U.S. Open qualifying an emotional, eclectic experience

By Ryan Reiterman June 7, 2016, 2:45 pm

POWELL, Ohio – The 36-hole grind for 13 spots in the U.S. Open started just after sunrise on Monday.

For some players, like former world No. 1 Luke Donald, the grind didn’t end until just after sunrise on Tuesday, in a six-for-five playoff.

It was the end to another wild U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Columbus.

Players from all corners of the game teed off Monday at Kinsale and Wedgewood Golf and Country Club with the same goal – a tee time in 10 days at Oakmont.

The field of 103 included many top pros like Donald, Gary Woodland, Camilo Villegas, Brendan Steele, Adam Hadwin and Kevin Streelman, who just hours before were competing for one of the biggest PGA Tour titles of the year at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament.

There were also plenty of amateurs, fledgling pros, college stars, guys who haven’t done enough to warrant a Wikipedia page, and one reigning U.S. Amateur champion (Bryson DeChambeau) who had already given up his spot at Oakmont to turn pro and then went out and qualified again.

Those who made it pretty much had the same reaction as Donald.

“Glad it’s all over,” he said after waking up at 5 a.m. Tuesday to make two pars and earn a return trip to Oakmont.

U.S. Open sectional qualifying results

One player who didn’t join them in the qualifier was William McGirt. He originally had a tee time on Monday, but McGirt went out the day before and won his first PGA Tour title to get into Oakmont.

Everyone who did show up gathered around the hand-written leaderboard to see where they stood while also checking their phones to get the latest scores. The U.S. Open trophy was on display nearby and offered a not-so-subtle reminder to the qualifiers that, Hey, four more good rounds and I could be yours.

But for those who got in – and for a few who didn’t – they took away more than just a spot in one of the four biggest tournaments in the sport.

For Donald, now No. 80 in the world, it was another positive sign as he tries to move back up the world rankings. He used to easily qualify for the majors, but in April he missed the Masters for the first time since 2004 and had to earn his place in the U.S. Open for the second year in a row.

“I want to play majors,” Donald said. “If you’re not playing you don’t have a chance to win. Sitting on the couch isn’t going to do me any good. I want to play for as long as I can.”

Carlos Ortiz learned he was on the right track with his game even after missing nine of his last 11 cuts. He simply went out on Monday and fired a pair of 66s to lead all of the qualifiers in Columbus.

Now the 25-year-old from Mexico is heading to his first major.

“I’ve been playing great the last two months,” he said. “It’s just a matter of putting everything together and now it’s coming together.”

Ethan Tracy (65-68) tied for second with DeChambeau and also qualified for his first major. It capped a roller-coaster week for the 26-year-old mini-tour player from nearby Galloway. He received an invite to the Memorial, a tournament he attended several times as a kid, but missed the cut.

“On Friday I was pretty emotional,” he said. “I put in a lot of hard work and probably the hardest work I’ve ever done, and I’m glad it’s paying off … I know I’m doing the right things and going in the right direction.”

After the qualifier, that direction will be north for a Canadian Tour event, and then Tracy will head to Oakmont where he may run into defending champion Jordan Spieth, a guy Tracy beat on his way to winning the 2011 Western Amateur.

Tracy knew Spieth was going to be a star, but he also knows his game is pretty stout, too.

“I know I can be out there with him,” Tracy said.

Oklahoma State sophomore Zachary Bauchou and two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton played in the same group and shot the same score, but they had different reactions after 36 holes on Monday.

“Honestly, probably the coolest thing I have ever done,” said a smiling Bauchou, who drained a 5-foot putt in a downpour to post 4 under par. “I was really excited about it. Coming down the last hole I was like, ‘Shoot! I might get in the U.S. Open! That’s really awesome.’”

Unfortunately for Bauchou and Compton, 4 under was not enough to get in. They were among six players who came back on Tuesday morning for a playoff for the second alternate spot and lost out to Adam Hadwin.

Compton was emotionally spent on Monday, especially since he almost quit in the middle of his second 18 holes. He nonchalantly tried to knock in a par putt and missed from 2-inches. Yes, 2 inches.

“It was so demoralizing,” he said.

But he pressed on because Compton knows what can happen if you make it through.

In 2014, he survived a two-hole playoff to punch his ticket to Pinehurst and then finished tied for second behind Martin Kaymer.

“I feel like my form is close to where it was [in 2014], but you need to have some things go your way,” he said. “And you have to be really tough. It’s hard to be tough when you’re not a top player in the world, and you’re somebody who is always kind of grinding to keep your card. You’ve got to be tough every day, on every shot. That can wear on you after a few years.”

Last year, Steele was one the many pros who withdrew before the qualifier even started.

“I played really bad on Sunday [at the Memorial] last year and just knew my attitude wasn’t going to be good enough to go battle for 36 holes,” he said after easily making it to Oakmont with rounds of 66-68. “I didn’t want to give it half an effort, and so I pulled out last year.”

Now his dream of winning the U.S. Open continues.

“That’s the beauty of the U.S. Open,” Steele said. “That’s why it’s everybody’s dream to be able to compete and even just play this round. You get to come out here and play with some great players.”

