Tag Archives: The Open Championship

The GOLF NERD’S 2019 Open Championship Preview

I realize that my love of links golf in general and The Open Championship in particular border on the irrational. The unpredictability of the bounce of the ball, the penal nature of fairway bunkers, the sweeping vistas of the treeless landscape that often take in breathtaking views of the Atlantic, the North Sea, or various firths, and of course, the weather. My heart figuratively skipped a beat when I saw a forecast predicting the following:



Yes, lassies and ladies, genuine Open Championship weather will visit Royal Portrush this week. If only Tom Watson could somehow contend . . .


But let’s get to the matters at hand. Adding to the giddy uncertainty (sorry, can’t help myself) of this year’s Open is the venue itself. Royal Portrush, long considered to be one of the great links courses in the world (and second only to Royal County Down in Northern Island), hasn’t hosted an Open since 1951 for reasons both practical and, sadly, political. We’ll discuss the former first.


Portrush is located on the northern tip of Northern Island (on a clear day, one can view it from the Mull of Kintype in Scotland. At times, various ferry services connected the two). While Belfast is easily accessible by air and by land from the south, getting to Portrush was a struggle for years. And while the town of approximately 7,000 adequately handled summer resort traffic, it was nowhere near equipped to accommodate the hoards that gather for an Open. Both of these concerns have been addressed with significant infrastructure improvements, which will prove to be a necessity – for the first time, an Open Championship has been completely sold out; 190,000 tickets sold, and no walk-up tickets available.


Politically, the long-standing “troubles” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland made hosting any sporting event in the North extremely risky and bringing the Open there all but impossible. The Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998 opened the door to improved relations between the two countries, which greatly reduced (but not completely eliminated) violence between either’s extremist factions. The recent Brexit controversy has only served to bring anxiety about renewing those tensions.

But for at least this week, Portrush hosts a true celebration of links golf, and along with the recent smash success of Lahinch’s hosting of The Irish Open, should bring welcome golf travel attention to the entire island, regardless of borders. I know it’s on my list.

As no living golfer has played Royal Portrush as an Open venue, trying to pick a winner (always a dicey proposition anyway) is nearly impossible. Here are some totally useless observations that required much more than just a grain of salt if one is considering a wager:

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE! – Rory McIlroy, Graham McDowell, and Darren Clarke are all native sons of Northern Ireland. McDowell and Clarke are members of Portrush, while McIlroy holds the course record of 61, a score he recorded at the age of 16. In considering any of these players, on needs to consider the following:

  • Clarke, who has facially aged better than any Irishman this side of Sean Connery, is, while officially in the tournament, largely in a ceremonial role for this championship. A win by him might possible empty the country of Bushmill’s.
  • McDowell could be a dark horse, or at minimum a decent inclusion to fill out a fantasy team (where such activities are allowed, of course!). He’s enjoyed a productiv season and survived the cut at Pebble Beach in last year’s US Open. But his chances of winning are only slightly better than those of Clarke.
  • The People’s Choice this week will be McIlroy. Although his score of 61 is no longer considered the official record as there have been changes made to the course, Rory knows enough about Royal Portrush, and, of course, his talent is undeniable. But his play in the majors has been spotty since his PGA Championship victory in 2014, and one has to wonder if the pressure on him to win will be unmanageable.

INSIDER INFORMATION! – Brooks Koepka is the one US star who made his bones on the European Tour, and his caddie, Ricky Elliot – surprise! – was born in Portrush and remains a member. Koepka supposedly is leaning heavily on Elliot for local knowledge and is keeping it to himself to the point that not even Tiger Woods is privy. That aside, the main reason for putting a quid or two on Brooks Koepka is, well, he’s Brooks Koepka.

TIGER! TIGER! TIGER! – Golf prowess aside, Tiger is a one-man content generator, and while his play since The Masters has ranged from dismal to middle of the road, there’s been no shortage of speculation about his performance at Royal Portrush:

  • “He rested!” “He’s rusty!”
  • “The weather favors him! He can work the ball either way against the wind!” “The weather hurts him! His back won’t hold up!”
  • “He’s no longer named in the lawsuit against his restaurant!” “But his girlfriend is!”

