When losing is normal, pros learn to move on quickly

By Rex HoggardMay 9, 2016, 12:16 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There’s always next week.

The defense mechanism employed by Chicago Cubs fans for the better part of a century is just as common in golf circles, particularly on a Sunday like the one that transpired at the Wells Fargo Championship.

A final round that featured more lead changes than a NBA playoff game has a tendency to produce a more measured assessment from those not involved in the trophy presentation.

Consider Rickie Fowler, the 54-hole leader and consensus favorite. He has four worldwide titles in the last 12 months, but Fowler stumbled early on Day 4 with bogeys at two of his first four holes, fell even further back when his “mud-ball” addled approach at the seventh sailed wide right for a double bogey, and yet he still finished just two strokes out of a playoff won by James Hahn.

But in the moments after signing for his closing 74 there was no lamenting his play or poor fortune, no endless second-guessing, just a shrug and an onward mentality.

“It's just learning from it and feeling good about being in the position and dealing with what I had today and not letting it get away from me,” said Fowler, who tied for fourth place at 7 under. “I was able to kind of fight through it, deal with some tough breaks, deal with not swinging it well off the tee and figuring out a way to still get it around and hang around.”

Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner at Quail Hollow, shouldn’t have started Sunday with any real title hopes after a pair of 73s left him eight strokes out of the lead, but the world No. 3 went out in 33 more than two hours before the front-runners and cut the lead to two strokes with a 3-foot birdie putt at the 16th hole.

He could have fixated on his closing bogey or the three missed birdie putts from inside 23 feet midway through his back nine, or his missed eagle attempt at the par-4 14th hole after driving the green. But the golf season, particularly this golf season, is far too short and compact to allow the luxury of self-pity.

“I feel like it's been a step in the right direction this week, and hopefully I'll continue to make some forward strides next week at The Players and onwards, hopefully the U.S. Open,” said McIlroy, who tied for fourth with Fowler.


Perhaps the most snake-bitten among the oh-so-close crowd was Phil Mickelson.

In a baker’s dozen trips to Quail Hollow, Lefty has finished second (2010), third (2007 and ’13) and has been outside the top 25 just twice. But he’s never won.

If Mickelson wanted to indulge in the “what if” game he’d likely start and finish at Quail Hollow’s 18th hole, where he made a quadruple bogey-8 to close his round on Saturday. It was a miscue that sent him tumbling to 1 under to start the final round.

In quintessential Mickelson style, however, he scorched the front-nine on Sunday with two birdies and an eagle and rattled off three straight birdies at Nos. 14-16 to get to 7 under, just two behind the eventual champion.

Yet there was no effort, at least externally, to examine what could have been. Instead, only an eye toward TPC Sawgrass and a game he feels is trending in the right direction.

“I hit a lot of good shots over the weekend,” said Mickelson, who also finished at 7 under after a final-round 66. “Unfortunately, one bad hole yesterday kind of cost me. But today's round gives me a little bit of momentum heading into The Players.”

Justin Rose may have been the only player among the contenders who showed signs of ruing a missed opportunity, and justifiably so.

Rose took a share of the lead with a birdie at No. 2 and the outright advantage at 9 under with another at the fifth, but he started to fade with a bogey at the 12th hole after airmailing the green with his approach shot and three-putted from 17 feet at No. 16 to drop a shot behind the leaders.

“Obviously today was an opportunity come and gone, but I know the way I'm playing,” said Rose, who finished with a 1-under 71 and was alone in third place at 8 under. “I'm looking forward to the major championships this year. We would love to have won this week and give me some confidence to finish one off. The rest is just, you know ...”

Get on with it, as the English are fond of saying.

Call it a defense mechanism, call it denial, but loss is a reality in a game where winning percentages are often measured to the right of the decimal point.

At this level trying to dissect a defeat like this can be maddening. How, for example, can one explain Hahn’s playoff victory over Roberto Castro?

The 34-year-old former women’s shoe salesman was fresh off eight consecutive missed cuts and hadn’t broken 70 on Tour since February, and he conceded he’s spent the last two months searching for answers.

Asked to explain his sudden turnaround, Hahn’s answer was priceless.

“I can’t,” smiled Hahn, who finished at 9 under and won on the first extra hole with a par. “The mind is a powerful thing and it was going bad for a while. Just didn't have the confidence, didn't believe in myself. You're playing bad and you're missing cuts and there's nothing funny about that.”

Certainly none of Sunday’s cast found humor in the outcome. The flights will be long to Jacksonville, Fla., and there will likely be moments of retrospection, maybe even regret, but just as it is in every sport you can only have painful association with the past.

“This golf course has played tough over the weekend, so proud of the way I hung in there,” Fowler offered when asked how long this loss will stay with him.

The silver lining for players not named Hahn, there’s always next week.

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Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.

The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.

The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.

After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.

“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”

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Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.

Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.

“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.

To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.

“More punishment,” he said.

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DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.

Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.

Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.

It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.  

With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.

Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.

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TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:

• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.

• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.

• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”

• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.

• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.

• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.