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All the feels: Spieth recalls emotional Open victory

By Rex HoggardJuly 13, 2018, 5:00 pm

When Jordan Spieth teed off on Sunday at Royal Birkdale last year he knew he led every player in the field except Matt Kuchar by a half dozen shots. He knew his experiences in similar situations would be crucial. He knew he was 18 holes away from moving within a PGA Championship of the career Grand Slam.

What he didn’t know was that the next few hours would be the most eventful of his young life, and arguably the most memorable major championship finish in a generation.

Things didn’t go well from the outset. He bogeyed the first, the third and the fourth holes to fall into a tie for the lead with Kuchar.

Those putts that had seemed so effortless for the first three days refused to drop. He became uncomfortable with his swing, and by the turn all the momentum he’d built over 54 holes was squarely in Kuchar’s corner.

It’s not often that one can so easily identify the precise moment when you’ve reached rock bottom, but for Spieth there might as well have been a street sign adjacent the 13th tee box – You’ve arrived.

“It was just a bad 2 ½ hours that I had out of that entire week,” Spieth explained in a recent interview with Golf Channel. “I hit the ball beautifully, was putting well, chipping well the whole week. I just had that 2 ½ hours and I was able to not let that be four bad hours.”

This is how Spieth remembers that wild final round at the 2017 Open Championship:

The Downward Spiral

When Spieth made the turn, his three-shot lead over Kuchar was gone and the two were tied. For historians, the final turn had a déjà vu feel to it, similar to how Spieth had come unglued during the final round at the 2016 Masters.

But if Spieth has a tendency to appear nervous or unsettled during these circumstances, the internal dialogue at Royal Birkdale was surprisingly upbeat.

“I actually felt a little sigh of relief after I lost the lead,” Spieth said. “Like it almost felt easier being the chaser, and that happened two or three different times during that final round, where I lost the lead and then felt better because of it.”

Before things got better, however, they’d get much, much worse.

The Drive

When Spieth arrived at the 13th tee he was still tied with Kuchar at 8 under par, but with a light rain falling and the galleries becoming restless, his drive on the 503-yard par 4 sailed nearly 100 yards right of the fairway.

As his tee shot soared helplessly out of play, Spieth cradled his head in both hands. It was as if the claret jug itself had been sent tumbling down the massive dunes.

“When I got to the ball, I saw that it was going to be an unplayable,” Spieth recalled. “I couldn't advance it anywhere where I could then hit the green. So I started running through scenarios.”

With Kuchar waiting with his caddie in the middle of the 13th fairway, one of the most surreal episodes since Jean Van de Velde waded into the burn at Carnoustie in 1999 unfolded.

The Decision

Spieth’s drive actually caromed off a spectator, down a dune, and into a clump of fescue. It would have been easy, natural even, for Spieth’s racing mind to make a quick decision.

But there was nothing quick about what transpired next.

“If I drop it within two club lengths, any direction no closer [to the hole], do I get a lie where I can advance it back to the fairway?” he said.

At one point, Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, offered an alternative.

“He goes, ‘Why don't we go back to the tee, you know, make six [double bogey] at worst, get a putt at five,’” Spieth said. “I'm like, ‘I don't know if you know this, but I really don't want to hit that tee shot again. It didn't exactly go very well the last time.’”

But a plan began to form. After asking a rules official if the driving range, which is right of the 13th fairway, was out of bounds, Spieth decided to take an unplayable lie between a collection of equipment trailers.

“I saw kind of a scenario where maybe I could get a drop into the trailers, then go over on the driving range,” said Spieth, who was given line-of-sight relief from the trailers. “I get a clear lie with more room to carry over the hills. I could actually get enough club on the ball to reach the green and maybe make a five, six at worst.”

The Delay

All total, Spieth’s adventure right of the 13th fairway took more than 20 minutes – all while Kuchar waited – although it didn’t seem that long in the heat of the moment.

“I was annoyed at watching the coverage of it afterwards and how long it was taking, because in my mind I had so many different decisions and stuff going through my head,” Spieth said. “It didn't seem like it took that long until we were over where I was going to drop it. ... I was surprised at how long it actually took compared to what it felt like.”

