U.S. PGA Tour presents packed 2016 schedule in Olympic year

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth might have no choice but to miss the John Deere Classic next year. It’s the same week as the Olympics.

The U.S. PGA Tour released on Thursday its 2015-16 schedule, which included changes because of golf’s return to the Olympics next August in Rio de Janeiro. The Travelers Championship, John Deere Classic, and Wyndham Championship will be played during the three-week Olympic window.

Spieth chose to play the John Deere Classic this year, even though it was a week before his bid for the third leg of the Grand Slam at the British Open. He not only won the Deere, he missed a playoff by one shot at St. Andrews.

He also won the John Deere in 2013 to earn his full tour card.

Tournament director Clair Peterson said the John Deere would like to have Spieth back to defend, although “we can think of no better representative of our country” than Spieth at the Rio Games.

The Americans can have as many as four players at the Olympics, provided they are among the top 15 in the world ranking. Spieth is No. 2, and he has nearly double the points average over the fifth-ranked American.

It’s possible two tour events during the Olympics will be without a defending champion. Bubba Watson, currently No. 3, won the Travelers.

Golf executives told the International Olympic Committee they wouldn’t hold big events – majors and World Golf Championships – during the Olympics. It was always going to be busy, especially in a Ryder Cup year (Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Minnesota).

The US. PGA Championship agreed to move up to July 28-31, just two weeks after the British Open. And the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone will be held two weeks after the U.S. Open instead of its early August date preceding the U.S. PGA Championship.

Still unclear is how that will affect the European Tour, which has not released its schedule for next year. The weeks between the U.S. Open and British Open are during the heart of the continental schedule, with strong events in Germany, France, and Scotland.

“We knew there would be challenges for all of golf in terms of scheduling when the Olympics came in, and a number of people have made sacrifices,” said Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour chief spokesman and vice president of the International Golf Federation.

The Quicken Loans National, hosted by Tiger Woods, will be held a week after the U.S. Open. Woods has not played the week following the U.S. Open since he tied for 13th in the Buick Classic in 2003. That means a three-week period on courses that have hosted majors – Oakmont, Congressional and Firestone.

The Greenbrier Classic will be in the John Deere’s old spot a week before the British Open, and the Canadian Open will be sandwiched between the British Open (Royal Troon) and the U.S. PGA Championship (Baltusrol).

The FedEx Cup playoffs will start the week after the Olympics, and that could present challenges for players from smaller countries who qualify for the Olympics but are struggling to stay in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup. That could mean giving up a crucial week – or two weeks if they want to take part in opening ceremonies in Rio – in which they are missing out on potential points. This year, for example, Carlos Ortiz of Mexico is No. 111 in the FedEx Cup.

“We’re looking at this as one in four (years). We’re not faced with it every year,” Votaw said. “So it depends on where they are and what they want.”

He said projections show only about half of the 60-man field for the Olympics will be U.S. tour members.

courtesy of DOUG FERGUSON (golfdigest.com)

Trump lands, Kim leads at Women’s British Open

Suzann Pettersen of Norway tees off from the 17th on the 1st first day of the Women's British Open golf championship on the Turnberry golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, Thursday, July 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

Suzann Pettersen of Norway tees off from the 17th on the 1st first day of the Women’s British Open golf championship on the Turnberry golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, Thursday, July 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

Donald Trump’s show-stealing arrival at the Women’s British Open on Thursday upstaged another strong start to a major by South Korea’s Hyo-Joo Kim.

Kim was midway through compiling a 7-under 65 in the first round when Trump, the American presidential candidate, landed in a private helicopter to begin a two-day visit at the tournament at his Turnberry resort in western Scotland.

The on-course action was initially a sideshow for Trump, who seized the attention by inviting the media to his hotel near the course to continue his presidential campaign. The Republican celebrity billionaire eventually watched some golf, although the leaderboard was virtually locked in by then.

The fourth-ranked Kim, who shot a first-round 61 in winning the Evian Championship on her major championship debut last year, was leading by one stroke from Lydia Ko of New Zealand and Cristie Kerr of the United States.

Ko, whose 66 was her lowest score in a major, is looking to become the youngest winner of a major. She’ll be 18 years, three months, nine days on Sunday, seven months younger than Morgan Pressel when the American won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2007.

Top-ranked Inbee Park began her quest to complete a sweep of the majors by shooting 69 in what she described as “perfect conditions for golf,” with three of her five birdies coming in her last five holes.

Defending champion Mo Martin shot 70, and Michelle Wie, wearing a brace on her left ankle because of a bone spur, had a 76.

Australia’s Karrie Webb, the last champion at Turnberry in 2002, shot 80 and was joint 141st in the 144-woman field.

Trump’s grand arrival at 10:30 a.m. certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the early starters on the Ailsa Course. Ko, who went out in the second group after waking up at 3:30 a.m., was on the 16th hole when the real-estate mogul’s helicopter twice circled the Ayrshire links.

“I was like, `Man, that’s a really nice helicopter,'” Ko said. “I would love one.”

The world No. 2 already was 6 under par by then, with a run of four straight birdies from No. 2 giving her momentum. On No. 5, she gripped a 5-wood from 179 yards to inside 2 feet.

Ko is trying not to think about the history she could create this weekend.

“My goal is to have one major in my career,” Ko said, “but it doesn’t need to be now.”

Ko held the clubhouse lead for barely an hour before being overtaken by Kim, who rolled in five birdies and an eagle putt from 10 inches at the par-5 14th in her first round in a British Open.

This is only her fifth major championship – and she already has a victory as well as ninth and 11th-place finishes.

“I kept playing good today,” said Kim, who donned earmuffs to combat the early morning chill. She was one of three players in the field to be bogey-free in her first round.

The Trump circus is scheduled to leave Turnberry on Friday, allowing the players to take center stage at the fourth major of the year.

courtesy of STEVE DOUGLAS (golfdigest.com)

Allenby fires caddie mid-round of Canadian Open

allenby-caddieAllenby’s Caddy: “I think he fell over and someone picked up his wallet and had a great time with his credit card.”

The Age’s Megan Levy reports on veteran looper Mick Middlemo’s radio interview where he confessed to telling the story Robert Allenby wanted told, not the one the now-fired caddy believes was the truth back in January.

That’s when his boss said he’d been drugged, kidnapped, beaten and many other things. Now Middlemo, having been fired mid-round, says what he really thinks about this former boss.

Middlemo now says he believes Allenby simply fell over and injured his face after drinking too much wine and tequila and not eating enough food.

“Do I think he got mugged and bashed and absolutely robbed? No I don’t. That’s the story I told because that’s the story he told me to tell because I wasn’t there,” Middlemo told News Corp Australia.

“Do I think he just fell over and cracked his head? Honestly I do … I think he fell over and someone picked up his wallet and had a great time with his credit card.”

As for the firing incident in Canada that allowed Middlemo to free up his thoughts, Al Tays has this from another caddie in the group backing Middlemo’s story. Not that anyone was doubting him at this point in light of his bosses’ street cred.

courtesy of Geoff Shackleford.com

Lexi Thompson’s Cobra Clubs That Won the Meijer LPGA Classic

LexiThompsonStixopenerLexi Thompson’s victory Sunday at the Meijer LPGA Classic is her first of the 2015 season and fifth of her career. Thompson, 20, shot a final-round 65 to defeat Gerina Piller and Lizette Salas by one stroke at 18-under 266.

Below is a look inside Thompson’s bag of Cobra clubs, complete with yardages and comments from an interview in June at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

DRIVER

Cobra AMP Cell Pro, 7.5°, Fujikura ZCom SIX-x shaft, 265 yards; $190

LEXI SAYS: “It feels very solid, and I love the ‘Sunday’ blue. I also love looking down at it and having the confidence that it’s good for me. My usual ball flight is a 10-yard draw, but I can work it left to right, too.”

IRONS

Cobra S2 Forged, 4-PW, Project X Rifle 5.0 shaft; price n/a

4-iron: 191 yards

5-iron: 181 yards

6-iron: 171 yards

7-iron: 161 yards

8-iron: 151 yards

9-iron: 141 yards

PW: 131 yards

LEXI SAYS: “I’ve never been a blade-type person — I love looking at an iron that’s a little bigger. These feel very solid and soft at impact. I don’t shape my irons much. I hit a lot of controlled straight shots, but I can shape these when I need to.”

WEDGES

Cobra Tour Trusty, 51° — 112 yards

56° bent to 55° — 95 yards

60° bent to 59° — 83 yards; $100 each.

All wedges have True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S300 shafts.

LEXI SAYS: “When my Cobra guy sets up my wedges, he always does artwork on them. These have a smile. My nephew Nico has his name on there, too. It gets me smiling whenever I pull out a wedge. Make it fun!”