And so on. The fact is, Tiger could win the damn thing. He could also miss the cut, badly. Neither would surprise me. My prediction – no matter what the outcome, every one of his shots will be televised.

THE GOLF NERD SAYS!What the hell do I know? Particularly when it comes to The Open. But I believe the following:

  • Take Koepka over McIlroy
  • Henrik Stenson has looked good recently, and it was only a few years ago that he won it
  • I don’t feel it for Tiger this week
  • The defending champ, Francesco Molinari, hasn’t been the same since The Masters
  • Justin Rose? Maybe. Jon Rahm? Nah.
  • Because it rains so much in Ireland in general, Royal Portrush will show better on television than any other of the Open Championship venues, and will most likely have many observers swooning.

As I mentioned in my piece about The Irish Open – best to set your alarm clock early, and best to set another clock to Irish time so you can enjoy adult beverages guilt free.

The Open Championship – Or How The Quiet Italian Killed The Cat

Italy’s Francesco Molinari is likely not a name familiar to the casual golf observer. In fact, for a time Francesco wasn’t even the best known golfing Molinari, as his older brother Edoardo won the 2005 US Amateur. But the younger Molinari developed a reputation as a superior striker of the golf ball, and this year has seemed to crack the code with his short game, having won on both the Euro and American PGA tours and finishing second at the John Deere Classic prior to the Open Championship.

And now he is The Champion Golfer of the Year.

Before we get to the particulars, a tip of the hat must go to the R&A and the greens keeping staff at Carnoustie. As we previously discussed, Carnoustie is a difficult but fair test of golf, and with the proper climate conditions, it delivers everything that a championship track should. As it turned out, Mother Nature provided a variety of backdrops (rain Friday and nearly no wind to speak of on Saturday), but a welcome (at least for fans of the Open Championship) “fresh breeze” on Sunday (topping out at the 25 mph mark) made for an wild day of golf.

And there were no complaints from the field, no USGA jackets scurrying around the course or answering queries on TV … are you watching there in Fair Lawn, NJ?

Going into the weekend, Kevin Kisner was the surprise co-leader – surprising in that he arrived at Carnoustie in less than optimal form, not having posted a top 20 finish in months. But he putted spectacularly on the slower fescue greens, and found himself tied with 2015 Open champ Zach Johnson at 6 under par.

And then Saturday came. The lack of wind rendered the course nearly defenseless – Justin Rose fired a 64, while defending champ Jordan Spieth and the aforementioned Molinari each carded 65. But the biggest eruption came from a certain feline-monikered golfer named Eldrick Woods, who, after two rather indifferent even par rounds, practically broke social media with an electrifying 66.

Still, that found him 4 shots behind Spieth, Kisner, and rising star Xander Schauffele, all of whom finished at 9 under. Molinari was 3 back, and would be paired with Woods for the final round.

Sunday brought a lot of wind and for awhile, an unlikely leader in The clubhouse in England’s Eddie Pepperell, who is as close as golf gets to having a Renaissance Man. Eddie went around in 67 despite, as he openly admitted on Twitter, suffering from the after effects of a night on the town. That put him at 5 under, which for a long time looked like a possibility for a playoff.

This came about as a result of the three leaders shifting their games in reverse and returning to the pack. Kisner’s putting abandoned him, Schauffele realized that he was leading golf’s oldest championship, and Spieth – well, with Jordan Spieth, one never knows what he’ll get. On Sunday, he took an ugly double on #6, and it was all downhill from there.

So for a brief time on Sunday, the stars aligned f.or the Tiger Woods worshippers of the world. The Big Cat had taken sole posession of the lead on 7 and on the 10th hole, he hoisted a 155 yard wedge shot from a nasty fairway bunker that no other person on the planet could have imagined trying to the front part of the green to save par. Commentators Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller were hyperventilating. “Is this the year 2000 again?,” wondered Hicks.

No, it wasn’t. Woods hit a wayward iron off the tee on 11 and an even worse second that fortunately (for him) struck a spectator and bounded back in play towards the back of the green. Faced with the choice of playing a safe chip leaving a 12 putt for par or attempting a high-risk flop shot that even at the height of his powers would have a less than 50% chance of succeding, Tiger, perhaps feeling some hubris from what he pulled off on 10, choose the latter. It didn’t work, and his chances of winning greatly diminished from that point on.

