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.

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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 each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

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

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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 of 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

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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.