Stallings coughs up lead down the stretch at Humana

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2013, 12:50 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Perhaps it was only fitting that after Scott Stallings took a drop on the 72nd hole Sunday, and needing to get up-and-down to join a four-man playoff, his ball rolled into a pile of geese feces. A nasty day, indeed.

His tortuous decline at the Humana Challenge can be described thusly: Five ahead at the start of the final round, up by six after four holes, tied at the turn, and then, incredibly, one shot out of a playoff after a watery bogey on the final hole.

“Coming down the stretch on the 18th hole,” Stallings said afterward, “you can’t make mistakes like that. And it stinks” – no pun intended – “but it’s something that I’ll definitely learn from.” 

Five-shot leads on Tour used to lead to back-nine coronations.

Now, they increasingly foretell last-hole drama.

Last year alone, seven players – from a newcomer like Kyle Stanley (Phoenix) to a seasoned veteran like Phil Mickelson (Pebble) – rallied from six or more strokes in the final round to win. And the Humana isn’t immune from the improbable comeback, either. Here in 1999, of course, David Duval authored the signature moment in this tournament’s history, shooting a final-round 59 to win after he trailed by seven.

In warm weather with no wind and no clouds – in other words, golf in a dome – Stallings’ final-round 70 matched the highest score of anyone in the top 36. In the top 10 alone, there were three 62s, one 63, two 64s and two 65s. The winner, Brian Gay, shot a bogey-free 63.

“That is the nature of the tournament,” Stallings said. “Anyone who thinks they’re going to run away with it is fooling themselves. I never once said I was running away with it. I was very fortunate to have a big lead.

“I played good for three days, and it is kind of weird in this kind of marathon, low-round tournament, you’re going to kind of catch a skid here and there. And the person who survives the best, wins. Unfortunately, I just hit a bad shot.”

That bad shot: a 6-iron from 220 yards from a slightly hanging lie that drifted left, the one place it couldn’t. His ball crossed the hazard but trickled into the water.

Other miscues, however, proved just as costly.

On No. 2, Stallings roped a beautiful long iron to 9 feet to set up a possible eagle. Left the putt a foot short.

He didn’t capitalize on the reachable par-5 sixth. He missed a 1 ½-foot putt on No. 7, leading to his first bogey of the tournament. He missed a 4-foot birdie putt on No. 8.

Said his caddie Frank Williams, “He was never really comfortable after he missed that short one on 6.”

Still, Stallings broke out of a tie with Gay by birdieing Nos. 10 and 11 to start his back nine. But his 4-iron tee shot on the par-4 16th was “flushed” and sailed into the bunker, near the lip, and he had no choice but to chop out, leading to a bogey.

On 17, Stallings stared down his tee shot on the dangerous par 3, thinking it would be close, but his ball landed just short of the ridge and trickled back some 40 feet.

And then came 18. After a massive drive left him only 220 yards – perfect 6-iron distance – he pulled his approach just slightly and found the water. He couldn’t get up-and-down after missing an 8-foot par putt, leaving Gay, David Lingmerth (62) and Charles Howell III (64) to battle for the title.

“The golf course is very susceptible to low scores,” said Stallings, who opened here with 66-65-63. “I happened to make low scores the first couple of days, and I hadn’t really had kind of an off-day yet. I just hit some weird shots at not a good time.”

A victory at the Humana would have been Stallings’ third Tour title in the past 19 months; only world No. 1 Rory McIlroy (four) has more during that span. Still, Stallings remains the quintessential streaky player. Excluding the two victories, he has only four top 10s in his other 56 career starts.

Yet, he gushed about his union late last year with Williams, who looped for Stewart Cink for the past 14 years, including during the 2009 British Open. Stallings on Sunday described the relationship as having given him a “big shot in the arm,” and already he has had two opportunities to win in seven starts together (Disney, Humana).

“He knows he’s playing good,” Williams said afterward. “He’s a heck of a player. He’s got all the shots. And I think it was kind of tough for him coming out with a five-shot lead and being an aggressive player. He hadn’t really been in that situation.”

Said Stallings, “It’s disappointing, but at the end of the day, I get to play this game for a living. You’re going to have your good days and your bad days, but if you live and die with every shot out here, your career is not going to last very long.”

Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

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.

Getty Images

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.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“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.”

Getty Images

Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”