But it was a thrilling exhibition of his ability and, of course, a reminder that he creates as much buzz as any sporting figure in the world. At the same time, it also revealed a 42 year old golfer attempting to return to past glory but not quite being able to close the deal. As Rory McIlroy stated, Tiger just doesn’t scare the field anymore. That’s not to say that he can’t or won’t win again- his 6th place finish put him into the WGC event at Firestone, a locale whose confines are as friendly to him as Wrigley Field’s are to the Cubs -but it’ll be a helluva lot harder to do.

While all this was going on, Molinari, playing alongside Tiger (who later described Molinari’s play as “beautiful”), quietly went about his business, grinding out a Nick Faldo-esque 13 consecutive pars before making birdie on 14 to take the lead along with Schaffele, who showed a lot of moxie after an indifferent front 9.  He added a birdie on 18 (which played ridiculously easy on Sunday) to go up by one, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Schaffele, who was playing 17 as this happened. 17 at Carnoustie into the wind is one of the hardest par-4’s in the world, as the Barry Burn traverses the fairway twice and forces players to lay back to a less than comfortable distance. In Xander’s case, he had 254 yards to a tucked right hand flag. The prudent play would have been for him to hit to the center of the green, two putt for par, and take his chances on 18. Shauffelle chose otherwise and pushed his approach well to the right, leaving him with a short sided pitch made even more difficult by the presence of a finicky three year old child trapped with his mother at the spectator rope. To his everlasting credit, Xander saw the humor in the situation and allowed himself a chuckle. Alas, he was unable to get up and down.

Molinari watched all of this from a comfortable waiting area with an air that could be described as calm concern, occasionally flashing a smile that reminds one of a younger version of actor Hank Azari. His victory speech was modest and gracious, if not particularly memorable. And I’m not sure that, given the bombast of Tiger Woods’s performance, many will recall how well he played. So I’m here to remind one and all that for the final 36 holes of the Open Championship on one of the most difficult courses in the world, Francesco Molinari did not make a single bogey.

Hai giocato a golf bellissimo, Franceso.



Trials and Triumph at Royal Troon

Golf needed this.

After Jordan Spieth’s meltdown at Augusta.

And the rules fiasco at Oakmont.

After the flack and posturing over the absence of many of the game’s top players at the Olympics next month.

Golf needed this. And Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson delivered.

Stenson/Mickelson was not quite dramatic as Watson/Nicklaus in the latter pair’s famous “Duel In the Sun” at Turnberry in 1977, although the circumstances were similar. In both instances, the combatants separated themselves from the field by a substantial margin and simply did not back down. The edge still has to go the Duel in the Sun, as that particular contest literally came down to the final hole – and literally the final stroke, as Nicklaus had fashioned an improbable birdie from the tall fescue on the 18th and rolled in a 35 foot putt, mentally shrinking the hole for what had previously seemed to be a gimmee on Watson’s two-foot putt. But Tom rolled it in, and his stature in the game was cemented.

Yesterday’s finish came pretty damned close. Consider that Lefty shot a bogey-free 6-under 65, including an improbable save on the 12th – and still finished three shots behind Henrik Stenson, whose final round 63 actually included 2 bogies, including an opening hole three putt that had most of us wondering if final round major championship nerves had set in. Three consecutive birdies later, we had the answer, and were treated to a mixture of spectacular shot making and courageous scrambling by both golfers, culminating with Stenson closing the door on a game Mickelson in the final holes.

It’s been a long road for the Swede, who has seen both ends of the spectrum in his career. Stenson won the World Match Play in 2007 and the Player’s Championship in 2009, but then fell into a spiral that saw him drop to 230th in the world rankings. He fought his way back; in 2013 he scored several impressive victories and won the FedEx Cup (he also finished runner-up that year at the Open, finishing three shots behind .  . . Phil Mickelson).

He has continued his good play since then on both the PGA and European Tours, and was a key contributor in continuing Europe’s Ryder Cup dominance in 2014 – and speaking of which, wouldn’t a Stenson/Mickelson match-up at this year’s proceedings at Hazeltine be absolutely delicious?