FAIRWAY WOOD

Cobra Fly-Z+ 3/4, 13°, Aldila Tour Blue 60s, 230 yards; $250

LEXI SAYS: “I mostly use it off the tee when I have to dial back. I do go for par 5s with it, but I prefer it off the tee.”

HYBRID

Cobra Fly-Z 2/3, 17.5°

Aldila Tour Green 85s, 210 yards; $200

LEXI SAYS: “I use it to go for par 5s. I like the lower flight, especially on windy days.”

PUTTER

Odyssey Tank Cruiser 330M, 34”, 3° loft; $250

LEXI SAYS: “I’ve had it in my bag since last November. Before that, I didn’t feel comfortable with my speed, and I was really handsy with short putts. This is heavier, and I’m using a big grip, which takes my hands out of it more. I’ve gained a lot of feel. I also changed to cross-hand. I love how I’m putting now.”

LexiThompsonbag

BALL

Callaway SR 3+; $40

LEXI SAYS: “It’s really good into the wind and downwind. It reacts the way I want around the greens, and it checks on little chips.”

LexiThompsongolfball

 

 

courtesy of Rob Sauerhaft (golf.com)

 

Jordan Spieth ‘May Be the Best Putter Ever,’ says Ian Poulter

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Ian Poulter, not particularly well known for doling out praise, has given Jordan Spieth the highest of compliments, saying the 22-year-old “may be the best putter ever.”

The 39-year-old Englishman told Reuters that Spieth’s putting is the reason this year’s Masters and U.S. Open champ is finding himself in contention every week.

“Statistically he’s the best putter in the game and he may go down as he best anyone has ever seen,” Poulter said. “If you look at the percentage of putts he holes from 25 feet it’s remarkable. That’s generally the distance you hit it to when you are playing well. It’s an amazing percentage of putts that he holes and we all want that sort of putting stroke.”

Spieth holds a number of first-place rankings among his peers when it comes to putting. He leads the Tour in putting average (1.693 putts per hole), putts per round (27.88) and—the stat Poulter is so impressed by—putts from 25 feet (he makes 28.85 percent of them).

They say it takes one to know one. Poulter himself has an impressive resume when it comes to putting; he is 15th on Tour in strokes gained putting and 16th in overall putting average, with his big wins coming in at putts from seven feet (third) and putts from 10-15 feet (sixth). More than once he made heroic saves for the European team at the ‘Miracle of Medinah,’ where the Europeans came from four points back overnight to win the 2012 Ryder Cup 14.5-13.5.

Perhaps crowning Spieth the best of all-time is premature (the kid just turned 22 July 27), but he’s well deserving of the praise.

Golf: 2012 Ryder Cup Ian Poulter makes final putt to win on 18th Fourballs Medinah Country Club/Medinah, IL 9/29/2012 X155533 TK5 Credit: Fred Vuich

Golf: 2012 Ryder Cup
Ian Poulter makes final putt to win on 18th Fourballs- Medinah Country Club/Medinah, IL
9/29/2012        Credit: Fred Vuich

courtesy of Marika Washchyshyn (golf.com)

Pro Golfer Jack Nicklaus Nails an unbelievable 102 foot putt

What you’ll see of this video might be the best display of badassery of the year. Jack Nicklaus totally owning Johnny Miller with an insane 102 foot putt. This video was shot on Harbor Shores, which is the site of the Senior PGA championship. This was one of the exhibition open rounds and the guys were having a good time. Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer were also present and you can tell they all got a kick out of that incredibly long putt.?? Now whether or not he actually meant to make that putt nobody can be sure, but his braggadocious style and swagger as he walks away certainly made it look like it could have been pulled off with ease. However, if you are a golfer you know that this is anything but the case. Putting can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the game. Consider the fact that 60-65% of your strokes will take place 100 yards from the pin. Then 43% of that number of strokes will occur while putting. Many players die on the putting green every Saturday.

It’s Official: Tiger Woods Is Now A Ceremonial Golfer

tiger4For a minute there, it was easy to forget.

In the golden twilight last Saturday at St. Andrews, Tiger Woods was making what he calls “the greatest walk in golf”—up the 18th fairway of the Old Course, through an amphitheater of towering bleachers and ancient buildings, their balconies packed with fans anachronistically clutching binoculars. The crowd was roaring for Woods, who at the 356-yard home hole had driven his ball onto the green before it trickled back off the front edge.

Saturdays used to belong to Tiger; it was when he built the leads that staked him to 14 major championships. Back then he played in a bubble of his own making, but now he was soaking in the scene, gesturing to the gallery. Woods sent his eagle try racing toward the hole, and a couple of feet out raised his putter triumphantly. But the ball skittered six feet by, and he missed the comebacker. Just like that, we were back in the glum present.

Woods wasn’t looking to extend a lead but merely punching the clock on a weather-delayed second round. Seven over par heading into his final hole, he wasn’t even close to the cut line. But the letdown at the last underscored that even when nothing is at stake, Woods can no longer summon the slightest flair for the dramatic. Trudging off the green—to polite, almost embarrassed applause—he looked more broken than at any time during this woebegone season. The chip-yipped 82 at Phoenix was shocking, the 85 at Memorial alarming and the 80 at the U.S. Open depressing, but this felt like a requiem. The Old Course is Woods’s favorite track in the world, and in his previous start, at the Greenbrier, he had his best ball-striking week in two years. Said a subdued Tiger on Saturday night, “I felt like I was playing well enough to win this event.”

This Open at the Old Course was always going to be a measure of how far Woods has fallen. In 2000 he won there during the most dominant season in golf history. He won again in ’05, by five, for his 10th major title, and Woods was making history with seemingly every swing. In ’10, still reeling from the fallout of his tabloid-fueled sex scandal, he finished tied for 23rd. Woods won five Tour events in ’13 and seemed to be building toward bigger things, but that now looks like a last gasp. He’s winless since then and has become a nonfactor at the majors. Last week’s 76–75 left him tied for 147th in a field of 156. Woods’s tournament was over essentially 15 minutes into  the opening round. After striking it beautifully on the range, he chunked a 3-iron off the 1st tee, then duffed an 8-iron into the burn. It was the seventh time in his eight tournaments this year that he started with a bogey. Maybe the most imperious golfer ever has developed stage fright.

Where does he go from here? Woods said on Saturday night that he would consult a launch monitor to check his spin rates in hopes of better understanding why he struggled in the wind. Once an artist, he has turned into a mad scientist, laboring to master the fifth swing of his pro career. Two of them have come since his fall from grace as he has desperately sought reinvention. When Woods owned the game, he had a deep sense of entitlement; in his mind he deserved to win simply because he was Tiger Woods. All that was stripped away in the tawdriest scandal of the media age. No wonder he has been looking for swing clues by watching video of his teenaged self—this divorced father of two is still trying to figure out who he is, on and off the golf course.

Woods, 39, has time to turn things around; Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship at 40, to say nothing of the Masters at 46. But Nicklaus’s life and his game were always grounded in stability, with only his motivation coming and going.

Among the seven players Woods beat last week were Sir Nick Faldo, 58, playing his final Open at the Old Course, and Tom Watson, 65, who said goodbye to his favorite tournament after 38 years. Hard to believe that Woods has joined their ranks as nothing more than a ceremonial golfer.

courtesy of Alan Shipnuck (golf.com)

Slam Hopes Gone, Jordan Spieth Gears Up for the Next Major

United States? Jordan Spieth applauds after finishing the final round at the British Open Golf Championship at the Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland, Monday, July 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Jon Super)Jordan Spieth headed home from a grueling week at the British Open with history on his mind and another major in his future.

Next up is the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. And if the Grand Slam is no longer in play, there’s still plenty out there.

”I don’t know how many guys have done three majors in a year,” Spieth said. ”I’m sure there’s only been a few.”  Very few, actually.

Ben Hogan did it in 1953, winning the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. Tiger Woods missed in the Masters but won the last three majors of the year in 2000 on his way to what became known as the Tiger Slam.

After his chances at winning his third straight major evaporated with a couple of missed opportunities on the last two holes Monday, Spieth was already looking ahead.

It was hard not to after coming up one shot short of a three-man playoff that Zach Johnson won over Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in what otherwise might have been a British Open for the ages at the home of golf.

Besides, the 21-year-old golfing sensation was not going to get too down after failing to add the claret jug to his Masters green jacket and U.S. Open trophy.

”I made a lot of the right decisions down the stretch and certainly closed plenty of tournaments out, and this just wasn’t one of those,” Spieth said. ”It’s hard to do that every single time. I won’t beat myself up too bad because I do understand that.”

A missed 8-footer on the treacherous 17th hole helped seal Spieth’s fate on the Old Course. A misplaced drive on the final hole did the rest.

