Internationals in big hole at Presidents Cup ... again

By Rex HoggardOctober 8, 2015, 9:28 am

INCHEON, South Korea – On Wednesday, International captain Nick Price was asked what he wanted the leaderboard to look like after Day 1’s matches at the Presidents Cup.

“5-0,” Price laughed. “To be honest, what am I supposed to say? How am I supposed to answer that one?”

The final outcome turned out to be pretty close to Price’s prognostications, but it wasn’t the team he’d hoped would dominate the opening foursomes session.

The Americans rolled over the International side on Thursday at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea by winning four of five matches and setting a foreboding tone at what Price had optimistically dubbed a crucial year for the rest of the world.

The only good news for the International captain was that if it wasn’t for a format change that reduced the total number of points available this week from 34 to 30 his side could have been even further in the hole after a day that has become far too familiar.

For the eighth time in 11 Presidents Cups the Americans won the opening-day session and extended the International losing streak in team sessions that now stretches back to Day 2 at the 2007 matches.

“Today was a tough day for us,” the International front-man allowed. “But, having said that we are only five points into 30 and there’s a long way to go.”

For all the things the Presidents Cup is missing – a general lack of animosity that makes the Ryder Cup such a contentious competition, being an often-mentioned candidate – it is an utter lack of competitiveness that has defined the biennial meeting for more than a decade and a half.

That didn’t change on a postcard-perfect fall day in South Korea. Of the 79 holes played on Thursday the United States led 59 of them, compared with just nine for the Internationals, and all of those came courtesy of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace who defeated Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed, 3 and 2, for Price’s only point.

Price again shouldered the burden for his team’s poor performance just as he did two years ago at Muirfield Village and remained hopeful that his dozen still had time to turn the rising tide, but it won’t be easy against a U.S. side that has looked to be running downhill since they arrived in Asia.

“The first-day blues or shock are over,” Price predicted.

Thursday felt more like shock and awe for the reeling Internationals and it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

For three days there was a confidence that bordered on brash within American circles, so much so that Dustin Johnson only half-joked that as long as he gave his partner Jordan Spieth his normal looks, somewhere in the 15-foot range, they would be good in the day’s anchor match.

The big American wasn’t too far off with Spieth doing what he’s done for the majority of this season, and it started early with the world No. 1 rolling in a 20-footer at the second hole for a 2-up lead that the U.S. never gave up on their way to a 4-and-3 victory.

Add to that tandem U.S. captain Jay Haas’ version of the Bash Brothers in the form of Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes – who rolled over Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama, 3 and 2, in the day’s opening match – and it’s hard to imagine where the International team will find the firepower to keep this from becoming another blowout.

Price needed production from the top (Scott and Matsuyama) and bottom (Jason Day and Steven Bowditch, which is arguably his best team) of his lineup and didn’t get it.

Conversely, Haas’ version of laissez faire captaining was pulled straight out of Fred Couples’ playbook and produced Freddie-esque results.

The U.S. captain largely let his players dictate his pairings, telling the media on Wednesday when asked about the Spieth and Dustin Johnson duo, “What Jordan wants, Jordan gets right now.”

Yet for all the armchair quarterbacking that is sure to follow another black Thursday for the Internationals, the outcome had nothing to do with what Price may or may not have done. All the format tinkering in the world isn’t going to help the rest of the world convert putts, and that’s what this boiled down to, again.

Rickie Fowler, who is now undefeated with Jimmy Walker in five team matches dating to last year’s Ryder Cup, rolled in birdie putts from 10 feet (No. 3), 9 feet (No. 4), 20 feet (No. 10) and 14 feet (No. 13) and Spieth was, well Spieth.

“Bottom line is it comes down to making putts, in any format. But in alternate-shot, it seems like putts are that much more heavy,” Zach Johnson said. “There's more gravity and weight to it. My guess is we probably made a few more putts today.”

After another dominant opening-day performance the magic number for the U.S. team after Thursday’s rout is now down to 11 ½ points; that’s how many more the defending champions need to collect to claim the cup for the ninth time.

It’s an all too familiar position for Price, who paused when asked how he thought his team might be able to dig themselves out of another early deficit before channeling his inner Ben Crenshaw.

“It’s a gut feeling. It’s not a stat, it’s what you feel in your gut and after talking with my team, what did Ben [at the 1999 Ryder Cup] say, ‘I have a feeling,’” he said.

Price & Co. still have three days to turn this into a match, but without a dramatic Friday rally the Internationals will need something as epic as a Brookline-like miracle to salvage this match.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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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, 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.”

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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.