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Volvik WLD: Top 16 set, but No. 1 ousted

By Will GraySeptember 5, 2017, 12:48 am

THACKERVILLE, Okla. – The primetime lights have not yet been turned on, with players instead toiling under the beaming heat of a summer sun. But the primal screams and eye-popping yardages emanating from “the grid” indicate that the Volvik World Long Drive Championship is already in full swing.

The Winstar World Casino and Resort will take center stage over the next two evenings, but when a world championship is at stake the sport of long drive becomes more of a marathon than a sprint. For the most prolific drivers who have all gathered at this Oklahoma outpost, one good shot won’t do the trick.

Instead they were asked to navigate a meandering, double-elimination bracket that has already whittled the field from 96 entrants to 16. Along the way there have been plenty of surprises, with more likely in store once the cameras are turned on and the music gets pumping Tuesday before a national television audience.

For the uninitiated, there remains a simple question: How did we get to this point?

Seventy men qualified through past world championship performance, regional qualifiers or results in one of the other nine long-drive events contested this year. The final 26 spots were decided during a “last chance” qualifier conducted last week.

Pool play started Saturday, with players split into 16-man qualifying groups while vying for a handful of spots in the next round. Over the course of two days, the top 32 drivers were identified and re-bracketed based on world ranking.


Volvik World Long Drive Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Volvik World Long Drive Championship scoring and brackets


Monday’s head-to-head matches included a 3-minute time clock during which players stood side-by-side while hitting eight balls apiece. The player with the longest single drive won the “set,” with each match a best-of-3 affair. Players could afford to drop a single match, but were eliminated after their second loss.

It’s a change from last year’s format which saw the top 64 square off in a single-elimination, match-play bracket. A larger sample size should benefit the top players, but there were still upsets aplenty as three of the top five ranked players in the world lost their initial match Monday morning.

That group included world No. 1 Maurice Allen, who made headlines earlier this year with his Ric Flair-inspired monologue at the Mile High Showdown. But after twice losing to unheralded Wes Patterson, the lowest-ranked player in the field, Allen’s title run came to an abrupt halt.

“Today just wasn’t my day,” Allen said. “I think 2017 is the hardest field in world championships history. You’re looking at a lot of big names going home. Like I’ve said many, many times, this sport is growing. The guys are getting better and the competition is getting stiffer, so that’s why when you get a win you truly try to relish it. You don’t know when a win will be your last win.”

While Allen will be relegated to a spectator when a champion is crowned Wednesday night, there are still plenty of notable contenders standing. Two-time winner Tim Burke rallied to make the Round of 16 after losing his opening match, while defending champ Joe Miller breezed through after uncorking four different drives of at least 375 yards.

“I’m sure there’s a target on my back, but I try not to think about it too much. Let the talking be done on the tee box,” Miller said. “Once we get under the lights, just concentrate on game, go out there and hit your ball.”

With the top 16 now identified, players will be re-seeded based on ranking and put into a single-elimination bracket. When the competition resumes Tuesday night, they’ll each face an opponent equipped with eight balls, a driver that utilizes every last spec afforded by USGA regulations and a swing speed that would make any Trackman machine blush.

The winners move on to Wednesday’s high-octane finale, where the final eight players will vie for the coveted championship belt. The loser of each Round of 16 match heads home.

And the men aren’t the only show this week in Thackerville. The women’s division gets underway Tuesday, with the four longest drivers facing off during Wednesday’s primetime competition.

With three days of competition in the books, there are still a few unexpected names on the men’s leaderboard. Patterson is a former pitcher who was considering Web.com Tour Q-School as recently as last month, while Kyle Berkshire was playing collegiate golf at nearby University of North Texas last fall.

But after launching a couple 400-plus yard drives during tournament practice rounds, his teammates encouraged him to try the long-drive circuit and his coach at UNT gave him a one-semester redshirt to give it a shot.

Berkshire hit a 474-yard shot during his first qualifier, turned pro and hasn’t looked back.

“That’s when I knew this was something that I was one of the best at,” Berkshire said. “It’s just something that I really want to reach my potential in.”

That chase toward potential will now include a spot under the lights, where the 20-year-old will stand toe-to-toe against the world’s best with a world championship up for grabs.

“Anything less than a win for me is a disappointment, because I know how good I am,” Berkshire said while sporting the UNT logo on his shoes. “It’s not about being cocky or being conceited. It’s about keeping your head down, hitting your shots and letting your clubs do the talking.”

The work under the sun is in the books. Now the focus shifts to primetime, where the only certainty is that there will be plenty of high-energy fireworks as the longest drivers in the game continue their chase deep into the night sky, with the biggest title of the year at stake.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”