He could also point to four putts from 120 feet on the eighth green where he tried to get greedy on his first putt. But Spieth followed that with back-to-back birdies, something he tends to do when things go bad.

Something he also tends to do is pay respect to the game and its fans. He’s been described as a young man with an old man’s wisdom, and it showed in the way he took what had to be a most bitter defeat.

When Spieth walked off the green, he applauded the fans who cheered him on. Later, he came out and watched Johnson win a playoff, then gave him a congratulatory hug.

Johnson earned it.

Starting the final round three shots behind, he shot 31 on the back nine and took the lead with his seventh birdie of the round on No. 12. It looked as though his hopes were slipping away when his right foot spun out on his second shot at the 17th that led to bogey. But with the most significant shot of the tournament, Johnson holed a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 18 for a 6-under 66 and was the first to post at 15-under 273.

Leishman, who lost the lead with a bogey on the 16th hole, had a birdie putt on the 18th to win that stayed left. He shot 66. Oosthuizen saved par on the 17th with a 10-foot putt and made a 5-foot birdie on the final hole for a 69 to join the playoff.

Johnson opened with two quick birdies, kept a one-shot lead in the playoff when Oosthuizen missed a 5-foot par putt on the 17th hole and won the Open when the South African – the last player to lift the jug at St. Andrews in 2010 – narrowly missed a 12-foot birdie attempt.

”I’m grateful. I’m humbled. I’m honored,” Johnson said. ”This is the birthplace of the game, and that jug means so much in sports.”

He knew Oosthuizen or Leishman easily could have won. And he felt the same about Spieth.

”I can’t describe the magnitude as to what he was going through because I’ve never been in that position,” Johnson said. ”We haven’t really seen that with the exception of Tiger. Truthfully, he could be hitting here.

”He’s a phenomenal talent,” Johnson said. ”And I’m telling you right now, he’s a better person than a golfer.”

Golf hasn’t seen such a player since the days of Tiger mania. And there’s no reason to believe that Spieth can’t continue to contend – and win – major titles for a long time to come.

”I’m very pleased with the way I played,” Spieth said. ”I think the way that I played this week and especially today would have won the U.S. Open by more than just a shot. I didn’t play as well there. It’s just that’s the kind of golf that was played by the field this week; it just took some special golf. Whoever comes out the champion, that’s a hell of a major.”

In other words, Spieth didn’t lose the tournament. Someone else simply came along to beat him.

Spieth will take that attitude to Whistling Straits, the third straight links-style course among the year’s majors. He’ll be favored there again, with a chance to join some elite company as a winner of three majors in one year.

No sense thinking too much about what might have happened. No need to think about how close he came to be playing in Wisconsin for golf immortality.

”It’s a tough feeling to be that close in a major,” Spieth said. ”I believe I’ll have plenty of opportunities like I did today but, still, when it doesn’t work out it’s tough to swallow a little bit.”

courtesy of AP News (golf.com)

How the Slam was lost

jordanThe sequence that first convinced me Jordan Spieth would win the British Open began on the 7th green. By then, the early insurgent wave had been forgotten. The wind and rain had arrived as promised, but not to obliterating effect, and the Old Course yielded birdie after birdie to the real contenders. They attacked in a bold, fearless way that, as Spieth himself would later note, felt very unlike the final round of a major.

On No. 6, Spieth made his second straight birdie to reach 14 under, gave a quick fist pump, and nodded vigorously on the next tee when a woman shouted, “You’re making Texas proud, Jordan!” Now the rain came harder, and the clouds, low and scudding a day earlier, drifting like flotillas, now congealed into a thick veil — a series of thin gray shrouds covering the sun, one on top of the other, until the grayness deepened and took on an impermeable density. On the green, Spieth couldn’t help but look over at Adam Scott, putting on the 11th, and the standard bearer who displayed his score: -15. With scores dropping everywhere, each putt felt critical, each bogey like a death sentence.

Spieth took an aggressive stab at his birdie putt, but he missed. The scoreboard gave more bad news: Zach Johnson moved to seven under after 12 holes and 16 under for the tournament. It was an incredible score, and a disheartening one, because it was impossible to be unbiased out on the course. Each birdie by Johnson, or Scott, or Marc Leishman, or Louis Oosthuizen, was an affront to Spieth, and an affront to Spieth was an affront to history. The possibility of winning, and claiming the third major of the year, had become more tangible than ever before, and because of that it had also become more painful. If he had missed the cut, or faded on Saturday, this would have been easy, because nobody can really expect a player to follow through on that kind of history. Now, though, the possibility was distinct, and a loss was no longer just a loss. A loss was an act of devastation — a storyline chopped off at the knees.

And the strange part of golf is that sometimes, you can’t face your opponent. Zach Johnson had already made the turn into the clubhouse, out of sight, safely removed from confrontation and influence. I squinted my eyes in the direction of where I knew he must be, and in the misty distance I saw St. Andrews — the spires and the stone of the ancient town. But I didn’t see Zach Johnson. He was like a ghost haunting Spieth, invisible but dangerous — a spirit from delivering ominous prophecies from the future: “This is how you’re going to lose.”

At that moment, the rain fell harder, slanting below the umbrellas in the wind. Spieth holed his par putt, but on the par-3 8th, his ball flew right, headed for the flag marking the 10th hole on the shared green.

“Jordan, come on, man!” he shouted at himself. “Wrong pin!”

Maybe it was the wind he had in mind before sent his long putt skidding far past the hole and over the green — it blew in his face, and it’s possible he misjudged its effect and overcompensated. The return putt wasn’t much better, and when he missed his bogey attempt for a disastrous and uncharacteristic 4-putt, a nearby marshal summed up everybody’s feelings: “I don’t think we’ll ever witness that again!”

Back to 12 under. Was it the fatal cut? Was this really the moment when the dream of a Grand Slam ended? I remembered the Spieth I knew in 2014, from the Masters and the Players Championship and the Ryder Cup match against Graeme McDowell, and how he’d flail under the weight of his own disappointment, gradually growing more and more discouraged, engaged in open self-sabotage. This was the anti-climax I feared, and I had the thought that he needed to birdie the next two holes, one after the other, to put it behind him.

The ninth green. Spieth backs off his birdie putt.

“Guys on the phone, we can hear that!” yelled his caddie Michael Greller, facing the grandstand.

“Mike, gust of wind,” Spieth says hurriedly, ending the lecture. “It was a gust of wind.”

Greller turns back to the fans. “OK, thanks!”

Spieth makes the putt.

Tenth fairway, and Spieth passes Oosthuizen and the amateur Paul Dunne coming down the eighth. These will be the last golfers he encounters on the course. On the way out, the traffic came and went beside him. On the way in, he’ll be alone. Framed by the sand dunes of the North Sea, he hits a short wedge into the green and makes his second straight birdie.

Back to 14 under, and I remembered that this wasn’t the Spieth of 2014. This was the alchemist, who took the pressures of becoming golf’s crown prince and used them as fuel. Recovery was now a weapon, not a weakness. The weather worsened, and now he had to out-survive the field. But I knew he’d do more — he’d win.

I knew it again on the 16th hole. He made his par on 11, and rewarded himself with a trip the gorse, and the restroom. He made his par on 12, hitting his approach in front of a violet bed of heather, and the maroon seed heads of bentgrass undulating in the rough, with the dark waters of the Eden Estuary on his right. He made his par on 13 with a nervy wedge from off the green that hit the hole, and may have gone in if he’d pulled the flagstick. He made his par on 14, as a roar came from the 18th green, where Zach Johnson holed his birdie putt to finish at 15 under and better the current clubhouse lead by five strokes. He made his par on 15 as Marc Leishman bogeyed ahead to fall to 15 under as well, setting off a murmur of anticipation in the gallery.

Spieth was now one off the lead, and a chasm had formed between the top five and those, like Scott and Sergio Garcia and Jordan Niebrugge, who had threatened earlier in the day before falling off. The chaos subsided; we knew the wheat, we knew the chaff.

Then came the 16th, when Spieth hit his approach to the front left of the green, about 40 feet from the pin. His round had gone a little static since the recovery, and for whatever reason — carried off by the tension — I wrote “how legendary will you be?” in my notebook. It was a legitimate question, not a prediction. I didn’t expect him to make it, but I did recognize the potential built into that scene, and I remembered the moments when Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus capitalized under similar circumstances, always one step ahead of expectations — we love them because they surprise us. Also, I realized that he needed the putt. Leishman could birdie 18 to finish at 16 under, and nobody (except for Billy Horschel, on Monday) makes birdie on the Road Hole.