Stenson is said to be the possessor of a keen, dry sense of humor, and at times has been known to snap a club or two in anger. Perhaps most infamously, he once stripped down to his underwear to play a shot from a hazard, which created a bit of a ruckus among the more crusty golf aficionados. I daresay that being the Champion Golfer of the Year in record setting fashion will dress up his resume.

As for Phil . . . he did everything right except win the tournament. His own 63 in the opening round was bogey-free, and but for a stray blade of grass and the combined pact with golfing Satan by Nick Price, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller working against him on 18, he would have achieved golf immortality with the lowest round in major championship golf history.

This was the 11th runner up finish for Mickelson in a major, which cruelly also makes him the bridesmaid to Jack Nicklaus in that category. There have been times when he’s been his own worst enemy in arriving at those finishes, but in the final round at Troon he played brilliant, courageous golf. In his victory speech, the first person that Stenson thanked was Mickelson for pushing him to play the best golf of his life. While this was a gracious thought, it was likely of small consolation to Phil, who has not won since his 2013 victory at Muirfield and, at age 46, could be seeing his chances at another major championship dwindling.

Then again, it was pointed out in one of the earlier rounds of the outstanding coverage provided by the Golf Channel and NBC that the average age of an Open Champion is about 10 years older than any of the other majors. I hadn’t really thought about it, but in the last 6 years, 5 winners have been at least 39 years old (Rory McIlroy being the exception). Stenson and Mickelson combine for 86 years on the planet.

I suppose what this brings to light is that links golf presents a number of unique challenges – the penal bunkering, the firm, bouncy turf, slower greens, and, of course, the weather; all of which require adaptability in shot-making and not a little bit of patience in accepting the ever changing, unpredictable conditions.

Tom Watson almost pulled off an Open Championship at the age of 59. Maybe Phil gets another chance. But this one had to hurt.

I have to believe that the R&A was thrilled with the outcome of this year’s Open – not only by the quality of play by the champion and runner-up, but by the fact that there were no major controversies regarding rules or procedures.

The week didn’t start that way, as the deadline for Olympic commitments coincided with the Open’s practice sessions and press conferences. Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson were “game time decisions,” both decided against going, citing health and security concerns. Johnson, as is his wont, gave a brief answer at his presser and moved on to other topics. Spieth, on the other hand, bent over backwards and tied himself in knots explaining that if it were any other year, he’d be thrilled to go, that it was the hardest decision in his life, and so on. He also pronounced that he felt better about his swing than he has all year . . . and proceeded to spend the first three rounds playing most of his tee shots from the right rough.  A final round 68 may provide some momentum for the upcoming PGA Championship (moved up in the schedule by two weeks to accommodate the Olympics), but he still seems frustrated on the course.

But it was Rory McIlroy who gave golf scribes their juiciest bits, stating in no uncertain terms that the Olympics were not an event to which he aspired, that it was not his sole responsibility to grow the game, and that if he did tune in, it would be to watch swimming or track and field. This sent the Defender of the Rings into an uproar – I thought Brandel Chamblee would explode on the Golf Channel set – and McIlroy did somewhat couch his statements later, citing his involvement with youth golf programs and the First Tee as evidence to his commitment to the future of golf. He did not, however, back off from his feelings about Olympic golf.

As I’ve stated previously, there are several flies in the Olympic golf ointment – the scheduling, the format, and the manner of qualification make for a weak field and a boring tournament [at least this is the case on the men’s draw. On the women’s side, there seems to be firm commitment from virtually all of the top qualifying players. I’m predicting an all-South Korean podium].

Maybe the Olympics will surprise us. After watching what transpired this week at Royal Troon, I doubt it.

The Golf Nerd’s 2016 Open Championship Preview

[Before we start – a plaintive plea to the men and women of the Royal & Ancient]

Dear R&A,

While I respect your position as one of the two main rule-making organizations in the world of golf, I have to say that, along with your comrades at the USGA, you seem to be somewhat clueless when running the oldest major championship in the world (for evidence, please refer to Open Championship, St Andrews, 2015).

The Open Championship has become my favorite major to watch. I am an unabashed lover of links golf, and thoroughly embrace its unpredictable nature. Unlike the USGA, you are not necessarily concerned with “protecting par” (although there was that nasty bit of business at Carnoustie in 1999 when the greens superintendent – unbeknownst to you – ran amok, narrowing fairways to a microscopic 12 yards in some cases) and more or less allow the elements to dictate play.

