Thinking man's open

By Rex HoggardJuly 12, 2011, 4:57 pm

SANDWICH, England – Early Tuesday Rickie Fowler glared down Royal St. George’s 14th fairway, bracing against the type of storm that would rate a name and a possible evacuation warning in the United States, before launching his hybrid tee shot high into the cold, swirling air that left him just a 5-iron into the par 5.

It was a perfect metaphor for St. George’s. A day earlier, the young American had gone the driver-3-iron route to the same spot. Welcome to Royal Dust Bowl, site of this week’s Open Championship and the cure to all the equipment woes that some say plague the game.

If the powers that be want to tell how far the play-for-pay set hits the golf ball they should consider a standing game at St. George’s, topped off by a three-month bake job from Mother Nature to golden yellow perfection.

For weeks the southeast coast of England has been mired in drought leaving the seaside layout brown and at its bouncy best and many of the game’s biggest bombers wondering why they paid the extra baggage freight to even fly their drivers to the United Kingdom.

We’ve seen this show before, back in 2006 at Royal Liverpool when Tiger Woods whipped the world’s best bunting a niblick about the place. At Hoylake, Woods hit just a single driver and, more importantly, just one fairway bunker.

'As I was playing the golf course, I would hit a couple of drives, and the driver would go 350, 370 yards. How can you control that out here? You can't control that,” Woods said that hot summer Sunday in ’06. “The fairways are hard enough to hit as it is, and you add driver and they go that far, now how hard is it to hit?”

St. George’s is shaping up to be the sequel, the only question is who figures it out fast enough. For the game’s bombers it’s a difficult, if not impossible, learning curve. Before heading to the United Kingdom Gary Woodland, among the longest of the freakishly long, was giddy to see how far he could hit his 2-iron, but he may not be liking the answer.

Simply put, the modern game of high and long doesn’t play well when the rolling pitch is parched and the wind gale-like. In a scene from bizzaro world, Woodland watched playing partner Justin Leonard outdrive him on Tuesday at the par-4 fourth hole . . . Justin Leonard.

“I don’t think this golf course is about length at all,” Graeme McDowell said. “We’ve talked about the fact that there’s not rough on this golf course, I don’t think it needs rough.

“Take the par 3s out and I would say 10 of the 14 tee shots most guys will be playing from the same area. I don’t think there are too many holes where you can take on a bit more. The bunkers are such that you have to play to certain areas off the tee.”

Call it extreme target golf, or maybe the great equalizer. Either way it is an anomaly of the grand slam game that at least partially explains some of St. George’s quirky champions.

Ben Curtis’ out-of-nowhere victory in 2003 is the most-often cited example of St. George’s unique challenges. In ’03 Curtis hit just 32 of 56 fairways, a pedestrian performance by any measure, yet finished 11th in the field in driving accuracy. It’s also worth noting that Curtis ranked 119th in driving distance on the PGA Tour that year.

Conversely, Woods was 48 for 56 in hitting fairways in 2006 at Royal Liverpool, the last time the Open was played on a brown patch and considered by some to be his greatest major triumph, along with the 2000 U.S. Open, from a tactical standpoint.

The oddsmakers may like the high-ball, long-hitting likes of Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson this week, but the odds are against them unless they drastically change the way they play the game.

“With this wind you’re going to have to keep the ball low,” McIlroy said. “But sometimes it’s hard to run the ball into these greens because they’re so undulating and they can go so many different ways. You’re going to really need a very strong ball flight.”

Note to ShotLink: any chance you eggheads can work up a “strong ball flight” statistic for this week?

Strangely, it won’t be Fairways Hit – a relatively meaningless stat at St. George’s where good drives often end up in bad places – so much as bunkers avoided that will add up to red numbers, or more likely something in the low black figures if the wind presists.

“You throw the yardage book out, you throw straight technique out, it’s about shaping shots,” said Peter Kostis, an analyst for CBS Sports and swing coach for Paul Casey. “Everyone is playing to the same spot, unless you’re very stupid. You can’t control the bounces, but you can control the percentages.”

It is a Thinking Man’s Open, not the steady diet of smash-and-grab outings that often dot the grand slam calendar, and the winner will probably surprise you. They always do.

Getty Images

Koepka looking to make hay on Horrible Horseshoe

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:26 pm

The Horrible Horseshoe - Nos. 3, 4 and 5 at Colonial Country Club - annually ranks as one of the toughest three-hole stretches on the PGA Tour.

Consider Brooks Koepka undeterred.

