Classic Sunday shaping up amid messy circumstances

By Rex HoggardJune 21, 2015, 4:05 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – If not for a 54-hole leaderboard that touches on all the right notes, the 115th U.S. Open would be in danger of giving the Evergreen State a dusty yellow eye.

Players have groused, quietly at first but at an increasingly more vocal pace in recent days; legends have lambasted the faux links land; fans have lampooned the layout’s restricted access and even viewers across the globe have balked at Chambers Bay’s crusty curves and brownish hue.

But through it all, through the building crescendo over the increasingly poor condition of some greens and even a chorus of safety concerns as players and fans attempt to navigate the rugged terrain, the old sand quarry has risen above the din of criticism to produce all of the essential elements of a classic final round.

It’s part and parcel of Chambers Bay that the same rough edges that have drawn so much scrutiny are the same elements of the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that sifted through 156 players and left us with the high-profile likes of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day all tied atop the leaderboard at 4 under par and vying for Sunday’s title.

Full-field scores: 115th U.S. Open

Consider that Spieth and Patrick Reed stepped to the second tee on Saturday tied for the lead and walked off the green 15 minutes later separated by three shots following a 40-footer for birdie by the Masters champion and a messy double bogey by Reed.

Similarly, Spieth drifted back to the pack after going bogey-bogey at Nos. 4 and 5, all in a Tacoma minute. But that’s the way things roll at Chambers Bay, where danger and discontent loom around every dusty hump and hill.

“‘Appalled’, was the word I used,” said Spieth (71) when asked his reaction after missing the fairway at the par-4 eighth hole. “I couldn't have hit a better tee shot. I thought my ball was in the middle of the fairway. And then I’m in the rough and there was a clump of grass behind it. This is a joke.”

On Sunday, Gary Player said this championship was the most “unpleasant” he’d ever seen, and this is a man who once won a U.S. Open (1965) without ever breaking par in a single round.

The cascade of criticism has ranged from the USGA’s decision to swap par on the first and 18th holes this week to greens that Henrik Stenson said were akin to putting on broccoli.

“I don't think they're as green as broccoli,” said Rory McIlroy following a third-round 70. “I think they're more like cauliflower.”

In simplest terms, a handful of the fescue greens have been infested with poa annua, considered by many a Tour type a West Coast weed, leaving unreliable, and by some accounts unacceptable, putting surfaces.

Those agronomic issues have been compounded by USGA executive director Mike Davis’ insistence on pushing the set-up envelope this week, playing a dramatic game of roulette with vastly different teeing grounds and a sliding par on the first and closing holes.

At the beginning of the week, Spieth figured it was just Davis’ attempt to “get inside our heads,” and after three demanding days it seems the executive has set up shop in the field’s collective consciousness.

As a result of all that creativity, however contrived some believe it to be, Davis seems to have lost the locker room this week, with player concerns slowly building along with the temperature and winds along the Puget Sound.

“Most players are a bit too afraid to say what they think, we’re living in a politically correct world where people can’t voice their opinions, but I think if we had a hidden microphone and camera in the locker room you’d hear a few things that you’re not hearing in public,” Lee Westwood said.

The result has been the most contentious U.S. Open since officials were forced to nurse some of Shinnecock Hills’ greens back to life midway through the final round at the 2004 championship.

With apologies to Day, who collapsed on Friday with what was diagnosed as benign positional vertigo yet produced an inspiring performance on Saturday (68) to move into a share of the lead, Chambers Bay is not for the faint of heart.

Nor is it for a player who is not 100 percent, which Day certainly was not on Saturday on his way to an inward loop of 31.

“I said to him on [No.] 18, ‘That is the greatest round of golf I’ve ever watched.’ It was a superhuman effort,” said Day’s caddie and swing coach Colin Swatton. “I said to him after the round that they might make a movie about that round. It’s up there with Tiger Woods playing with a broken leg at the [2008] U.S. Open.”

Day will set out on Sunday in the anchor group with Johnson – who is an equally compelling story but for drastically different reasons following his self-induced hiatus from the game earlier this season – preceded by Brenden Grace and Spieth, who will be vying to become just the sixth player to win the first two legs of the single-season Grand Slam following his triumph in April at the Masters.

White dots were needed this week to define where greens end and fairways begin at Chambers Bay, and while many in the field appear on the brink of waving the metaphorical white flag, it’s just as telling that the layout has produced a foundation for what is shaping up to be an unforgettable Sunday.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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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.