Stars not aligned for Players final round

By Rex HoggardMay 10, 2015, 12:01 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – If PGA Tour officials wanted to prove their marketing savvy, they’d tee the bottom half of the leaderboard off last on Sunday and let the leaders head out with the sunrise.

The bottom 10 players heading into the final round have a combined 25 major championship titles on the collective shelf, while the top 10 have a combined 22 Tour victories.

Instead of Rory, Jordan, TW or Phil, the "fifth major" has delivered Ryo, BillyHo and JT - that’s Thomas, not Timberlake. It will be a “who’s this?” finish at an event that prides itself on a “who’s who” field.

But short of a monumental policy change, it will be Chris Kirk who will anchor Sunday’s tee sheet alone atop the pack at 10 under par on a leaderboard that is as bunched as Turn 3 at Talladega.

Ryo Ishikawa, Billy Horschel and Justin Thomas lurk within three strokes – which at the Stadium Course is akin to a single swing at the wrong time – while the likes of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson will either be watching the action from home or, in Woods’ case, finished well before a meaningful shot is hit.


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But then it should be pointed out that what this Players lacks in name recognition it has salvaged with wild volatility and congestion that makes A1A look like a country road.

Consider that when Kirk sat down with the media for his post-round chitchat he was tied for the lead with Kevin Na, who had just teed off on the 18th hole. Before Kirk was finished talking Na had plummeted into a tie for fifth place with a double bogey-6 at the last and the uncertainty that has defined this event continued.

While the leaderboard may lack the proper marquee to move the needle for some, consider that 30 players are within five strokes of Kirk, a list that includes the likes of Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott.

It’s all part of the calling card of a winding golf course that defies a runaway.

“It seems like half the Tour could win this thing it’s so bunched ... Everyone sort of plays from the same positions, no style of game really has an advantage out here,” said McIlroy, who is tied for 17th at 6 under after a 70 on Saturday.

“It’s definitely to do with the golf course and the golf course setup that it is the way it is.”

Yet while the Stadium Course may cultivate traffic jams, for McIlroy and Scott, their chances of adding a measure of star power to the event with a Sunday surge appeared slim.

“I’m going to need that Davis Love kind of round,” said Scott, referring to Love’s victory at TPC Sawgrass in 2003 when the future U.S. Ryder Cup captain rallied from two shots back to win with a closing 64.

Garcia, a winner here in 2008, would appear to be the most likely option at 8 under par after a third-round 67, but the Spaniard didn’t exactly exude confidence when asked about his chances.

“I feel like I easily left on average three shots out there every round,” said Garcia, who has waffled between two putters and two putting grips this week. “You can’t think what could have been, but it is what it is. I just got to deal with it and try to do the best with what I have and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Which leaves a largely unproven list of would-be champions to carry the load on Sunday.

Kirk has been under the spotlight before, specifically last season when he won the Deutsche Bank Championship and lost the FedEx Cup title to Horschel at East Lake, but he’s struggled this season with just a single top-10 finish in 2015.

Not that Kirk cared who was behind him or how close they were, not at TPC Sawgrass where a lapse in attention can be a much more concerning hazard than sand or salt water.

“I don’t really plan on looking at the leaderboard a whole lot at all tomorrow,” said Kirk, whose third-round 68 left him a stroke ahead of Kevin Kisner, Ben Martin and Bill Haas. “I mean, it’s not like you can ever get comfortable anyways, so what’s the point?

“If you’ve got a six-shot lead at the turn, you’re not going to be comfortable playing that back nine just because of the way the golf course is.”

Kirk will be paired with Kisner in an all-University of Georgia final. The two also share the same swing coach, Scott Hamilton, which at least partially explains the matter-of-fact take when Kisner was asked about dealing with the Sunday pressure at such an important event.

“If we’ve all gotten here, we’ve done Tour [Q-School], we’ve won tournaments,” said Kisner, who scrambled to make the cut with a closing nine of 31 on Friday and moved into contention with an opening nine of 31 on Saturday. “Just because it’s a bigger stage doesn’t mean we’re going to suck all of a sudden.”

Nor does a Sunday leaderboard with a less-than-ideal “Q Score” mean that Sunday will ... well, you know.

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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.”