Captain Confused

By Rex HoggardAugust 24, 2011, 9:19 pm

You know the “Most Interesting Man in the World’s” spiel by now:

Police often question him, just because they find him interesting.

Sharks have a week dedicated to him.

Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact.

He lives vicariously through himself.

And, at least for golf’s version of this magnetic alpha male, he sometimes speaks before he thinks. Or, so it seems as Fred Couples has stumbled his way through his second turn as America’s Presidents Cup captain.

This will not sit well with the masses because Boom Boom has made a career out of being above it all and is almost universally beloved whether he’s plying his trade between Tour ropes or holding court in a Charlotte, N.C., cigar bar. But when it comes to Woods being a potential Presidents Cup pick Captain America has fanned his approach – not once, but twice now.

First, Couples played his way into a corner when he said in June at Muirfield Village, “If (Woods) is not ready to play, he'll be the one to tell me, ‘Don’t waste your pick on me.’ . . . He doesn't have to prove a lot to any captain.”

That was, of course, before Woods returned from three months on the shelf, managed just six Tour rounds, only one of which was under par, and headed back to his south Florida lab in search of answers and “reps,” which apparently doesn’t mean what we thought it meant.

“It's hard for me right now to aim closer to flags or closer to where I want the ball to end up. I thought I was beyond that,” Woods said after an opening 77 on Thursday at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Last week at the Senior Players Championship Couples attempted some damage control, saying he had spoken to Woods’ manager and that they were trying to convince Woods to add to his post-PGA Championship schedule.

“He can't just show up the week before in Australia. I have made it clear that whoever I picked will be playing the (Australian Open, which Woods is committed to) the week before. But I need him to play more than just there. There's quite a few tournaments after the Tour Championship,” Couples said of the four Fall Series events that follow the FedEx Cup finale.

On Monday Woods said in a blog posted on his website that he “might add” to his Tour schedule this year, but made no guarantees. However, Woods, like many, must be wondering why he should add to his fall lineup?

When Woods missed the cut at the PGA and announced he was not adding last week’s Wyndham Championship to his agenda Couples’ decision had effectively been made for him. He will make his two captain’s picks on Sept. 26, the Monday after the Tour Championship and the mathematical truth of the situation is Woods is not qualified to play any Tour events before then.

Even if there were some sort of quid pro quo agreement between Couples and Woods that the latter add an odd fall event or two, Capt. Freddie is still confined to making his pick based on Woods’ record to date: eight events, two top 10s and a missed cut.

There is also the question of what a fall start would do for Woods, not to mention Couples.

Your correspondent contends that Woods does, eventually, scale the competitive abyss he now finds himself and rediscovers his forgotten form. But given his play at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (T-37) and PGA (missed cut) there are no guarantees that epiphany will come at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (where he won his first Tour title in 1996), the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic (which he has won twice) or the McGladrey Classic (which may be the best confidence-building fit for his game right now).

And what if Woods misses the cut at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort or Disney? What does that do for his confidence, to say nothing of Couples’ decision to skip over three basketball teams full of players to make him a pick?

Proponents of a Woods pick claim he is still the only American with enough competitive cachet to chill his opponents on the first tee. Maybe. Or maybe all the Internationals see at Royal Melbourne in November is a guy who couldn’t break par at Atlanta Athletic Club. A guy who is learning a new swing on the fly. A guy who is two calendars removed from his last Tour title.

Woods is 28th on the U.S. points list and likely to slide before Couples makes his picks. Well behind the likes of Keegan Bradley and Mark Wilson, two players who have a combined four Tour titles and a major more than Woods this year. Behind Zach Johnson, who is a combined 9-9-1 in Presidents and Ryder Cup play, and Rickie Fowler, one of the rare bright spots for the U.S. Ryder Cup team last year in Wales.

On this, Couples’ friend and next year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III is surely taking notes. When asked about Woods and captain’s picks it is best to err on the side of ambiguity. Something along the lines of, “I’d love for Tiger to be on the team, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” would seem to leave enough wiggle room.

Instead, Couples talked first, scrambled later.

Like the uber-cool “Most Interesting Man,” Couples’ words carry weight that would break a less-interesting man’s jaw; and, considering his bungling of the Woods situation, his logic is enough to twist even the most optimistic observer into a chocolate-covered pretzel.

Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.”