dissecting the Dinah Shore Course with precision play off the tees, gearing down with 3-woods and stinger shots. How good is Wie playing? She was bogey free on Saturday. She hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation. The effort gives her a share of the lead through 54 holes in a major for the first time since the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open at Newport Country Club.

“I'm nervous,” Wie said. “I probably won't sleep that well tonight. You want something so badly. I’ve dreamed about this all my life, so I'm just trying to not think about it so much.  I'm just trying to think it's a normal Sunday.”

Thompson is relishing this chance as much as Wie is.

“It’s something I’ve worked for my whole life,” Thompson

Yeah, Thompson is only 19, but she’s been playing in majors since she was 12. That’s how old she was when she played in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, becoming the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. She was just 16 when she won the Navistar Classic, becoming the youngest player at the time to win an LPGA event.

As good as Thompson’s ball-striking was Saturday, her round could have been so much better. She missed three putts of four feet or less. She missed a 3-footer for birdie at the fourth and a 4-footer for birdie at the seventh. The miss that hurt the most came at the 18th. She three putted for bogey, missing a 4–footer for par. It ended her run of 36 consecutive holes without a bogey.

“I missed a few short putts for birdie, and it wasn’t the ending I wanted,” Thompson said. “But, overall, I played pretty solid.”

Thompson is shrinking the course with her big drives. She’s playing a bomb and gouge game you usually only see in the men’s game. She hit 15 greens in regulation on Saturday.

Wie’s run this week is part of what David Leadbetter believes is her “second coming,” or her re-birth.

A victory Sunday will make it feel as if Wie has come full circle. Wie’s first major was the Kraft Nabisco. As a 13-year-old, she played her way into the final Sunday pairing before tying for ninth. At 14, she finished fourth here. At 16, she led late in the final round before faltering to a tie for third.

A two-time LPGA winner, Wie’s career didn’t soar the way so many expected. She endured through injuries, slumps and burnout before putting her game back together the last six months or so. She insists she doesn’t regret the swoon. She says it’s part of who she is today.

“I’m definitely a lot more appreciative of where I am, going in with a lead,” Wie said.

A shot behind at Saturday’s start, Wie came out determined. She birdied the first hole to pull into a tie for the lead.

Wie isn’t hitting a lot of drivers around Mission Hills this week, but she’s hitting a lot of fairways and greens. Her ball striking looks as good as it has in a long time. She hit the first 12 greens she looked at, giving herself a lot of good birdie chances.

Wie, Thompson and Pak took turns atop the leaderboard in the third round.  

Shortly after making the turn, Wie took sole possession of the lead with a birdie at the 11th. She got that lead when Pak missed a 4-footer behind her to bogey the 10th.

Thompson is one of the longest hitters on tour, and she likes that she can hit her driver hard around Mission Hills, especially with the rough down this year. Thompson was third in driving distance for the week at Kraft going into the third round. She used her power early to take the solo lead with a birdie at the second hole. After crushing her drive there, Thompson reached that par 5 in two.

At the fourth hole, though, Thompson watched Se Ri Pak hole a 6-footer for birdie to tie her atop the leaderboard. Thompson got the benefit of seeing Pak’s line, but she still pushed her 3-foot birdie chance right, allowing Pak to tie her for the lead.

At the seventh, Thompson missed a 4-footer for birdie that would have given her back sole possession of the lead. Pak, again, converted where Thompson couldn’t, making birdie to give Pak a one-shot lead.

At the ninth, Thompson couldn’t take advantage of her power. After hitting her second shot into the front, right greenside bunker, Thompson blasted 25 feet past the hole. She left her birdie chance short and watched Pak hole out for yet another birdie.

Thompson got it going on the back nine, reeling off birdies at the 11th, 12th and 15th holes before closing with that bogey.

The fireworks set up what ought to be an entertaining Sunday finish at Mission Hills.

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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 golfodds.com.

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.”