Power outage: 'Supergroup' doesn't generate electricity

By Rex HoggardMarch 3, 2016, 11:53 pm

DORAL, Fla. – Jason Day won’t show up at Doral on Friday putting cross-handed, but given how things played out on Thursday it would be hard to blame him if he did.

The Australian is comfortable with his standard putting grip that produced so many magical moments last year, and one day on the wrong side of the cross-handed ledger against Jordan Spieth and recent convert Rory McIlroy isn’t going to prompt that kind of transition.

For the record, Spieth took low needle-mover honors with a 3-under 69, followed by McIlroy at 1 under and Day at even par on Thursday. It should also be noted all three trailed front-runners Scott Piercy and Marcus Fraser on the Doral big board.

But then the “Big 3” have won four out of the last five majors, and Frazer and Piercy are a combined 3-for-4 in cuts made at those same majors. So, they’ve got that going for them.

The unvarnished takeaway from Day 1 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship was that it was a relatively quiet affair for the marquee with the most.

The world’s top three players were paired together for the first time since last year’s Players Championship, yet even after the three-ball all birdied the day’s first hole (No. 10) it wasn’t as if Doral came alive with buzz.

“It was good at the start and then it kind of declined coming in. And I was the first one to go,” said Day, who went from billabong (No. 16) to the Bermuda rough (No. 18) to get things moving in the wrong direction with two quick bogeys just before the turn and never looked comfortable on or around the greens.

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McIlroy looked more at ease tee-to-green but needed 33 putts and, he conceded, more time working out the kinks of the new putting grip.

But it was Jordan Spieth who exited cloudy Doral with some pop in his step after matching his best round on a golf course that’s never seemed to be his cup of cafecito.

Even after a bogey at his final hole, the par-3 ninth, the world No. 1 didn’t have the look or tone of a man searching for answers.

“I could certainly have controlled and finished better,” said Spieth, who in two starts at Doral has finished tied for 17th and 34th. “But I feel I would certainly sign up right now for three more rounds with the same score.”

If all this doesn’t exactly live up to the expectations born from pairing the world’s top-3 ranked players, it shouldn’t. Thursday’s subdued vibe is exactly why this type of contrived grouping never lives up to the hype.

While the math looks good on paper, these types of clashes occur only organically.

In 2005, back before this South Florida stop became an exclusive club with a WGC pedigree, 144 players gathered at Doral but it came down to just two – Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson, who was ranked fourth in the world at the time, began that frenzied final day two strokes clear of then-second-ranked Woods and shot a closing 69. Tiger would go three better (66) in an inspiring duel to take the title by a stroke.

Fate, not a faux pairing, brought the game’s titans together that day, and if that ’05 Ford Championship is any guide a healthy amount of fortune is also required, and fortune always favors the prepared.

Woods arrived at Doral that year two weeks removed from winning at Torrey Pines, Lefty was fresh off two triumphs on the West Coast (FBR Open and Pebble Beach), and the cosmic tumblers delivered a classic mano-a-mano finish.

By contrast, none of the so called “Big 3” appear to be in particularly good form heading into the year’s first World Golf Championship. McIlroy and Spieth both missed the cut in their last starts and Day is playing just his fourth event of 2016 and is understandably rusty.

This is not an indictment of the game’s best, only the unrealistic expectations of an early-week attempt to manufacture something epic.

They tried to make magic.

“We were actually able to feed off each other for a while on a very difficult golf course through the first 12 holes or so, and then each of us had a bit of a slip towards the end, and a little bit of a damper on the round,” Spieth said. “But we'll come back tomorrow and get off to a good start.”

Even the crowds seemed to sense the distinction between a weekend draw that has all the makings of an instant classic, and, well, fabrication.

“I thought there was going to be a few more people out there,” Day said. “It will be better. It's Thursday. Once the weekend comes around, there's going to be a few more people having a drink and it should be a little bit louder.”

And honestly, as entertaining as these Thursday-Friday pairings may be, aren’t things always better on the weekend?

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.