McDowell, Bradley looking for spark in Mexico

By Will GrayNovember 11, 2015, 10:36 pm

PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico – Graeme McDowell has seen this patch of coastline before.

It was in 2007 that McDowell first played the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, accepting a sponsor invitation to play in the inaugural edition. At 27 years old, he was without status on the PGA Tour and simply looking for a spark.

It didn’t come that week – he tied for 63rd – but things have gone well for the Ulsterman since then. That is, until this year.

Coming off his worst season in recent memory, McDowell now returns to Mayakoba, hoping to take a page out of Andy Dufresne’s playbook and discover some hope on a Mexican beach.

While it’s not exactly Zihuatenejo, Mayakoba does represent McDowell’s first PGA Tour start since the PGA Championship. A missed cut at Whistling Straits meant he missed the FedEx Cup Playoffs entirely, creating an unexpected offseason in the heart of the summer.

McDowell has now gone more than a year without a top-10 finish on Tour, and after starting the year at No. 15 in the world, his ranking has plummeted to No. 85.

Under normal circumstances, McDowell would spend the coming fortnight competing in the European Tour’s Final Series in China and Dubai. Instead, it’s Mexico and Georgia as he looks to get ahead in the FedEx Cup race after playing from behind all last season.

“I’ve got to put this year behind me and start moving forward,” McDowell said. “I’ve got to get some numbers under my belt, I’ve got to start playing a little bit. That was probably my main motivation.”

McDowell’s exemptions for winning the 2010 U.S. Open and 2013 RBC Heritage run out at the end of the season, meaning he plays without the luxury of long-term job security for the first time since his breakthrough win at Pebble Beach.

A resident of Florida, McDowell typically doesn’t start his domestic schedule until the Honda Classic in March. But that plan didn’t pan out last season, and he opted to scrap it when faced with the realization that he is not yet qualified for the WGC-Cadillac Championship, WGC-Cadillac Match Play or the Masters.

“I need to play more golf courses where I feel like if I play well, I will contend,” he said. “Events like Mayakoba, McGladrey and into the new year, L.A., Honda, Tampa, stuff like that. That’s what got me to the position to win a major championship, and that’s where I’ve got to go back to basics and start playing more golf, competing and winning tournaments again and get my confidence back.”

Like McDowell, Keegan Bradley was a surprise addition this week. Bradley credited his appearance to both the beauty of this week’s venue and the persuasiveness of some of his peers, but he too is motivated to erase the taste of a disappointing season.

While Bradley advanced to the BMW Championship, he notched only one top-10 finish after the Masters. He failed to make the Presidents Cup squad, instead watching the U.S. victory from home after making a team event the previous three straight years.

Bradley attributed his lack of results to “a lot of weird stuff,” but blamed much of his struggles on putting. With the anchoring ban looming, Bradley has spent this year developing a new stroke on the greens.

There is still work to be done, however, as Bradley’s Tour rank in strokes gained putting fell from 47th during the 2013-14, his final season of anchoring, to 126th this past season.

“I’ve got to give myself a good amount of time with this putter switch, because it’s a pretty drastic change for me,” Bradley said. “I’m feeling better and better with it, it’s just a matter of making the putts now obviously. But if you put a belly putter in somebody’s hands that has never used it, it would take an adjustment as well. So it’s an adjustment.”

While McDowell is making his first start of the new campaign, Bradley already has two tournaments under his belt – albeit with underwhelming results. He missed the cut in Las Vegas and finished T-47 among the 78-man field in Malaysia.

But Bradley continues to play the numbers game, believing that more starts will yield more chances to contend and, ultimately, a spot in the winner’s circle.

It’s that last part that has proved especially tricky for Bradley, who earned three wins including a major during his first two full years on Tour. But the last three seasons have yielded nothing in the hardware department, as Bradley’s last win remains the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Championship.

“I’m sick of not winning,” he said. “If anything, it’s holding me back even more because I want to win so bad. I’m trying to just let it happen, but if I do win, I think it’s going to be a big help for me. Just, I can take a deep breath almost, and let it happen a little more.”

Despite recent results, Bradley believes that he has the game to win any week, including this one. Such is the long-term confidence that can be gained from hoisting a major trophy.

McDowell knows that high as well, and he hopes that the path to rediscovering it starts this week on a coastal layout he has walked before.

“I certainly wouldn’t compare it to where I am right now, but I’m probably in a similar situation eight years on if you like, with a major championship under my belt and multiple tournament wins around the world,” he said. “But there’s no doubt that I’m in a slightly rebuilding, back-to-basics type mode, and this could signal the start of the beginning of something again.”

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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.