State of mind: Garcia comfortable in Texas

By Rex HoggardMay 19, 2016, 10:58 pm

IRVING, Texas – Castellon, Spain, is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the east and the mountainous Sistema Ibérico area to the west. It's known for its production of citrus and vegetables.

There is little that would remind one of Castellon in Texas, and yet to Sergio Garcia the Lone Star state feels like home.

“Texas has always been good to me,” the Spaniard who was born in Castellon said with a shrug on Thursday at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Following a bogey-free 63 on Day 1 at the weather-delayed Nelson, Garcia referenced the traditional winds players face when the PGA Tour visits Texas and conditions that are normally hard and fast.

“I've always enjoyed these kind of golf courses that usually are a little bit firmer than today,” Garcia said. “It's always a little bit breezy and you have to place the ball in the right spots and I've always enjoyed that kind of golf.”

Never mind that TPC Four Seasons Resort was neither hard and fast nor windy on Thursday, which led Garcia to give the ultimate compliment.

“It just kind of brings me to my comfort level,” said Garcia, who started on No. 10 and scorched his second nine with four birdies and an eagle to grab the early lead.

As unquantifiable as that may seem, it’s the only way to explain Garcia’s record in Texas.

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In 1999, El Nino – whose weather system namesake was blamed for Thursday’s early storms that delayed the start of play by more than two hours – played his first professional event at the Nelson to set an early standard.

He opened with a 62 on the old Cottonwood Valley layout and finished the week tied third. Five years later he recorded his fourth victory on the PGA Tour in Dallas.

“Shooting that round and finishing third to kind of get my career started here was, it was unbelievable for me,” Garcia said of that first exposure to Texas golf. “It gave me a lot of confidence, it relaxed me a lot. It made my year a lot easier.”

That victory in ’04 was made even more special by one of the players he beat. Tiger Woods held the outright 36-hole lead that week but faded on the weekend and finished tied for fourth.

There is certainly something to the theory that Texas golf suits Garcia’s style of play, a ball-striker who normally gets better as the conditions become more difficult.

On Day 3 in ’04, for example, Garcia fondly remembered doing something “a little bit stupid,” on his way to victory at the Nelson, hitting 13 of 14 fairways and finishing the day a perfect 18-for-18 in greens in regulation.

But mostly he remembers being congratulated by Nelson, the longtime host who died in 2006 after being a fixture at the Dallas-area event for nearly five decades.

“I remember Byron taking a picture with me and some great memories,” he said. “I actually saw the picture this week in my room. I have my trophies, my Byron Nelson trophies at home. Every time I see them it reminds me of this place and Byron and the kind of legend he was.”

But then Garcia’s Lone Star affinity goes beyond Dallas. Two of Garcia’s eight Tour titles came in Texas, including his first triumph on the PGA Tour in 2001 at Colonial, and he’s earned $3.095 million of his $41.5 million in career earnings in Texas events.

Being a Ryder Cup year will always provide extra motivation to play well for Garcia, a staple for the European team and a thorn in the American squad’s side since 1999.

He’s also been trending in all the right directions in recent weeks. He finished third two weeks ago at the European Tour event he hosts in Spain and dropped a close decision to Adam Scott earlier this season at the Honda Classic where he finished a stroke back.

“I have been playing decent and obviously I still feel like I can play better but, hopefully, I can keep this momentum going and have a good solid week before the U.S. Open,” he said.

Still, Garcia is nearly four years removed from his last Tour title and his lone victory in the last year came in December on the Asian Tour, so if he chooses not to overthink his record in Texas it’s perfectly understandable.

“I’ve done fairly well pretty much every time I played here,” he said simply.

At this point in an eventful career it’s best to keep things simple, if not understated. Exactly what you would expect from someone who feels at home in Texas.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”