If this is it for Doral, it's an all-star send-off

By Rex HoggardMarch 2, 2016, 9:20 pm

DORAL, Fla. – Whatever your preferred standard of measurement – Big Three, Fantastic Four, Fab Five, Sensational Six – they’re all assembled.

Jordan, Jason, Rory, Rickie, Bubba . . . even The Donald. Well, the potential Commander In Chief and current Candidate In Course Owner won’t show up at Doral until Sunday, but if the week goes according to script, Trump won’t be the only topic of interest when Doral hosts what could possibly be its final PGA Tour round.

For the first time since last September, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy – Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, in the Official World Golf Ranking – find themselves on the same tee sheet, and for just the second time on Tour, the threesome will be grouped together.

“The next two days are going to be enjoyable. It will be good out there, hopefully a little bit of buzz around that group,” McIlroy said of the potential heavyweight title bout.

As compelling as that three-ball may be, it’s the undercard that makes the WGC-Cadillac Championship the year’s most anticipated event to date. While the basic narrative of Jordan, Jason and Rory remains the same, the broader ensemble has spent the last few months chipping away at the Big Three's exclusive club.

Enter the Fantastic Four.

With his victory two weeks ago at Riviera, Bubba Watson reminded everyone that he might not be the most consistent player but that he is arguably the most entertaining, and his third-place showing at bomber-friendly Doral last year suggests he’s much more than a bit player in the larger scheme.

Then again, Bubba isn't interested in the added attention. He'd rather be left out of the discussion.

“No, it doesn't bother me at all. Like I said, I play a lot better when the media is not asking me questions,” Watson said. “At the end of the day, it's not about what people say about me. It's what's in my head. I'm trying to get better at the game of golf, trying to get better at the game of life. So I'm not worried about Big Three, Big Four, Big Five.”


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Of course, Watson prefaced his answer by interjecting, “It's ‘Big Four’ now because of Rickie [Fowler].”

Ladies and gentlemen, the Fab Five.

Fowler has been elbowing his way into the conversation for two years now but raised the stakes with his victory over Spieth and McIlroy in January at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and his runner-up showing at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month.

Fowler has as many worldwide victories (three) as Spieth the last three months and, by his own assessment, is a major away from officially joining the game’s marketed elite.

However many more you include atop golf’s billboard depends on your point of view.

Dustin Johnson, winner of last year’s WGC at Doral, has been consistent but not clutch when he has needed to be on Sunday; his closing 69 two weeks ago at Riviera serves as his most recent crunch-time lapse.

Adam Scott has emerged from what some predicted would be a career nadir with a runner-up at the Northern Trust Open and a win at the Honda Classic.

“Sometimes when you're starting further down the list, you're more driven to kind of get back up to the top, and I'm kind of on that path again like I was maybe a few years ago,” Scott said.

However many seats there are at the big table, and however reactionary the obsessive desire to label has become, having all of the principals in the same zip code for a week is a reason to take notice.

Not that the game’s top players need extra motivation.

“I don't think any of us are buying into any added motivation or excitement based on a pairing. I don't think we would at any point,” Spieth said.

“For me personally, I would say, sure, it's going to be a lot of fun, because I enjoy playing with both of them. But I don't think anyone's buying into the Big Three, because I've spent a good amount of time on this stage saying that I don't think that's a necessary comparison when you look at the Big Three from the past.”

The members of golf’s most exclusive club seem to find incentive elsewhere.

“There's going to be a lot of people out there. I've just got to try to get in my own little world out there,” said Day, who in 16 rounds at Doral has only two rounds in the 60s. “I really want to play well this week. I don't know if it's the last -- is it the last time we're going to be playing here at Trump? I'm not sure.”

With Cadillac ending its sponsorship of the Miami stop this year, the future for Doral depends on the circuit finding a new title sponsor willing to share the spotlight with Trump – which is proving more difficult than one would think.

But if this is Doral’s exit from golf’s top stage, at least there is an all-star cast, however many may be in that group, to send it off in style.

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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 all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

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

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 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.”


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.