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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Knox relishes round with 'mythical figure' Woods

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Russell Knox was expecting the worst and hoping for the best Thursday at The Open.

Playing with Tiger Woods tends to have that effect.

The native Scot received a treat earlier this week when he saw his name on the tee sheet alongside his boyhood idol, Woods.

“Felt good out there, but obviously my swing, it was just like I had too much tension,” Knox said after an opening 73. “I just wasn’t letting it go as normal. First round with Tiger, I expected to feel a little bit different. The way I felt was better than the way I swung.”

Knox said that he was nervous playing alongside Woods, a player he’d only encountered on the range. “He’s almost like a mythical figure,” he said.

But after a while, he settled into the rhythm of the round at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I thought it would be worse,” he said, “I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I’ve got to get over that. I’m here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course.”

Knox probably had more interaction with Woods than he anticipated, if only because the third member of the group, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, keeps to himself because of the language barrier.

“It’s kind of a blur,” Knox said. “It’s like, Oh, I’m chatting away with Tiger here like normal. I don’t even remember what I was saying.”

There have been countless stories from this year as the next generation of players – guys who grew up watching Woods dominate the sport – get paired with Woods for the first time.

It was no less special for Knox on Thursday.

“It’s nice for him to say things like that,” Woods said, “and we enjoyed playing with each other. Hopefully we’ll play a little bit better tomorrow.”

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Rain expected to shower Carnoustie Friday morning

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:43 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – By the end of the day Friday, we’ll be able to determine which side of The Open draw ended the first two rounds at Carnoustie with more favorable conditions. With rain expected for most of Friday morning, it seems those who played early/late may be more pleased.

According to Weather.com, there is a 75 percent chance of rain beginning at 2 a.m. local time Friday here in Scotland. That percentage vaults up to 95 percent by 7 a.m., with the first tee time scheduled for 6:35. At 11, the number drops to 55 percent. After 2 p.m., the percentage chances of rain are 25 percent and below for the remainder of the day.

Temperatures during the day are expected to be from the low 50s to the low 60s and winds will vary between 14-18 mph, again per Weather.com.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

This is The Open’s official weather report for the weekend:

Saturday: A dull start with some drizzle possible. Staying cloudy for much of the day but gradually becoming brighter with a chance of some sunny intervals during the afternoon and evening. Winds light and variable in direction but should predominantly settle in to a SSE 8-12mph during the afternoon. Max temp 20C (68F).

Sunday: Often cloudy but mainly dry. A better chance of some decent sunny spells compared to Saturday. Most likely the windiest day of the Championship; SW 12-18mph with gusts 20-25mph. Feeling warm, especially in any sunshine with a max temp of 23C (73F).

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Bandaged Woods 5 back after even-par 71

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods arrived Thursday with therapeutic tape on the back of his neck.

Carnoustie’s back nine inflicted even more pain.

Playing in the most difficult conditions of the day, Woods’ progress was stalled by two late bogeys as he settled for an even-par 71 that left him five shots off the lead at The Open.

“I played better than what the score indicates,” he said. “It certainly could have been a little bit better.”

Woods created a stir when he showed up with black kinesiology tape on his neck. Afterward, he said that his neck has been bugging him “for a while” and that Thursday was merely the first time that the tape was visible.

“Everyone acts like this is the first time I’ve been bandaged up,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been doing this for years.”

Woods said that the discomfort didn’t really affect his swing, other than a few shots “here and there.” It didn’t seem to affect his score, either, as he went out in 2 under before a few stumbles on the back nine.

On the fast, baked-out turf, he played conservatively off the tee, using driver only once and 3-wood just twice. Apparently he didn’t need the added distance, not with his 6-iron traveling 240 yards. He tried to play to his spots, even if it routinely left him more than 200 yards for his approach.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

That’s the strategy he employed at Hoylake in 2006, where he hit driver just once and captured the third of his Open titles. Despite some of the similarities in firmness, Woods said that Carnoustie presents a different challenge off the tee.

“These fairways are very small,” he said. “They’re hard to hit right now. They’re so fast, and they’re so moundy.”

Finding the fairway wasn’t the chief problem for Woods on Day 1, however. He missed just four fairways but found only 11 greens.

More damaging to his score was his play on the par 5s. Despite having only an 8-iron in, he failed to birdie each of the two par 5s and then bogeyed Nos. 10, 13 and 15 to squander his early momentum.

Though the draw here won’t be a significant factor – or at least not like in recent years, with a wide range in scores from morning to afternoon – it’s clear that Woods (in game 47 of 52) encountered the most difficult of the conditions Thursday, with the wind gusting to 20 mph and the fairways running even faster after another sun-splashed afternoon.

Still, his opening 71 was one of the better scores in the late wave.

“He hit it good,” said playing partner Russell Knox. “He plotted his way around, which I expected him to do, and he was very conservative off the tee. It’s kind of fun to watch him do that, to be honest.”

Even more fun would be a major with Woods in contention.

He hasn’t broken par in the opening round of his last eight majors. Indeed, for Woods, these slow starts have been the real pain in the neck.