DJ's fall creates wide-open Open entering final round

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2015, 7:47 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Thank Dustin Johnson for some drama entering Monday’s matinee.

Had the South Florida slugger abused the Old Course’s front nine like he did on Thursday, when he pounded his was to a ridiculously-easy looking 5-under 31, the final round of the 144th Open Championship would have been relegated to a formality.

But DJ didn’t run away and hide the claret jug, playing the benign links in 3 over par. And after one of the most unforgiving days in recent major memory, the field largely dismantled the softer side of the Old Course.

All total, 63 players posted under par scores on Sunday. From unplayable to unprotected in less than 24 hours.

Only at St. Andrews.

The assault started with Marc Leishman, who rounded the ancient turf in 64 strokes to move from a tie for 50th and into contention at 9 under; followed by two-time Open winner Padraig Harrington, who posted a flawless 65; and an amateur named Paul Dunne, who took the lead with a birdie on No. 10 on his way to a 66 and a spot in Monday’s final pairing.

“This is not a golf course that the leaders tend to come back on, so you really do have to be somewhat there or thereabouts going into [the final round],” Harrington said.

Of course, Harrington made those comments before Johnson imploded with bogeys at his three closing holes and a traffic jam ensued at the corner of Golf Place and Grannie Clark’s Wynd.

When the birdies finally stopped falling there were 11 players within three strokes of the lead held by the threesome of Louis Oosthuizen, the champion golfer the last time the Open was played at the Home of Golf, Jason Day and Dunne.

“You can’t count the guys behind us out,” figured Day, who will set out in the final round in contention for the second consecutive major. “It’s just too bunched.”

Perhaps, but there will be one name from the pack that is sure to draw an inordinate amount of attention on Monday.

Jordan Spieth, looking to become just the second player to ever win the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same season, played a pedestrian opening loop and appeared bound for a similar meltdown to the one Johnson suffered after he used his putter three times at the ninth to drop a shot. He was then informed by a rules official to step it up, which only added to his frustration.

“Walking off of [No.] 9 green was as frustrated as I've been in a tournament other than off of 14 yesterday morning,” admitted Spieth. “I don't normally ever display frustration. I did both times. I couldn't hold it in. I think I punched my golf bag. I didn't want to hit [caddie Michael Greller], so I figured I'd hit my golf bag.”

And then he took a metaphorical swing at the field. 

The would-be winner of the first three legs of the single-season Grand Slam answered with birdies at Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 15 to move to 11 under par and just a stroke off the lead.

His play brings into sharp focus a long-held axiom that without wind the Old Course is vulnerable to all sorts of scoring accomplishments – more than once on Sunday the whispers of a possible 62 could be heard across St. Andrews – and the Open becomes a putting contest.

Advantage Spieth.

At least the nod would go to Spieth after he found a fix for a balky putting stroke that led to 37 putts in a second round that stretched to two days when play was delayed early Friday by torrential rain and Saturday by winds that whipped to 40 mph.

Spieth adjusted midway through his round on Sunday in time to convert birdie putts of 8 feet (Nos. 1 and 7), 12 feet (No. 10), 15 feet (No. 12) and 5 feet (No. 15).

“I just had been aligned a little left. Every putt was missing just a little off the left side of the hole, so I just tried to adjust, and by the time we got to [Nos.] 10, 11, I had made the adjustment,” said Spieth, who closed with a 66. “To shoot 4 under with no bogeys on the back was a great comeback from Friday, Saturday and the front nine today.”

On Monday he will be paired with Day, who held a share of the lead with Spieth through three rounds at last month’s U.S. Open before fading into a tie for ninth as he battled the effects of benign positional vertigo.

The Australian also got off to a slow start relative to the rest of the field on super Sunday, but closed with a 33 for a share of the lead in his ongoing quest to crack the major ceiling.

“Over the last few years I've been in contention at major championships, I've learnt the biggest thing for me is just to understand that tomorrow is going to be a tough round,” Day said.

“There's going to be a lot of wind, there's going to be a lot of rain, there's going to be a lot of guys that are going to shoot low scores. I just need to really stay patient and let the birdies come.”

Oosthuizen, who finished runner-up at the U.S. Open and was also pacing the field after three rounds when he won the 2010 St. Andrews Open, seems certain to add to Monday’s finale as well, while Dunne, despite his solid play this week, would appear to be a refreshing long shot considering that Bobby Jones was the last amateur to win the Open, in 1930.

Yet for all the compelling possibilities on a busy leaderboard it is Spieth – who at 21-years-old is perched on a historic pinnacle – who will begin the closing loop with the most attention.

“He's a heavy favorite tomorrow, just being one shot back. Everyone knows it,” Day said.

Unlike the alternative, however, he’s not the only favorite.

After Saturday’s tempest, Mother Nature and the Old Course yielded and the field was thankful. But most of all, they were thankful that Johnson didn’t turn the final round into a foregone conclusion.

Getty Images

Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

Getty Images

Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

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

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

Getty Images

Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

Getty Images

Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”