2013 Masters will be one for the record books

By Ryan LavnerNovember 4, 2012, 3:02 pm

The 2013 Masters figures to be an epic one, no matter the player who eventually slips into the green jacket.

Decked out head-to-toe in Nike, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods will begin their pursuit of the year’s first major; Augusta National’s first two female members, in green jackets of their own, will soak up the atmosphere near the first tee; and a 14-year-old from China named Tianlang Guan will become the youngest competitor ever at The Masters.

Ponder that for a moment.

The game’s two biggest stars, now fast friends, budding rivals and company pitchmen.

Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore, female members at Augusta National.

And a 14-year-old bunking in the Crow’s Nest, without a parental permission slip.

Three months ago, could you have imagined those three scenarios?

Accepting female members for the first time in the club’s 80-year history was momentous enough. It was trumpeted by Augusta National chairman Billy Payne as a “joyous occasion,” and rightfully so. It was celebrated in print, as the famed old club had “finally entered the 21st century,” some columnists opined.

But it would surprise little if Guan’s game-changing victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur someday proved even more historic.

On Sunday at Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi, Thailand, Guan earned his spot in the Masters field by edging Cheng-Tsung Pan – a sophomore at Washington and one of the world’s top 15 amateurs – by a stroke. On the final green, Guan sank a 5-foot par putt to seal the victory. In another sign of the times, the clinching putt was holed with a belly putter.

Already tabbed as China’s next golfing prodigy, Guan continues to glide down the path blazed by other Asian stars Ryo Ishikawa (a Japan Tour winner at age 15) and Seung-yul Noh (a European Tour winner at 18). It would be unfair to saddle Guan with such high expectations, of course. (After all, he still weighs only 125 pounds.) But thus far, there remains little doubt that the teen has excelled in his advanced-level coursework.

Last year, at the prestigious Junior World Championship, he won his age division (11-12) by 11 shots. (Playing with the big boys this summer – well, the boys ages 15-17, the first time in the event’s 45-year history that someone 13 years old was allowed to play in the oldest division – he finished T-22.) He captured the China Amateur Open, and this past April he became the youngest player ever to compete in a European Tour event. Just 13 at the time, he shot rounds of 77-79 at the China Open and was 14 shots adrift of the cut line.

After that tournament, Guan spent the next four months in the U.S. to train and refine his game. He tried to qualify for the U.S. Open (failed), for the U.S. Amateur Public Links (failed), for the U.S. Amateur (failed). His last competitive event was the World Amateur Team Championship; as a member of Team China, he shot 79-73-74 and finished T-111 individually. His World Amateur Ranking entering this week’s tournament was 490th.

Of course, that background will be rendered a mere footnote to the larger story, to Guan’s ascension to the biggest stage in golf. A Masters berth has been awarded to the winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur since the tournament’s inception in 2009, and Guan’s appearance in April is a dream scenario for Augusta National. The Masters is already beamed to more than 200 countries, and Guan is from Guangzhou, China, the third-largest city in the country, with a population of more than 9.5 million. Augusta National’s reach just grew longer still.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen there,” Guan said Sunday, “but I know I just want to do well.”

Putting his achievement in the proper historical perspective, consider what a few of the game’s greats accomplished at age 14:

In 1916, Bobby Jones captured the Georgia Amateur and reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur.

In 1954, Jack Nicklaus won the Ohio Junior but also was bounced in the first round of the U.S. Junior Amateur.

In 1990, Woods advanced to the semis of the U.S. Junior and became the youngest to win the Insurance Youth Golf Classic.

In 2003, McIlroy became the youngest champion of the Ulster Boys Championship.

A mind-boggling thought, but in 2003, Tianlang Guan was 5 years old. He had begun playing the game a year earlier, alongside his father, Hanwen.

In the next few years, Guan and his family would fly to Shanghai just to watch Woods play in the HSBC Champions, and at age 9 he would break par from the back tees for the first time, and then three years later he would see Woods again, at the 2011 Mission Hills Junior Championship.

Only this time, Woods was handing the winner’s trophy to Guan.

They are sure to cross paths again at Augusta – a 37-year-old legend vying for his 15th major, a 14-year-old amateur with seemingly limitless potential, the same competition and perfectly manicured layout ahead … and two keen observers in Rice and Moore.

Three months ago, could you have imagined that?

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”