And to your credit, your institution of the 4-hole playoff (as opposed to sudden death or a full 18 the next day) as a tie breaker was a very inspired move. Last year’s denouement was exhilarating.

Also – we get that there is no replacing Ivor Robson. Don’t even try.

But for the love of Old and Young Tom, Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Peter Thompson, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Arnie, and Sir Nick – PLEASE do not muck things up this year. Make decisions decisively and in a timely manner, and make sure the field understands them.

There’s no need for you to be the story.

Thanks for listening,

The Golf Nerd

This will be the 9th occasion that Royal Troon has hosted the Open. It’s been a mixed bag of prior champions – Arnie, Bobby Locke, and Tom Watson have claimed the crown there. Arnie’s was particularly important, as he almost singlehandedly reintroduced the Open to American golfers and fans. On the other hand, the list of others who have won is not quite as glittering – Tom Weiskopf (who never quite seemed to reach the heights predicted for him), Mark Calcavechia, Justin Leonard, and (gasp) Todd Hamilton.

I played Royal Troon back in 2012, and quite honestly, I don’t recall a lot about it other than the famed #8 hole, a/k/a “The Postage Stamp.” That name is derived from the size of its green, which from the tee box (a mere 127 yards away) seems impossible to hit to begin with. Add the usual stiff breeze off of the Firth of Clyde, and one wonders how the 71 year old Gene Sarazen managed to score 1 and 2 in the two rounds he played at the Open in 1973. George Sutherland, a young friend and excellent golfer who has played many rounds at Troon (and who is also The Golf Nerd’s Official UK Correspondent), tells me that he’s used everything between a three-iron and a 58 degree wedge to try to hit the green.

My friend Ben Hadden managed to birdie The Postage Stamp the day we played there (an event that seems to always come up in conversation whenever we get together). Other than that, no one in our group played particularly well – it was a miserable day, about 48 degrees, windy and damp. Our caddies couldn’t wait to bolt to the nearest pub once we paid them. But there’s no doubt that Royal Troon is a stern test regardless of the conditions.

A few more pearls from my buddy George:

Everything you need to know about the members is summed up by the 6th hole. It is the longest par 5 in the world, and can’t ever be beaten. There is about 300 yards of wasteland behind it, so they can just keep on moving the championship tee further and further back whenever another course tries to take the crown. They NEED to have that damn crown.”

The 11th (Railway Hole), where Tiger took his 11, (something in double digits but can’t remember exactly) is about a 250 yard carry from a blind spot where you just aim at the post. The fairway is also very narrow and is lined by gorse. We could see some high scores there.”

“…it is very fair and old-fashioned, and that’s what I like about it. If you hit good shots, you get rewarded- no shit bounces and crappy rolls. Its real defense are its narrow fairways, deathly thick rough and strategically placed bunkers and greens. Once you get to the greens, the majority are pretty flat and easy to hole puts on compared to your usual course on tour- it’s getting there that’s the problem.”

The current hot commodity on tour is Dustin Johnson, who has fashioned back to back victories at Oakmont and Firestone and needs to be included in the potential victor’s conversation this year, along with the New Triumvirate. Others to watch are Lee Westwood, who since his divorce is playing some of the best golf of his career, and Sergio Garcia, who has a Tour victory under his belt this year and who may thrive on Troon’s relatively benign putting surfaces.

But as we’ve noted, the Open is unpredictable, particularly so at this year’s venue. I’m going to throw out a few names that might be good dark horse picks:

  • Danny Lee – he is one of the Tour’s hardest working players and has seen his effort pay off over the eighteen months. He notched a victory at last year’s Greenbrier Classic, made the Presidents Cup team, and has been a consistent presence on the leaderboards. He had a strong finish this past weekend at the Scottish Open in Castle Stuart. And I admittedly have a local bias in Danny – he’s a member at our home club and lives in our neighborhood. I don’t know him very well, but he will always smile and say “hi” to me and other members, and the young men who work in the bag room tell me that he treats them very well. Finally, he’s a true Citizen of the World – born in Korea, a naturalized citizen of New Zealand, and a current Texas resident.


