Expectations in overdrive as Woods eyes Merion

By Rex HoggardMay 29, 2013, 7:12 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Not since 2009 have the expectations been this high, and maybe not since that late spring four years ago has the hyperbole been so justified.

For the first time in his historic career, Tiger Woods begins the week at Jack’s place with four Tour bottle caps already on the shelf this calendar. Not in 2000, when he won nine times and the front end of the “Tiger Slam”; not in 2008, when he collected eight Tour titles and a U.S. Open on one leg; not in ’09, when he won six times and lost his first major (PGA) when leading through 54 holes.

As Paul Goydos once famously figured, Woods is once again the most underrated player in the game, and for good reason in spite of runaway expectations entering the year’s second major.

Critics will nitpick, pointing out his victories at the Farmers Insurance Open in January and WGC-Cadillac Championship in March weren’t exactly walk-offs. But that fixation on Woods’ late stumbles in both events is a disservice that confuses execution with ego.

Memorial Tournament: Articles, videos and photos

When his career is over, the record books will not add up the “pretty” wins and discard those of lesser quality.

Some even suggest that victories on friendly confine venues (Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill) aren’t the best gauge of long-term success, but that conveniently ignores his Sawgrass special earlier this month when he punched his way to his first Players victory since 2001 largely with fairway woods and wedges.

Even his most ardent detractors will struggle not to grasp the elephant in the room; not since 2009 has Woods been this poised, in body and mind, to dominate when it counts – at a major.

Back in 2009, Woods arrived in Ohio having won at Bay Hill (sound familiar?), and scorched the field with a closing 65 at Muirfield Village that included a filthy 49 of 56 fairways hit for the week.

Bring on Bethpage, were the not-so-subtle undertones; much like this week’s focus is squarely on Merion and next month’s U.S. Open.

Three of the first four questions during Woods’ Wednesday meet and greet with the media were about Merion, which he visited on Tuesday on his way to the Memorial.

With apologies to the Memorial, Woods’ play the last four months has created a collective ADD that is completely understandable.

“If (Merion) dries out and plays firm and fast it will be very similar to what we play in the sand belt (of Australia),” Woods said.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Woods will be able to pick apart Merion like he did the Stadium Course earlier this month, opting for 3- and 5-woods off many tees and playing angles, not attack.

It’s worked before (see Open, British 2006), and there is a level of confidence with his Sean Foley swing that we haven’t seen since, well, 2009.

“I feel confident with the motion,” Woods said. “In all the stretches where I played well, I felt good about what I was able to do and I was able to fix it on the fly. ... The work with Sean now is more about alignment.”

For good measure, Foley walked with Woods during his Wednesday pro-am at Muirfield Village and the extent of their work was on alignment. That he is healthy – the last event Woods withdrew from with injury was the 2012 Cadillac – and happy also adds to the enthusiastic equation.

All of which makes the runaway expectations so expected.

There are no assurances in golf. They tend to play all 72 regardless of the betting line and even the best scripts are subject to last-minute edits by karma.

It was 2009, after all, when Woods bolted the Memorial riding what seemed like an unstoppable wave of momentum. But rains and Lucas Glover happened at the Bethpage Open, and he ended up on the wrong side of the forecast at Turnberry, Y.E. Yang at Hazeltine National and life in November.

Paper lions are subject to the same capriciousness as longshots, regardless of pedigree. But those truths do little to diminish the unbridled expectations that have been caused by Woods’ scorching start.

When Woods won that one-legged Open in 2008 at Torrey Pines, Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships seemed one surgery and a few weeks of physical rehab away.

The possibilities in 2009 seemed limitless, much like they do now. Hype doesn’t get you into the Hall of Fame, but it certainly makes things more interesting.

Getty Images

Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

Getty Images

'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

Getty Images

Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”