Misunderstood Stenson chasing second straight major

By Rex HoggardJuly 29, 2016, 9:54 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – It’s one of the game’s great ironies, right there alongside comprehensive pace-of-play policies and a simplified Rules of Golf.

Henrik Stenson is neither stoic nor aloof, be it on or off the golf course, yet was long ago saddled with the wildly inaccurate sobriquet Iceman.

It’s a nickname one would normally associate with a person who is remote and guarded, and yet the Swede and newly minted major champion is neither.

On a bad day at the golf course he can be downright volcanic, although in fairness those heated episodes have become the exception in recent years. On any day off the golf course he can be brilliantly subtle, like on Friday at Baltusrol after a second-round 67 temporarily lifted him into the lead at the PGA Championship.

Asked how different he feels this week after having won his first major championship two weeks ago at Royal Troon: “I’m 6-foot-2 normally, but I guess I feel 6-foot-3 walking around out there,” he smiled.

Quizzed if his status as a major champion could impact those trying to catch him on Sunday: “I don’t know if I can scare anyone except myself,” he shrugged.

And, the clever coup de grâce, if he planned to approach the final round any differently than he did earlier this month at Royal Troon: “I think a 63 on Sunday would work pretty well here, too,” he laughed, “Sixty-four I can guarantee, but no 63.”

If the game has appeared easy for Stenson of late he’s come by his swagger honestly, having played his last seven major championship rounds to a 66.71 scoring average and hitting 81 percent of his greens in regulation during that span.

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For a guy who played his first 41 majors looking like a teenager struggling with algebra, the answers seemed to come so easily at Royal Troon, where he outdueled Phil Mickelson coming down the stretch in what was an instant classic.

Technically, Stenson will tell you that his turnaround at The Open was the byproduct of better ball-striking, more confidence in his driver and one of the best putting weeks of his career. Of course he would say that, because anything deeper would require a level of self-examination that he’s probably not entirely comfortable with.

“It’s all about the melon, isn’t it?” Stenson’s longtime swing coach Pete Cowen said in Scotland. “If it’s a dark gray, he’s fine. But if it’s a dark green, he’s in trouble.”

For two days at Baltusrol he’s been the picture of calm, unfazed by a rain delay early Friday morning that pushed tee times back 45 minutes and the kind of start that in the past might have led to a broken golf club.

But after starting his round with two bogeys through his first four holes, he rebounded with an eagle at the par-5 18th (he started his round on No. 10) and added two birdies at Nos. 1 and 3. By the time he was finished he’d eased his way to his second consecutive 67.

Easy, right?

“It might not feel as easy as it sometimes looks, if it does look easy,” he admitted. “It's always a question for me to work hard at what I need to do and focusing on the right things. But it definitely helps a lot when the mind is clear on what you're doing.”

What he is doing is impressive. With his “old trusty” 3-wood he’s tied for 17th in fairways hit, fourth in greens in regulation and 10th in proximity to the hole at the PGA. He could improve his putting with just four putts converted from outside of 10 feet for the week, but that’s always the case and he’s proven his ball-striking can mitigate any damage caused by his putter.

Although winning back-to-back majors is uncharted territory for Stenson, he’s not entirely unfamiliar with the concept of riding momentum.

In 2013, he won the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship to claim the FedEx Cup and finished with a victory at the DP World Tour Championship to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai all within a two-month span.

“I think I'm a hard worker,” he said. “I work a lot on my game, and I think when I get it in good order, I have been able to keep it going for quite some time and have some long stretches where I've been playing well.”

Earlier on Friday, Martin Kaymer talked about the importance of keeping the voices in his head positive when the conditions are difficult like they were at Baltusrol to start a wet and windy day; but beyond this week’s Grand Slam finale that’s the story of Stenson’s career.

“If there were any voices, I guess I managed to get rid of them,” he smiled.

Despite the misplaced nickname, the voices in Stenson’s head are always there, the difference this week is they are telling him to make the most of his current form.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

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In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

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Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.

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“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”