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.

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Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 21, 2018, 7:02 pm

Tiger Woods is looking to close his season with a win at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him this week at East Lake Golf Club.

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Tiger gets rapper Big Boi's support during opening 65

By Grill Room TeamSeptember 21, 2018, 6:00 pm

Tiger Woods fans everywhere were buzzing during his opening 65 at the Tour Championship, and that includes Atlanta hip-hop legend Big Boi, who was supporting the 14-time major champ from the East Lake gallery.

Perhaps best known as one half of the rap duo "Outkast" along with André 3000, Big Boi played the part of Woods superfan on Thursday, following Tiger around the course and posting videos on Twitter, before eventually stopping for a chat and a few pictures after the round.

Big Boi, who kicked off the Tour Championship with a performance at the event’s opening ceremonies, is hardly the first hip-hop superstar to buddy up to Woods - who could forget these incredible pictures with Snoop Dogg?

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After Tour Finals, Peterson retires ... again

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 21, 2018, 5:50 pm

OK, now it’s official: John Peterson is done with professional golf.  

With one last chance to secure his PGA Tour card for next season, Peterson missed the cut in the season-ending Tour Championship. After failing to keep conditional status on Tour – in the most excruciating of circumstances – Peterson is now out of options to play the big tour in 2019, so he’s stepping away from professional golf, at age 29.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

It’s been one of the most unusual storylines of the year. The former NCAA individual champion from LSU announced at the beginning of the year that he was done if he didn’t keep his card on his major medical extension. He’d grown tired of the nomadic existence on Tour, and as a new father and husband, he’d already lined up his next career, in real estate and business development in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

In July, Peterson said that the Tour Finals would be his final opportunity. If he earned a full PGA Tour card through the four-event series, then he’d continue to play in 2018-19 because he’d be able to pick and choose his schedule. But he never threatened full status, missing three cuts and tying for 56th in the other start.

And so on Friday afternoon, Peterson tapped out this tweet, saying goodbye to the Tour:

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Army vets get sneak peek at Callaway's new wedges

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 5:23 pm

ATLANTA – Callaway Golf unveiled a new set of wedges to consumers on Friday, but U.S. Army veterans Kyle Butcher and Billy Paul were treated to an early peak on Wednesday at the Tour Championship.

Butcher and Paul were chosen to participate in a club fitting at East Lake that included three of Callaway’s new Mack Daddy 4 Tactical Wedges. The new wedges feature the company’s tactical package with a PVD finish, tour issued shafts and Groove-in-Groove technology. It was the company’s 13th “warrior fitting” this year.

Billy Paul (L) and Kyle Butcher checking out Callaway’s new Mack Daddy 4 Tactical Wedges.

Billy Paul (L) and Kyle Butcher (M) checking out Callaway's new Mack Daddy 4 wedges

The limited edition wedges became available at retail on Friday ($179.99) and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Birdies for the Brave. The company also made a $50,000 donation to Birdies for the Brave’s Special Operations Warriors Foundation.

Part of the company’s push to honor American military members also includes 15 percent discounts on purchases by all veterans.