Stumble shouldn't deter Stenson in major quest

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2015, 11:44 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – A few years back a group of on-air pundits were asked who would be the first Swede to win a major championship.

Someone picked Carl Pettersson. Another went with Jonas Blixt. Annika Sorenstam’s name may have also been mentioned in jest; it’s hard to remember exactly because of what happened next.

Henrik Stenson entered the "Morning Drive" studio for the next segment and glared at your scribe, a member of that misguided group, and said simply, menacingly even, “That was a mistake.”

As the golf world inches closer to the year’s first men’s major at Augusta National, Stenson’s admonishment is starting to feel more like foreshadowing.

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On Sunday on a softer-than-Wonder Bread Bay Hill layout, the stoic-looking Swede didn’t win that elusive major or even a mid-major, but he certainly seemed to take a step toward breaking through that Grand Slam ceiling.

A half-world away Pete Cowen didn’t watch Stenson’s eventful final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He didn’t see him squander a one-stroke lead late Sunday at Bay Hill.

He didn’t need to.

After 14 years and endless hours working with him on far-flung practice tees he knows the talent that burns within the 38-year-old. So instead, he watched the Man United-Liverpool tilt.

When it comes to Stenson, Cowen knows the fine line between victory and defeat is measured in the moments when things aren’t going his way.

“We like to say if he can keep his melon on he can win anywhere,” Cowen said.

Whether Stenson’s melon is squarely fused to his broad shoulders permanently is still unknown, as evidenced by his near-miss at Arnie’s invitational.

After starting the day with a two-stroke advantage, he dropped two behind the likes of Morgan Hoffmann only to forge ahead with birdies at Nos. 11 and 12.

That’s where the line became blurry. It’s the moment when he and Hoffmann, who was paired with Stenson, were put on the clock by a PGA Tour rules official on the 15th hole.

It was the second time the group was subjected to the pressures of a stopwatch, and will be documented as the moment Stenson three-putted from 45 feet at No. 15, and then he needed three more from the fringe at the par-5 16th hole. For a player who had recorded just two three-putts his first three days it was the metaphorical fork in the road.

“It’s hard when you don’t feel like you can take the time you need,” said Stenson, who would par the final three holes to finish a stroke behind API winner Matt Every. “I just don’t see the point.”

Widely considered a “five-tool” player, it’s Stenson’s ability, and at times inability, to deal with adversity that has covered the divide between consensus world-beater and would-be champion.

It’s why when Stenson rang Cowen past midnight on Wednesday about a swing that had been blown out of position by winds that buffeted the pro-am, the swing coach calmly worked his man through the moment.

“There is one fault that he has with his swing and one fault only,” Cowen said.

The two discussed the esoteric elements of Stenson’s swing. Essentially, Cowen walked him through the mechanics of “getting pressure on the ball.” Put another way, predictable contact creates repeatable results, and Stenson responded with three consecutive rounds in the 60s.

There was no sense of urgency for either Stenson or Cowen because when it comes to the golf swing he is the quintessential Swede, unflappable and detail driven.

It’s an advantage Stenson has come by honestly after a career dotted with peaks and valleys yet defined by quality with Tour victories at a World Golf Championship, The Players and two FedEx Cup playoff stops.

“He’s been through two adverse periods and that has given him confidence to know he can handle anything,” said Cowen, referring to Stenson’s swoons in 2003, when he drifted to 502nd in the world, and 2012, when he dropped to 222nd. “His caddie [Gareth Lord] said that if he keeps his head we’ll have chances every week.”

So far in 2015 on the PGA Tour Stenson has largely played to that script, finishing fourth in his first two starts of the season and runner-up on Sunday at Bay Hill.

It’s likely why Stenson took the long view following his near-miss at Bay Hill.

“My goal is to play as good as I can, be up in contention as many times as I can and the more times I’m there the more tournaments I will win,” Stenson said. “It’s still good practice to feel the heat and be out there in contention today.”

But for those who know Stenson, and what he is capable of, it’s not practice that he needs if he’s going to finish his major quest.

“He’s good enough to win anything, the thing is staying patient,” Cowen said.

Whether he maintained that patience on Sunday at Bay Hill is open to interpretation, although he didn’t break any clubs like he’s done regularly in his career, most notably at the 2013 BMW Championship, but he may have broken some china with the Tour official with the quick second hand.

What isn’t open for discussion is Stenson’s status as the clear second favorite, behind a slow-starting Rory McIlroy, heading into the Masters.

“I think Stenson has played his way to being a favorite,” said Ernie Els when asked about the possible contenders heading into the year’s first major next month at Augusta National.

He also moved to No. 2 in the World Golf Ranking with his bridesmaid showing at the API, but then Cowen didn’t need to see any of that to grasp his man’s status as a major championship conversation starter.

And now the rest of the golf world is learning it, one misguided pundit at a time.

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Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.

The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.

The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.

After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.

“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”

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Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.

Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.

“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.

To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.

“More punishment,” he said.

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DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.

Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.

Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.

It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.  

With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.

Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.

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TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:

• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.

• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.

• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”

• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.

• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.

• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.