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History at Torrey proves anything can happen Sunday

By Rex HoggardJanuary 28, 2018, 2:00 am

SAN DIEGO – It was the type of afternoon that draws people to this corner of Southern California – sunshine, sea breeze and a seesaw battle between an eclectic cast at the annual Torrey Pines member-member.

A golf course that has a tendency to produce more congestion than Interstate-5 at rush hour delivered again, with six players squared atop the Farmers Insurance Open leaderboard at one point before Alex Noren emerged late to take his first 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour.

In fact, it’s Noren’s first anything as a Tour member, with the little-known Swede taking up membership this year in an attempt to better prepare for the majors – which are primarily played in the United States, he dryly reasoned.

Thanks to a 3-under 69 that featured just a single blemish, a double bogey-6 at the 12th hole, Noren moved atop a crowded leaderboard with 10 players within three strokes of his mark. But that’s nothing new.

Last year Jon Rahm was the last man standing after starting the final round three strokes back along with 14 others.

It’s what Torrey Pines does, condensing players like a competitive compactor through an assortment of narrow fairways, devilish poa greens and, like last year, unsavory conditions. Sunday will be more of the same for any would-be winners with Santa Ana winds expected to gust to 20 mph.

“You can't really run away with a lead here because it is so tough,” said Jason Day, who is among a large group tied for fifth place at 8 under par, three strokes off Noren’s pace. “I mean, driving, it's so demanding on the driver. If you're out of position and with how the greens are starting to bounce, it's very difficult to get yourself back into position. With the greens poa annua, it adds a little bit more nervous feeling when you hit certain putts.”

Day is something of an expert when it comes to these situations. He won here in 2015 after starting the final day two shots back, and finished runner-up a year earlier after trailing by four strokes through 54 holes.


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No lead is ever really safe on Tour, but at Torrey Pines there’s something particularly uncertain. No matter how well you’re playing, no matter how impressive your resume, there’s always an element of being uneasy on the South Course.

Consider Rahm, who won last week’s CareerBuilder Challenge in a playoff and arrived along these California cliffs poised to unseat Dustin Johnson atop the World Ranking with a victory. He’s also the defending champion this week, so when he grabbed a share of the lead at 10 under par with a birdie at the 10th hole it would have been perfectly understandable to start planning a World Ranking coronation.

But Rahm missed three of his next four fairways and dropped his second shot into Devlin’s Billabong, the pond in front of the 18th green, on his way to a double bogey-7. The normally effusive Spaniard quickly made his way off property, declining interview requests.

Call it a Torrey Pines minute, that’s how quickly things can change around here, and Ryan Palmer can attest to the rapidly changing fortunes that the South Course produces.

After taking a one-stroke lead into the weekend, his title hopes seemed to fade with bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8, but with one stroke, a 44-foot putt at the par-5 13th hole for eagle, he was right back in the hunt.

“That made up for the whole day,” said Palmer, whose 1-over 73 dropped him into second place and one stroke back. “It was one of those putts you just want to get up there, lag up there as close as possible so you can just tap it in, but it couldn't have come off any better. It rolled in like I tapped it in.”

Palmer will join Noren and J.B. Holmes, who made the day’s biggest move with a 65 that included a 7-under 29 on his closing nine, in the day’s final group. But then the odds aren’t exactly in that threesome’s favor considering that the last four winners at Torrey Pines were all multiple shots off the lead through 54 holes.

The odds may instead favor a Justin Rose or Gary Woodland, who were among the group tied at 8 under, or maybe even Tiger Woods. Yes, that Tiger Woods.

Although his title chances would be considered long at best at 3 under par, eight strokes off Noren’s pace, if the crowds that ringed every fairway Woods played on Saturday were any indication he certainly would be the popular choice.

Despite a horrendous day off the tee, he hit just three fairways through his first nine holes, Woods – who made the cut on the number following a birdie at his 36th hole on Friday – made up ground on the lead thanks another stellar putting performance that included 91 feet of putts made.

“I don't know about coming together, it was a struggle out there,” Woods said. “I didn't hit it worth a darn all day. I was really struggling out there trying to find anything that was resemblance of a golf swing. But I was scoring, I was chipping, putting, I was grinding.”

Tied for 39th and scheduled to tee off nearly two hours before the leaders on the 10th hole on Sunday, Woods’ assessment of his title chances is a much more realistic representation.

But then, this is Torrey Pines and history has shown anything can happen.

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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.