What's next? Moving on after a wild Open week

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2015, 11:45 am

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Wandering away from the Old Course with the echoes of Monday’s frenzied finale still ringing across the links, thoughts inevitably turn to what’s next.

With the PGA Tour firmly headed into the closing loop of this season, there are still plenty of questions that remain.

From the couch to contention?

Rory McIlroy watched the claret jug, his claret jug after last year’s victory at Royal Liverpool, passed to Zach Johnson from the confines of his Northern Ireland home after being recently sidelined by an ankle injury.

McIlroy, who did retain the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, answered the call earlier this season when Jordan Spieth won the Masters with triumphs of his own at the WGC-Match Play and Wells Fargo Championship.

A member of McIlroy’s management team said last week that there is still no timetable for his return to competition, with the PGA Championship looking more and more doubtful. Whenever that comeback commences, the pressure will be on to fend off an increasingly impressive challenge from the 21-year-old would-be king.

More history to be made?

As Spieth’s birdie attempt at the 72nd hole on Monday slipped past the hole, the gravity of the moment still hadn’t seemed to sink in.

Vying to become just the second player to win the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same season, Spieth finished a stroke out of the playoff that was won by Johnson, yet even in defeat young Jordan was impressive.

“None of the historical element came into my head whatsoever,” he said.

With the hunt for the single-season Grand Slam now over, Spieth can turn his attention to another slice of history at the PGA Championship where he will be looking to become just the third player to win three majors in the same season.

Will the troubling trend continue?

In the messy aftermath of the 2010 PGA Championship, an embarrassment of mistakes that was defined by Dustin Johnson’s misadventure on the 72nd hole, Whistling Straits owner Herb Kohler bristled at the notion that things didn’t go the way they should have.

“It’s what should have happened,” he said of the penalty Johnson endured on the last hole after grounding his club in a hazard that looked nothing like a hazard.

One can only imagine what will happen in three weeks when the golf world descends on Wisconsin for the year’s final major considering what has already been an eventful major championship season.

From the crusty “browns” at Chambers Bay that made putting a lottery to the meteorological nightmare that was last week’s Open Championship, there is every chance the PGA is an adventure both on and off the golf course.

What is the price of progress?

Following his second consecutive missed cut at a major Tiger Woods talked of missed opportunities and spin rates, of all things.

“I'm just not scoring,” Woods said on Saturday at St. Andrews. “Every opportunity I have to make a key putt or hit an iron shot in there stiff with a short iron and get some momentum going, I haven't done that.”

It was a familiar refrain for Woods, who talked of progress and being more than the sum of his scorecard, but cautious optimism does little to mitigate the fact that he is quickly closing in on another lost season.

At 258th in the world, Woods has just two events remaining, next week’s Quicken Loans National and the PGA Championship, to turn things around (he’s currently not qualified for the FedEx Cup Playoffs). Otherwise it will be time to offer a new narrative – wait until next season.

How thick could the Teflon be?

Following Dustin Johnson’s high-wire loss to Spieth at last month’s U.S. Open, the collective thought became, “how much can one man endure?”

The bomber appeared to offer a spirited answer when he opened his week on the Old Course with rounds of 65-69, but just as quickly, he backtracked with closing cards of 75.

This one, more so than his misadventure on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay and at the 2010 U.S. Open and PGA, was a genuine surprise. Sunday pressure is understandable, expected even. But when Sunday is little more than a bridge to the final round like it was at St. Andrews we’ve come to expect more from DJ.

Closing the gap?

There have been plenty of missed opportunities for Jason Day but this one seemed to sting more than the others.

After beginning the final round at the Open tied for the lead, the Australian launched his bid to get off the major schneid with birdies on two of his first six holes on Monday. But he played the rest of the way in even par and watched his playoff bid come up painfully short at the last.

“I've been working very hard to try and accomplish my first major, and you know, it's a little frustrating with how it finished,” he said. “I don't know, it's just something that I really want to do. I really want to have that shot at immortality. It'll soon come my way.”

If winning majors were easy we wouldn’t assign so much importance to them, but for Day it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.

What will Phil do next?

Like Woods, Phil Mickelson’s season has been a study in frustration born from Lefty’s inability to score. At St. Andrews there were glimpses of progress, highlighted by an early Monday run up the leaderboard.

“I got rid of one of the areas of weakness, which was a big slice off the tee,” Mickelson said.

Of course, the big hook didn’t work all that well on Monday when he deposited his tee shot at the 17th hole onto an Old Course Hotel balcony to close with a 69 and tie for 20th place.

Mickelson still has time. He finished 12th at Whistling Straits in the 2010 PGA, sixth in ’04 and he saved his season with a runner-up showing last year at the PGA. But as it always is with the southpaw, past performances and good intentions do little to focus the looking glass.

Can the transition be made from Presidential pushovers to Cup contenders?

Presidents Cup captain Nick Price has tried, however unsuccessfully, to tinker with the format to create what he and other Internationals consider a more level playing field, but the Tour has largely balked leaving many to wonder if October’s matches will be another boat race for the U.S. side.

The Internationals are 1-1-8 in the biennial event and in danger of becoming the Generals to the American Globetrotters.

Day and Hideki Matsuyama would appear to be the new anchors for Price’s team, but without a dramatic makeover the event seems poised to be another exhibition.

Who will be this year’s FedEx Cup spoiler?

As brilliant as Spieth has been this year, it’s time to start thinking about who will clip him at the wire in September at East Lake for the FedEx Cup.

Last year, fresh off his own back-to-back major victories, McIlroy began the post-season with a commanding lead in the season-long race only to watch the $10 million payout go to Billy Horschel. In 2013, it was Henrik Stenson who caught fire at the right time to beat Woods, who would go on to win the Player of the Year Award.

Spieth’s FedEx Cup lead is commanding, he’s over 1,800 points clear of No. 2 Jimmy Walker, but as we’ve learned, the Tour’s playoff experiment rarely goes according to plan.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”