Rookie season, accident give Saunders perspective

By Will GrayOctober 1, 2015, 8:13 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Sam Saunders doesn’t hesitate when asked what smell he misses the most.

“Coffee,” Saunders says with a smile. “Coffee in the morning.”

To the untrained eye, Saunders seems equipped with a clean bill of health, a theory supported by his opening-round 64 at the Web.com Tour Championship. The score put him within one shot of leader Rhein Gibson and left the 28-year-old smiling as he walked off the final green on Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass.

But then Saunders recounts the recent incident that nearly derailed his golf career, put him in intensive care, and took away his sense of smell.

Saunders had just capped his rookie season on the PGA Tour with a T-14 finish at the Wyndham Championship, firing a final-round 65 to secure his spot in the top 150 in the FedEx Cup standings. While he fell short of keeping his card, he had at least done enough to ensure conditional status for the 2015-16 season.

Days later, on Aug. 28, Saunders fell while riding an electric scooter and hit his head. He was taken to a hospital where the diagnosis was dire: a fractured skull, severe concussion and epidural hematoma – a brain bleed.

Saunders spent two nights in the hospital. While he left with some sensory deprivation, he also took with him a renewed perspective following the unexpected health scare.

“I don’t have a sense of smell at all. It’s 100 percent gone, which is weird. Taste is not quite there. But those are things I can live with,” Saunders said. “All things considered, I’m doing great. I’m very lucky to be as well as I am.”

Saunders made a quick turnaround after the injury, finishing T-4 at the first Web.com Tour Finals event to essentially secure his PGA Tour card for next season. He opted to skip the second tournament to rest and said he still hasn’t returned to a full exercise regimen.


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“I’m not able to work out yet really, or do any high-energy activity,” he said. “So just kind of trying to lay low and trying to stay in shape with the little amount I can do.”

Saunders is best known as the grandson of Arnold Palmer, but he has plugged away in the minor leagues for years in an effort to make a name for himself. He finally reached the PGA Tour last season, a stint highlighted by a playoff loss at the Puerto Rico Open in March.

But his result in Puerto Rico was preceded by seven straight missed cuts, and in assessing his rookie campaign Saunders believes his struggles boiled down to one word: confidence.

“My game is good enough to play at this level, or play on the PGA Tour and win, I think,” he said. “I wish I had just believed in myself all year long and had a really good attitude, but I’m going to do that next year.”

Saunders displayed plenty of confidence in his opener at TPC Sawgrass, carding eight birdies, including six on his inward half. He played alongside former Clemson teammate Kyle Stanley, who shot a 66 and, like Saunders, has already clinched his card for next season.

“I hadn’t really chatted with him or played with him since college. We were just catching up on life a little bit,” Stanley said. “It was a nice group to have. Good energy, for sure.”

While many PGA Tour players see a trip to the finals as an unwanted burden, Saunders said he was “excited” for the opportunity after notching his second-best result in the season’s final regular-season event.

Of course, that was before the fall that could have kept him out of the finals entirely. Saunders’ recovery continues, as he still lacks some of the distance off the tee that he had earlier this year. He is optimistic, too, that some of his smell might return in time, but said there are no guarantees.

“I really hope so,” he said. “It changes more than you think.”

The majority of players in the field are playing for a job next year, but Saunders is content knowing that his plans for next season are secure. He won’t have to sweat every shot this week, hoping instead to improve his priority ranking and challenge for his first win. He has already made plans to kick off the new season at the Frys.com Open in two weeks.

Having learned from his rookie year and survived a traumatic brain injury, Saunders heads into next season with purpose, eager to build upon the progress he has made in recent weeks.

His sense of smell may be gone, but the smile is as wide as ever.

“I’m very excited about 2016, and I’m not going to be thinking about just trying to keep my card,” Saunders said. “Try to think about winning tournaments, get into the majors, try to take a run at maybe making the Ryder Cup team. The sky’s the limit.”

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 146th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Royal Birkdale, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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Knox relishes round with 'mythical figure' Woods

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Russell Knox was expecting the worst and hoping for the best Thursday at The Open.

Playing with Tiger Woods tends to have that effect.

The native Scot received a treat earlier this week when he saw his name on the tee sheet alongside his boyhood idol, Woods.

“Felt good out there, but obviously my swing, it was just like I had too much tension,” Knox said after an opening 73. “I just wasn’t letting it go as normal. First round with Tiger, I expected to feel a little bit different. The way I felt was better than the way I swung.”

