Grace's caddie played it perfectly with history on the line

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2017, 4:08 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – A good caddie knows what to say when the tension builds and the stakes are high. A great caddie knows when it’s best to not say anything.

Count Zack Rasego among the latter, as proven by his mum performance on Saturday while his man, Branden Grace, plodded his way into the history books.

When Grace, who completed his round before the leaders even teed off for Round 3 at The Open, turned in 29, Rasego said nothing. When the South African added birdies at Nos. 14, 16 and 17, the veteran looper remained aloof.

Even when his man airmailed the green at the last and needed to get up-and-down for par to shoot the lowest round in men’s major championship history, Rasego was reticent.

It wasn’t until Grace calmly rolled in his 3-footer for par for an 8-under 62 that Rasego finally came clean.

“Zack came up and said, ‘You're in the history books.” And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Grace laughed.

They’ve been playing major championship golf for 157 years and a 62 had remained the Grand Slam unicorn, with players repeatedly flirting with history, as recently as last month at the U.S. Open when Justin Thomas did it on Day 3, and yet somehow Grace was oblivious to the elephant in the Royal Birkdale room?

“Let's get this out of the way: I didn't know what was going on on [No.] 18. I promise you,” he assured.

Credit Rasego for keeping his man in the dark. Who knows how Grace would have handled that delicate par save at the last had he known the stakes, but if relative ignorance was bliss there’s still no ignoring the depth of his accomplishment.

Let the social handwringing begin. There will be those who will needlessly handicap Grace’s round because of Saturday’s benign conditions. Grace himself figured par on Day 3 at the 146th edition was about 67.

Thomas’ 63, a 9 under card at Erin Hills that set a new major record for relation to par, produced a similar devil’s advocate response.

“It looks like a PGA Tour event course setup,” Johnny Miller, who was the first to shoot 63 in a major at the 1973 U.S. Open, said of Erin Hills. “I’m not sure where the days of the 24- to 29-yard-wide fairways that we played every time went. It’s interesting to see where the USGA has gone with the U.S. Open, being a little more friendly than in years’ past.”

On Saturday, Miller, who is calling the action for NBC Sports, was a tad more enthusiastic, but only a tad.


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“Sweet, look at that number, that is sweet,” he said of Grace’s round before adding, “It was set up really, really easy today, folks.”

With respect to Miller or anyone else who wishes to rationalize the relative impressiveness of either Thomas’ or Grace’s rounds, records, by definition, need no generational footnotes.

Erin Hills’ fairways were undoubtedly wider than those at the ’73 U.S. Open, but then Miller likely didn’t have to negotiate greens that were rolling 13 on the Stimpmeter.

In Grace’s case, there’s also no denying that Saturday’s conditions along the Irish Sea were vastly better than those faced by the field on Friday afternoon, but in 145 Opens there’s been no shortage of fine days on the links that could have easily been the backdrop to a similarly historic round.

Nothing distracts from the gravity of a sporting accomplishment more than an asterisk, and nothing about Grace or Thomas’ rounds deserve such provisos.

Perhaps the game’s rule makers need to revisit the distance modern players hit the golf ball as more and more of golf’s treasured benchmarks are shattered, but that has nothing to do with Grace or Thomas.

It will be interesting the reaction Grace’s round will produce. Thomas’ 63 at Erin Hills, along with champion Brooks Koepka’s 16-under total, set off a chain reaction of complaints. No way Erin Hills should ever host another U.S. Open, was the consensus.

Whatever scoring accomplishments occur over the next round and a half at Royal Birkdale there will be no such outcry. Instead, fans, officials and players will concede that Mother Nature, so brutal on Friday, never arrived on Saturday – c’est la vie.

Erin Hills, however, was not afforded the same benefit of the doubt, just as there will those who will contend that Grace’s 62 is somehow less impressive because of the perfect conditions or the advantage of the modern power game.

Hogwash.

There’s no room in the history books for small print or footnotes, only facts, and the facts are rather clear on this – Branden Grace became the first player to ever shoot a 62 in a men’s major. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Woods on firing shot into crowd: 'I kept moving them back'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:14 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It added up to another even-par round, but Tiger Woods had an eventful Friday at The Open.

His adventure started on the second hole, when he wiped a drive into the right rough. Standing awkwardly on the side of a mound, he prepared for a quick hook but instead fired one into the crowd that was hovering near the rope line.

“I kept moving them back,” he said. “I moved them back about 40 yards. I was trying to play for the grass to wrap the shaft around there and hit it left, and I was just trying to hold the face open as much as I possibly could. It grabbed the shaft and smothered it.

“I was very, very fortunate that I got far enough down there where I had a full wedge into the green.”

Woods bogeyed the hole, one of four on the day, and carded four birdies in his round of 71 at Carnoustie. When he walked off the course, he was in a tie for 30th, six shots off the clubhouse lead.

It’s the first time in five years – since the 2013 Open – that Woods has opened a major with consecutive rounds of par or better. He went on to tie for sixth that year at Muirfield.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.


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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.