Stenson in position to ice victory at Bay Hill

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2015, 11:26 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – The PGA Tour’s Iceman can be a difficult read.

This isn’t an aloof-Swede deal so much as it is the emotional distance Henrik Stenson tends to travel in relatively short periods of time.

This is, after all, the same player who destroyed a driver and a locker a week after winning the 2013 Deutsche Bank Championship. It’s equally significant that a week after that implosion at the BMW Championship, he won the Tour Championship and collected the $10 million FedEx Cup.

It’s the same guy who told the media on Friday at Bay Hill that “I kind of kicked myself in the butt” after a particularly slow start on Day 2.

Since that motivational pep talk on Friday, Stenson has played his last 27 holes in 12 under to add a measure of star power to an otherwise nondescript field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

At 38, Stenson will tell you he has worked to control his emotions, and for the casual observer the Iceman seems to live up to his nickname. What’s hidden from prying eyes behind a pair of wrap-around sunglasses, however, is a competitor who can still run as hot as a ’67 Ford Mustang.

“I’m kicking myself in the butt all the time,” smiled Stenson, who finished his round with a 19-footer for eagle on 16 and kick-in birdie on 18 for a 6-under 66 and a two-stroke lead. “Today, I was going about my business, didn’t get off to a fast start but it was still OK. I kept it in play and took my chances when I got them.”

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For tournament officials, the third-ranked Swede is a much-needed addition to the marquee and a sign, however faint, that things may be returning to normal on the PGA Tour.

The parity that has gripped the Tour this season can be summed up with a single sound bite – in 18 events there have been 18 different winners.

Or, for the more visually motivated, a once over of the Arnold Palmer Invitational leaderboard would also suffice as a paradigm of parity.

In order, Morgan Hoffmann – a 25-year-old Tour sophomore whose best finish this season was T-17 at Doral – looms just two strokes behind Stenson after a third-round 71. He's followed by Jason Kokrak – an almost 30-year-old who considers his back-to-back state high school championships his biggest thrill in golf – Matt Jones, Ben Martin, and Matt Every.

It's the collision of balance that has overtaken golf at the highest level and a Bay Hill layout softened by less-than-ideal conditions, an agronomic necessity that helped vault Stenson to his 16-under total.

There hasn’t been a winner that far under par at Arnie’s Place since the event went by the Bay Hill Classic (1987).

Rory McIlroy seemed headed in a similar direction as Stenson, moving to within one shot of the lead at 12 under before three consecutive bogeys dropped the world No. 1 a touchdown off the lead.

“There were parts of the round that were good. I have to concentrate on that and focus on the positives and try and take those into tomorrow,” said McIlroy, who seems to have lapsed into Masters mode following a slow start to his 2015 season on Tour.

So the challenge of catching Stenson will fall to the likes of Hoffmann and Kokrak, the latter of whom tied for the round-of-the-day with a 7-under 65.

“I’m going to make birdies, they’re going to make birdies. I’ll just try to make the best of it,” said Kokrak, who will head out in Sunday’s penultimate group with Jones. “The gameplan stays the same.”

After two dominant days to begin the week (66-65), Hoffmann took a similarly high-minded approach to his final-round pairing with Stenson, and Every certainly has the track record at Bay Hill, having won last year’s API.

But the numbers on this are rather straightforward.

Combined, the five players within three strokes of the lead have three Tour victories, one less than Stenson, which leads one to concede the likelihood of at least one Tour trend ending on Sunday.

The last eight 54-hole leaders on Tour all failed to close Sunday with a victory, whereas Stenson is a perfect 1 for 1 with the three-quarter advantage.

That the Swede has also started his Tour year with back-to-back fourth-place finishes would also tilt the scales in his favor. But it’s his improved demeanor on the golf course that may be the most telling sign of how far Stenson’s game has evolved.

And that’s not to say Stenson is any easier to read.

In his signature style late Saturday, as he spoke with the media, Stenson’s train of thought drifted from blithe to blunt in a single answer.

“When they asked me on Thursday if I wanted to be announced from Florida or Sweden, of course I took Orlando for support,” he laughed before adding, “the golf god doesn’t know what’s happened the last three days. Hopefully I tell it good [on Sunday]. That would be a good closing.”

It seems the dichotomy of the Iceman doesn’t stop on the golf course.

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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

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.”