Garcia crashes Spieth's homecoming party

By Rex HoggardMay 23, 2016, 12:27 am

IRVING, Texas – Sports rarely stays on script.

If it did, Sunday’s bookend bro-mance would have ended with Jordan Spieth hoisting the trophy in his hometown event, just hours after Rory McIlroy scored his own emotional victory back home in Ireland.

McIlroy did his part, putting on a ball-striking show coming down the stretch at the Irish Open, roping fairway woods at the 16th and 18th holes on his way to a three-stroke victory, his first win in Ireland as a professional.

Spieth came up short. Well short.

The world No. 2 started the day two strokes off the lead in the day’s final group at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but bogeyed the third, fifth and eighth holes to make the turn five strokes off the pace.

He finished his day with a 4-over 74 and tied for 18th place, nearly equaling his best finish at an event he’s been attending, in one role or another, since he was a toddler.

“I almost matched my best finish in six starts here,” shrugged the crowd favorite who finished 16th when he was 16 years old at the Nelson in 2010.

But then moral victories did little to soften Spieth’s mood.

This was supposed to be a statement weekend for the world Nos. 2 and 3 following Jason Day’s masterpiece last week at The Players. The latter, McIlroy took care of his side of the exacta.

But choruses of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” were not intermingled with “The Eyes of Texas” late Sunday afternoon.

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Instead, Sergio Garcia broke through for his first PGA Tour victory since the 2012 Wyndham Championship, edging 54-hole leader Brooks Koepka on the first extra hole after the hard-hitting American deposited his drive into a lake.

“Kind of stinks given I had a chance here at a hometown event,” Spieth said. “I haven't had great success here in the past. This was an opportunity, you can't win them all and certainly would have liked to have put on a little more of a display but, you know, just a tough day. Just an off day.”

To be precise, it was an off week for Spieth, at least tee to green. He ranked 55th out of 73 players in fairways hit (30 of 56) and managed to find just nine of 18 greens in regulation on Sunday.

For three days Spieth’s putter saved him, proving yet again that a solid short game can make up for even the most wanting ball-striking. But on Sunday that magic was absent.

It was a similar story for Koepka, who held a three-stroke lead at the turn but bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 to slip into a tie.

“I really didn't have much the last 36 holes,” conceded Koepka, who closed with a 71 after posting rounds of 65-64-65. “I had no idea where the ball was going and you can't play out here when you're hitting it in the rough. You kind of play defensively. That's not really what you want.”

It would only make sense that Garcia would emerge from a crowded leaderboard that at one point on Sunday included six players tied for second place two strokes off the lead.

The Spaniard is among the game’s perennial best ball-strikers and his putting, which at times in his career could best described as suspect, was surprisingly consistent.

Garcia, who played his first professional event at the Nelson in 1999, won the tournament in 2004 and recorded his first Tour victory just down Interstate-30 at Colonial in ’01, has always had an affinity for the Tour’s Texas swing and his victory at the Nelson will be defined by his resilience.

Following bogeys at Nos. 2 and 4 to drop three strokes off the pace, Garcia birdied three consecutive holes starting at No. 5 to remain in the hunt.

The closing loop was even more of a grind, with not one but two shots into the water at Nos. 11 and 14, but he birdied the par-5 16th hole and moved into a share of the lead when Koepka dropped his third shot of the day at No. 15.

“That meant a lot the way I played coming down the stretch, it looked like he was 17 [under], I was going to be 14 [under] after 14 [holes] and to have a chance at the end it was nice,” Garcia said.

It didn’t have the emotional pull of McIlroy’s victory at The K Club, and one can only imagine Spieth’s demeanor had he finally solved his Dallas dilemma; but Garcia’s victory was not without a noticeable degree of satisfaction, as evidenced by his fist pump after putting out for par in the playoff.

“I've always said it, every win, doesn't matter even if you're playing in your backyard with friends, winning is always tough and winning here on the PGA Tour is probably the toughest,” El Nino said. “The fields nowadays, they're so much deeper than they ever were and it's so much harder to win. Every time you get one of these ‘Ws’ it's very special.”

It wasn’t the storybook finish one could have crafted, there was no tidy synergy that would have made Sunday a sentimental slam, but after nearly four years of near misses and narrow losses Garcia’s victory qualifies as a good story even if it didn’t stay on script.

Getty Images

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.

@kharms27 on Instagram

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.

Getty Images

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.  

@radiosarks on Twitter

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?’”