Wyatt's New Orleans finish opens doors

By Rex HoggardMay 3, 2016, 6:40 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bobby Wyatt spent Tuesday morning at a local Apple store trying to coax his iPhone back to life.

He can’t say for certain his phone’s demise was the byproduct of overload, but admits “when I glanced at it right before it stopped working I had over 50 text messages.”

In the hurried moments after Wyatt’s fourth-place finish on Monday at the weather-delayed and drenched Zurich Classic, that’s about the only thing that didn’t go his way.

Playing on a sponsor exemption, the 23-year-old briefly took the lead on Monday at 14 under par before a pair of unlikely bogeys at Nos. 14 and 15 derailed the best-case scenario, but all things considered, Wyatt’s first PGA Tour start of 2016 will not be soon forgotten.

His final-round 64 left him one shot out of a playoff won by Brian Stuard, but gave Wyatt much more in return, including job security, increased opportunities and, perhaps most important, a renewed sense of confidence.

Like many young stars fresh out of college, Wyatt’s transition to the professional world was eye-opening – harsh even. For every Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler there are many more Bobby Wyatts, players who are dubbed “can’t miss” leaving college but quickly discover that things move much quicker in the play-for-pay ranks.

With the unflinching honesty that only comes with experience, Wyatt refers to those first few years since leaving the University of Alabama as his “failures.”

Playing on sponsor invite, Wyatt finishes fourth

In five Tour starts after leaving Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2014 he didn’t finish better than 60th, he failed to advance out of Web.com Tour Q-School last fall and began 2016 with nowhere to play.

“I had my chances and I didn’t do it, but I learned a lot from those experiences,” Wyatt said on Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Championship.

With no status in the United States the alternative was extreme. He traveled halfway around the world to ply his trade on the Southern Africa Tour, where he made three starts earlier this year.

The results were encouraging; he made two of three cuts and tied for ninth place at the Dimension Data Pro-Am in February, but the biggest benefit wasn’t so much the change of scenery as much as it was a changing narrative.

“Bobby’s biggest issue is dealing with the expectations of his past, of everything he’d accomplished and his talent," said Jeremy Elliott, Wyatt’s manager with Lagardere. "And we wanted to find any way possible for him to have status on Tour and if that meant him playing in South Africa, that’s what we were going to do. One of the advantages of that was he was able to get away from a lot of the noise.”

When Wyatt was 17 he shot 57 in the Alabama Boys State Junior and in 2013 he helped lead the Crimson Tide to the school’s first NCAA title. He went undefeated at the ’13 Walker Cup and was named a first-team All-American his senior year.

As so often happens, however, that success didn’t translate to the professional ranks. As he watched contemporaries and former teammates enjoy success at the next level, the pressure built.

After his Q-School miss last year, he turned to swing coach Scott Hamilton to straighten out a driver that was prone to a two-way miss.

“We flattened out his swing a little bit and got him more on plane,” Hamilton said. “We worked together [in February] and ever since then he’s been off to the races.”

With few playing options Wyatt turned to Monday qualifying and two weeks ago he missed earning a spot in the Texas Open by a stroke after making seven birdies.

The results were there but the starts were not, which prompted Elliott to make one final plea to officials at the Zurich Classic for a sponsor exemption, and Wyatt didn’t disappoint.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Wyatt’s week in New Orleans was his play despite the pressures of his vastly limited status.

“It was a big opportunity for me, I knew that. My ultimate goal is to make it out here and to do that I have to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt’s finish at TPC Louisiana secured him a spot in this week’s field at the Wells Fargo Championship and enough FedEx Cup points to assure him status on the Web.com Tour next year.

With 136 FedEx Cup points, Wyatt also has a chance to play his way onto the PGA Tour by matching the amount (458) needed to finish inside the top 125 on last year’s list. But mostly Wyatt said it’s the confidence gained from last week’s finish that will help propel him to that coveted next stage of his career.

“I learned I can win out here,” he said. “Even after those bogeys [at Nos. 14 and 15], I knew how well I was playing and didn’t feel intimidated or scared.”

That his breakthrough may or may not have blown up his iPhone was an acceptable byproduct of his success. “I got a new [phone],” he smiled.

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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.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

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, 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.