Masters finale chock full of storylines

By Rex HoggardApril 9, 2017, 12:35 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – If not for recent history, the 81st Masters would have nothing even approaching potential drama on Sunday.

Jordan Spieth has, after all, never started a Masters Sunday anywhere but the day’s anchor group and he mused just last week that he “strikes fear” in the field when it comes to the year’s first major.

Just imagine what his résumé would look like if he’d been able to avoid the dreaded “quad” the last two years, but then those train-wreck moments did occur. Despite a comfort level that defies explanation on the game’s most uncomfortable golf course and a Masters résumé that reads like binary code – 2nd, 1st, 2nd – there is nothing inevitable about Sunday’s final frame.

Spieth will begin the day in fourth place, which is uncharted waters for the 2015 champion.

“So new experience for me, coming from behind on Sunday at the Masters, which is kind of fun to say,” said Spieth, who has clawed back from 10 strokes down after an opening 75 to within two shots of the lead despite a quadruple bogey-9 on the 15th hole on Thursday. “Tomorrow might free me up a bit, being behind. I plan to play aggressive because at this point, it's win or go home.”

It will also be something of a new experience for the rest of the would-be champions on Sunday – a handsome list that includes the likes of Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler.

Rose made the day’s biggest move on Day 3, posting a 5-under 67 that included five birdies over his final seven holes to move into a share of the lead. Although the Englishman appreciates Spieth’s history on the former plant nursery, he didn’t sound like a man who would spend Sunday looking over his shoulder.

“I'm a major champion, but I'm looking for more and I'm certainly looking for my first Masters and my first green jacket,” said Rose, who has never missed a cut at the Masters in a dozen trips down Magnolia Lane. “This is a place I dearly love and would dearly love to be part of the history here.”


 

 

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He’ll head out in the day’s last group with Garcia, whose major championship career is littered with missed opportunities and meltdowns.

This week’s Masters is the Spaniard’s 74th major start, a snapshot of trial and largely error that includes 22 top-10 finishes and four runner-up showings, most recently at the 2014 Open.

At 37 years old it only seems like Garcia’s major window has closed because he started chipping away at Grand Slam glory so long ago when he famously dueled and lost to Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship.

But that same spark he showed at Medinah in ’99 has returned. Always among the game’s best ball-strikers, this week he has demonstrated surprisingly consistent play on those slippery greens. He’s 19th in the field in strokes gained: putting and has just a single three-putt on his way to a share of the lead.

But perhaps the most compelling example of why it might be El Nino’s time after all this time came early on the inward nine on Saturday when his 4-iron dropped short of the 13th green and drifted down the bank toward the creek before defying gravity and stopping short of a watery fate.

“My mentality has kind of changed a little bit, the way I'm thinking things, particularly this week here at Augusta,” said Garcia, who in the past has suggested that luck has not always favored him in the majors. “I've definitely had some good breaks throughout all three rounds.”

Fowler will have the advantage of proximity on Sunday when he tees off in the day’s penultimate group paired with Spieth. Like Garcia, Fowler’s major record isn’t what one would consider sparkling. Following a breakout year in 2014 when he became the first player to finish inside the top 5 in all four majors without winning, he’s failed to contend when it matters the most until this week.

But thanks to a 67 on Friday in blustery conditions and a 1-under 71 on Day 3, he will enjoy his best chance to date to join the major club. He also understands as well as anyone that Sundays at the Masters are defined by volatility.

“With it being fairly crowded, a handful of guys being within a few shots of the lead, I think it's going to be tough for someone to really run and distance themselves too much, with the possibilities of what you can do on the back nine,” said Fowler, who is alone in third place a stroke off the lead.

All told, there are eight players within five strokes of the lead, a “who’s who” list of contenders that includes former champions Adam Scott (3 under) and Charl Schwartzel (2 under), last year’s European Ryder Cup standout Thomas Pieters (1 under) and even Lee Westwood (1 under), a perennial bridesmaid at the year’s first major following a pair of runner-up finishes including last year.

“Everybody has a storyline,” Rose said. “A one-shot lead to start the day really doesn’t mean much.”

Nor does it seem Spieth’s dominance the last three years at Augusta National will be the difference maker, thanks to his well-documented miscues. A year ago he was deep into the back nine on Sunday when he rinsed his title chances into the creek at the 12th hole, and on Thursday it was a bad decision that cost him four shots on the par-5 15th hole.

Things will be different on Sunday, they always are. It’s the secret sauce that makes the Masters unique among the Grand Slam landscape. What have been “tough pars” all week become pine-rattling birdies and eagles late on the back nine and no advantage, be it actual or psychological, is safe.

There may be some fear among Spieth’s rivals as he suggested last week, but it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion.

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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.”