So when it went in, surprising me even after I’d considered that exact outcome at length, you can imagine the feelings that swept through me, and through us all. Delirium, first, and then then awe. All the battering by the wind, all the rain, all the uncertainty, had paid off, because now we were watching history at the most famous golf course in the world. The gray skies looked beautiful, the herring gulls coasting idly on the wind were poetic, and stone buildings waiting for us on 18 teemed with resonance. Spieth walked past to the 17th tee, said “thanks” to a complimentary marshal, and stood with his hands in his pockets watching Jason Day finish. More than anything else, his impending championship felt like destiny.

But of course it wasn’t. The Road Hole came, the rain resumed, Spieth failed to reach in two shots, and missed his short par putt after an excellent pitch. At the instant the ball ran past the hole, kneeling behind a stone wall by the 18th tee, I felt that the magic of the world was drawn away in a sudden, pitiless vacuum. The sense of fate that had gathered like an aspirational thought bubble above our heads when the 40-footer dropped was revealed for the fraud it really was — there is nothing supernatural to this game, even here in golf’s garden of Eden. The momentum of a great shot only lasts until the next shot, and despite one writer’s suggestion that Ben Hogan sent the rain on 17 from whichever paradise he now inhabits, in the end this is a physical and psychological sport, not a spiritual one.

He yanked his drive on 18, made the fatal error of spinning his wedge into the Valley of Sin, and missed the uphill putt. When he finished, he applauded the fans, and he told us afterward that he hadn’t considered the history of the moment while he was on the course. Knowing his ability to filter out unwelcome thoughts, I believed him. Aside from a few bad putts, he had played a courageous round in the pit of a cauldron, and that doesn’t happen to someone who walks the fairways lost in a dream of surpassing his heroes.

The omens that Zach Johnson sent from ahead turned out to be true — he won in a four-hole playoff over Oosthuizen and Leishman after a brilliant 66, and Spieth’s near-miss will eventually become a footnote, just as Nicklaus and Palmer’s near-misses in ’60 and ’72 are footnotes today. But even if he didn’t have history in his head, we had it in ours, and it won’t be easy to forget the gift he gave us, of a dazzling and heartbreaking mirage.

courtesy of Shane Ryan (golfdigest.com)

Post-Tiger Era Reaching Full Potential

This just in, golf fans: The Tiger Woods era is over. Still.

It’s been seven years since he won a major and, though he’s occasionally moved the optimism needle since—most recently with a top-20 finish at April’s Masters—a subsequent summer of scores in the 80s and missed cuts at big tournaments might as well have been a death knell.

But the passing of the heady days of a kid named Eldrick doesn’t mean the game goes with them.

In fact, now that the realization is out there that No. 15 will never come and that Jack Nicklaus’ high watermark of 18 is safe for another decade or two, folks can get around to appreciating what they have.

Because what they have these days, in terms of superstars and supporting players, is pretty good.

And now that Tiger has ceded the stage, there’s more spotlight to go around.

Case in point, Monday’s British Open finale.

Not only did Jordan Spieth come within inches of prolonging a Grand Slam pursuit into a four-hole playoff, but even after the Masters and U.S. Open winner was eliminated, the eventual winner also produced as genuine an emotional response to success as the game has produced in a generation.

Had Spieth made birdie at the 18th and won the subsequent playoff, the hype heading into next month’s PGA Championship might have stretched the Internet to a post-Kardashian breaking point.

But the guy who did win might have won some hearts in the disappointment’s aftermath.

“I’m thankful. I’m honored,” a trembling Zach Johnson told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi alongside the 18th green. “This is the birthplace of the game. That [Claret] Jug means so much in sports. I’m just in awe right now.”

It was the second major in a career that’s already yielded more than $35 million in earnings, and it solidified Johnson’s place among a strata of eminently likable players capable of periodically jumping onto the big stage.

And that’s far from all that’s worth getting excited about.

In addition to the unspectacular but dual-major likes of Johnson and Bubba Watson, or even Louis Oosthuizen, who has one, the clubhouse environment these days also includes a high-profile cadre of young gunslingers—Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson among them—angling to pick up their first major championships.

And though the reality is that the three are still vying for the not-so-coveted title of “best player without a major,” the fact that they have 24 big-stage top-10 finishes and seven runner-up finishes between them indicates the wait for the breakthrough may not be terribly long.

Add all that to the rivalry that has the best chance to get the game back to the lead-story-on-SportsCenter level it routinely reached in Tiger’s prime years: Spieth versus Rory McIlroy.

Having the dueling 20-somethings is not only good for golf, but it also takes some heat off a fading Woods.

Stories are always more compelling when a hero has a foe, someone to keep him on his toes. And so long as the other is around, neither Spieth nor McIlroy will settle into the automaton dominance that signified Tiger’s run from 1997 to 2008. While Nicklaus had challengers like Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson across his reign, Woods had little in terms of consistent capable competition.

Just as golf survived when Jack went away, it will endure in the aftermath of Eldrick as well.

Woods was the perfect jolt for a sport in need of someone to take it to the next level. Someone not only capable of energizing hardcore golf fans, but also able to make golf fans out of casual sports fans.

With six majors between them at the ages of 26 and 21, respectively, McIlroy and Spieth already appear to be on the way to becoming the 21st-century incarnations of Palmer, Player and Watson.

And even if neither ultimately reaches the Tiger/Jack heights of 14 majors and beyond, they’ve both got a real chance to at least keep the game relevant until the next phenomenon arrives.

courtesy of Lyle Fitzsimmons (msn.com)

 

Paul Dunne would miss out on $1.8 million payday if he wins the British Open

paul dunneWinning the British Open is a life-changing event for a golfer. The Claret Jug is arguably the most prestigious title in golf and winning it earns the player a spot in golf history. The championship also comes with a number of exemptions that secure the player’s status for the next few years. Of course, there is also a large check involved, this year the winning share in $1.8 million.

Paul Dunne is tied for the 54-hole lead at The Open, but his bank account won’t receive a six, or seven-figure deposit regardless of how he plays in the final round. The 22-year-old Dunne is an amateur and ineligible to receive any prize money this week, including $1.8 million if he were to win.

Every now and then, an amateur plays well in a major and misses out on a significant payday. Those are usually in low six-figures, however, and not nearly $2 million. No amateur has won a major championship since Johnny Goodman won the U.S. Open in 1

A lot of players retain their amateur status in a major because it is their ticket into the event. There are a handful of exemptions for various amateur championships that allow some of the top amateur’s into the event. They must retain amateur status to retain the exemption. They must also remain an amateur if they want to continue to play at the collegiate level.

Neither of those are issues with Dunne. He completed his final season and the University of Alabama Birmingham and earned his way into the field by playing well in sectional qualifying. Dunne could have declared himself a professional prior to the tournament and would now be 18 holes away from the biggest payday of his life. Except he didn’t and can’t now. Dunne is scheduled to play in the Walker Cup — the Ryder Cup for amateurs — and remained an amateur at the British Open so he could still play in the Walker Cup in September.

In hindsight, it could prove to be a very expensive decision. Merely a top 15 finish would likely net him at least $150,000 depending on ties. A top three finish likely earns at least a half a million dollars. While he may regret the decision to remain an amateur, it’s hard to blame Dunne. Even he probably didn’t see this performance coming. He had a nice career at UAB, but was hardly the “next big thing” coming in professional golf. He entered the British Open ranked as the No. 80 amateur player in the world.  The last amateur to win the British Open was Bobby Jones in 1930.

Dunne was a 1500/1 favorite to win entering the tournament. His odds will be much higher on Sunday as he tees off in the final group with a chance to win the British Open. It’s been an incredible week for him, even if it won’t come with a giant check, but one that almost didn’t happen. Dunne nearly missed his tee time in sectional qualifying because of a shuttle and showed up only with a minute to spare.

He will get a chance to make history on Monday and hopefully he really enjoys playing in the Walker Cup.

courtesy of Mark Sandritter (sbnation)

 

The Latest: Johnson in lead in uncompleted 2nd round of Open

dustin johnsonThe Latest from the 144th British Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews (all times local):

9:50 p.m.

Dustin Johnson ended the day the same way he began it, with the lead in the British Open.

He didn’t finish his round, though, after a day on the Old Course filled with rain, wind, cold and finally the gloom of night.

Johnson made it through 13 holes before play was finally called as darkness enveloped the Old Course at St. Andrews. He was 10-under, a shot ahead of England’s Danny Willett, who was in the clubhouse at 9-under 135.

Johnson’s playing partner, Jordan Spieth, was at 5-under in his quest to add the Open title to the Masters and U.S. Open he won earlier this year. Former champion Paul Lawrie and Jason Day were at 8 under.

They will return Saturday morning to finish their round before the cut is made and the field redrawn.

A rain delay of more than 3 hours just 14 minutes after play began in the second round left 42 players still on the course when play finished.

