What does it take to be a great closer?

By Ryan LavnerMay 11, 2016, 6:57 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The final three holes at TPC Sawgrass are an hour-long gut check. They have the power to shape a player’s reputation.

Think about the transformation of Rickie Fowler. His finish here last year was so thrilling, so memorable and so historic – 5 under for his last four holes, then two birdies in the playoff – that it immediately altered the trajectory of his career, not to mention how the public and his peers viewed him. A few more titles, a few more stellar final rounds, and suddenly, Fowler had become a “great closer.”

Is there a greater compliment in the sport?

Players who perform the best late in tournaments are labeled as “clutch” and “mentally tough” and “fearless”. It’s the quality that separates the Tour elite from the rank-and-file – the ability to summon the best shots when the pressure is at its most intense, when the stakes are the highest.

No player performed better in that cauldron than Tiger Woods; much of his mystique was built on his Mariano Rivera-like record when holding a lead. Woods closed out tournaments at a cold-blooded 95 percent clip in his career, a conversion rate that likely won’t be approached again.

But Woods is best viewed as the ultimate outlier. This season, only nine of 26 third-round leaders (36 percent) have gone on to win, and none since journeyman Jim Herman cashed in six weeks ago in Houston.

It is why this week’s Players Championship should be particularly revealing: TPC Sawgrass’ finishing stretch requires equal parts skill and nerve, and lately even the game’s marquee players have had their fair share of weekend wobbles.

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Fowler kicked away leads at Phoenix, Honda and last week at Quail Hollow.

Rory McIlroy coughed up a three-shot lead at Doral.

Jason Day led in Hilton Head before a Saturday 79.

Phil Mickelson couldn’t nail down a win in Pebble Beach.

And then, of course, there is Jordan Spieth, who held a five-shot lead at the Masters with nine holes to play but wound up slipping the green jacket onto another man’s shoulders.

It’s only natural to wonder where Spieth goes from here, how he will recover, whether the next time he’s in position to win he’ll think back to (a) the two majors and five Tour titles, or (b) the meltdown on the 12th hole at Augusta.

We’ll find out soon enough, of course, but Spieth maintains that he’s “not affected by it.”

“If I hit a good shot and it catches a gust and it goes in the water, it’s not because of the Masters,” he said. “It’s not because something was in my head. It takes a lot of nerve to hit the right shots down the stretch here.”

One bad miss at the wrong time on the biggest stage might have dented his reputation as a shutdown closer, but Spieth still had converted his last five opportunities before Augusta. Even with his wounds so fresh, he is an authoritative source on what makes a good closer.

“It’s someone who starts to feel the pressure and then actually really enjoys it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they produce the shots right away, because they can hit the shots that they think are great shots that don’t end up turning out the right way … but if someone gets into that position, they love it, they embrace it, they love the adrenaline rush, that to me would make a good closer. For me personally, that’s always been why I love the game.”

But it’s a learned behavior, for Spieth, McIlroy and everyone else.

Spieth had a frustrating 2014 before steamrolling the field at the Australian Open with a closing 63. His next 10 months were among the best in the history of the sport.

McIlroy imploded on the final day of the 2011 Masters, but at the Honda Classic the following year – when No. 1 was on the line, when Woods had shot 62 – he proved that he could hit the right shot at the right time. He now has four majors.

“It takes experience,” McIlroy said. “It takes losing a few first before understanding what you need to do.”

Day seems to have found his groove, too, after beginning his career 1-for-7 with a 54-hole lead. Now, he has converted his last four opportunities in that position.

Two learning experiences stand out: A 2007 Nationwide Tour event, when he broke up with his girlfriend on the eve of the final round, struck a spectator on his first hole and shot 80; and then the 2008 Barclays, when he shot 74 but marveled at how Sergio Garcia got himself into a playoff without his best stuff. The lesson? Oftentimes, it doesn’t require a Herculean effort to win.

“You fail enough times, hopefully you learn from it and try and get better,” Day said. “That’s how you improve yourself. The moment where you dwell on I should have won this and I should have done that, and you look at the wrong things and don’t really learn, that’s when you’re going to make the same mistakes over and over again.”

A year after Fowler’s fast finish here, it’s clear that closing remains a work in progress.

His thrilling Players title followed a familiar pattern – four of his five pro titles have come when he trailed after three rounds. When staked to a 54-hole lead, however, like he was last week at Quail Hollow, he is now 0-for-3.  

It has led to criticism that he’s too soft and too “nice,” as if being human is somehow a two-stroke penalty.

When asked this week if players need a killer instinct to be a “great closer,” Fowler smiled.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I did OK here last year.” 

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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:40 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on GolfChannel.com.  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; GC.com=GolfChannel.com or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.

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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.