Taylor completes slow climb back to good life at AT&T

By Will GrayFebruary 15, 2016, 2:21 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Vaughn Taylor’s comeback story reached a thrilling – if improbable – conclusion Sunday at Pebble Beach. That much, we know. Where it began, however, is a little more difficult to determine.

Its roots extend back 11 years, to when he last won on the PGA Tour en route to becoming the answer to any trivia question seeking the most obscure Ryder Cup participants of all time.

Taylor’s story goes back to the 2010 PGA Championship, the last time he played in a major, or the 2008 Masters, the last time the Augusta, Ga., native played in his hometown event. 

It goes back to last August, when he missed conditional Tour status by a fraction of a point, and it goes back to the August before that when he nearly drowned in a boating accident.

Hell, it even goes back a week ago when he was hooked up to an IV in an ambulance while battling a stomach virus at a Web.com Tour event in Colombia – pretty much as far from the winner’s circle as you can get.

The theme this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was one of revitalized field strength, with six of the world’s top nine players teeing it up. It boasted a hall-of-famer as its 54-hole leader, set to win the event for the fifth time.

But as Phil Mickelson can attest, golf is a funny game. And this time, the ball bounced in the direction of Taylor, a soft-spoken, 39-year-old journeyman who was using a kickstand bag and began the week as first alternate simply with hopes of earning a tee time.

“I can’t believe I’m actually sitting here right now,” Taylor said as he admired the winner’s trophy. “Didn’t know if it would ever happen again, to be honest.”

Taylor began the day six shots behind Mickelson, admittedly too far back to even entertain thoughts of acquiring the trophy that he now will take home. Equipped with only past champion status, his goal entering the final round was just to remain inside the top-10 and earn a spot in the Northern Trust Open. If not, he was planning to drive down the coast to tee it up in Monday’s qualifier.

“Just wanted a place to play next week,” he said.

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He more than checked that box with a 7-under 65 in the final round, zooming past Mickelson with four straight birdies on Nos. 13-16 and holding on for a one-shot win after Mickelson failed to convert a 5-foot birdie putt on the final green.

Taylor won the Barracuda Championship in both 2004 and 2005, and he was a member of the losing Ryder Cup squad in 2006. But in recent years, he has done little to improve on those credentials, bouncing back and forth between the PGA and Web.com circuits.

Once as high as No. 37 in the world rankings, Taylor confessed that knowing the spoils that await some of the game’s best players only made it more difficult to toil in obscurity.

“I think it’s better to not have a taste of the good life out here,” he said. “It almost makes it harder because you know how good it is out here, and we get treated so well. It’s almost too much sometimes.”

“You need the lows to appreciate the highs, in anything you do,” added Taylor’s wife, Leot. “This is a business, and I don’t know any business that has had 10 amazing years. We’re in a bit of a lull right now.”

Taylor’s playing status took a backseat in August 2014, though, when a fishing trip on the Savannah River nearly ended in disaster. After one of the lines holding his boat snapped, he capsized and spent several minutes fighting a swift current.

Clinging to an inflatable tackle box, he made it to shore with the help of a park ranger but left with a renewed perspective.

“I made a lot of mistakes that day, and it was unfortunate that it happened,” Taylor said. “But looking back on it, it was a life-changer and it really made me appreciate what I have in my family and my wife and son. I realized that life wasn’t really about me, it’s about them.”

“There’s a moment he didn’t think he’d be back,” Leot said. “Be back on shore, and be back in our house. That was scary.”

Taylor returned to competition shortly after the accident, but he remained unable to regain full-time status on the PGA Tour. In August he went to the Wyndham Championship knowing that he needed to crack the top 125 in the season-ending FedEx Cup standings to earn his card, with Nos. 126-150 guaranteed at least conditional status.

He ended up 151st, as his 361 point total left him on the outside looking in by tenths of a point.

“That was a tough year to swallow, last year,” he said. “I played really well and I put myself in position a lot of times to get my card and I didn’t get it done, over and over. And it was driving me crazy.

“I tried not to let it bother me and I tried not to let it affect my family and my life, so I probably hid it pretty well, but it really started to bother me.”

The months and years of frustration, though, were leveled in an instant when the Taylors shared a tearful embrace behind the 18th green once victory was secured. The PGA Tour card that proved elusive for so many years is now guaranteed through 2018.

With one magical round at just the right time, Taylor traded in his Web.com badge and earned a much-deserved return to the good life.

“I just kept working, kept grinding and kept at it,” he said. “I can’t believe it actually happened today.”

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.