For many, Olympic highlight will be opening act

By Rex HoggardAugust 5, 2016, 3:36 pm

Following nearly seven years of speculation, seven years of debate, seven years of second-guessing and celebrating, golf’s return to the Olympics becomes very real for many on Friday.

Although golf is still a week away from the start of the men’s competition, the Opening Ceremony is the moment would-be Olympic players penciled into their calendars as something to be cherished.

Henrik Stenson, the favorite heading into the men’s competition following his victory last month at The Open, was scheduled to arrive in Rio de Janeiro Thursday and march with Sweden in the Parade of Nations.

“I want to watch some other events. Try and cheer a few of the other Swedes on,” said Stenson of his Olympic plans that will include a trip to the handball competition.

Anirban Lahiri has an even more aggressive schedule for his time in Rio, starting with the Opening Ceremony, which has been a part of his Olympic plan since it became clear he’d represent India in the Games.

“If you’re going to play in the Olympics in your lifetime you want to do it right, you want to experience being a part of the entire team,” said Lahiri, who hoped to be able to attend various other competitions, including field hockey, tennis and swimming.

American Rickie Fowler, Paraguay’s Fabrizio Zanotti, Finland’s Mikko Ilonen and France’s Gregory Bourdy will also join their fellow countrymen in Maracana Stadium on Friday; as will the LPGA’s Julieta Granada who will carry Paraguay’s flag in the Opening Ceremony.

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There are really only two things that separate the Games from almost any other week in professional golf, the Opening Ceremony and the medal ceremony, and, let’s face it, the latter will be a limited engagement for only the top players. It’s a reality that has given the Opening Ceremony added importance for some Olympic players.

The format, 72 holes of stroke play, is standard fare and there will be no team competition, which must have come as a blow to competitor Matt Kuchar when he realized it this week.

Even the way players plan to prepare will not vary from the norm. Stenson, the highest-ranked player in the men’s event at fifth in the world, said he will take this weekend to fully enjoy the Olympic experience before getting back to his day job on Monday.

“Treat it as a normal week from Monday onwards,” Stenson said.

That isn’t an indictment against golf’s return to the Games after more than a 100-year hiatus or a dismissive assessment of the competition; it’s just a proven formula for success. Unlike most other Olympic athletes, professional golfers are geared toward peaking four or five times a year, not once every four years.

For golfers, the Olympic experience may be new but the basic tenets of the competition are very much status quo – practice rounds, practice, play, repeat. Maybe the pressure on Sunday (Saturday for the women) will be different for those vying for medals, maybe there will be more butterflies on the first tee when the gravity of wearing one’s flag is suddenly part of the equation.

But until that competitive epiphany arrives, the most tangible Olympic moment for many players will be putting on the tracksuit, as England’s Paul Casey joked earlier this summer, and marching with one’s country into Maracana Stadium.

Until he won the RBC Canadian Open two weeks ago, the Opening Ceremony was likely going to be the highlight of Jhonattan Vegas’ year, and even a suddenly full dance card because of his improved competitive fortunes didn’t diminish the opportunity to march with his fellow Venezuelans.

“As an athlete walking with all the other athletes representing your country there’s not a greater honor,” Vegas said last week at the PGA Championship. “For us, we don’t get to represent our country very often so there is no better honor.”

For some players, Friday’s Opening Ceremony will likely be an once-in-a-lifetime event, where months of security, scheduling and health concerns can finally be put behind them and they can join the other athletes.

The medal ceremony will undoubtedly prove to be an emotional and rewarding moment for a handful of players, but for the vast majority, for those who ignored the noise and focused on the nostalgia of the moment, the Opening Ceremony will be the pinnacle of their Olympic experience.

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Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.

The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.

The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.

After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.

“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”

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Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.

Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.

“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.

To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.

“More punishment,” he said.

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DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.

Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.

Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.

It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.  

With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.

Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.

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TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:

• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.

• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.

• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”

• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.

• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.

• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.