Latest Doral redesign looks to lessen power advantage

By Rex HoggardMarch 1, 2016, 8:01 pm

DORAL, Fla. – Early Tuesday morning, Billy Horschel gazed down the first hole at Doral’s Blue Monster and pondered the question.

“I’ll let you know,” he smiled.

Judging the relative fairness of any golf course is difficult because, as any golf course designer will explain, not everyone loves vanilla ice cream. But when it comes to Doral and the dramatic nip/tucks the iconic South Florida layout has undergone in recent years, there is never an easy answer.

Consider that after last year’s WGC-Cadillac Championship there was plenty of debate, much of it heated, among the PGA Tour frat brothers that the Gil Hanse redesign had created a “bomber’s only” ballpark that left mid-length and short hitters few, if any, chances to contend.

“I was pretty close to the max last year,” said Kevin Na, who tied for ninth place at Doral in 2015. “You can always play better, but my goal for the beginning of the week was to shoot even par and I shot 1 under. I did pretty well.”

In this, the proof is in the numbers.

Last year, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on the leaderboard – Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson – also ranked third, second and first, respectively, in driving distance for the week.

While there is rarely a shortage of opinions when it comes to Tour types, it’s not always the most constructive dialogue,

“Every year we get feedback from players, some negative and some positive,” Hanse said.

The difference this time was that a week after the 2015 Cadillac Brandt Snedeker sat down with a Tour official to address some of his concerns regarding Doral.

“I felt bad for Gil because he was getting criticized for the redesign, and just said, ‘Here’s the objective view of what I’m seeing and why guys are upset,’” Snedeker said. “Just so it’s more playable and fair for guys who hit it my length. There were times when I was hitting into a fairway that was 12 yards wide, while some of the longer guys are hitting into fairways that were 35 yards wide.

“I understand that length is an advantage but it shouldn’t be a determining factor to the golf tournament, and it seemed like last year length was the overriding factor on who was going to win.”

To be clear, neither Snedeker nor Na are “short” hitters, even by exaggerated Tour standards. Snedeker ranks 57th this year in driving distance (295 yards average) and Na has a 283-yard average this year off the tee. In other words, this isn’t the bottom 10 percent making noise.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign for everyone involved, be they long or short off the tee, is that the Tour, along with Doral owner Donald Trump, listened.

“I thought [Snedeker’s] comments were well thought out and insightful. You are always going to get players who are going to vent, but both [Snedeker and Ryan Moore] took the time to analyze the golf course,” Hanse said. “Through the history of the game the longer hitters have always had an advantage, but you’d like to think every class of player would be able to succeed on a particular course.”

All total, six holes at Doral have been tinkered with to varying degrees since last year’s championship, with the most dramatic change coming at the par-4 seventh hole where Hanse and Co. removed a fairway bunker down the right side.

“Looking at ShotLink it was obvious the longer hitters weren’t even thinking about that bunker and the preferred angle is down the right side and now we’ve given everybody a chance to use that angle,” Hanse said.

Another example of this year’s changes was at the par-5 12th hole, where a bunker down the left side of the landing area was pushed some 50 yards down the fairway to bring it into play for even the longest hitters.

Similar adjustments were made at the second, sixth, 14th and 17th holes, and Hanse said Trump was “well onboard” with the changes.

“What resonated for us was some of the average length players felt there was kind of a premium placed on power,” Hanse said.

Officials also plan to use the “back” tee at the first hole this week, which was available last year but never used. At 605 yards (it played 590 yards last year) the goal is to dictate that the first is a three-shot hole.

Think of it as addition by addition.

The first became a talking point last year when J.B. Holmes, who led after each of the first three rounds, hit his second shot on Friday onto the green but his golf ball released into a water hazard.

“That was one of the more controversial aspects last year,” Hanse said. "The thought was to build a green that was receptive to a wedge and turn it into a three-shot hole.”

Whether Hanse’s changes and the Tour’s decision to play the first from the “tips” creates a more diverse leaderboard this year at Doral remains to be seen, but at least it creates an opportunity for those closer to the middle of the pack in driving distance.

“[No.] 12 is a good example,” Snedeker said. “There were two fairway bunkers there and they were ‘pitch out’ bunkers, and for the long guys they weren’t in play at all, where some of the guys like myself if you hit in there you’re hitting a sand wedge out and a 6-iron on the green. It makes guys think a little more and be more strategic.”

As this episode proved, thinking about problems, and possible solutions, is much more productive than yelling about them.

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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.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.