Last year's U.S. Open champ has played the stretch 2 over this week but knows that if he's going to have any chance at catching Justin Rose on Sunday, he's going to need take advantage of the par-5 first and then find a way to pick up shots on the Horseshoe.

"I feel like just need to get off to a good start on this golf course," Koepka said after a third-round 67 Saturday. "If you can get 2 or 3 under through six holes, I think you'll be right there."

Koepka will start the final round four behind Rose, as he looks to win for the first time since his maiden major victory last year.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

The big-hitter missed nearly four months this year with a wrist injury and is progressing quickly in his comeback despite dislocating his wrist on two different occasions over the last two months.

Koepka missed the cut with partner Marc Turnesa at the Zurich Classic in his competitive return before following up with a tie for 42nd at the Wells Fargo Championship and a tie for 11th at The Players Championship.

Now, thanks to a closing birdie Sunday, he finds himself playing alongside Rose in the final group on Sunday.

"I feel like my game is coming around," he said. "[At Zurich], I was five days into touching clubs. I am finally finding a rhythm and feel like I'm getting really close. ...

"Just want to get off to a good start [tomorrow]. That's really all I am trying to do. You put together a good solid round tomorrow, you never know what can happen. The important thing is we were just trying to get in that final group. I thought the putt on 18 was kind of big to get in that final group and play with Rosey."

Getty Images

Rose leads Koepka, Grillo by four at Colonial

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 9:06 pm

On the strength of a 4-under 66 Saturday, Justin Rose will take a four-shot lead over Brooks Koepka and Emiliano Grillo into the final round of the Fort Worth Invitational. Here's where things stand through 54 holes at Colonial Country Club.

Leaderboard: Rose (-14), Koepka (-10), Grillo (-10), Corey Conners (-8), Jon Rahm (-8), Louis Oosthuizen (-8), J.T. Poston (-8), Ryan Armour (-8)

What it means: The fifth-ranked player in the world is 18 holes from his ninth PGA Tour victory and his second this season. Up one to start the third round, Rose extended his lead to as much as five with birdies on four of his first six holes. Through 54 holes, Rose has made 17 birdies and just three bogeys. The 2013 U.S. Open winner and 2016 Olympic gold medalist has a history of winning at iconic venues - Muirfield Village, Aronimink, Cog Hill, Doral, Merion and Congressional - and now looks to add Colonial to the list. He'll be chased on Sunday by Grillo, the young Argentinian who won his first Tour start as a member in 2015, and Koepka, last year's U.S. Open winner who continues to impress in his injury comeback despite ongoing wrist issues.

Round of the day: Corey Conners and Ted Potter both turned in 7-under 63. Potter was bogey-free and Conners came home in 6-under 29 on the back nine.

Best of the rest: Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen, Brian Harman and Michael Thompson all signed for 64. Rahm called his six-birdie start the best 10 holes he's played so far this year.

Biggest disappointment: Jordan Spieth has finished second-first-second in the last three years at this event, but he's yet to find his normal Colonial form through three rounds. Spieth, who said Friday he was capable of shooting "10 or 12 under" over the weekend, shot even-par 70 Saturday. He sits in T-38 at 3 under for the week, 11 back.

Shot of the day: Rory Sabbatini closed out his third round Saturday with this eagle holeout from 134 yards at the 18th.

His colorful scorecard featured three bogeys, two birdies, a double bogey and that eagle. It added up to a 1-over 71. 

Getty Images

McCarron closes with only bogey, shares lead

By Associated PressMay 26, 2018, 8:49 pm

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - Scott McCarron, seeking a second senior major title to go with his 2017 Senior Players Championship, made his only bogey of the third round on the final hole to slip into a tie for the lead Saturday with Tim Petrovic in the Senior PGA Championship.

They were at 13 under par after Petrovic, seeking his first major, shot 65. McCarron has shared the lead through three rounds.

England's Paul Broadhurst, the 2016 British Senior Open winner, matched the best third-round score in tournament history with a 64. He was at 11 under.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, coming off his first major championship last week at the Regions Tradition, shot 65 and was 9 under.

Tom Byrum, who made a hole-in-one in shooting a 67, was in a group at 8 under.

Getty Images

Watch: Rose one-arms approach, makes birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 26, 2018, 7:25 pm

Justin Rose appears to have taken a course in Hideki Matsuyama-ing.

Already 3 under on his round through five thanks to a birdie-birdie-birdie start, Rose played this approach from 143 yards at the par-4 sixth.

That one-armed approach set up a 6-foot birdie putt he rolled in to move to 4 under on his round and 14 under for the week, five clear of the field.