Among those who did finish was 65-year-old Tom Watson, who walked across the Swilcan Bridge for the last time as a player. Watson stopped at the top of the bridge on the 18th hole for photos and was cheered as he walked up the fairway with a wide smile on his face by the few hundred fans still left in the cold and dark.

Tiger Woods finished 11 holes with seemingly no shot at making the cut in a tie for 129th at 5-over. The cut was expected to be even par.

8:35 p.m.

What could be worse for Tiger Woods than missing a second straight cut in a major at the British Open?

How about having to wait until Saturday morning to do it.

A miserable year continued for Woods in the second round of the Open, where he showed no sign of doing anything to rebound from his opening round of 4-over 76. While playing partners Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen were vying to get on the first page of the leaderboard, Woods was going the other way.

Worse yet, Woods was playing late after not teeing off until about 6 p.m. because of a three-hour rain delay. He will not finish his round Friday, and will have to come back early Saturday morning when he has almost no chance of making a cut projected to be even par.

Woods, who made only one birdie in his opening round, didn’t have any on his front nine and was 6-over for the tournament at the turn.

Woods has not won a golf tournament in nearly two years. His last major championship win came in 2008 when he won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

8:05 p.m.

Hideki Matsuyama could be forgiven for feeling like the odd man out in the duel between his playing partners, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.

The way he started out his second round in the British Open, though, it looked like Matsuyama wanted to get noticed himself.

Japan’s best player birdied his first four holes and five of his first seven to move into contention on the Old Course. He was at 5 under, five shots back of Johnson and just one back of Spieth.

Matsuyama could manage only an even par 72 in Thursday’s first round, when Johnson took the lead with a 65 and Spieth had a 67. But while all eyes were on the two players who battled for the U.S. Open title last month, Matsuyama made some noise himself.

Johnson, meanwhile, took over the sole lead with his third birdie of the front nine, getting to 10-under-par through eight holes.

The threesome, which didn’t tee off until nearly 6 p.m. because of a rain delay, will play until dark, then return Saturday morning to finish their second round.

Among those who have finished two rounds, Englishman Danny Willett was a shot behind Johnson at 8-under-par.

7:25 p.m.

Dustin Johnson is showing no signs of slowing down in his bid to erase memories of his misfortune at the U.S. Open with a win in the British Open.

Johnson pulled into a tie for the lead with back-to-back birdies on the fourth and fifth holes at St. Andrews, moving to 9-under-par for the tournament. He was tied there with Englishman Danny Willett, who finished his second round earlier.

Jordan Spieth, meanwhile, fell off the pace with a 3-putt bogey on the fifth hole. It was a two shot swing between the playing partners who dueled last month at Chambers Bay, leaving Spieth five shots back.

There was no chance the two would finish their second round, after waiting 3 hours and 14 minutes for the rain to stop and water to clear from the Old Course. They were to play until dark before returning Saturday morning to finish the round.

Spieth is chasing his third consecutive major championship after winning the Masters and U.S. Open. Johnson, who 3-putted on the final hole at Chambers Bay to finish second, has never won a major.

Tiger Woods, meanwhile, was 1-over for the day through four holes and seemed destined to miss the cut after shooting 76 in his first round.

6:30 p.m.

Nick Faldo pulled out an old sweater, and took a familiar walk.

The last one, at least in competition, he’ll take over the famed Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole at St. Andrews.

Never known for his sentimentality, the three-time British Open champion let his emotions show, at least a bit. After hitting his tee shot on the 18th hole, Faldo donned a bright yellow sweater he wore when winning his first Open at Muirfield in 1987.

He posed on top of the famed Swilcan Bridge, both arms in the air, as if he had won another Open. Then he invited his son, Matthew, who was also his caddie, up for a father-son photo.

Soon, Faldo – who shot 71 after an opening 83 to miss the cut – was posing with playing partners Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler on the bridge, too.

A few hundred feet away, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth took a break from putting on the first tee to applaud. So did the fans in the huge grandstands lining the final two holes at the Old Course.

Faldo, who now works as a commentator for CBS, had said he would let it be known when he crossed the bridge whether this was his last Open. Afterward, he didn’t commit.

But the yellow sweater and big smile said it all.

5:48 p.m.

Finally, the star pairing in the British Open is out on the Old Course.

Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth spent most of the day waiting, but by the time they got to the first tee the sun was out and there was still some golf to be played.

The players who tangled last month at the U.S. Open won’t finish their second rounds before dark, but the 3-hour, 14-minute rain delay might have been worth it. The wind that was expected to howl in the afternoon had somewhat subsided as they teed off just before 6 p.m., both making pars on the short par-4 first.

Johnson slept on the overnight lead after shooting a 65 Thursday morning, though he was two behind Danny Willett when he finally began play. Spieth, who added the U.S. Open title to his Masters crown when Johnson 3-putted the last hole at Chambers Bay, wasn’t far behind at 67.

Even with play still possible until about 10 p.m. Johnson and Spieth won’t finish on a day when rounds were averaging more than five hours. Both will have to come back Saturday morning to finish their second rounds before the field is pared down.

Tiger Woods, playing two groups behind Johnson and Spieth, will also have to finish Saturday. Unless he rallies it may be his last round after a first round 76 left him in danger of missing the cut.

5:30 p.m.

Thank goodness for a good hotel on the golf course.

Clubhouse leader Danny Willett said he was up at 5 a.m. exercising and watching the rain pour down as play briefly started before a delay of more than three hours.

Instead of having to sit in the locker room, though, he hopped on a shuttle to the Old Course Hotel just off the 17th hole and laid down on his bed for an hour or so before beginning his pre-round routine again.

The routine worked, as the Englishman shot a 69 to get to 9-under midway through the tournament.

Geoff Ogilvy said he also went back to his room, had some breakfast and sat around for a few hours before walking back across the course to the driving range.

Other players improvised as well during a storm that created large ponds on the 18th hole.

Padraig Harrington said he slept for an hour and a half in a European Tour van, happy he wasn’t forced to go on the course in the squall. Scotland’s Marc Warren, who knows a few things about weather in these parts, went to his car and sat watching some TV and listening to music before dozing off a bit.

4:10 p.m.

It’s still early, quite early in a second round at a British Open that was delayed three hours this morning by rain.

But there is a clubhouse leader, with England’s Danny Willett giving the big names a target to shoot at with a 3-under 69 that put him at 9-under-par midway through the Open at St. Andrews.

Willett, having a breakthrough season with a win in South Africa and his first appearance in the Masters, now has something else on his resume: A spot on top of the leaderboard of his country’s Open.

He got it by going low early, then hanging on as the wind started to pick up on the back nine of the Old Course. Bogeys on Nos. 15 and 17 cost him a couple of shots, but the 27-year-old rolled in a 12-footer for birdie on the final hole to go two shots ahead of other early finishers, Zach Johnson and Scotland’s own Marc Warren.

Phil Mickelson looked like he was going to make a run, getting to 5-under through 10, but a double bogey at the par-3 11th slowed his momentum.

First-round leader Dustin Johnson wasn’t scheduled to tee off until nearly 6 p.m., playing with Jordan Spieth, the winner of the Masters and U.S. Open.

Also waiting to play was Tiger Woods, who has a lot of work to do if he is going to remain in Scotland much longer. Woods shot a 76 in his opening round to tie for 139th, and is in danger of missing the cut for the second straight major.

3:05 p.m.

Despite predictions that afternoon winds would wreak havoc on the world’s best players, the Old Course at St. Andrews remains there for the taking.

The winds so far haven’t been as bad as forecast. The play has been even better.

England’s Danny Willett became the first player to get to double digits under par, making birdie on the 10th hole to get to 10 under in his second round. Willett, who has won just once in seven years on the European Tour, was 4 under for the day through 13 holes, following his opening 66.

Heavy rains that forced postponement of the second round for more than three hours helped to soften the course even more, and players were taking advantage. Among them was Phil Mickelson, who was 2 under through eight holes and 4 under for the tournament.

While the early players were out making birdies, some of the biggest names were still having lunch. First-round leader Dustin Johnson wasn’t scheduled to tee off until nearly 6 p.m., playing with Jordan Spieth, the winner of the Masters and U.S. Open.

Also waiting to play was Tiger Woods, who has a lot of work to do if he is going to make the cut. Woods shot a 76 in his opening round to tie for 139th, and is in danger of missing the cut for the second straight major.

1:55 p.m.

It looks like Tiger Woods will get a chance to play on the weekend at the British Open.

Just not the way he planned it.

A rain delay of more than three hours Friday pushed tee times back, meaning Woods and playing partners Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen almost surely will not finish their second round before dark.

For Day and Oosthuizen, that means getting up a bit earlier than planned on Saturday to finish their second rounds and prepare for their remaining 36 holes. For Woods, it likely means turning in his scorecard and telling his pilot to gas up the private jet for a late morning getaway.

