2017 majors delivered for everyone but Fowler

By Rex HoggardAugust 16, 2017, 9:10 pm

If it seems like just yesterday you were heading down Magnolia Lane for the year’s first major, welcome to the club.

With Justin Thomas’ Sunday charge at Quail Hollow, the Grand Slam season came to a dramatic close, four months after Sergio Garcia got things underway at the Masters. For those who say professional golf has no offseason, consider that the next major golf shot won’t be hit for 231 days. How’s that for dramatic pause?

There were a few themes to this year’s major championships, with three of the four being won by first-time major winners and two stops defined by ridiculously low scoring.

Charley Hoffman got the season underway on Thursday at Augusta National, his 65 the best round of the day by four strokes and nearly 10 shots better than the Day 1 field average (74.97).

Rickie Fowler did what Rickie Fowler does at majors, moving into a share of the lead through 54 holes only to fade on Sunday (we’ll circle back around to Fowler in a moment), and Garcia doing what few that he could – win a major.

Perhaps Sunday’s final round at the Masters wasn’t exactly what we’ve come to expect from the year’s first major, with Garcia and Justin Rose battling to a standoff with closing nines of 35, but it was entertaining nonetheless and the Englishman gave one of the game’s classiest interviews in defeat.

“It was a wonderful battle with Sergio, you can’t feel bad for me. If there was anyone to lose to it was Sergio. He deserves it,” Rose said.

But what the Masters may have lacked in Sunday firepower, the U.S. Open filled the void.

One of two first-time major venues this season, conventional wisdom suggested Erin Hills, a behemoth at 7,740 yards, would be a typical U.S. Open grind. That unease was only fueled when officials made an 11th-hour decision to mow down some of the layout’s rough before play started.

What transpired on the course, however, was something entirely different.

Fowler (remember him?) once again got off to a dream start with a first-round 65, one of 44 scores under par at the Bob Hope Classic U.S. Open on Day 1. On Saturday, Thomas set a championship record in relation to par with his 9-under 63 and Johnny Miller, whose 8-under 63 in ’73 had been the U.S. Open scoring standard, wasn’t exactly impressed.

“Taking nothing away from 9 under par – 9 under is incredible with U.S. Open pressure,” Miller told GolfChannel.com. “But it isn’t a U.S. Open course that I’m familiar with the way it was set up . . . It looks like a PGA Tour event course set up.”

That Brooks Koepka would finish at a record-tying 16 under for his first major victory did nothing to counter Miller’s argument - that the combination of no wind and a soft course had turned Erin Hills into a major pushover - but Thomas would have the final word before the Grand Slam season was over.

Perhaps there was some solace for the USGA that the scoring assault continued at Royal Birkdale in July when Branden Grace made more history, becoming the first player to shoot 62 in a major on Saturday, not that the South African knew of his accomplishment until he’d putted out.

“Let's get this out of the way: I didn't know what was going on on 18. I promise you,” Grace smiled. “[Caddie Zack Rasego] came up and said, ‘You're in the history books.’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’”

But if ignorance was bliss for Grace on Saturday, Jordan Spieth knew exactly what was going on during the final round when his tee shot at the 13th hole sailed into a dune right of the fairway.

More than 20 minutes later, after taking an unplayable lie and a drop on Birkdale’s practice tee, Spieth completed a scrambling bogey that the late Seve Ballesteros would have been proud of.

Spieth later admitted that he’d hit drives much farther off line in his career, but none were as eventful on his way to the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

“We are going to skip the first 12 holes, right?” joked Spieth when asked about his round, which included three birdies and an eagle following his adventure on No. 13.

In a twist to the Grand Slam status quo, the PGA Championship proved to be the year’s toughest major, with the year’s lowest winning total (8 under) and the season’s toughest course on the PGA Tour by more than a half stroke.

That it was Thomas, who emerged from a crowded leaderboard late on Sunday afternoon, holding the Wanamaker Trophy only seemed apropos (perhaps there should have been some sort of tweet directed at Miller, maybe next time).

It should also be noted that Fowler finished tied for fifth at the PGA despite a Saturday 73, and with 231 days until the next major, the title of "best player without one" rests squarely on his shoulders.

Getty Images

Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

Getty Images

Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

Getty Images

Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

Getty Images

Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”