Dotting the 'i' in Ohio

By Rex HoggardJune 3, 2011, 8:50 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – It’s a new week, which means there must be a new world No. 1. Luke Donald, however, doesn’t have the look of a man renting the top spot, while Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples is already reserving a spot on the American team plane for Tiger Woods.

Both players bookend this week’s edition, which Cut Line would gladly trade for a tattoo that explains when, and why, Rory Sabbatini will be suspended.

Made Cut

Luke Donald. The Englishman ascended atop the Official World Golf Ranking in style last week, a KO of reigning No. 1 Lee Westwood in OT at the European Tour’s flagship event in England.

Those who point to Donald’s major record or a perceived inability to close are missing the point. No one has been more consistent over the last 24 months than Donald.

All in all, it was a good week for the Brothers Donald. Just days after Luke won the BMW PGA Championship his older brother, Christian, was hired to caddie for Martin Kaymer, one of four players to hold the top spot in the world in less than a year.

“You never know how good you can become,” Christian Donald said of his brother’s accomplishments. “He’s been so close and worked so hard. It’s brilliant.”

Rickie Fowler. The standard bearer for the Tour’s generation next has had better rounds on much bigger stages, but few as meaningful as his first-round 68 on Thursday at Muirfield Village.

A little more than a week after losing the only swing coach he’s ever had, Fowler was back at work doing what Barry McDonnell had been teaching him to do since he was 7 years old – play golf with confidence and with a purpose.

McDonnell died last Tuesday and Fowler is scheduled to attend a memorial for him next week at Murrieta (Calif.) Valley Golf Range, the public practice tee where the duo perfected that slashing action.

He may be just 22 years old, but Fowler knows that playing for McDonnell at the Memorial will be a lot easier than saying goodbye to him next week at Murrieta Valley. “That will be where it really hits me,” Fowler said.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Jack Nicklaus. Never easy calling out a legend and if the Golden Bear had all the facts he likely would have reacted differently, but on Tuesday Nicklaus seemed downright flummoxed by the news that Jason Day, who has recently been granted playing privileges at Muirfield Village, wasn’t playing this week’s Memorial.

“He does, and he's not here? We'll take that away,” Nicklaus deadpanned.

What Nicklaus didn’t know is that the young Australian is moving this week from Dallas to Columbus with his wife, Ellie, who is recovering from surgery and had a follow-up appointment this week in Houston.

Nicklaus, who famously played more than 19 events in a season just five times in his Hall of Fame career, always made his family a priority. Which makes Day’s absence easily excused.

Memorial. First Muirfield Village was swamped by 7 inches of rain in May that made Nicklaus consider a new name for his storied club: “Lake Muirfield Village.” Then Tiger Woods was sidelined with injury and forced to skip the event for the second time in four years.

The final blow came on Monday when the whole of Columbus, Ohio, went dark with the news Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was resigning in the wake of a tattoos-for-memorabilia scandal.

The first question in Nicklaus’ annual “State of the Golden Bear” press conference was about Tressel. Even on the rare occasions when it doesn’t rain during the Memorial, the dark clouds are impossible to escape.

Tweet of the week: @JustinRose99 “Just been called Mr. (Adam) Scott all night by our waiter! Funny how girls don’t seem to make that mistake!”

Missed Cut

Rory Sabbatini. Not sure what’s worse, that Sabbo is getting a slap on the wrist for what can only be called chronically bad behavior or that there is no way to know whether the Tour’s preeminent bad boy is even in the penalty box.

Neither the PGA Tour nor Sabbatini is saying, but when Memorial officials announced via the tournament’s website that he’d withdrawn from the field the speculation was he’d been given a two-week suspension for an on-course dustup with Sean O’Hair in New Orleans.

Yet Sabbo has played the Memorial just once since 2006 and hasn’t been seen at next week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in over a decade (2000). If he is suspended, forcing him to miss two events he likely wouldn’t play is a recipe for recidivism. If he hasn’t been suspended then why not?

Heritage. We know times are tough, but when the Tour is unable to secure a title sponsor for a 42-year-old staple that is almost universally considered the circuit’s “best in class” something is wrong.

Numerous reports that a new title was imminent seem to have been premature and although there is still no deadline for The Heritage to secure a sponsor time is running short.

“Working it hard with the Tour and keeping our fingers crossed. We are certainly into the 13th hour though,” tournament director Steve Wilmot wrote in an email last week.

Fred Couples. With more than five months before the U.S. team travels to Australia for this year’s Presidents Cup matches Captain America seemed to box himself in when he told Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis that he would pick Tiger Woods for this year’s squad even if he didn’t qualify.

Corey Pavin tried that box on for size at last year’s Ryder Cup and found the space, well confining.

Couples later correctly explained that Woods “doesn’t have to prove a lot to any captain.” But what if Woods continues to struggle, or worse, spends a large portion of the next few months on the DL because of injury? Woods has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but why box yourself in with such an early call?

Boom Boom does get kudos for suggesting, jokingly . . . we think, that his team be clad in Levi’s instead of Peter Millar, but “commissioner (Tim) Finchem said, ‘Sorry, we can’t play in jeans.’” Which lands commissioner Buzz Kill on the all-time “missed cut” list.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”