  • Greg Chalmers – ok, this is a real stretch, but hear me out. After over 300 PGA Tour starts, the Australian won the Stableford event in Reno a few weeks ago. Greg has always been a terrific putter; unfortunately, that’s been coupled with being one of the shorter hitters on tour. He’s continued to work on his game, and recently picked up some extra distance. Again, I have a very small connection to him – he was part of a panel discussion at our club a few years ago prior to the Byron Nelson tournament, and spoke frankly about life on the PGA Tour and the struggles he experienced (one of his funnier stories involved his only appearance at the Masters, where on his opening tee shot he nailed a spectator squarely in the forehead – “I could see the imprint of the ball there,” he told us. Fortunately, both patron and golfer survived the incident). It was gratifying to see him win in Reno, which, along with the automatic two-years Tour exemption that came with it, also gave him entre into this year’s Open Championship, a tournament he openly confessed to dreaming of winning. If Todd Hamilton can win at Troon, why not Greg Chalmers?


  • Shane Lowry – because we need a hefty Champion Golfer of the Year from Ireland. Plus he dropped one of the all-time great f-bombs at the Honda Classic earlier this year. Those are as good reasons as any, right?

The Ridiculous and the Sublime


The Golf Nerd Goddess and I dutifully awoke at 1:00 AM Saturday to catch the delayed finish of the second round of the Open Championship. Well, that’s not exactly true – the GNG woke up while I remained in a semi-conscious state. In any event, this particular circumstance was driven by a deluge on Friday morning that resulted in pushing off the start of round 2 by three and a half hours. This led to about 20 groups unable to finish, although the good officials of the Royal & Ancient (the ruling body of golf in that part of the world that is not the United States) were urging the participants to play on in what looked to be rapidly diminishing daylight.

Whether or not the R&A would admit it, this decision was largely driven by the desire to have Tom Watson finish his round and receive his final sendoff. This was to be his final Open Championship and he was by no means going to make the cut. Again, whether or not the R&A would admit it, I’m sure they had no interest in making Tom Watson, five time Open Championship winner, crawl out of bed early Saturday morning and finish his round in front of 20 or 30 spectators.

[Earlier in the day, Sir Nick Faldo made his final Open bow, taking time to pull out from his bag the sweater – or “jumper,” as the Brits call it – that he wore during his first Open victory in 1990. While still fitting, it was also a reminder of the hideous golf fashion of the era. Then again, when ISN’T there a hideous golf fashion era?]

But the explanation given by the R&A – at least as it was translated from the official working with the ESPN broadcasting crew – was that players “had the option” of playing on or marking their place of play and continuing the next day, which seemed a somewhat malleable ruling. This had some players walking off the course while others pressed on. Pre-tournament favorites Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, paired with Hidecki Matsuyama, decided to vacate the premises after their second shots on the par-5 14th . Matsuyama chose to finish the hole. It was all very confusing.

Meanwhile, up ahead Tom Watson was, by his own admission, hacking his way to a bogey on 18. The grandstands had been long vacated, but the street bordering the 18th fairway (called, appropriately enough, “The Links”) was jammed with spectators, many of whom left local pubs to watch Watson end his day. He tapped in for bogey, doffed his hat in acknowledgement to the crowd, found his wife, kissed her and whispered in her ear, “It’s over.”

Not so for those who were trying to finish their second round – and as I shook the fog off from my sleep, I could make out commentator Paul Azinger stating that he thought what was going on was not fair. For a moment I thought he was referring to the previous evening’s activities, but no, this was a brand new issue.

It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the wind can blow quite severely in Scotland, particularly by the seaside. Five years ago, play was stopped for about an hour and a half due to winds blowing balls about on the putting surfaces, which can be unnerving to a player standing over a crucial putt. Apparently, the same scene was playing out on the course now, except for the fact that no one from the R&A seemed willing to make a decision. Brook Koefka, part of the group that started on the 11th hole (which happens to be the highest point of the course) refused to putt. He was engaged in a lengthy conversation with an R&A official who wasn’t budging.