It’s also worth noting that although those moments and motions seemed frantic to those watching, internally Spieth described an odd calmness.

“It was clarity of thought and concise, is what it felt like,” he said. “It looked the exact opposite, but I felt clear in the mind.”

The Defining Moment

As officials tried to clear the gallery so Spieth could hit, he asked Greller for an approximate yardage. It was the only time that there was even a hint of concern during the entire episode.

“I thought it was around 270 yards to the hole and Michael thought I was around 230 to 240 and the wind was off the left, might've been a touch of hurt at that angle,” Spieth said.

Spieth and Greller agreed on something closer to his caddie’s estimation, and Spieth hit his driving iron just short and right of the green. He chipped to 8 feet and calmly rolled in the putt for bogey to fall one stroke off the lead.

The Payoff

Some bogeys are better than others, and with a renewed zeal Spieth bounded to the par-3 14th hole and would nearly hole out his 6-iron tee shot and convert the birdie putt to retake a share of the lead.

“The shot on 14 was the best shot that I've probably ever hit in a major championship given the situation,” Spieth said.

In Spieth’s mind, his miraculous bogey at the 13th hole had created a new tournament and the momentum that had eluded him all day was back.

At the next hole, the par-5 15th, Spieth would retake the lead for good with a 50-footer for eagle that was punctuated when he had Greller retrieve the ball, a snapshot many believe was The Open’s defining moment. In retrospect, however, Spieth wasn’t exactly happy with his reaction.

“I felt like I had an opportunity to give a signature reaction and I didn't,” Spieth smiled.

“I mean ‘Go get that!’ was kind of signature but that was a long putt, it goes downhill, left to right, then it banks back up right to left. I could have started walking over putter raise, big uppercut. I mean I had all this time, I knew it was going in with 5 feet to go and all I thought about was not even smiling, but instead Michael will pick that up out of the hole. I was disappointed in myself.”

The Do-Over

Spieth would play his last five holes in 5 under par for a three-stroke victory over Kuchar. Although he rarely thinks in such terms, there was a measure of redemption in not just his win, but how he was able to triumph over adversity.

A year earlier at Augusta National, Spieth had let an opportunity slip through his hands when he played Nos. 10 through 12 in 6 over par.

During those feverish moments as he picked his way around Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole he allowed himself to pull on that ’16 Masters meltdown, but not for long.

“It brought in more negative thoughts than if that hadn't happened,” he conceded. “I was constantly questioned about that for a long time. It was annoying to me, but also I recognize that that was appropriate for those asking the questions, so it just wasn't a fun experience afterwards. I didn't want to go through it again, which was part of the fire to not let it happen again.”

And part of the satisfaction he now enjoys after winning the most unlikely of Open Championships.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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Knox relishes round with 'mythical figure' Woods

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Russell Knox was expecting the worst and hoping for the best Thursday at The Open.

Playing with Tiger Woods tends to have that effect.

The native Scot received a treat earlier this week when he saw his name on the tee sheet alongside his boyhood idol, Woods.

“Felt good out there, but obviously my swing, it was just like I had too much tension,” Knox said after an opening 73. “I just wasn’t letting it go as normal. First round with Tiger, I expected to feel a little bit different. The way I felt was better than the way I swung.”

Knox said that he was nervous playing alongside Woods, a player he’d only encountered on the range. “He’s almost like a mythical figure,” he said.

But after a while, he settled into the rhythm of the round at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I thought it would be worse,” he said, “I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I’ve got to get over that. I’m here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course.”

Knox probably had more interaction with Woods than he anticipated, if only because the third member of the group, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, keeps to himself because of the language barrier.

“It’s kind of a blur,” Knox said. “It’s like, Oh, I’m chatting away with Tiger here like normal. I don’t even remember what I was saying.”

There have been countless stories from this year as the next generation of players – guys who grew up watching Woods dominate the sport – get paired with Woods for the first time.

It was no less special for Knox on Thursday.

“It’s nice for him to say things like that,” Woods said, “and we enjoyed playing with each other. Hopefully we’ll play a little bit better tomorrow.”