Cut Line: Vive La Highest Bidder

By Rex HoggardMay 20, 2011, 9:44 pm

The best part about France landing the 2018 Ryder Cup is a potential Jean Van de Velde captaincy and ... well, at least it’s not Celtic Manor. Other than that, news that the biennial slugfest is bound for Le Golf National is another sign that cash, not the competition, is king when it comes to the European selection process.

Made Cut

Tiger Woods. Make no mistake, Woods’ Tweet-nouncement “Bummed that my left leg has me on the sidelines, but I want, and expect, to be at the U.S. Open. Will do all I can to get there,” is not exactly the clean bill of health everyone wants, but it is progress, if not for the patient then at least the process.

Golf is at its best when Woods is, but a front-nine 42 and another trip to the trainer’s table doesn’t do anyone any good, especially Woods. He seems likely to miss the Memorial, which he has won four times, but now, more than anything, he needs rest, not reps.

Special delivery. News that FedEx re-upped to sponsor the Tour’s Memphis stop may seem like a bullet item on a slow news day, but for those who read Tour tea leaves it’s a sign of progress.

That FedEx wants to stay in the golf business, at least through 2014, may indicate the shipping giant’s interest in re-upping as the umbrella sponsor of the Tour’s season-long points race.

By comparison, commissioner Tim Finchem sounded like bachelor No. 4 when asked if he envisioned FedEx staying on as umbrella sponsor through 2013 and beyond on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass: “I would say generally yes, but I wouldn't say . . . don't hold me to that.”

Yes, maybe, don’t know. Got that?

Tweet of the week: @PaulAzinger “Crticizing @IanJamesPoulter for teeing off on the 18th the way he did (in fading light on Saturday at TPC Sawgrass) is unfounded. Every player on Tour would have done the same thing.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Caddie carousel. First it was Bobby Brown and Dustin Johnson, now it’s Adam Scott and Tony Navarro. Unemployment hovers around 10 percent in the United States in large part to the growing number of canned caddies, or so it seems.

There is some good news. We hear Navarro may get a tryout on Johnson’s bag and Brown landed on his feet this week with up-and-coming rookie Kyle Stanley.

Reminds us of the old caddie-yard adage: there are two kinds of caddies – those who have just been fired, and those who are about to be.

No sunshine. Word that Paul Goydos was “semi-seriously” thinking about retiring is bad news on many levels.

Mr. Sunshine, as he was once dubbed for his drab demeanor, is a Tour original, funny, insightful and honest to a fault. A fixture in Tour media centers, one scribe once quipped that it’s hard to get most players into the press tent, but impossible to get Goydos out.

Let’s hope his third-place finish at The Players changes Goydos’ mind. Where else would we get lines like this gem, “Tiger Woods has never won a major (after trailing through 54 holes). Big deal, neither have I.”
Missed Cut

2018 Ryder Cup. In all fairness, the PGA of America’s system isn’t that much better – what else could possibly explain repeated trips back to Valhalla and Whistling Straits – but Europe’s insistence that the Ryder Cup goes to the highest bidder isn’t doing anyone any favors.

Le Golf National may be a fine facility and maybe the Continent deserves to host the grudge match, but imagine the possibilities of a Ryder Cup played on the Old Course, or Turnberry, or any of the great links courses in the United Kingdom.

If the U.S. Open can go to Merion in 2013, the European powers that be can swallow a “discount” Ryder Cup for the good of the game.

No sunshine II. Gareth Tindall quietly announced he will step down as the commissioner of the Sunshine Tour earlier this month. Tindall, you may recall, went on record earlier this year when news of a new World Golf Championship in South Africa broke, saying, “The significance of what we've done is potential, and the U.S. tour might slag me for this, but essentially we are starting the world tour. It's been a matter of time.”

That news, however, seemed to be a tad premature. Asked in Hilton Head about the specifics of the new event, which will be called the Tournament of Hope, PGA Tour chief of operations Andy Pazder declined to comment on any specifics.

At issue is sponsorship of the $10 million event, no easy hurdle given the current economic headwinds, the date and the venue. Besides that, everything is moving along swimmingly.

TPC Sawgrass’ 17th hole. As an element of the sum of the Stadium Course’s parts, the island-greened 17th hole is an infinitely enjoyable “A ticket” ride. As the starting line for a sudden-death playoff, Pete Dye’s pool is wanting.

The “fifth major” debate aside, if the Tour wants The Players to be considered one of the game’s top events they may want to look into a three-hole playoff, like the formats used at the PGA Championship and Open Championship, that begins on the 16th hole and ends at No. 18.

