This time, Johnson overcomes controversial penalty

By Rex HoggardJune 20, 2016, 3:08 am

OAKMONT, Pa. – For a guy who’d found all manner of ways to lose a major, this was a stunningly new twist.

The man who can move a golf ball insanely long distances was drawn into a “he said, he said” with the USGA over a golf ball that nudged a fraction of an inch at the worst possible time on Sunday at the U.S. Open.

Did Dustin Johnson cause his ball to move as he prepared to putt on the fifth green?

Had he unwittingly run afoul of the rules, again, or were gravity and insanely fast greens to blame?

This time it didn’t matter. DJ made sure of that with a performance that will be remembered as equal parts surreal and special.

Johnson, the sometimes troubled and infinitely talented 31-year-old bomber who had come painfully short so many times, won his major in convincing fashion – closing with a 68-turned-69 thanks to a bizarre rules violation that nonetheless left him three strokes clear of the field.

Although never one to get caught up in minutia, Johnson would be forgiven if he recalls his Oakmont breakthrough as a four-stroke triumph – the margin he would have won by had he not run afoul of yet another rules snafu – but then the U.S. Open trophy thankfully doesn’t come with small print or asterisks.

Instead, Johnson will recall starting the final round four strokes adrift of Shane Lowry, who is best described as a jolly, bearded giant, following a worst-of-the-week 71 in Round 3.

Major championships aren’t won on Sunday mornings, but Lowry seemed to score a moral victory when he completed his delayed third round early on Father’s Day with two birdies over his final four holes for a four-stroke advantage.

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But there are two things at Oakmont that are in short supply – trees and guarantees, no matter the size of one’s lead or heart.

For three days there was the distinct feeling that the golf world had thrown a party and the guest of honor was a no-show, with Oakmont playing soft and soggy.

Lowry entered the final turn at 7 under par, the same number eventual champion Ernie Els was going into Sunday at the ’94 Oakmont Open when the beast played to a beautiful par of 71.

For three days, however, Oakmont masqueraded as a par 70 that was left defenseless by torrential rains on Thursday.

But on Sunday Oakmont became painfully familiar, like a recurring nightmare or a visit to the dentist, and Johnson’s plan of persistent punishment worked to perfection.

“Winning any tournament, there's a lot of satisfaction, but to get it done in a major, especially I've been so close so many times, it's just an unbelievable feeling,” said Johnson, who dominated the field tee to green. “It's hard to even describe.”

Johnson birdied the second hole after driving to the edge of the green and he seemed to sidestep the type of fateful mistake that cost him in the past when his ball moved as he prepared to hit his par putt on the fifth green.

Johnson told the walking official he hadn’t grounded his club and he was advised there had been no rules violation, but we’ll come back to that.

A birdie at the ninth moved Johnson into a tie for the lead and Lowry continued his free-fall with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 9 and 10.

It was at the 12th tee when things began to unravel in far too familiar fashion for Johnson. There were no wayward drives, no untimely three-putts, no mental lapses which have haunted him in the past.

Instead, it was Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules and competition, who informed Johnson that officials planned to review the ruling from the fifth green after the round and that he might be penalized a stroke.

“We agreed that we were concerned about what we saw and felt obligated to have a conversation with Dustin about it, and the 12th tee presented the best opportunity to do that,” Hall said. “We told him that what we saw was a concern, but we also asked him a couple of questions.”

For seven holes Johnson, who steadfastly contended he did nothing to make his ball move and shouldn’t have been penalized, battled indecision, an increasingly difficult golf course and an assortment of some of the best players in the game – including world No. 1 Jason Day, who cut the lead to three strokes at one point.

Sergio Garcia, who also made a run on Sunday, once opined that he felt like he was playing more than the field at major championships.

On Sunday at Oakmont Johnson would have been forgiven if he felt similarly out-gunned against the field if not the rules committee.

“At that moment there was nothing I could do about it. Let’s just focus on that shot and go from there,” Johnson said. “This golf course is very difficult. It’s very difficult to close, so from 12 to 18 I just tried to focus on what I was doing.”

That Johnson would make the peculiar and largely panned ruling irrelevant with a dominant performance only added to a moment he’d been denied so many times.

For a player who some considered incapable of dealing - or unwilling to deal - with major championship pressure, Johnson put on a clinic in crisis management.

After three-putting the 14th hole for bogey, Johnson played a perfectly U.S. Open round of golf with pars at Nos. 15, 16 and 17 and a towering approach to 5 feet at the last.

The man who had three-putted the last green at last year’s U.S. Open to lose by a stroke, who grounded his club in a dirt-patch hazard and was penalized two strokes at the 2010 PGA Championship, who had stood on the edge of major glory so many times and failed, refused to allow fate and an unfavorable rub of the green to keep him from his major.

“Just one more thing to add to the list, right?” he figured with a smile born from his ability to overcome adversity.

Throughout Johnson’s eventful career, which now includes victories every year for nine consecutive seasons, he’d spoken of when, not if, he’d win a major and at Oakmont he broke free of the Grand Slam gloom on his own terms.

“It’s validation for all the work he’s done, on the golf course and off the golf course. Regardless of who you are each near-miss, and he’s always processed this stuff differently than anyone else, but the clock’s always ticking and the questions just grow and grow,” Johnson’s manager, David Winkle, said. “Now he will have a little bit of relief.”

When Johnson eased his birdie attempt into the hole at the last he flashed a rare show of emotion, hugged his fiancée and son and was met by Mike Davis, the executive director of the USGA.

The moment was a perfect metaphor for so many years of frustration and major futility.

Congratulations on winning the U.S. Open, now add one.

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

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At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

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Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1

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Perez (T-3) looks to remedy 'terrible' major record

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 7:34 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez’s major record is infinitely forgettable. In 24 Grand Slam starts he has exactly one top-10 finish, more than a decade ago at the PGA Championship.

“Terrible,” Perez said when asked to sum up his major career. “I won sixth [place]. Didn't even break top 5.”

It’s strange, however, that his status atop The Open leaderboard through two rounds doesn’t seem out of character. The 42-year-old admits he doesn’t hit it long enough to contend at most major stops and also concedes he doesn’t exactly have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the game’s biggest events, but something about The Open works for him.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I didn't like it the first time I came over. When I went to St. Andrews in '05, I didn't like it because it was cold and terrible and this and that,” he said. “Over the years, I've really learned to like to come over here. Plus the fans are so awesome here. They know a good shot. They don't laugh at you if you hit a bad shot.”

Perez gave the fans plenty to cheer on Friday at Carnoustie, playing 17 flawless holes to move into a share of the lead before a closing bogey dropped him into a tie for third place after a second-round 68.

For Perez, links golf is the great equalizer that mitigates the advantages some of the younger, more powerful players have and it brings out the best in him.

“It's hard enough that I don't feel like I have to hit perfect shots. That's the best,” he said. “Greens, you can kind of miss a shot, and it won't run off and go off the green 40 yards. You're still kind of on the green. You can have a 60-footer and actually think about making it because of the speed.”