Woods Singh Among NEC Leaders

By Sports NetworkAugust 18, 2005, 4:00 pm
AKRON, Ohio -- The top two ranked players in the world were joined in the lead by an unlikely candidate at the World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational.
Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Sweden's Henrik Stenson, who got into the field with a win at last year's The Heritage on the European Tour, all shot matching rounds of 4-under-par 66 on Thursday to share the opening-round lead at Firestone Country Club.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is seeking his fourth career NEC victory at Firestone.
Davis Love III, who played in the final group in the final round of last week's PGA Championship, posted a 3-under 67 and is tied for fourth place with Chris DiMarco and Nick Dougherty.
Phil Mickelson kept up his strong play from Monday when he captured his second major title at the PGA Championship. He carded a 1-under 69 and is tied for 10th place.
'What I like is I feel very confident with how I'm playing,' said Mickelson. 'I'm trying to take that momentum and carry it over here to Firestone, and the reason I like playing here so much right after last week is it's a very similar setup.'
Woods, who won this tournament from its inception in 1999 through 2001, opened on the back nine and collected his first birdie at the par-3 12th. His 7-iron tee ball hit the flag and rolled back 12 feet, where he holed the putt.
The No. 1 player in the world parred all of his remaining holes on his first side. Woods returned to red figures at the first when his 9-iron approach stopped 20 feet from the hole. He made it two in a row at the par-5 second. Woods' 3-iron second shot missed the green right, but he chipped to 2 feet and converted the short try.
Woods battled some errant drives on the second nine. He saved a pair of nice pars at six and eight, then missed the fairway left at the ninth. Woods knocked a pitching-wedge 15 feet right of the hole and rolled in the birdie putt to grab his piece of the lead.
'I played decent today. I hit some good shots and I also hit some bad ones, but my bad ones weren't really that bad,' said Woods, who tied for second last year behind Stewart Cink. 'All in all, I'm very pleased.'
Woods also continued his fine form from Baltusrol. He opened with a 5-over 75 last week, but fought back with rounds of 69-66-68 and fell two short of Mickelson.
'I felt like I was hitting it well all last week but just didn't putt well,' said Woods. 'I had five three-putts last week, which inevitably ended up costing me probably a chance at winning.'
Singh also posted a top-10 at the PGA Championship and, like Woods, began his first round on the back nine at Firestone. He birdied the par-5 16th, but gave the shot back with a bogey at No. 18.
From there, he went on a birdie run with three in a row from the first. He matched the lead with an 8-foot, downhill birdie putt at the sixth. Singh saved par from off the green at nine to enjoy his share of first place.
'If you drive it good, you can attack the flags,' said Singh. 'I drove it very well on my back nine and hit it close and made the putts.'
Stenson, 29, opened at the 10th and was even for the round when he ran home a 12-footer for birdie at 13. He closed his opening nine with two birdies in his last three holes, both from 8 feet.
His run of impressive play continued at the first when he hit a knockdown 8-iron to 3 feet to set up birdie. Stenson missed the green with his second at the par-5 second, but chipped to 9 feet and rolled in the birdie putt.
At the par-3 fifth, Stenson drained a 65-foot birdie putt and was alone in the lead at 6 under par. He struggled with a bogey at six when he two-putted from 40 feet and fell into a tie for the lead with a bogey at seven after his tee ball found a bunker.
'I know I can play a good game of golf, and I'm just going to try and do that for the next three days,' said Stenson. 'I've had some really good tournaments this year. I've been second twice and third twice, as well. I know I can play well, and I'm just looking forward to the rest of the week.'
Stenson, who is ranked 58th in the world, has one other victory to go along with last year's title at The Heritage. He won the 2001 Benson and Hedges International Open and is 15th on the 2005 European Tour Order of Merit.
Sergio Garcia, Stuart Appleby and Nick O'Hern are knotted in seventh place at 2-under-par 68. Mickelson was joined by Chris Riley and Luke Donald in 10th place at minus-1.
Cink struggled to a 2-over 72 in the opening round of his title defense. He is tied for 32nd place.
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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.

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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

    The Monday morning headline will be …

    REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

    RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

    MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

    JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

    Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

    HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

    LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

    BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

    COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

    Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

    HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

    LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

    BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

    COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

    What will be the winning score?

    HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

    LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

    BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

    COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.