Knox, McDowell ready for Monday in Mexico

By Will GrayNovember 16, 2015, 1:28 am

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – A sprint to the finish between a pair of Europeans looms at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.

With heavy rains washing out much of Sunday's action, 27 players will return to El Camaleon on Monday to put a cap on the penultimate event of the wraparound season’s fall slate.

In one corner stands Graeme McDowell, an established champion eager to close a disappointing year on a high note. Across from him is Russell Knox, a winner just last week whose whirlwind travel has left him running on fumes, but running hot nonetheless.

The pair share the top spot at 19 under, two shots clear of Jason Bohn with less than six holes to go. Both began the day three shots behind leader Derek Fathauer, but they opened their final rounds with six birdies apiece and no bogeys.

By virtue of his position on the course, Knox may have a slight edge. McDowell has already played the par-5 13th, one of the easiest holes on the course, and faces a stern test on the par-4 14th. Knox will return to a short pitch shot on No. 13, with a great chance to get up-and-down for birdie and become the first player this week to reach 20 under.

Playing for the fifth straight week in his fourth different country, Knox is proof that momentum can travel.

“I know maybe when I get home I’ll have a physical breakdown and sleep for days, but I feel fine,” Knox said. “I can certainly play five more holes.”

Knox was a relatively unheralded player for the last two years on the PGA Tour, but he broke through last week in China for his first career win at the WGC-HSBC Champions. The confidence he gained from outlasting a strong field has been on display this week, where he is 18 under for his last 48 holes following an opening-round 70.

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“At least I know I can do it. I’m in a great position, obviously,” he said. “I’m the only person up there that won last week, so I can really freewheel it tomorrow. I can’t wait to give it another try.”

To capture his second trophy in as many weeks, though, Knox will have to pull clear of McDowell, who is looking for his first piece of hardware in nearly three years.

Having finally figured out the opening hole at El Camaleon, where he made par Sunday after playing it in 5 over across the first three days, McDowell now has an opportunity to punch his ticket to the Masters – an invite Knox clinched a week ago.

“It’s a bit of a shootout so you’ve just got to keep sort of the pedal down tomorrow morning and try and shoot a score,” McDowell said. “We’ll regroup and get out there tomorrow morning and see how we can finish the day.”

With soft conditions yielding low scores, McDowell didn’t make his first birdie of the day until No. 5, but that started a run of three straight that brought him back in the mix. After a delay of more than three hours, he returned to the course and played his final five holes 3 under.

“Really just trying to keep it simple on the greens,” he said. “Like I say, been seeing it well and I’ve been knocking some in, and that was a nice way to kind of finish the day with a couple birdies.”

Like McDowell, Knox maintained his strong play after the delay. Following a birdie on No. 11 that gave him the lead, Knox rolled in a 5-foot par save on No. 12 to avoid what would have been just his fourth bogey of the week.

“I hate making bogeys more than I love making birdies, I think,” he said. “The par putt on 12 was huge for me. Then to hit a nice second shot there on 13, to be in great position, was big. I’m really thrilled how I finished the day.”

With Bohn the only player within four shots of the co-leaders, this overtime finale appears ready to be decided between a pair of players moving in opposite directions.

For Knox, it’s a chance to quickly validate his breakthrough victory, much like Billy Horschel did during the 2014 FedEx Cup Playoffs, and move further up the world rankings to bolster a potential Ryder Cup bid that was non-existent two weeks ago.

For McDowell, it’s an opportunity to earn the redemption he sought by coming to this event, mired in a year-long slump and in search of inspiration.

His ball-striking has turned around this week at El Camaleon, and his trademark grin has returned. Whether that’s enough to hold off the hottest player on Tour, though, remains to be seen.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.