Except for Holmes, Blue Monster still a headache for players

By Rex HoggardMarch 6, 2015, 12:02 am

DORAL, Fla. – One by one players marched off Doral’s Blue Monster sun burnt, wind beaten and broken, until one frazzled caddie glanced at the leaderboard.

J.B. Holmes 10-under 62.

“Was that his pro-am score?” the looper cracked.

To the remainder of the 73-man field, however, Thursday was no joke.

Following last year’s carnage, when just three players finished under par, one would have thought the PGA Tour faithful would have readied themselves for another week of unfortunate bounces and unsightly scorecards, but if player reaction was any indication these guys may be good but they also have short memories.

“Ryan (Moore) and J.B. (Holmes), I don’t know what golf course they are playing,” said Gary Woodland, who trails the frontrunners by four and eight strokes, respectively, after an opening 70.

World Golf Championships rookie Brooks Koepka had a slightly different take.

“You kind of have to go into it with a U.S. Open mentality knowing that guys are going to struggle, you're going to struggle and you just have to minimize it and try to make bogeys at worst,” he said.

Savvy Swede Henrik Stenson may have had the best take of Gil Hanse’s redesigned layout.

“It’s very tough. It’s borderline stupid tough,” he said.

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Players complaining about a golf course has become as clichéd as fist pumps at the game’s highest level, and while the rank-and-file stopped just short of using the “U” word (unfair), it’s clear the Blue Course is an acquired taste that hasn’t hit the spot just yet.

When Hanse executed his nip/tuck of the Blue before the 2014 championship, he added nearly 200 yards to an already demanding layout. Factor in greens that remain on the bouncy side of new and there was little chance the revamped Doral would be awarded instant classic status.

But this isn’t about Hanse, or Donald Trump. At least not entirely. There’s nothing wrong with Doral that a calm south Florida day can’t fix, but those are as rare as a traffic-free commute to South Beach.

Consider that on Thursday Phil Mickelson rounded the Blue in 74 strokes and failed to make a birdie for the first time since the final round of the 2012 U.S. Open.

Consider that world No. 1 Rory McIlroy turned in 40 after finding the water with his approach into the 18th hole (his ninth hole of the day), the toughest 440 yards one could ever want, chipping his fourth shot off the green and signing for a double bogey-6.

In McIlroy’s defense, it was one of 12 scores of double bogey or worse on Day 1.

“For a person who likes to see disasters that’s a good place to go sit,” said Stenson, who also found the water at the closing hole for a bogey.

Such is life on the Blew Monster, where winds swirled and a total of 84 shiny new golf balls (including 19 at No. 18) found the ubiquitous water hazards.

Most players will tell you the Hanse edition of Doral is harder, but it is the wind that pushes it close to the edge of unplayable.

“I think it's a golf course that's designed for a 10 mph wind and usually you get a 20 mph wind here. It's a tough test,” McIlroy said.

Billy Horschel was not nearly as diplomatic with his assessment toward the new Blue or Hanse.

“As an architect you’d be smart to understand which direction the wind blows and how hard it can blow,” said Horschel, who was one of the lucky few (26 players) who finished at par or better (72). “I’ve never seen the course without a 15 to 20 mph wind. These greens aren’t made to be played in winds like this.”

Of course, not everyone found the course unsavory.

Holmes was one of just three players to finish his round without a bogey, and he distanced himself from the field with a 4-under stretch in three holes that included a tap-in for eagle at the 12th hole. The three-time Tour winner will begin Friday’s second turn four clear of Moore and a half dozen ahead of the rest of the pack.

“Before this (the redesign), I didn't care for it at all. One of my least favorite tracks on Tour,” said Holmes, who led the field with a 320-yard driving average. “It was just too easy, I felt like, for a World Golf Championship. Twenty-two under winning really shouldn't happen.”

At Holmes’ current pace that may still be a possibility, just don’t be surprised when his Tour frat brothers offer a familiar response, “What course is he playing?”

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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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, GolfChannel.com 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.”

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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.