Woods, who missed the cut badly after an opening 80 at the U.S. Open last month, played almost as poorly in the first round of the British on Thursday on his way to a 4-over 76. That left him in a tie for 139th and in need of a huge rally to make the cut.

Woods acknowledged as much after his first round, saying he hoped that bad weather would force a lot of players into making mistakes and that he would be able to move up on the scoreboard. Unfortunately for Woods, the rains that caused the round to be postponed further softened the course and it was playing relatively easy for the early players.

It will be two years next month since Woods last won a tournament, and he hasn’t won a major since capturing the U.S. Open in 2008.

12:50 p.m.

Former champion Paul Lawrie isn’t the only Scot with an eye on winning a British Open on home turf.

Marc Warren, a journeyman who has made only one cut in two previous Opens, moved into contention Friday with a string of early birdies on an Old Course that once again was there for the taking.

Warren made three birdies in a four-hole stretch beginning at No. 4 to get to 7 under on the front nine, after opening with a 68. Lawrie, who won at Carnoustie when Jean Van de Velde famously imploded in 1999, had a later tee time after his opening 66.

The sun came out occasionally and winds were generally tame when play began after a 3 hour, 14 minute delay caused by heavy rains that turned areas of the 18th hole into small ponds.

Warren was among those on the course enjoying early success, briefly tied for the lead at 7 under with Zach Johnson, Danny Willett, and first-round leader Dustin Johnson.

Dustin Johnson was in a pairing with Jordan Spieth set to tee off late in the afternoon, when winds were expected to pick up. Spieth is chasing the third leg of the Grand Slam of golf majors, something no modern player has ever accomplished.

12:10 p.m.

Phil Mickelson wants an even playing field, or at least as even as you can get when the luck of the draw can play a big role in where you stand going into the weekend of the British Open.

Mickelson had an afternoon tee time in his first round Thursday, forcing him to play in the worst of the wind. While the early starters took advantage of soft and mild conditions, he struggled on the incoming holes for a 2-under 70 that left him five shots off the lead held by Dustin Johnson.

Mickelson was supposed to go out Friday morning, but a rain delay pushed his tee time back just past noon. Still, the winds were relatively calm as his time approached, though they were expected to pick up in the afternoon.

“You need an element of luck if you’re going to do well in this tournament,” Mickelson said after the first round. “You need the luck of the draw. You just can’t be given a disadvantage, a significant disadvantage the first two days.”

The last time the Open was at St. Andrews in 2010, Mickelson thought he was put at a disadvantage when play was stopped for players behind him in the afternoon on Friday because winds were so strong that balls weren’t staying on the greens. He warned after his first round that he would be unhappy if tournament officials did that again, when the leaders from Thursday were scheduled to play.

“If it picks up and blows and gusts like it could very well in the afternoon, it could even itself out,” Mickelson said. “But if they call play, that would be very disappointing.”

Mickelson’s last win was at the Open two years ago, when he roared from behind with four birdies in the last six holes to get his name on the claret jug for the first time.

11 a.m.

Tom Watson thrilled massive crowds here over the years, winning five British Opens and nearly pulling off a victory for the ages when he lost in a playoff in 2009 at Turnberry.

With a weather delay Friday, he could play his last Open with just a smattering of fans to watch him cross the Swilcan Bridge for one final time.

Watson doesn’t figure to make the cut after shooting 76 in the first round on an Old Course that played long for the 65-year-old. With a weather delay of more than three hours, he will either finish his last round when it is nearly dark or else have to come back early Saturday for a few final shots.

Either way, it could be anti-climactic for the player who cried on the 18th hole at St. Andrews a decade ago when he was paired with Jack Nicklaus in his final Open round. This will be Watson’s last Open after 38 appearances, the first of which he won in 1975.

“There is a certain sense of melancholy. You can sense that. The regret that it’s over,” Watson said this week. “It’s a little bit like death. The finality of the end is here. But what tempers that very much are the memories and the people I’ve met along the way.”

10:10 a.m.

They’re off again at soggy St. Andrews, after a rain delay that means the second round of the British Open won’t be completed until Saturday morning.

Play was suspended for 3 hours, 14 minutes Friday after storms moved in and dumped large amounts of rain on the Old Course. Parts of the 18th hole were so flooded that teams of workers with push brooms swept ankle-deep water into the Swilcan Burn.

Forecasters are predicting more inclement weather, including some blustery showers later in the day along with strong winds.

The delay will force some players to return Saturday morning to complete their second rounds. That will almost surely include first-round leader Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, who originally had a mid-afternoon tee time but are now scheduled to go off just before 6 p.m.

Johnson shot a 65 on Thursday to take the early lead, while Spieth, who is going for the third leg of a Grand Slam no modern golfer has ever won, had a 67.

Tiger Woods was two groups behind Johnson and Spieth, and in danger of missing the cut after a first-round 76.

9:30 a.m.

A little rain – make that a lot of rain – isn’t going to stop the best players in the world in the British Open.

Play is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. in a second round that earlier lasted only 14 minutes before being postponed because of heavy rains that soaked the Old Course and flooded parts of the 18th hole.

The delay of a little more than three hours means all players won’t complete their second rounds Friday. That will likely include first-round leader Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, who originally had a mid-afternoon tee time.

Johnson shot a 65 on Thursday to take the early lead, while Spieth, who is going for the third leg of a Grand Slam no modern golfer has ever won, had a 67.

Tiger Woods was two groups behind Johnson and Spieth, and in danger of missing the cut after a first-round 76.

Heavy rains in the early morning hours left large pools of water on the 18th, forcing workers with brooms to try and sweep it into the Swilcan Burn, which before Friday was the only water on the course.

8:45 a.m.

The huge grandstands are deserted. The area around the famous Swilcan Bridge looks more like a lake than a links.

Heavy rain forced postponement of play Friday at the British Open, where weather always seems to play a factor one way or another in the outcome.

The good news in the forecast was that the rain would ease by late morning, and the ground of the Old Course tends to dry quickly. The bad news for the players is the rain is supposed to be followed by winds of up to 35 mph (55 kph) and possible blustery showers in the late afternoon.

First-round leader Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, who is going for the third leg of the Grand Slam, might do well sleeping in. They had mid-afternoon tee times to begin with, and the delay will push those back even further.

Forecasters say Saturday will bring more rain, with wind gusts of up to 45 mph (70 kph). Things are supposed to be a bit better on Sunday, though there’s still a good chance of some rain to make things interesting.

But this is Scotland, so that’s nothing new.

7:20 a.m.

The second round of the British Open lasted all of 14 minutes before play was stopped on Friday.

Those players who had to face the stronger, tougher wind in the first round didn’t get much of a reprieve when they returned to the Old Course at St. Andrews. It was still blowing. And it was raining.

It’s all about being on the right side of the draw in the British Open. And at the moment, it looks like Jordan Spieth was on the right side as he goes for the third leg of the Grand Slam. The Masters and U.S. Open champion played Thursday morning in the easier scoring conditions. Spieth shot 67 and was two behind Dustin Johnson, who played in the same group.

courtesy Tim Dahlberg (golfdigest.com)

It took two holes to realize this isn’t Tiger Woods’ week at the Old Course

Tiger Woods often says St. Andrews is his favorite golf course in the world and it certainly has the perfect first hole for him. Wide open and calling for an iron off the tee to layup before the Swilcan Burn, it’s a great way to get off to a good start.

Well, usually.

Woods semi-chunked his iron off the tee. His wedge approach was hit slightly better, but it failed to clear the narrow strip of water drawing gasps from a heavy pro-Tiger crowd. Woods dropped and got up-and-down to save bogey, but the problems were just beginning.

On the 452nd-yard par-4 second, Woods chose an iron while his playing partners both boomed drivers. Hitting his approach from some 70 yards behind Jason Day, Woods watched as his ball came up a good 30 yards short. After knocking his third to about 15 feet, Woods struck what he thought was a perfect putt. He stepped in for a small fist pump, but the ball horseshoed out of the cup, drawing this pained reaction.

tiger3

Two holes, two over. A couple days removed from saying he wants to play the Old Course backwards before he dies, the only place Woods was going in reverse on Thursday was down the leader board.

Meanwhile, a light Easterly wind had the outward nine at St. Andrews there for the taking on Day 1. Just among those teeing off earlier than Tiger on Thursday morning, David Lingmerth shot 29. Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Robert Streb shot 31. Woods shot 40.

Woods made that easy portion of the course look difficult and he certainly made it play longer by hitting a number of irons off the tee. When he finally hit driver on No. 4, he striped one down the middle — and right into a divot.

Bad play. Bad breaks. Woods may still love this place, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to see much Old Course magic this week.

