'Good Sergio' emerges for adventurous 65 at Honda

By Will GrayFebruary 26, 2016, 12:56 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Once Sergio Garcia tapped in to complete his opening round at the Honda Classic, his stat line looked a little something like this: four birdies, one bogey, one holed approach shot, one gallery member struck, a share of the lead and a close encounter with an alligator.

In other words, another vintage performance from a player who has spent nearly two decades toeing the line between brilliant and baffling.

Garcia tamed blustery conditions on the Champion Course, relying on sound approaches and clutch putting to card a 5-under 65. The Spaniard shares the lead with Michael Thompson, an early pole position as he looks to win on the PGA Tour for just the second time since 2008.

It’s sometimes hard to believe that Garcia – El Nino, for goodness sake – is now 36 years old.

That he is nearly eight years removed from the biggest win of his career, and almost four years have passed since he last won on the PGA Tour.

But performances like Thursday’s opener rekindle memories of the swashbuckling teenager at Medinah, or the fiery assassin at so many Ryder Cups past.

It was, in essence, Good Sergio. But it was also a puzzling performance given what preceded it.

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Garcia made his first Tour start of the year last week at the Northern Trust Open, an event he nearly won a year ago. Anticipating further success on a course where he has previously thrived, he instead missed the cut.

“I didn’t come in with a lot of confidence,” Garcia said. “You are wondering a little bit, because usually my long game, it’s up there, and even when I’m not playing great I can still manage to get around it. But last week, I felt out of sorts. I felt like I didn’t feel comfortable with the swing.”

The remedy for Garcia – the key to sparking a return to Good Sergio – was simply to walk away.

“I took it quite easy,” he said. “I didn’t really touch any clubs for four days.”

Therein lies perhaps the most maddening aspect of Garcia’s game. That innate skill, the world-class game that has previously taken him to such lofty heights, seems at times to be lying just below the surface. While the combination to unlock it often proves elusive, he had little trouble finding it Thursday.

Even on a good day, though, Garcia’s game displayed a few raggedy edges. He nearly put his approach to No. 14 into the water, and he caught a spectator in the leg with his drive on No. 10, a ricochet that required him to hit a rope-hook fairway wood around a tree for his approach.

Garcia’s worst shot of the day came on No. 6, a tugged drive that found the hazard lining the fairway. Eschewing an option for a lateral drop, Garcia rolled up his pant legs and waded into water up to his shins to hit his shot, all the while checking behind him for what was laying on the opposite bank.

“I was more worried about the alligator that was on the other side of the island than getting out of the water,” Garcia said.

He successfully staved off any wildlife encounter, splashed the ball back into the fairway and saved an eventful bogey that proved to be his lone dropped shot of the day.

Garcia’s round also featured an ample amount of highlights, none better than his hole-out from 142 yards for eagle on No. 2. Playing alongside Garcia, Rickie Fowler had a hole-out of his own on No. 10 and nearly kept pace with Garcia after shooting a 66.

“I guess we have the same outlook out there hitting shots,” Fowler said. “Especially in these conditions when it’s windy, I feel like we kind of navigate our way around the course the same way.”

While it was once Fowler chasing Garcia in the world rankings, the script has been flipped in recent months. Fowler entered this week ranked No. 5 in the world, one of the fresh-faced players taking over the game one victory at a time.

Garcia started the week at No. 19, relegated to the role of a grizzled veteran chasing down players several years his junior. With age, though, comes perspective as he takes stock of the game’s current youth-friendly landscape.

“It’s always nice when you’re young and you know the scar tissue is not too thick. You play and you love it, and you don’t really care too much about everything that’s going on around,” he said. “As you get older, I think you see more things and you start worrying and trying to help in other ways than just playing golf.”

Sage words from a man who knows a thing or two about battling scar tissue, a man who remains one of the more entertaining dichotomies in golf.

While three more stern tests await this week, chalk one up for Good Sergio.

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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 all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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 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.