DJ gets major break from Mother Nature at Oakmont

By Rex HoggardJune 18, 2016, 1:50 am

OAKMONT, Pa. – With apologies to Ayesha Curry – the wife of NBA star Stephen Curry who tweeted following the Golden State's Game 6 loss to Cleveland last night, “I've lost all respect. Sorry, this is absolutely rigged for money, or ratings [I’m] not sure which. I won't be silent” – it wasn’t the USGA tweaking Oakmont for the benefit of a potential Dustin Johnson ratings boon, it was Mother Nature.

There’s no other explanation.

All told, nearly three inches of rain soaked and softened what is widely regarded as the game’s most fearsome layout, a conditional about-face that would dovetail neatly with DJ’s unique skill set of power and precision.

Given Johnson’s ability to drive the ball the length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there’s probably not a course in the world that sets up poorly for him, but there was no ignoring that Thursday’s deluge made for conditions that distinctly favored DJ.

That’s not to say the game’s preeminent bomber airmailed his way to the 4 under total he currently sits at. In fact, one could fairly suggest that Johnson has put himself back into the hunt at his national championship – he’s now finished his last 10 consecutive rounds at the U.S. Open perched within the top 6 – playing small ball.

“His plan is to hit as many fairways as he can this week,” said Claude Harmon III, who along with his father, Butch, serves as Johnson’s swing coach.

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While that plan may seem overly simple, in practical terms, it’s not always the easiest thing to execute when holes like the 307-yard, par-4 17th loom.

Late in Round 1 with playing partners Sergio Garcia and Hideki Matsuyama waiting with drivers to try and reach the green, Johnson – the guy who is leading the field with a 320-yard average – smoothed a 5-iron into the fairway, safely punched a wedge to 25 feet and two-putted for par.

There may not be another 300-yard par 4 that could have prompted such a measured response from such a powerful player.

“With the wind like it was today I'm kind of right in between. I can't get a 3-wood there. If I hit a driver solid, it's going to go too far,” Johnson figured. “It's the U.S. Open. I like wedges out of the fairway.”

But it hasn’t been that driver that has made Johnson a perennial bridesmaid in major championships. He’s been unlucky, like at the 2010 PGA Championship when he grounded his club in the most crowded hazard in major championship history; he’s been too hasty, like at the ’10 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach; and he’s been betrayed by his putter, like at the ’15 U.S. Open where he three-putted the 72nd hole from 12 feet to lose by a stroke.

But there was none of that on a marathon day at Oakmont, which began for Johnson just after daybreak following the most meteorologically miserable round at a major since the Bethpage Open in 2009.

After scrambling for par on his first two holes, Johnson was perfect the rest of the way, finishing his round with three birdies and, more importantly, no bogeys. He was the only player in Round 1 to go bogey-free.

He largely played from the short grass, gave himself few of the type of par attempts that wear on a player’s nerves, took his medicine on occasion and tempered his talents in other moments.

Pop psychology suggests the downwind leg of the 116th U.S. Open will be the toughest for Johnson, with last year’s letdown at Chambers Bay still etched into his subconscious.

Grand Slam scar tissue doesn’t come with a shelf life and there’s no accounting for the psychological impact of opportunities lost, but then, that kind of mental mumbo jumbo doesn’t seem to apply to Johnson.

All 6-foot-4, 190-pounds of muscle, Johnson seems carved from Teflon, whether those watching from afar want to believe it or not. He’s no more concerned with the last U.S. Open than he is his last meal.

If one can only have painful association with memories, what’s the point?

Instead, he’s spent the weeks leading up to Oakmont focusing on the things he can control, like that ballistic swing and a short game that is better, at least this week, than he gets credit for.

Winning majors is often associated with heroic play, bold shots at crucial moments. But just as many times success it is the byproduct of persistence and timing.

“Tiger [Woods] told Adam Scott once, ‘The most fun is when they give it to you and you don’t have to play that well,’” Harmon said. “He told him, ‘You just have to learn how to hang around.’”

Even this week’s upended schedule caused by Thursday’s delays seemed to work in Johnson’s favor. One of the PGA Tour’s most athletic and fit players went 36 holes on Friday without breaking a sweet or any competitive China.

“This is perfect for him,” said one member of Johnson’s inner circle before his man set out for his second round.

Although he wasn’t spotless in his afternoon round, ending a streak of 27 holes without a bogey with his first miscue of the week at the first (he started on No. 10).

But he scrambled for par at the second hole from 8 feet to keep his momentum from turning, and at 7:55 p.m. ET, Johnson took a share of the lead with a 12-footer at the sixth hole.

Whether he’s in the same position 48 hours from now won’t depend on that nuclear driver or his ability to keep the demons of previous major misses at bay. The crucial component will likely be his ability to adhere to a routinely conservative game plan and the hands of fate, which dealt a wet nod in his direction on Thursday.

The most imposing also-ran in major championship golf has a lot of things going for him this week, but maybe Mother Nature just didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1