Woods returns to Hoylake with plenty of questions

By Rex HoggardJuly 14, 2014, 12:20 pm

For Tiger Woods the 2006 Open Championship was the perfect storm. Or, to be meteorologically accurate, the convergence of no storms – the antithesis of the traditional English summer – and a game ripe for a surgical strike as opposed to the normal fare of carpet bombing.

In the weeks leading up to the ’06 championship an unseasonably dry summer cooked Hoylake to a golden hue and when Woods arrived on the Wirral peninsula the ancient links had a distinct Royal Yellow Brick Road feel.

Think Pinehurst before the USGA made brown the new green in grand slam lexicon.

Almost immediately, the man who had forged a Hall of Fame career overpowering golf courses clued into the reality that this Open would be different.

“He hit driver off (No.) 1 and driver off (No.) 3 (in practice) and it never came out again,” Hank Haney, Woods’ swing coach at the time, said. “He was determined to just have no penalty shots, hitting sideways out of a bunker is essentially a one-stroke penalty. If you hit driver it is virtually impossible to avoid some penalty shots.”

He would actually hit driver once more during the tournament proper, but it was obvious the big stick was not required.

With a precision that, in retrospect, bordered on the surreal, Woods picked apart the parched turf with long irons and an artist’s touch, hitting 48 of 56 fairways for the week (first in the field) and 58 of 72 greens in regulation (T-2) for 72 holes.

Maybe even more impressive was Woods’ ability to plod his way around the dusty dunes hitting into just three of Hoylake’s 82 bunkers the entire week.

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By comparison, at Woods’ 2000 U.S. Open masterpiece, which he won by 15 strokes and is widely considered the quintessential boat-race victory of his career, he hit 41 of 56 fairways (14th in the field) and 51 of 72 greens in regulation (first).

As masterful as Woods’ dismantling of Royal Liverpool was, it was a strategy born more from necessity than nuanced planning.

“Tiger’s strategy in ’06 was all his own,” Haney said. “(The) media hailed it as genius, but it was the only strategy he had, he didn't like driver back then and he clearly likes it less now.”

To Haney’s point, Woods began the week ranked 179th in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour in ’06 and arrived this week in the exact same spot.

But if necessity is the mother of invention, Woods’ decision to play small ball fed off what he did best, if not his ego. By taking driver out of his hands, the yellow pitch forced him to reinvent the wheel for all the right reasons.

“The problem for the field was Tiger was the only one that was long enough and had the stinger shot,” Haney said. “The strategy put emphasis on his middle to long irons and his lag putting, arguably the two biggest strengths of his game. The strategy was a no-brainer and the media called it brilliant.”

This time, however, it doesn’t appear Mother Nature will cooperate. According to various reports, Hoylake is playing lush by comparison to how the course played in ’06, which will likely necessitate a more aggressive approach off the tee.

“With the absence of a stinger shot and a much softer course it will be interesting to see his strategy,” said Haney, who split with Woods in 2010. “If he has to hit woods it will be tough for him, people forget that ’06 was arguably Tiger's greatest ballstriking week ever, it was about much more than just strategy.”

Eight years ago Royal Liverpool marked Woods’ 400th week at No. 1 in the world, and he closed the season with back-to-back major victories. He will start this Hoylake Open seventh in the world with a rebuilt back and rusty game and 19 major starts removed from his last Grand Slam triumph.

The former world No. 1 returned to the Tour earlier then he expected at last month’s Quicken Loans National, where he missed the cut following back surgery on March 31, and this week’s Open will be his first major since last year’s PGA Championship.

If the Quicken Loans National was a rehab start of sorts it was with an eye toward the Open, and he conceded his return to Hoylake would not be a sequel.

“I'm very excited to get there. Excited to play that golf course. I don't know how it's changed since we played it,” said Woods, who was informed the layout was on the greener side of Pinehurst.

“Lush? That's very different than what we played. When we played it and it was hard and fast and it was brown. So we'll see what happens when we get there.”

When Woods arrived in northwest England on Saturday there were no storms, perfect or otherwise, only questions about his game, his health and how he will play Hoylake this time.

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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.

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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.”