UPDATE: Woods shot 76, his worst-ever opening score at the British Open. It will take him a tremendous effort on Friday to avoid missing back-to-back cuts in majors for the first time in his career.

courtesy of Alex Myers (golfdigest.com)

 

Lorena Ochoa Is Loving Retirement and Making a New Kind of Impact

Photo: Getty Images

Lorena Ochoa (right) presents Christina Kim with the champions trophy at the 2014 Lorena Ochoa Invitational.

In April 1995, at something called the Senior Sprint Challenge, LPGA legend Mickey Wright, then 60, teed off for what would be the final competitive round of her career. Dozens of LPGA pros turned out to sneak a peek at her famous swing, and that day has now passed into mythology.

The modern-day version of this tale happens in Mexico every year at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, when the eponymous host pegs it in the Wednesday pro-am. Ochoa, 33, walked away from the LPGA five years ago at the height of her powers to start a family and concentrate on her charitable foundation. But for one day every year she turns back the clock, to the delight of everyone who catches a glimpse.

“You can see her game is not quite tournament-sharp but that swing is still a thing of beauty,” says Christina Kim, who won the Invitational in 2014. “So athletic and free. So pure. It’s always great to see Lorena out on the golf course but it does make me miss having her on tour. I’m pretty sure the whole world misses having her on tour.”

Ochoa grew tired of the constant grind of traveling the world and having the weight of a nation on her shoulders, and she has said many times that she remains at peace with her decision. For her, golf was always a deep passion but it hardly defined her. Ochoa came from a traditional Mexican family and lived with her parents deep into her 20s; at tournaments her father, Javier, would often hold her hand as they walked to the first tee and send his daughter off with a kiss on the cheek and the sign of the cross on her forehead. Ochoa’s iconic status in her homeland helped the LPGA colonize Mexico, adding three tournaments to the schedule. (Two of them vanished more or less the second she announced her retirement.) Ochoa’s mission was always to pay it forward.

“I know I am now in a position of influence,” she told me in 2007. “It is a responsibility I take very seriously. The game has given me so much. I have a lot of giving back to do.”

Today, Ochoa devotes most of her energies to supporting the La Barranca Educational Center in her hometown of Guadalajara, a specialized school that is home to 350 kids between first and 12th grades. Ochoa makes appearances, speeches and pitches to sponsors to rally support to help cover the annual operating budget of 8 million pesos (about $900,000.) “I’ve worked with other [charities],” Ochoa once said, “but in the end, I could tell education was the only way to really change a kid’s life and to break that cycle of poverty and the problems that go along with being disadvantaged.”

Ochoa’s own kids—with hubby Andre Conesa, the CEO of Aeromexico—remain the center of her new life. Pedro, 3, and Julia, 1, have completed her in a way golf never could. “She’s the most loving, natural mom,” Kim says. “She just lights up around her kids.”

With the British Open soon returning to the Old Course it’s impossible not to think of Ochoa, who won the Women’s British there in 2007, one of her 27 career victories. But after spending three straight years at number one, Ochoa knows the price of competing at the highest level and she is candid that she no longer wants to pay it. LPGA fans will always hold out hope for a comeback, but for those who miss Ochoa’s graceful presence a better plan would be to travel to Mexico City in November to steal a glimpse of a woman who had to give up golf to truly find herself.

Rickie Fowler Wins Scottish Open With Late Birdie Barrage

Rickie-Fowler-CoverRickie Fowler had a season full of near misses last year. He’s finding the winner’s circle much easier to locate in 2015.

Two months after winning The Player Championship to end a three-year title drought, Fowler produced another nerveless display down the stretch to capture the Scottish Open on Sunday for his first victory on European soil.

The American birdied three of the last four holes over the Gullane links for a 2-under 68 in his final round to overhaul compatriot Matt Kuchar and win by one shot. Fowler took the outright lead for the first time this week with his last shot of the tournament, a tap-in putt from inside two feet after a stunning approach with a 57-degree wedge from 109 yards.

“I can definitely get used to having more of these,” Fowler said, looking at the gleaming trophy in front of him.

All the current talk in golf is of the fight for global domination between Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. Fowler, a top-five finisher in all four majors in 2014, has been elbowed out of that particular conversation.

Perhaps that should be revised.

Fowler certainly is proving he can rise to the big occasion. He went birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie on the last four holes at The Players to force a playoff in the greatest finish in the 34-year history of the TPC Sawgrass.

Here, he reacted to a bogey on No. 14 to go birdie-birdie-par-birdie.

“Very similar to down the stretch at The Players,” Fowler said. “Worked out just fine.”

It is the fourth title of Fowler’s professional career, and the second outside the United States after the Korea Open in 2011. And his links game looks in good shape ahead of next week’s British Open at St. Andrews.

“To win on a links golf course, my favorite style of golf, in Scotland and the week before the Open and going to St. Andrews, the Home of Golf is great timing,” he said.

“I like my chances (at the British Open).”

Kuchar was on the practice range, preparing for a playoff after shooting a 68, when applause drifted across from the grandstands on No. 18. Fowler had just nailed his approach.

After knocking in what proved to be the winning putt, Fowler doffed his cap and acknowledged the crowd. But he had to wait for the final pairing of France’s Raphael Jacquelin and England’s Daniel Brooks to play the last before really celebrating.

Jacquelin was the only one who could force a playoff, but he needed an eagle 2. That almost happened, with his approach from 120 yards spinning back to a foot from the cup.

Jacquelin shot 70 to tie for second place with Kuchar, and claim one of three British Open places on offer. Brooks, ranked No. 528 and the third-round leader by a shot, and Sweden’s Rikard Karlberg took the others for finishing in the top 10.

Playing the biggest round of his life, Brooks’ driving was poor and he was forced to scramble for a 73 that tied for seventh with Luke Donald (66) and Ross Fisher (68).

Marc Warren of Scotland shot 64 to finish in a three-way tie for fourth on 10 under, with Eddie Pepperell (69) and Joost Luiten (70).

Fowler decided to alter his schedule and play the Scottish Open the week before British Open for the first time last year, after seeing Phil Mickelson win both events in 2013.

He is halfway toward emulating his compatriot two years on.

“I told him I would see if I could take care of the first leg of it,” Fowler said, of his conversation with Mickelson on the morning of the final round.

“Got that done. But there’s a lot of work to get done to get a win next week.”

Johnny Miller: Rickie Fowler Is On The Rise
Watch out, Rory. Rickie is fast-improving and poised to make a major statement, says Golf Magazine contributor and NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller.
courtesy of AP News (golf.com)

Michelle Wie’s U.S. Open Chances Are Fading, But Not Totally Gone

wie-michelle-140628The defending U.S. Women’s Open champion launched a big tee shot off the 15th tee here Saturday and then practically staggered back to her bag.

If Michelle Wie’s defense of her Open title comes up short Sunday, and it looks like it might unless she shoots a low, low number, she will certainly know why. There’s a painful hip, which caused her to narrow her stance and alter her swing a month ago; a sore ankle that she’s wearing a large black brace on; and her putting.

Wie, the biggest name in women’s golf, lost at least three strokes on the greens Saturday, otherwise her presence on the leaderboard at Lancaster Country Club might be considerably more imposing. Instead, she posted her second straight 68 and finished at 208, 2-under par. She’s six strokes off the lead, held by Amy Yang.

Wie’s day may have been summarized by the way she played the 16th hole, a par-4. After a nice drive, she hit a mediocre iron shot, left her birdie putt four feet short and left her par putt three inches short with a tentative stroke.

That is not how you win a U.S. Open and Wie knows it all too well. She had three bogeys on the front nine. She may have squandered her chance today and left too much ground to make up. Then again, plenty can happen in 18 holes.

“I knew I had to post a low number today, which is a little frustrating,” Wie said. “Those bogeys are precious, you can’t make bogeys out here. I’m grateful that I have a chance so I’m going to try to do as much as I can with it.”

She is obviously hurting and limped noticeably throughout the round. Wie didn’t want to make a big deal of her ailments, although she did admit that she doesn’t take painkillers or pain relievers because she’s allergic to many of them.

“It was a long day, I’m glad to be done,” she said. “But it is what it is. I’ve kind of embraced it. I’ve played with the pain for a while. I know what to expect. I’m good to go for tomorrow.”

She said the pain has gotten worse as the week has gone on. Lancaster CC is a hilly layout and there are a couple of serious uphill and downhill stretches. Her hip and ankle are fine on the flat lies, she said, but Lancaster requires a number of uphill approach shots and Wie said that’s where she has an issue trying to finish a swing on her tender left side. “You saw it on 18,” said Wie, who flared her approach shot into a greenside bunker. She made a superb bunker shot for a tap-in par.