Meanwhile, on other parts of the course, play continued with farcical results. Spieth and Johnson returned to their positions from the night before, only to be faced with delicate pitches that would be impacted by the howling winds. Both players bogeyed 14. While this was going on, Louis Oosthuizen lagged his putt on 13 to about a foot and a half away from the hole. As he approached his ball to mark it, the wind pushed it even closer. Oosty was confused by how to proceed (in actuality, he could have marked the ball after the wind had blown it to the more favorable decision, as he had done nothing to make it move), and was waiting for an official to explain how to proceed. At this point, Azinger and fellow commentator Curtis Strange were imploring Oosty to mark the ball, but it was too late – by the time the official arrived, the ball was blown another 6 or 7 feet past the hole, at which point poor Louis doubled over in a combination of laughter and tears.

Finally, the R&A stopped play, but were roundly criticized for allowing the round to begin (Dustin Johnson was particularly agitated). The argument from the majority players was that once the complaint by Koefka was lodged on the 11th, play should have stopped all over the course. The R&A response was that the greens had been tested prior to the start of play and were deemed “challenging but fair,” but that the wind speed picked up once play began. In any event, play did not resume until almost 5:00 PM local time; the 2nd round finally completed, the cut line established, and the 3rd and 4th rounds rescheduled for Sunday and Monday.

The great Dan Jenkins had the last word on the whole mess when he tweeted, “I’m glad these R&A officials weren’t in charge of anything during World War II.”

Upon seeing Oosthuizen’s putt lip out on the last playoff hole, a putt that would have further extended an already exhausting 144th Open Championship, Zach Johnson seemed not to have any sort of reaction at all, other than maybe a grimace over poor Oosty’s misfortune. His caddy Damon Green – who earlier on in the day celebrated Johnson’s 18th hole birdie that put him in the playoff thusly – turned to high-five his man, but Johnson was in such a state of shock that he left poor Damon hanging for what seemed an eternity. Johnson could barely complete a post-round interview with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, so overcome with emotion was he.

I’m sure one could have gotten pretty long odds on a Zach Johnson win from the local punters. Since winning the 2007 Masters, Johnson has been a solid, if unspectacular presence on the tour. He’s not a big hitter, but on courses that require superior shot making, he’s always a threat (2 of his 12 career wins have come at Colonial, which was the domain of Ben Hogan). And he is very good at controlling his shot trajectory (or “flighting the shot,” as Azinger would put it), which is absolutely essential in negotiating the windy conditions that typically prevail on an Open course.

But with so many story lines coming into this year’s Open (Can Spieth continue his quest for the Slam? Can Dustin Johnson recover from his US Open disappointment? Can Tiger re-claim a semblance of his game? Who will get the bigger ovation, Watson or Faldo? Can Ivor Robson survive another Open without leaving his starting post?), Zach was pretty much overlooked as a serious contender, despite his opening round 66.

DJ was the main focus of the first two rounds; his driving prowess allowed him to blow by most of the trouble that the Old Course presents, and many pundits were ready to crown him after the elongated second round even though his lead was only one shot. He faded badly on the weekend and was never a factor afterwards.

Or maybe he did a body swap with Marc Leishman, who after just finishing inside the cut line, went on an historic tear by going 64 – 66 and might have won the thing outright had he not stumble with a bogey on 16. Still, he made his way into the playoff, along with this space’s pick, Oosthuizen.

Yes, our boy Oosty came back from that nearly 6 hour delay on Saturday to make that wind blown putt. His final round 69 was at times excruciating to watch – his swing, normally one of golf’s most elegant, wasn’t quite right; on at least half a dozen occasions, his right hand came off the club after impact. But he came to 18 needing a birdie to tie Zach and Leishman, and made a clutch 5-footer to join the playoff.

To some, the playoff seemed anti-climactic, due to the absence of one Jordan Spieth. Not that he didn’t try. He followed an indifferent second round with a scintillating 66, and, after backing up a nightmarish double bogey on the 8th (where he improbably 4-putted ) with a pair of birdies to put himself back in range, he arrived at 16 a shot behind (at that time) Johnson and Leishman. When his 40-foot birdie putt dropped there, it looked for all the world that Destiny (large “D”) had tapped the young Texan on the shoulder.

Of course, it was not to be – The Road Hole got Spieth, as it’s gotten so many before him. And he made a bit of a mess of the last hole, where a birdie could have gotten him into the playoff.