Knox said that he was nervous playing alongside Woods, a player he’d only encountered on the range. “He’s almost like a mythical figure,” he said.

But after a while, he settled into the rhythm of the round at Carnoustie.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I thought it would be worse,” he said, “I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I’ve got to get over that. I’m here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course.”

Knox probably had more interaction with Woods than he anticipated, if only because the third member of the group, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, keeps to himself because of the language barrier.

“It’s kind of a blur,” Knox said. “It’s like, Oh, I’m chatting away with Tiger here like normal. I don’t even remember what I was saying.”

There have been countless stories from this year as the next generation of players – guys who grew up watching Woods dominate the sport – get paired with Woods for the first time.

It was no less special for Knox on Thursday.

“It’s nice for him to say things like that,” Woods said, “and we enjoyed playing with each other. Hopefully we’ll play a little bit better tomorrow.”

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Rain expected to shower Carnoustie Friday morning

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:43 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – By the end of the day Friday, we’ll be able to determine which side of The Open draw ended the first two rounds at Carnoustie with more favorable conditions. With rain expected for most of Friday morning, it seems those who played early/late may be more pleased.

According to Weather.com, there is a 75 percent chance of rain beginning at 2 a.m. local time Friday here in Scotland. That percentage vaults up to 95 percent by 7 a.m., with the first tee time scheduled for 6:35. At 11, the number drops to 55 percent. After 2 p.m., the percentage chances of rain are 25 percent and below for the remainder of the day.

Temperatures during the day are expected to be from the low 50s to the low 60s and winds will vary between 14-18 mph, again per Weather.com.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


This is The Open’s official weather report for the weekend:

Saturday: A dull start with some drizzle possible. Staying cloudy for much of the day but gradually becoming brighter with a chance of some sunny intervals during the afternoon and evening. Winds light and variable in direction but should predominantly settle in to a SSE 8-12mph during the afternoon. Max temp 20C (68F).

Sunday: Often cloudy but mainly dry. A better chance of some decent sunny spells compared to Saturday. Most likely the windiest day of the Championship; SW 12-18mph with gusts 20-25mph. Feeling warm, especially in any sunshine with a max temp of 23C (73F).

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Bandaged Woods 5 back after even-par 71

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods arrived Thursday with therapeutic tape on the back of his neck.

Carnoustie’s back nine inflicted even more pain.

Playing in the most difficult conditions of the day, Woods’ progress was stalled by two late bogeys as he settled for an even-par 71 that left him five shots off the lead at The Open.

“I played better than what the score indicates,” he said. “It certainly could have been a little bit better.”

Woods created a stir when he showed up with black kinesiology tape on his neck. Afterward, he said that his neck has been bugging him “for a while” and that Thursday was merely the first time that the tape was visible.

“Everyone acts like this is the first time I’ve been bandaged up,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been doing this for years.”

Woods said that the discomfort didn’t really affect his swing, other than a few shots “here and there.” It didn’t seem to affect his score, either, as he went out in 2 under before a few stumbles on the back nine.

On the fast, baked-out turf, he played conservatively off the tee, using driver only once and 3-wood just twice. Apparently he didn’t need the added distance, not with his 6-iron traveling 240 yards. He tried to play to his spots, even if it routinely left him more than 200 yards for his approach.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


That’s the strategy he employed at Hoylake in 2006, where he hit driver just once and captured the third of his Open titles. Despite some of the similarities in firmness, Woods said that Carnoustie presents a different challenge off the tee.

“These fairways are very small,” he said. “They’re hard to hit right now. They’re so fast, and they’re so moundy.”

Finding the fairway wasn’t the chief problem for Woods on Day 1, however. He missed just four fairways but found only 11 greens.

More damaging to his score was his play on the par 5s. Despite having only an 8-iron in, he failed to birdie each of the two par 5s and then bogeyed Nos. 10, 13 and 15 to squander his early momentum.

Though the draw here won’t be a significant factor – or at least not like in recent years, with a wide range in scores from morning to afternoon – it’s clear that Woods (in game 47 of 52) encountered the most difficult of the conditions Thursday, with the wind gusting to 20 mph and the fairways running even faster after another sun-splashed afternoon.

Still, his opening 71 was one of the better scores in the late wave.

“He hit it good,” said playing partner Russell Knox. “He plotted his way around, which I expected him to do, and he was very conservative off the tee. It’s kind of fun to watch him do that, to be honest.”

Even more fun would be a major with Woods in contention.

He hasn’t broken par in the opening round of his last eight majors. Indeed, for Woods, these slow starts have been the real pain in the neck.