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At the Sony, trouble in paradise

By Rex HoggardJanuary 14, 2018, 5:20 am

HONOLULU – The sun peeked over Diamond Head just after 7 a.m. on Saturday, ushering in a textbook morning in paradise.

A light “trade” breeze swayed palm trees, families made their way to the beach and tourists milled around Waikiki in search of somewhere to eat breakfast. It was the kind of morning that draws people from all over the world to Hawaii.

The first signs that something wasn’t right came just after 8 a.m. Matt Every sat at a street-side café in Waikiki when pedestrians began running by in search of shelter.

“There’s a missile coming,” someone yelled.

The message was sent at 8:07 a.m., via text from the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency: “BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Charles Howell III was at breakfast at The Kahala Hotel adjacent to Waialae Country Club when his phone began to warble.

“I texted a friend of mine who is in the Navy [at Pearl Harbor] and they were scrambling as well,” Howell said. “Part of me wanted to go to the beach and have a mai tai, part of me didn’t know what to do.”

The Kahala, which is a popular place for players to stay for this week’s Sony Open, announced the alert across the property and advised guests to go to the basement. Ben Martin was hesitant at first until he began to scroll through his Twitter feed and realized the threat could be real.

“I went to the basement. There were a lot of players down there,” Martin said. “Everybody was freaking out.”

Chez Reavie is staying in a hotel in Waikiki, where the alarm caused widespread concern among the throngs of tourists.


Full-field scores from the Sony Open in Hawaii

Sony Open in Hawaii: Articles, photos and videos


“I was like holy s---,” Reavie said. “I looked outside and saw everybody running. I just stayed in my room.”

It was a common theme on the most surreal of Saturdays as confusion and concern reigned. There’s no chapter in the PGA Tour player manual about inbound missile threats.

Jordan Spieth called his parents back home in Texas to ask for updates and actually received the all clear from his brother when his cell service went down.

At 8:45 a.m., 38 minutes after the original warning was issued a correction was finally sent out advising that there was no missile.

The alert never impacted play at Waialae with the first tee times scheduled for 11:05 a.m., but many in the field were shaken by the experience as they prepared for the third round.

Tony Finau was in his hotel with his wife and kids when he received the alert and admitted it was a difficult position, torn between wanting to be with his family during a time of crisis and having them in harm’s way.

“It was a blessed day,” said Finau, whose round was highlighted by a hole-in-one at No. 17. “It puts things in perspective with what could happen. Golf was the last thing on people’s minds.”

No one, however, endured the emotional rollercoaster as much as Blayne Barber. He’d gone to dinner on Friday with his caddie, Cory Gilmer, and brother, Shayne, and had just returned to his room when he received a call that Gilmer had fallen and hit his head.

“He's in the neurological ICU, a lot of bleeding and swelling in his brain,” Barber said. “I slept about three hours. That was about the hardest day of golf I've ever played, between that and the texts this morning.”

Barber received the text alert as he was walking into the hospital to see Gilmer. He played Round 3, because that’s what Gilmer would have wanted, and he struggled, posting a 2-over 72. But none of that really mattered.

“I've been gone from my kids and my wife for 10 days, and between that happening to Cory and then just the emotions of facing your own mortality in that moment, it's just been a heavy day for sure,” said Barber as he fought back tears. “It's been a good day. It's good to face those things sometimes.”

And there was golf on Saturday. Some impressive golf, actually.

Tom Hoge went around Waialae in 64 shots to unseat Brian Harman, the most consistent player on the Tour this season with four top-10 finishes in four starts, atop the leaderboard; as did Patton Kizzire, who is tied with Harman at 15 under and a stroke off the lead.

Harman will go into a Tour Sunday in contention for the second consecutive week, having lost to a dominant Dustin Johnson to start the year at the Sentry Tournament of Champions; while Hoge, who was bogey-free on Saturday and finished his day with back-to-back birdies, will sleep on his first 54-hole lead on Tour.

That’s if he’s able to sleep at all after one of the most surreal days in recent memory.

Spieth, who endured another non-Spieth-like putting round (31 putts), spent the day reminding his caddie, “at least we’re alive, which isn’t really funny.”

No, it wasn’t funny, but it was eye opening.

It’s rare when the outside world invades the polished confines of golf, but on Saturday those realities came in from all directions and were impossible to ignore or forget.

“I kept thinking to myself, this can’t be real,” Howell said of the text alert. “But then I kept thinking maybe it’s sign of the world we live in. It could be real.”

Thankfully, it wasn’t real, but for 38 tense minutes it certainly felt real enough.

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No indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 18, 2018, 12:25 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.

While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022.

“With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted The Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.

Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.

Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.

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Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:18 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.

Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.

“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.

Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.

Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”

“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”

There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.

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Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:07 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.

Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.

As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.

Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.

Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.

“It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.

Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.

“There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”

That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.

“I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.

Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.

In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.

“I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”

That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.

Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.

Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.

One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”

Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.

In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.

Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.

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Slumbers: Mickelson penalty 'not good for the game'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 11:44 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said that Phil Mickelson’s controversial penalty at the U.S. Open was not “good for the game,” but he did not say explicitly whether the ruling would have been any different at The Open.

Speaking Wednesday at his annual address, Slumbers said that he spoke with Mickelson last week about the incident. At Shinnecock Hills, Mickelson hit a moving ball in the third round but was not disqualified for a breach of etiquette. Instead, he received a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“In the event of a similar situation this week, clearly, the first thing is you understand the facts because you never get the same situation and there will be lots of reasons,” Slumbers said. “But we have looked very carefully at the rules, and I don’t think it was good for the game and not the right way to have played this wonderful sport, and we would make a decision based on the facts of any incident that happened later in the week.”

Rule 1-2, which includes a clause for disqualification, was not used because the infraction is covered under another rule.

“Let’s also remember that it’s a moot point for next year,” Slumbers said, “because as of the first of January 2019, there would have been a DQ option in that equivalent rule.”