“Unfortunately, it does get a little bit worse each day,” she said. “I just kind of fight through it. My ankle, as well, has never been good. I’m very grateful that it hasn’t really hurt my backswing. I feel it on the way through. So I kind of pep myself up and go for it. I’m proud of myself today, I hung in there, for sure.”

It looked as if Wie might fall out of contention completely after she finished bogey-bogey on the front nine. Then she birdied the par-4 10th, par-3 12th and par-5 13th to temporarily move into third place.

She left an uphill birdie putt at the 14th hanging on the lip, just short. The glitch at the 16th dropped her one back, and she really needed to save par from the bunker at 18 just to stay within striking distance.

Wie seemed upbeat but looked fatigued after the round. No, she said, she was not going to do any practice after the round. She was going to rest.

“I’m just happy that I’m in a good spot,” she said. “I just want to see what I can do tomorrow.”

A few moments later, she limped off toward the parking lot.

courtesy of Gary Van Sickle (golf.com)

Sei Young Kim’s caddie disqualified from U.S. Women’s Open for taking cellphone photo

sy kimSei Young Kim is off to a rookie-of-the-year type season with two LPGA victories in 2015. But if the 22-year-old South Korean is going to win the U.S. Women’s Open this week at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club she’ll have to do it without her regular caddie.

Paul Fusco, a veteran looper who has also worked on the PGA Tour, took a cellphone photo of the hole locations and course set-up notes for the week, according to sources familiar with the situation, and when the breach was discovered by USGA officials he was banned from the tournament.

Related: Golf’s costliest rules mistakes

Sources say that Fusco was in the USGA Rules office — where he was not credentialed to be — taking the photos when an official walked in on him. The sources say there will be no penalty for Kim.

courtesy of Ron Sirak (golfdigest.com)

Can Tiger Woods win again at St. Andrews? 3 major champions debate it

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If allowed a mulligan one year later, Paul Azinger would like to reassess an observation. That thing he said last year about “Tiger Woods being the lead story at every major until he quits.” Well, on the threshold of the 144th Open Championship at St. Andrews, Azinger concedes that isn’t the case.

Not with Jordan Spieth chasing the opportunity of getting three-quarters of the way to the Grand Slam. And not on the same day that World No. 1 Rory McIlroy announced that his sprained left ankle would keep him out of the lineup next week at the Old Course.

So even if you slot the continued comeback efforts of Woods into the next position, well, who would have ever thought we’d see the day when we’d move him that far down the list of topics? Which isn’t to say that Woods is an afterthought, because he most certainly isn’t. It’s just that from what we’ve seen in 2015 — the chili-dips to the scores in the 80s to the bogey-free round at the Greenbrier Classic last Sunday — leaves even the most astute observers shaking their heads.

“I’d say that for the first time ever with him, I have no idea what to expect,” Andy North said.

Azinger, North and Curtis Strange will be on hand at the Old Course as part of the ESPN team that will broadcast all four days of championship play. They possess the necessary perspective, too.

Strange played in the Open Championship 13 times, including 1990 and 1995 at the Old Course, and for years he held the course record of 62, later matched by Brian Davis.

Azinger, who nearly won the Open Championship in his debut in 1987, played in 10 other Opens, including three at St. Andrews: 1990, 1995 and 2000.

North played in four Opens, including 1990 at the Old Course.

All are major champions, have a true understanding of links and a deep appreciation for this championship. Factor in their long observance of the iconic Woods, and their thoughts during an ESPN conference call Wednesday resonate. On the one hand, North thinks this year’s Open is coming at the perfect time for Woods, who steamrolled to victories at the Old Course by eight strokes in 2000 and by five in 2005.

“Every single hole he has a picture of good things happening,” North said. “He has good shots in his mind to fall back on.”

But the frustrating thing these days with Woods, a 79-time victor on Tour who hasn’t won in nearly two years, is that there is a flip side that is painted gray. North wasn’t getting overly giddy about the T-32 that Woods posted last week at the Greenbrier, even if it did include his first bogey-free round in nearly two years. Woods’ strokes-gained-putting stat was a minus-.251, and whatever hope he has for a good week at St. Andrews “comes down to one thing: how he putts,” North said.

Consistently, Azinger has questioned Woods’ seemingly endless obsession with mechanics, with swing-coach switches and changing what always worked beautifully.

“He’s got to get out of the lab and onto the golf course,” Azinger said. “He doesn’t need people telling him what to do; he needs someone to remind him to go out and just play.”

Picking up on that, Strange agreed with Azinger’s assessment that Woods needs to remind himself to “drive it, wedge it, putt it.” The thing is, “can he believe he can do it?” Strange said.

That, of course, is at the heart of this mystery, how the greatest player of his generation — and perhaps in history — has lost his confidence and forgotten how to repeat his golf swing near-flawlessly time after time after time.

“Nothing would surprise me,” Strange said. “I root for him. It’s better for the game if (he plays well), but he’s got to make this turnaround.”

courtesy of Jim McCabe (Golfweek.com)

Butch Harmon’s new golf instruction DVDs: Not an end-all, but a pretty fair guide

butch

One of the keys to Butch Harmon’s tremendous success as a teacher is that he’s always been able to tailor his teaching methods individually to his immensely talented students. And he’s learned from them as well.

Unfortunately, Harmon can’t give you feedback, but his instruction and tips can provide a solid foundation for anyone trying to learn the game or get better. After all, Harmon knows his stuff, thanks to a lifetime of experience around the very best in the game.

This comprehensive golf instructional two-DVD set, titled “Butch Harmon About Golf presented by Titleist,” features 57 chapters containing more than 250 specific tips, totaling more than four hours of consecutive years. He covers everything from setup to full swing to short game, then addresses faults and cures. There’s really no stone unturned in this instructional set.

I have worked with some of the greatest players in golf, and I am proud of the success they have had while working with me. However, I created this DVD for the thousands of golfers that I will never have a chance to try and help,” Harmon said. “This is my legacy to the high school golfer trying to make the team, the golfer trying to win his Saturday Nassau, or the lady golfer taking up the game.”

Butch Harmon About Golf presented by Titleist: The breakdown

As you might expect from an instructional DVD package that costs $79.95, production quality is very high. While there isn’t a lot of flash, the camera work combined with audio is well done; Harmon’s instruction is communicated clearly.

The two DVDs are broken down into six sections, and it’s very well organized. Need a refresher on bunker play? Just go to Section 5 on the first DVD and Harmon has it covered. Need help with putting? Check out Section 6 on DVD 2 and so forth.

There’s also a section that covers all the players Harmon has worked with, and the list is impressive. There was Tiger Woods, of course, as well as Greg Norman, but it also includes Natalie Gulbis, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Fred Couples, Nick Watney, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.

He also talks about observing elite players on the range and practice greens, picking their brains about how they hit certain shots. For example, he shares a pitching tip from Angel Cabrera that makes a lot of sense.

There’s also a section on choosing the right equipment, fitness and kids, women and seniors.

One of the best features of this package is the 18-page companion booklet, sort of a Cliff Notes version of the series that you can put in your golf bag. It’s great for review or for finding a particular section to review.

Butch Harmon About Golf presented by Titleist: The verdict

Supposedly Norman learned to play golf by reading Jack Nicklaus’ “Golf My Way.” Larry Nelson picked up the game in his early 20s by following Ben Hogan’s “Five Fundamentals.” Those are the exceptions — most people need supervised instruction because, quite frankly, we can’t see ourselves. And even if we could, most of us really don’t know what we’re doing.

The bottom line is that live lessons from a good teacher are always better.

But if you’re going to learn to play or improve your game on your own, Harmon’s About Golf is about as good as it gets. Harmon comes from golf’s first family of instruction. His father, Claude, was the 1948 Masters champion, and his brothers are also nationally renowned teachers. Since his early experience with Norman, Harmon has worked with more than 100 PGA, LPGA, and European Tour players, including 21 major winners.

courtesy of Mike Bailey (worldgolf.com)

 

PGA Tour player suspended after admitting he accidentally took PEDS

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PGA Tour player Scott Stallings is doing stuff no professional athletes who take performance-enhancing drugs actually do: He took them accidentally, then, despite not failing a drug test, turned himself into the tour. Someone from baseball should explain how these things ordinarily work.

According to the Golf Channel, Stallings is just the third player on the PGA Tour to be suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, and his 90-day suspension is in effect starting Tuesday:

The three-time Tour winner never failed a drug test, but after suffering from fatigue and being advised by his doctor to take DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour, he realized he’d violated the policy and turned himself in which is tantamount to a positive test under the anti-doping program.

“Whether I intended to or not, I took something that wasn’t allowed. I called a penalty on myself, that’s the best way to look at it,” Stallings told GolfChannel.com. “I did it immediately, so much so it took [the Tour official] by surprise.”

courtesy of  Luke Kerr-Dineen (usatoday)