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Mickelson's WGC win inspires at Valspar

By Will GrayMarch 7, 2018, 9:00 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Three days after he finally got his hands around the trophy, the effects of Phil Mickelson’s drought-breaking victory are still being felt a country over.

Mickelson isn’t in the field at this week’s Valspar Championship, seemingly one of only a handful of stars who have stayed away from the Copperhead Course as the tournament boasts its best field to date. But that didn’t keep his name out of the news Wednesday, as one player after the next stepped up to the microphone to describe the magnitude of his playoff win over Justin Thomas.

Mickelson’s popularity is not just limited to the throng of fans that follow him at tournaments. So when he finally got back into the winner’s circle after nearly five years, the effect was two-fold: it put the young stars on notice that the Tour’s elder statesman can still hang, and it gave hope to a certain 14-time major champ that time has not yet run out.

Tiger Woods is making his tournament debut this week at Innisbrook, marking his first trip here since a co-ed team event in 1996 – when Thomas, Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth were still toddlers. Woods and Mickelson weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy during their respective primes, but they’ve grown closer as the years have passed and Woods was watching Sunday as Mickelson won after a number of recent close calls.

“What Phil is showing us is that can still do it later on in our careers,” Woods said. “Davis (Love III) did it at 51, I believe. Phil is 47. I think Kenny Perry won a handful of events close to 45, 46. So, you know, there are a few guys that can do it late in their career.”

Woods has an entire YouTube library full of tournaments at his disposal where either he or Mickelson left with the trophy, but the perspective is a bit different for the Tour’s younger generation. When Mickelson won The Open in 2013, his most recent victory prior to Sunday, Spieth was still basking in the glow of his breakthrough victory at the John Deere Classic the prior week.


Valspar Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Spieth’s youth again shone through when he attempted to compare what Mickelson accomplished to Jack Nicklaus’ Masters win in 1986 at age 46 – only to admit that his perspective on the latter is based entirely on hearsay given that he wasn’t born for another seven years.

“Pretty incredible for a guy who has put family first and certainly backed off the amount of time he’s played, and definitely the amount of work on the course with everything that he has off the golf course,” Spieth said of Mickelson. “To be able to come out and compete at that level consistently, I think that speaks to as much as his win.”

That sentiment was echoed by Rory McIlroy, who eschewed last week’s event in Mexico City for some practice time at Augusta National but still took note of the three-time jacket winner’s latest triumph.

“Good to see Phil win last week. He’s been trending in the right direction,” McIlroy said. “I said yesterday I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about him going into this stage of the season, because it seemed like he was flying under the radar a little bit. He was top 5-ing just for fun.”

McIlroy and Spieth have had plenty of time to watch Mickelson rekindle his game over the recent months, cobbling together top finishes and standout performances in team events before all the pieces fell into place in Mexico. But the player who can perhaps derive the most inspiration from Mickelson’s performance is the one who spent much of Lefty’s winless drought on the disabled list.

Indeed, there was a glint in Woods’ eye as he recounted Mickelson’s performance down the stretch in great detail, a clear indicator that he was tuned in for the tournament’s conclusion where the savvy veteran outlasted the rising star.

“It was a very, very small margin, and what he did on Sunday was very, very cool to watch,” Woods said. “He did it. He put the pressure on Justin in the playoff, put it right there pin-high and hit a beautiful putt. I don’t know how it didn’t go in.”

Woods and Mickelson have carved divergent paths to greatness, intersecting on fewer occasions than their decorated records might suggest. But as they approach the twilight of their careers, gently bridging the gap between Ryder Cup players and potential future captaincies, they have begun to focus more on their similarities than differences.

And while the road to recovery facing Woods remains arduous, watching a longtime peer still more than five years his senior keep the latest crop of young stars at bay for a week could very well have offered a much-needed glimmer of hope at just the right time.

“Seeing Phil win I think was really cool for Tiger to recognize, ‘OK, I’ve got all this time to be able to still get to that high level,’” Spieth said. “I haven’t talked to him about that, but I imagine that’s got to be pretty interesting for him to see, and it helps put things in perspective in how much time he still really does have for the top level. And knowing the nature he’s displayed over the last 20 years, it still wouldn’t be surprising if come Masters time he’s in the hunt on Sunday. That’s pretty amazing to say.”

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Own history, grow the game with Open memorabilia auction

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 1:00 pm

Get a piece of history and help grow the game, that's what The Open is offering with its memorabilia auction.

The official Open Memorabilia site features unique Open assets from famous venues and Champion Golfers of the Year. All net proceeds received by The R&A from this project will be invested to support the game for future generations, including encouraging women’s, junior and family golf, on the promotion and progression of the sport in emerging golf nations and on coaching and development.

Items for auction include limited edition prints of Champion Golfers of the Year, signed championship pin flags and limited edition historical program covers. Memorable scorecard reproductions and caddie bibs are also available to bid for on the website, with all items featuring branded, serialized holograms for authenticity.

Click here to own your piece of history and to get more information on the auction.

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No indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 18, 2018, 12:25 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.

While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022.

“With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted The Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.

Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.

Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.

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Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:18 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.

Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.

“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.

Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.

Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”

“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”

There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.

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Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:07 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.

Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.

As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.

Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.

Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.

“It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.

Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.

“There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”

That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.

“I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.

Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.

In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.

“I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”

That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.

Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.

Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.

One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”

Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.

In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.

Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.