Day, Spieth, McIlroy in search of momentum

By Rex HoggardJune 21, 2017, 7:12 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perspective can be a funny thing.

At one end of the spectrum, fans at this week’s Travelers Championship see perhaps the strongest field ever assembled at TPC River Highlands that includes the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, the world Nos. 3, 4 and 6, respectively.

It’s the kind of star power tournament directors dream about and draws fans in record numbers. It doesn’t matter to the masses that this week’s Big 3 arrived in New England looking for answers.

Or maybe momentum would be a more accurate goal considering that in each of their last five combined stops that trio has just four top-10 finishes, missed five cuts and seriously contended for a title twice.

Although all three have made the game look exceedingly easy at times in recent years, getting one’s competitive mojo back is a little more complicated than simply flipping a switch, and for each of the game’s leading men the cause and effect behind their recent form varies wildly.

In Spieth’s case, the culprit is a normally magical putter that has gone cold. After back-to-back seasons of finishing inside the top 10 in strokes gained: putting on the PGA Tour, Spieth is currently 40th on that list today and is fresh from one his most pedestrian performances at the U.S. Open where he needed 122 putts.

Although Spieth said his recent issues on the greens is “frustrating,” he pointed out that he’s gone through similar periods in his career in 2013 and ’14, and that he and swing coach Cameron McCormick have studied his stroke enough to know the key to turning things around.

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“From the Tour Championship in '15 to the Masters in '15, very different strokes. You wouldn't necessarily look and see by the naked eye, but if you looked at the intricacies of the stroke and the way the putter traveled, they were actually tremendously different,” Spieth said on Wednesday. “The one similarity is the consistency in it was up at 95 percent or higher. That's what I'm trying to get is that consistency level.”

For McIlroy his recent play, particularly his missed cut last week at Erin Hills, comes down to competitive rust, which is the byproduct of an extended break after The Players to rest a recurring rib injury.

After playing his first 21 holes in 9 over par at the U.S. Open, McIlroy played his final 15 holes in 4 under par to finish an abbreviated week. It was the Northern Irishman’s seventh start of the year on the Tour and his first since The Players in May.

“In a perfect world, last week wouldn't have been my first week back at the U.S. Open. It's a high pressure, high-stress sort of event,” McIlroy said. “I think once you get into a run of events, there are certain situations on a course that you're just going to handle better because you've played a little bit and you've had a scorecard in your hand and you experienced it.”

Similarly, Day can take some solace in knowing the reason behind his relative struggles. The Australian’s mother, Dening, was diagnosed with lung cancer last year and she underwent surgery in March. Although Dening’s prognosis has improved since Day withdrew from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, it’s been an understandably difficult year professionally.

“I’m about a month behind my work load, all the practice and all the balls I should have hit because of what happened earlier in the year, to be honest I didn’t want to be on the course because of what happened,” Day said.

Although each of the Big 3 have their own unique issues they are currently dealing with, there’s a common theme that connects them as they work their way back to top form – patience.

Last week a friend of Day’s, Davis Lutterus, failed to Monday qualify for a Tour event and he thumbed out a text message that he quickly recognized as a classic glass houses deal.

“My text to him was, ‘Don’t worry, be patient. Things will happen. Just keep working hard,’” Day said. “I give advice, but sometimes when you give advice to your buddies you kind of over look it yourself and you really need to be patient and not try to force it.”

All three were upbeat on the eve of this week’s Travelers Championship, particularly Spieth who saw flashes of his normal self on Sunday at Erin Hills.

Spieth needed just 29 putts for the final round on his way to a tie for 35th, posting what was arguably the day’s best round from the more-demanding morning wave (69) when the winds reached 25 mph.

“I know that the putting is going to get there. I really only had, I would say, two solid putting tournaments out of all the events I played this year,” Spieth said. “It only takes one or two events in a row before we're right back on track, and I know that, and that's what I believe.”

All three players have come by their optimism honestly – they have, after all, each been ranked No. 1 – and if the crowds that have already gathered at TPC River Highlands are any indication it really doesn’t matter what they’ve done in recent weeks, it’s what they do next.

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Kisner doubles 18, defends not laying up

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 6:42 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It was only fitting that Jean Van de Velde was there working as an on-course reporter on Friday as Kevin Kisner struggled his way up Carnoustie’s 18th fairway.

Rolling along with a two-stroke lead, Kisner’s 8-iron approach shot from an awkward lie in the rough from 160 yards squirted right and bounced into Barry Burn, the winding creek where Van de Velde’s title chances at the 1999 Open Championship began to erode.

Unlike Van de Velde, who made a triple bogey-7 and lost The Open in a playoff, Kisner’s double bogey only cost him the solo lead and he still has 36 holes to make his closing miscue a distant memory. That’s probably why the 34-year-old seemed at ease with his plight.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It just came out like a high flop shot to the right. It was weird. I don't know if it caught something or what happened,” said Kisner, who was tied with Zach Johnson and Zander Lombard at 6 under par. “You never know out of that grass. It was in a different grass than usual. It was wet, green grass instead of the brown grass. So I hadn't really played from that too much.”

Like most in this week’s field Kisner also understands that rounds on what is widely considered the most difficult major championship venue can quickly unravel even with the most innocent of mistakes.

“To play 35 holes without a double I thought was pretty good,” he said. “I've kept the ball in play, done everything I wanted to do all the way up into that hole. Just one of those things that came out completely different than we expected. I'll live with that more than chipping out and laying up from 20 feet.”

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Wind, not rain more a weekend factor at Open

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 6:39 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – After a half-day of rain in Round 2 of the 147th Open Championship, the weekend offers a much drier forecast.

Saturday at Carnoustie is projected to be mostly cloudy with a high of 62 degrees and only a 20 percent chance of rain.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Sunday calls for much warmer conditions, with temperatures rising upwards of 73 degrees under mostly cloudy skies.

Wind might be the only element the players have to factor in over the final 36 holes. While the winds will be relatively calm on Saturday, expected around 10-15 mph, they could increase to 25 mph in the final round.

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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.