Young studs looking for time in the spotlight

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2013, 11:37 pm

LA QUINTA, Calif. – As Russell Henley was storming to victory Sunday in his PGA Tour debut, some 5,000 miles away his buddies were camped out at a Charleston, S.C., bar, partaking in a drinking game. The basic rules of the game: Every time Henley made a clutch putt, they took a shot.

As a reminder, Henley, a rookie, won the Sony Open at 24 under par.

He closed with a final-round 63.

He carded a back-nine 29.

In short: Many clutch putts were holed. And, we can assume, many shots were taken.

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In his hometown of Macon, Ga., the students and teachers at his former high school, Stratford Academy, participated in “Russell Henley Day” on Tuesday. Everyone – even the headmaster – wore Hawaiian shirts and draped leis around their necks.

“It’s been like a dream,” Henley said Wednesday at the Humana Challenge.

On Sunday night, he flew from Honolulu to L.A. and couldn’t sleep. The following night, he caught himself waking up in the middle of the night, smiling, knowing that his job was safe for a few years and, better yet, in a few months, the blonde-haired kid from Macon would tee it up at The Masters, his lifelong dream.

Since he won in Hawaii, the 23-year-old has received a congratulatory tweet from Gary Player – “Congratulations @RussHenleyGolf on your fantastic first victory on the @PGATOUR in the @SonyOpen in Hawaii. My best throughout the season.' – and been flooded with text messages from family and friends, former classmates and fellow players. When he arrived at PGA West and walked down the range, he laughed his way through the attendant back slaps and atta-boys from Robert Garrigus and Davis Love III and, well, he can’t even remember the rest.

Henley’s run last week was fueled by supreme ball-striking and sublime putting, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that there are several other talented 20somethings who are capable of authoring similarly inspiring performances. And soon.

Henley pointed to former Georgia teammate Harris English when asked which young player – besides Rory McIlroy, of course – impressed him most. “I think you’re going to be seeing a lot of him for a long time,” Henley said.

John Peterson, the 2011 NCAA champion from LSU, is no less impressive. Neither are Luke Guthrie and Ben Kohles, both two-time winners on the Tour last year. And neither is Scott Langley . . . Morgan Hoffmann . . . Patrick Reed . . . Patrick Cantlay . . . Jordan Spieth. See where this is going?

“I don’t know if they come up thinking they’re ready and that they can beat these guys,” said two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen, now 48. “But they know what they can do, and when they’re in the hunt, they have the belief that there’s no reason they can’t keep it going.”

For Henley, that aggressive mentality was honed on the Tour, where he apprenticed in 2011 and won twice in his last four starts. (He also won on that circuit in 2010, as a senior at Georgia).

In September, he was locked in a taut duel with Brad Fritsch at the Chiquita Classic. After Saturday they sat at 20 under (66-65-65), five clear of the field. But then Henley played a bit more conservatively during that final round, began trying to just get it in the house instead of making a score, and on a day when the weather was perfect and the greens were smooth, a Sunday 70 nearly wasn’t enough. Henley dropped into a playoff, but eventually prevailed in Charlotte.

“I definitely look back on that thinking and remembering that you have to attack all four days,” he said. “Just keep attacking.”

At the 2011 U.S. Open – better known, perhaps, as the dawning of the Rory Era – Henley advanced through qualifying and made the cut, finishing T-42. That week, though, he remembered McIlroy saying that on the final day, staked to a big lead, he simply wanted to pick good targets and make aggressive swings.

Simple, isn’t it? That little pre-shot reminder is comforting until you make a few bogeys, and your swing doesn’t feel quite right, and somebody in the penultimate group just caught fire, and you start considering different scenarios, and then, suddenly, it’s a little bit harder to pick good targets and make aggressive swings.

At the Sony, Henley’s lead was trimmed to two at the turn, but he powered toward the finish with a back-nine 29 that included birdies on the final five holes. He thought back to Tiger Woods at the ’97 Masters, and how Woods’ father would always say, You have to run through the finish line. Just because you get a little ahead doesn’t mean you start jogging in a race.

“You start to hear that mentality,” Henley said, “and I think you begin to feed off of it.”

Which was unfortunate for Tim Clark, of course. At Waialae, the diminutive South African birdied seven of his last 11 holes, shot 63, and still finished three shots behind Henley. Afterward, Clark marveled, “It just seems like there’s nothing he can do wrong.”

Henley and the rest of his pals will endure lean times, no doubt. But then there will also be weeks when their talent overwhelms the field, new stars thrust onto the biggest stage, and they leave in their wake nothing but faded Hawaiian shirts and empty shot glasses.

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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

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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.

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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.”

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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.”