Twice in recent years the winner has been decided by a gust of wind (2008) and a grainy putt (2011). That doesn’t exactly scream Grand Slam.
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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”

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How will players game-plan for Carnoustie?

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:31 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Thomas took a familiar slash with his driver on the 18th tee on Monday at Carnoustie and watched anxiously as his golf ball bounced and bounded down the fairway.

Unlike the two previous editions of The Open, at what is widely considered the rota’s most demanding test, a particularly warm and dry summer has left Carnoustie a parched shade of yellow and players like Thomas searching for answers.

Under the best circumstances, Carnoustie is every bit the unforgiving participant. But this week promises to be something altogether different, with players already dumbfounded by how far the ball is chasing down fairways and over greens.

Brown is beautiful here at Royal Dark & Dusty.

But then it’s also proving to be something of a unique test.

Where most practice rounds at The Open are spent trying to figure out what lines are best off tees, this is more a study of lesser evils.

Tee shots, like at the par-4 17th hole, ask multiple questions with few answers. On his first attempt, Thomas hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 17. It cleared the Barry Burn and bounded down the middle of the fairway. Perfect, right? Not this year at Carnoustie, as Thomas’ tee shot kept rolling until it reached the same burn, which twists and turns through both the 17th and 18th fairways, at a farther intersection.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“A hole like 17 in this wind, the trick is getting a club that will carry [the burn],” said Thomas, who played 18 holes on Monday with Tiger Woods. “If that hole gets downwind you can have a hard time carrying the burn and keeping it short of the other burn. It’s pretty bizarre.”

The sixth hole can offer a similar dilemma, with players needing to carry their tee shots 275 yards to avoid a pair of pot bunkers down the right side of the fairway. Yet just 26 yards past those pitfalls looms a second set of bunkers. Even for the game’s best, trying to weave a fairway wood or long-iron into a 26-yard window can be challenging.

“Six is a really hard hole, it really just depends on how you want to play it. If you want to take everything on and have a chance of hitting an iron into a par 5, or just kind of lay back and play it as a three-shot hole,” Thomas shrugged.

It’s difficult to quantify precisely how short the 7,400-yard layout is playing. It’s not so far players are flying the ball in the air, particularly with relatively little wind in the forecast the rest of the week, so much as it is a question of how a particular shot will run out after it’s made contact with the firm turf.

As the field began to get their first taste of the bouncy fun, one of the earliest indications something was askew came on Sunday when Padraig Harrington, who won The Open the last time it was played at Carnoustie in 2007, announced to the social world that he’d hit into the burn on the 18th hole.

“This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” the Irishman tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”

Most players have already resigned themselves to a steady diet of mid-irons off tees this week in an attempt to at least partially control the amount of run-out each shot will have.

Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hadn’t played a practice round prior to his media session, but could tell what’s in store just from his abbreviated range session on Monday. “Extremely baked out,” he said.

The conditions have already led Spieth and his caddie, Micheal Greller, to conjure up a tentative game plan.

“You might wear out your 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you’re used to,” Greller told him.

But even that might not be the answer, as Tommy Fleetwood discovered on Sunday during a practice round. Fleetwood has a unique connection with Carnoustie having shot the course record (63) during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.

The Englishman doesn’t expect his record to be in danger this week.

In fact, he explained the dramatically different conditions were evident on the third hole on Sunday.

“There’s holes that have been nothing tee shots, like the third. If you play that in the middle of September or October [when the Dunhill is played] and it’s green and soft, you could just hit a mid-iron down the fairway and knock it on with a wedge,” Fleetwood said. “Yesterday it was playing so firm, the fairways really undulate and you have bunkers on either side, it’s actually all of a sudden a tough tee shot.”

The alternative to the iron game plan off the tee would be to simply hit driver, an option at least one long-hitter is considering this week if his practice round was any indication.

On Sunday, Jon Rahm played aggressively off each tee, taking the ubiquitous fairway bunkers out of play but at the same time tempting fate with each fairway ringed by fescue rough, which is relatively tame given the dry conditions. But even that option has consequences.

“It’s kind of strange where there’s not really a number that you know you’re going to be short,” said Fleetwood, who played his Sunday practice round with Rahm. “[Rahm] hit a drive on 15 that was like 400 yards. You just can’t account for that kind of stuff.”

Whatever tactic players choose, this Open Championship promises to be a much different test than what players have become accustomed to at Carnoustie.