Kuchar overcomes trying week to win WGC

By Rex HoggardFebruary 25, 2013, 1:43 am

MARANA, Ariz. – It was strangely apropos that on the same day the PGA Tour officially pushed back on the proposed ban on anchoring some wondered if the “Kooch” style of putting should be considered nonconforming, the byproduct of namesake Matt Kuchar’s workmanlike effort atop Dove Mountain this week.

Not that a ban on the “Kooch,” which features a longer putter shaft with the handle buried into the left forearm, would make much of a difference according to Kuchar’s longtime putting coach Dave Stockton Sr.

“I wanted him to put the butt of the club in his wrist and it just kept going up and up (his forearm),” Stockton said last month. “Either way he’s a great putter.”

Through five wild wintery days in the Arizona highlands Kuchar was the best of a bunch that included the better part of the world’s top 64 players, rolling through the delayed early rounds at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and weathering the weather and a relentless rally by Hunter Mahan in Sunday’s title bout to collect his first WGC salad bowl.

Consider Kuchar’s line for the week at the WGC-Snowball Fight features putting totals of 28, 28, 22, 24, 25 and 20. While that includes the normal number of conceded offerings and shortened rounds it could get U.S. Golf Association types reconsidering their decision to make the “Kooch” stroke legal under the proposed ban.

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A week sent sideways by nearly 4 inches of snow on Wednesday, multiple frost and freeze-related delays and gusts on Sunday that reached 30 mph was made whole by the circuit’s ultimate meat-and-potatos guy.

For the week Kuchar smiled his way to six victories, trailed a total of three holes and never reached the 18th tee in competition.

“Match play I find to be such an amazing, unique format, so much fun to play and so much pressure,” said Kuchar, who has advanced to the final four the last three years at the Match Play and improved to 15-3 at the event. “It seems like each hole there's so much momentum riding and so much pressure.”

Even Kuchar’s 2-and-1 victory over Mahan wasn’t as close as the line would suggest. Through nine holes Kuchar was 4 up, the byproduct of Mahan’s 4-over outward effort as much as Kuchar’s steady start, but he cut short the comeback with a 7-footer to trade birdies with Mahan at the 12th and a 10-footer for birdie at the short par-4 15th hole, both times to remain 2 up.

“He’s more of like a fuzzier Peter Jacobsen kind of guy who likes to talk,” said Mahan, the defending champion whose run of holes without trailing at the Match Play ended at a staggering 166 frames on Sunday. “It's just fun to be around him. And the way he plays, it's going to make you play your best as well.”

And while that unorthodox putting style may be what propelled Kuchar to victory, the ubiquitous smile, a stout pair of winter gloves and three sets of chemical hand warmers were the why.

“Those gloves were the MVP today,” smiled Kuchar’s caddie Lance Bennett, who loaned his boss the gloves for Sunday’s shootout. “He’s really good at managing his ball in tough conditions. He never lets anything faze him. He never has a bad attitude.”

It was easy to go negative at Dove Mountain, particularly as the temperature dropped and the delays mounted.

From snow to sunscreen to windswept, the 2013 Match Play endured three of four seasons and four untimely exits by each of the top four seeded players.

In order the Match Play doled out capricious body blows to the marquee that had nothing to do with Mother Nature. First Tiger Woods was sent packing in Round 1 for the third time in 13 years, a 2-and-1 sleeper to Charles Howell III; followed by world No. 1 Rory McIlroy’s one-and-done loss to Shane Lowry (Note to all other tournament organizers: if you want to Tiger-proof your tournament switch to match play; he is now 3-for-13 at the WGC).

Friday was no more predictable with world No. 3 Luke Donald and the last remaining top-seeded player Louis Oosthuizen getting bounced by Scott Piercy and Robert Garrigus, respectively.

No. 10 Bubba Watson was the last remaining top-10 player who made it to the weekend. That’s not a WGC, that’s the Tampa Bay Championship, which many suggest should be the new home for the Match Play which has suffered snow delays twice in the last three years and annually struggles at the gate.

By the time Sunday’s gale blew away those metaphorical clouds, however, few could argue the merit of the last men standing.

Following a 36-hole Saturday (Note to Match Play officials: doubling up on Saturday worked well, bringing Wednesday’s start into question) Kuchar handed Jason Day, who won the bridesmaid match over Ian Poulter, his only loss of the week, 4 and 3, and added to a resume that now includes a Players Championship (2012) and a WGC.

It’s a reality that casts Kuchar into an altogether new spotlight that has nothing to do with his putting style. Transformed by swing coach Chris O'Connell following a fall from competitive grace in the mid-2000s, Kuchar’s status as arguably the best player without a major championship is as sound as that evergreen smile.

Following the snow that briefly delayed the final match in 2011, Kuchar’s children have returned to Dove Mountain each year awaiting a similar white-out despite assurances from Dad, “It’s Tucson, it’s not going to snow.”

It turns out the only thing more predictable than snow at Dove Mountain is Kuchar.

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No indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 18, 2018, 12:25 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.

While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022

“With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted the Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.

Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.

Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.

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Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:18 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.

Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.

“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.

Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.

Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”

“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”

There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.

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Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:07 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.

Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.

As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.

Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.

Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.

“It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.

Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.

“There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”

That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.

“I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.

Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.

In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.

“I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”

That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.

Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.

Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.

One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”

Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.

In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.

Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.

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Slumbers: Mickelson penalty 'not good for the game'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 11:44 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said that Phil Mickelson’s controversial penalty at the U.S. Open was not “good for the game,” but he did not say explicitly whether the ruling would have been any different at The Open.

Speaking Wednesday at his annual address, Slumbers said that he spoke with Mickelson last week about the incident. At Shinnecock Hills, Mickelson hit a moving ball in the third round but was not disqualified for a breach of etiquette. Instead, he received a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“In the event of a similar situation this week, clearly, the first thing is you understand the facts because you never get the same situation and there will be lots of reasons,” Slumbers said. “But we have looked very carefully at the rules, and I don’t think it was good for the game and not the right way to have played this wonderful sport, and we would make a decision based on the facts of any incident that happened later in the week.”

Rule 1-2, which includes a clause for disqualification, was not used because the infraction is covered under another rule.

“Let’s also remember that it’s a moot point for next year,” Slumbers said, “because as of the first of January 2019, there would have been a DQ option in that equivalent rule.”