Track man: Day proves he has game for Sawgrass

By Rex HoggardMay 12, 2016, 7:40 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There were some who didn’t think Jason Day had what it took to be a contender at TPC Sawgrass.

His greens in regulation, they argued, aren't up to the demanding test that is the PGA Tour’s flagship event, and his record at The Players supported that school of thought.

In five starts he’s missed three cuts, posted just a single top-10 and closed his week last year with a Friday 81. He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last to concede Pete Dye’s swamp sensation isn’t his favorite ballpark.

Even on Tuesday when he spoke to the assembled media masses, the world No. 1 admitted that the Stadium Course is an examination of his least favorite clubs – his 3-wood and 2-iron.

Early Friday, however, the relationship started to change. He birdied his first hole (No. 10), his second and his third, and added another before the turn at the island-green 17th hole.

“I was under par going through my first nine, but there were guys at 7 under when I was at 5 under, and I'm sitting there going, OK, I've got to keep pushing,” Day said. “When you see someone up the leaderboard that's kind of distancing themselves away from the field, you've got to do something to catch up to them.”

Day’s closing loop was even better with birdies at Nos. 1, 2, 4, 7 and 9 for a course-record-tying 63 and the early lead. That’s 18 strokes better than his second-round 81 last year and light years away from the conventional wisdom that dubbed Day a dubious Players pick.

But the questionable ball-striking that some said made Day a long shot at TPC Sawgrass proved to be a non-story on Thursday with the Australian hitting 15 of 18 greens in regulation and ranked fourth in strokes gained-tee to green.

“I just said to him, ‘That’s one of the best rounds I’ve ever seen.’ You’d like to have a birdie putt on every hole, but he didn’t leave much out there,” said Colin Swatton, Day’s swing coach/caddie. “He played really, really well on a course that at the start of the week a lot of people said didn’t really suit him.”

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Thursday will be remembered as one of the more user-friendly days on the Stadium Course. The softer side of Sawgrass yielded an early Round 1 scoring average of 70.185, compared to a 72.38 average on Day 1 last year.

But that ignores Day’s dramatic change of fortune on the Stadium Course, and dismisses his ability to mentally move beyond the baggage he’s accumulated from the course in recent years.

“There was a lot of frustration last year,” Day said. “The funny thing was I think I shot 69 in the first round [in 2015], so I shot 69-81-63.”

It’s not as though the critics of Day’s resume at Sawgrass were wildly off base. For most players, the course is an acquired taste, particularly for a bomber like Day who would prefer to hit driver first and ask questions later.

It also didn’t help that Day’s 3-wood and 2-iron, the required options on arguably the Tour’s most demanding position golf course, aren’t exactly his favorite clubs.

But on Thursday – thanks to a full week back home in Columbus, Ohio, focused on perfecting his 3-wood and 2-iron play – his tee-to-green game was plenty good enough. Despite hitting just 8 of 14 fairways, when he did miss the short grass he did so in the right spots.

“He didn’t play the course any differently, he was just more respectful of how he needed to play it,” Swatton said.

The prime example of this came on the ninth hole, his last. As Swatton explained, they played the hole backwards with Day teeing off on the par 5 with his 2-iron and then launching a 3-wood into a greenside bunker, from where he got up and down for birdie.

For the day, he hit just six drivers, relying instead on those “uncomfortable” 3-woods and 2-irons, and he explained that a little fatigue on Day 1 likely forced him to focus more.

“I feel like I'm a lot more prepared this year than I was last year, especially with how I was playing last year,” said Day, who heard a similar refrain that he couldn’t win in Florida before winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. “I was playing pretty decent golf coming into this event, and I'm playing a lot better golf than I was last year.”

There was a time not that long ago when many of the same critics said Tiger Woods didn’t have the game for TPC Sawgrass, that the layout demanded a style of play he was either unable or unwilling to commit to.

That speculation ended when Woods won the 2013 Players by two strokes for his second victory at TPC Sawgrass.

Day still has three more rounds on what promises to be an increasingly difficult course, but considering his confidence and commitment to playing the right type of golf for the Stadium Course it’s starting to feel like he’s bound for his own statement week.



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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

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“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”