Rory, Phil, Day approach Baltusrol vastly differently

By Rex HoggardJuly 28, 2016, 7:24 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Baltusrol is a big hitter's golf course. Baltusrol demands a driver that is equal parts long and straight. Baltusrol is no place for the timid.

That’s been the company line this week at the PGA Championship, echoed by any and all who have been asked; yet on Thursday with scorecards in hand three of the game’s longest played the New Jersey gem with three vastly different styles.

The most glaring example of this divergent game plan unfolded when the threesome of Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson stepped to the 18th tee midway through their opening round (they teed off on No. 10).

Rory McIlroy did what Rory McIlroy does, launching a driver high into the hot and humid skies 320 yards, but missed the fairway. Day, however, teed off with a 3-iron, finding the fairway some 40 yards behind the Northern Irishman.

Day would par the hole, going with 3-iron with his second shot that sailed wide into an awkward lie. McIlroy also made par. It was the story of Day 1 for the high profile three-ball, with Day taking a decidedly measured approach to a course that by all accounts rewards power over all else.

McIlroy went with a game plan that, when clicking, has delivered majors by ridiculously large margins. It was a scheme that made sense given the prevailing thoughts on Baltusrol. A blueprint that could have sent the brutish course and the field spinning had his long game cooperated – but it did not.

On this sweltering day McIlroy found just 9 of 14 fairways and struggled to a 4-over 74 despite being among the field’s top 10 in driving distance (308 yard average).

 “I obviously want to play well, but I was trying my hardest out there to make birdies, and I was giving myself chances in the last few holes, and didn't quite convert them,” said McIlroy, who failed to make a birdie for the first time in 29 rounds at the PGA Championship. “Hopefully I'm not shutout tomorrow. I can't remember the last round I had without a birdie.”

By comparison, Day hit just five drivers on Friday and although he connected with 8 of 14 fairways his misses were manageable enough that he was able to find 17 of 18 greens in regulation.

PGA Championship: Full-field tee times | Photo gallery

Full coverage from the PGA Championship

“If I can get iron in my hand, get it down the middle, give myself an opportunity, that's the main goal,” said Day, who was a half dozen strokes better than McIlroy after a 2-under 68.

Although he managed just a single practice round this week at Baltusrol, the byproduct of feeling under the weather when he arrived in New Jersey from last week’s RBC Canadian Open, that conservative approach was set in motion after his caddie, Colin Swatton, walked the course earlier this week.

“I told him there are one of two ways to play this course, be aggressive or try to play to your strengths, which is his iron game,” Swatton said.

It quickly became clear Day opted for the latter in his quest to become the first player to win back-to-back PGA Championships since Tiger Woods in 2007.

But then Day has long adhered to the slow and steady approach when it comes to major championships despite a power game that ranks alongside McIlroy and Dustin Johnson.

“It's probably a little bit more conservative than I usually am, only because it’s a major championship,” said Day, who was three strokes off the early lead when he completed his round. “Any given week on the PGA Tour, there's usually a guy that gets to 7 or 8 under. I think with a major championship, you have got to be patient, take your opportunities when you can and work yourself up to the lead come Sunday.”

Mickelson, the third member of the morning’s marquis threesome, seemed to embrace a strategy somewhere in between Day and McIlroy, but if he became more aggressive later in his round it was likely the byproduct of a dismal start.

Lefty bogeyed his first hole, added two more miscues before the turn and was 4 over through 11 holes before he finally turned things around.

“When you get into a major championship and the penalty for a miss is severe, it's very easy to steer it, try to control it and not swing freely,” said Mickelson after rallying late to finish with a 1-over 71. “That was what I did early on today, I kind of steered a lot of shots. I didn't swing freely. Took me a little while, I kind of got into the flow there towards the end.”

Those who crunch numbers will point to McIlroy’s putting, more so than his driver, that cost him on Thursday and there’s certainly something to that.

McIlroy finished with 35 putts and was spotting the field 3.82 shots in the strokes gained-putting statistic midway through Round 1; but then that ignores Day’s own troubles on the greens.

The world No. 1 took 33 putts and was minus 1.57 shots in strokes gained-putting and yet was still in contention.

Arm-chair quarterbacking only goes so far when it comes to how players plod their way around golf courses and in fairness to McIlroy, and Mickelson, any plan is only as good as the execution.

Yet the results on Thursday were rather straightforward. Among the dichotomy of game plans Day’s less-is-more approach was more than enough for big, bad Baltusrol.

Getty Images

Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
Getty Images

Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.”