Stenson, DJ turn 2016 into year of the breakthrough

By Ryan LavnerJuly 25, 2016, 8:45 pm

What had been a theme-less 2016 will now be remembered as the year that golf’s nearlymen finally broke through for their first major title.

Resounding victories in the past month by Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson offer hope to the frequent contenders who were thought to be too damaged and scarred by their past failures. After years of wilting under pressure, they each played boldly on their Open Sundays, authoring the most stirring performances of the year and shifting the narratives of their underachievement.

Uber-talented but enigmatic, Johnson had won every season as a pro but also endured a checkered history with on-course blunders and off-course recklessness. From Pebble Beach to Whistling Straits to Royal St. George’s to Chambers Bay, he woulda-coulda-shoulda bagged a couple of majors already. Instead, he entered this year empty-handed.    

Then came Oakmont, where the USGA gave him every opportunity to fold. In an unprecedented move, the rules officials interfered with the rhythm of Johnson’s round and informed him on the 12th hole that he may face a one-shot penalty after the round. The confusion about his score could have sent Johnson into a downward spiral, again, but this time he bashed his way to the top of the leaderboard on arguably the most difficult course in America. Remarkably, the very attribute for which he’d been so relentlessly criticized – a lack of mental toughness – was the main reason he won golf’s most grueling major. And so now, after years of making head-scratching blunders in big spots, no deficit or distraction will ever seem insurmountable.

“He’s a fantastic talent,” Jack Nicklaus said last month, “and I think he’s probably one of the later bloomers. He’s just starting in the prime of his career, and I think he’s got a great future.”

Though talent usually prevails, sports history is littered with cautionary tales of what-if superstars. It’s simply human nature: The more a player crumbles in crunch time, the more difficult the task becomes. The only relief from the pressure and the scrutiny – even Stenson admitted that the incessant questions about his major-less status were “annoying” – is to win.

“But if it continues to happen,” Nicklaus said of the major near-misses, “then all of a sudden it gets in your head and you can’t really get it out.”

What goes on upstairs has always been Stenson’s greatest weakness. He’s a world-class player and ball-striker who has weathered two career-threatening slumps, but it’s his drive for perfection that ultimately has capped his success. Sure, he’d captured 15 titles worldwide (including the FedEx Cup and a World Golf Championship) and had seven major top-5s prior to The Open, but equally as memorable were his tantrums in which he decapitated his driver and trashed a locker.

“It’s all about the melon, isn’t it?” said Stenson’s longtime swing coach, Pete Cowen. “If it’s a dark gray, he’s fine. But if it’s a dark green, he’s in trouble.”

Stenson’s brain certainly didn’t resemble the Hulk’s at Royal Troon. Though his putter had often tormented him in big spots previously, Stenson filled up the cup at an astounding rate Sunday, rolling in 10 birdies (including a pair of cold-blooded 30-plus-footers on the back nine) to outduel Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson in one of the greatest head-to-head clashes in the game’s long history. The Swede became just the second player to win a major after closing with 63, and his 20-under 264 set a major-championship record. 

Seems a gray melon led to a silver claret jug.

“I felt like this was going to be my turn,” he would say later.

Johnson and Stenson’s breakthroughs should be welcome sights for Sergio Garcia, 36, and Lee Westwood, 43, who now assume the mantle of the best players not to have won a major. Though there was a sense of inevitability to Johnson’s victory, given his incredible skill set, the 40-year-old Stenson proved that it’s not too late for these battle-scarred stars.

After all, Garcia’s 12 top-5s in majors are the most all time without a victory. But considering the way this major season has gone, with the Revenge of the Nearlymen, this week’s PGA could change the trajectory of his complicated career.

Just look at the transformation that is already underway within Stenson. His Open victory wasn’t but an hour old when he began looking ahead to another big prize.

“We’re only just getting started, aren’t we?” he said. “You never know once you open the floodgates what might happen.”

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

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

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1