Big names colliding at Doral

By Rex HoggardMarch 7, 2012, 11:34 pm

DORAL, Fla. – Imagine the possibilities: tee sheets riddled with more intrigue than an episode of “Grim” and enough volatility to set the World Golf Ranking on its side, again.

Imagine the possibilities if the math and mojo lineup. It’s happened here before, back when Doral was more South Beach than Sawgrass. Before the WGC cut Doral’s field in half and turned a true South Florida soiree into something a little more sterile.

In Cliff’s Note form, No. 2-ranked Tiger Woods went into the final round of the 2005 Ford Championship two strokes adrift of No. 4 Phil Mickelson, they turned all square, Woods pulled away with a birdie at the 17th and Lefty’s chip at the last that would have forced a playoff lipped out. Pandemonium ensued.

For good measure, No. 1 Vijay Singh finished tied for third place in 2005 but it wasn’t enough to keep Woods at bay and the Fijian slipped to No. 2 in the world.

It was as good as golf gets this side of Magnolia Lane.

These type of events rarely go to script and no matter how hard the PGA Tour contrives, there is no way to ensure magic. But on the eve of the year’s second World Golf Championship it’s impossible not to imagine the possibilities.

In order, Thursday’s tee sheet at Doral features an in-form Woods and Mickelson, a newly crowned world No. 1 and enough ranking points to allow for another overhaul of the world order on Sunday if the tumblers fall as prescribed.

Per custom, world Nos. 1, 2 and 3 will set out together on Thursday and it is a measure of how much subtext is swirling through the South Florida air this week that it’s not even the day’s most-compelling three-ball.

That honor belongs to Woods, who will play with defending champion Nick Watney and Sergio Garcia. Or maybe it’s Mickelson who tees off with WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship winner Hunter Mahan and Adam Scott.

It’s all enough to make reporters forget about Hank Haney’s impending book on Woods, at least temporarily.

In the last month Mickelson outdueled Woods, among others, at Pebble Beach and finished runner-up at Northern Trust Open, Woods closed with a 62 on Sunday at the Honda Classic for his best Tour finish (T-2) since 2009 and Rory McIlroy overtook Luke Donald atop the World Ranking with his win at PGA National.

“We have not had somebody play to the level of Tiger and so now we have four, five, six guys that are battling for the No. 1 spot it seems like monthly,” Mickelson said. “I don’t know where it will all settle.”

It doesn’t seem likely the ranking roulette will end any time soon with little let up in most players schedules through the Masters. Woods and Mickelson will play Bay Hill before the year’s first major, while McIlroy has planned a three-week hiatus before arriving at Augusta National which promises to only add to the ranking volatility.

Paul Casey has spent the last two months on the DL coming to grips with his inner couch potato following a snowboarding accident that dislocated his right shoulder. He doesn’t cherish the role of spectator but, all things considered, he picked an interesting time to become a bystander.

“I actually watched. I watched (Northern Trust), I watched the Match Play. Watched a bunch of stuff in the Middle East,” Casey said. “I’ve never done that before. It was very inspiring to watch and sort of thinking, I’ve won Abu Dhabi.”

But if the stars seem aligned for a Duel at Doral II, Woods sidestepped the hopeful hyperbole on Wednesday, pointing out that only the names on the tee sheet have changed, not the stakes.

“I’ve been in the same situation before,” Woods cautioned. “It was Vijay (Singh), myself, Phil and Ernie were all going at it for a number of years. So now it’s just a different crop of guys.”

Better than anyone Woods knows the dangers of unrealistic expectations. Despite the litany of intriguing story lines this week fate remains undefeated. In 2005 it took more than just opportunity to deliver a historic Sunday and karma, not ranking math or recent form, has the ultimate vote.

Still, considering this week’s lineup it’s easy to imagine the possibilities.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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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, 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.