Lovemark back at site where back once gave out

By Will GrayApril 1, 2016, 10:46 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – Before there was Jordan Spieth, before there was Justin Thomas or Patrick Reed, there was Jamie Lovemark.

Can’t-miss prospects are in the midst of a heyday right now on the PGA Tour, where wins prior to age 25 are becoming commonplace. But the landscape was far different nine years ago, when Lovemark emerged as a player with seemingly unlimited potential.

Back in 2007, Lovemark had capped his freshman season at USC by winning the NCAA individual title, shooting 64-64 over the weekend in Williamsburg, Va., to win by two shots. As the reigning NCAA Player of the Year, he not only had a spot on the decorated 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team, but he was seen as one of the best players on a squad that included Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk.

“You definitely looked at him as one of the guys that you thought had the most potential, somebody that you saw making a name for himself on the PGA Tour kind of straight away,” Fowler recalled. “He was someone that everyone knew had a lot of talent.”

The two grew up playing junior golf against each other in California, and Fowler has vivid memories of their first high school match against each other. Playing for Torrey Pines High, Lovemark stepped to the tee box and promptly dropped a 5-under 31 on Fowler in their nine-hole match.

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“It was like, hey, what’s up. Yeah, we’re playing. Cool, 31, thanks,” Fowler said. “So obviously I knew he was a good player.”

Lovemark turned pro after his junior season at USC, and it looked like that smooth transition to the big leagues was well underway when he lost in a playoff at the 2010 Open in just his fourth start as a pro.

But plans have a funny way of changing.

Lovemark is now once again on a leaderboard, this time at the Shell Houston Open where he trails by one shot after rounds of 67-68. But his journey from amateur stud packed with promise to PGA Tour contender has been anything but seamless.

It was right here at the Golf Club of Houston in 2011 where things began to go awry. Lovemark arrived in the midst of his rookie season, still looking for a follow-up performance to his runner-up. But during the Wednesday pro-am, he felt his back give out.

“Couldn’t really bend over to get into my set-up, and I knew that day that I was in trouble,” Lovemark said. “I just knew I couldn’t swing. I could barely walk.”

He shot an opening 80, then withdrew. He hoped some rehab would do the trick, but it got him nowhere. The diagnosis turned out to be a herniated and bulging disc in his back, and at age 22 Lovemark underwent a microdiscectomy – the same procedure that has sidelined Tiger Woods in recent months.

The surgery was in August 2011, and Lovemark wouldn’t hit a competitive shot for another five months.

“It was tough. I’m just sitting at home, not able to do much,” he said. “Watching from the sidelines is never fun, especially after having a good college career and a good ( season in 2010. So it was tough just sitting there.”

Since that setback, Lovemark has bounced back and forth between the PGA and tours. At 6-foot-4 with an athletic build, he has always had the raw power and natural ability to play at the highest level.

Translating that potential into results, however, has proven to be a struggle.

But Lovemark teamed with swing coach Chris Como two years ago, and he earned his card back last year on the circuit. Now age 28 and equipped with a new perspective, he has finally found his footing against the game’s best, with four top-10 finishes this season.

He tied for sixth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in his most recent start, and he appears poised to build upon that momentum this week at the Golf Club of Houston.

“I’m playing better. I’m older, more mature. Got my stuff together,” Lovemark said. “Lot of patient stuff, just not putting too much into one single shot. It’s been a big key for me the last couple years.”

Lovemark has always possessed prodigious length off the tee, and this season he is averaging more than 306 yards per drive. It’s a powerful edge at any venue, but especially this week’s layout where – like at Augusta National, after which it is styled – the bombers tend to thrive.

“I’m super aggressive, probably a little too aggressive. I would love to hit driver on every hole,” he said. “I might hit 11 or 12 drivers around here. Just hit it hard and then go find it again. No rough, perfect conditions – just be aggressive.”

Back at the place where his body once failed him, Lovemark is healthy, confident and ready to challenge for his breakthrough victory.

It’s a testament to the circuitous route he has taken to get here, but also shows that the potential he once flashed as an amateur was hardly a mirage.

“Feels great to be playing at a course where I couldn’t even compete five years ago,” he said. “I’ve come a long ways, and hopefully I’ll be able to win it. That will be a cool story.”

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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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.

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“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.”