I’ve heard some claim that Spieth “choked,” and that without him, the playoff was anti-climatic. As to the first point, that is pure, unadulterated nonsense. Choking is a complete breakdown; Greg Norman blowing a 6 shot lead at the 1996 Masters and ultimately losing by 5 is a textbook example, as is Jean Van de Velde’s meltdown on the 18th at Carnoustie in 1999, where he totally took leave of his senses. Spieth’s missed putt on 17 and misplayed wedge shot on 18 were both thoroughly discussed and thought out; unfortunately, the execution in both cases was lacking.

As far as the 4-hole playoff being anti-climatic – well, Spieth stuck around to watch it, as did a lot of us, and it was classic, coming down to Oosthuizen’s try for birdie on 18 that would have sent he and Johnson back to the 18th tee had it gone in, which may have been indeed too much for a lot of us to comprehend.

So Zach Johnson joins a very short list of golfers who have won at both Augusta and St Andrews, and we’ll have a short respite before the season’s final major at Whistling Straits. Last year’s PGA Championship was the year’s best tournament. Given what’s gone on with this year’s majors, it will do well to be included in the conversation.

The Golf Nerd’s Open Preview

The Open Championship at the Old Course at St Andrews is less than two weeks away, and already the storylines are mounting . . .


Tom Watson, (Sir) Nick Faldo, and Ivor Robson.

The first two names are familiar to even the most casual golf fans. Both have announced that this will be their final year of participation in the Open, and have between them carried off the Claret Jug eight times. It will be interesting to see who gets the bigger ovation.

Faldo, of course, is an Englishman, which could play either way to the Scots. His relationship with the UK press has always been frosty (after one Open victory, he famously announced at the post-championship presser, “I’d like to thank you all from the heart of my bottom”), but he’s won twice on the Old Course and, now that he is on the other side of the microphone on CBS broadcasts, has at least outwardly softened his demeanor.

Watson, on the other hand, has practically become a Scot by assimilation. He’s won the Open five times (although, ironically, never at the Old Course) and, in 2009 at the age of 59, came within an overcooked 8-iron on the final hole of winning a sixth. He generally sports a very Scottish look during the Open, topping off his wardrobe by wearing a tam. Arnold Palmer was responsible for re-establishing the Open as an important championship for the American professional golfer, but no one has embraced it more than Watson. It says here that when “Toom” crosses the Swilcan Bridge and makes his final walk up the 18th fairway, there won’t be a dry eye in all of Scotland.

As for Ivor Robson . . . since 1975, Mr Robson has stood at the first tee of the Open Championship to announce each pair in his unmistakable tenor voice. This year is rumored to be his last Open, as well.


Having blown away the field at Augusta and outlasting both the course and the field at Chambers Bay, Jordan Speith has the opportunity to climb another rung on the ladder to completing golf’s Grand Slam. So one would think that young Speith would already be in Scotland; at minimum playing at the Scottish Open in Gullane to acclimate himself to the weather and the peculiarities of links golf?

Nope. Jordan is honoring a commitment he made to play in the John Deere Classic in the Quad Cities, where he obtained his first tour victory. Apparently his preparation to date for the Open has been to play a few Old Course holes on his at-home golf simulator, which may show preferred lines of play but does nothing to prepare one for the rumpled fairways, severe greenside undulations, and deep pot bunkers that permeate the course. On the other hand, he’s two for two in major championships this year, so who am I to judge?


Rory McIlroy is out; a victim of a injury suffered while playing a pickup game up soccer.

Look, I get that the vagrancies of life can intrude on one’s being. Also, shit happens. But really, Rory? Couldn’t you have gone to Wimbledon and razzed Carolyn Wozniak instead? Or hung out with your hot new girlfriend?

There’s been an outpouring of sympathy from other golfers, including Phil Mickelson, who once famously lost half a season due to a skiing accident. My own take is that sympathy is somewhat offset by a secret relief that McIlroy won’t be in the field. Call me a cynic.


He was recently linked to a money-laundering scheme, although he has not been charged with any wrongdoing. This is the second time in just over a year that The Lefthander has been linked to a financial investigation (previously, the FBI had questioned him in regard to an SEC matter); Mickelson’s response was pure gold:

People are going to say things good; they are going to say things bad; they are going to say things true; they are going to say things not true. The fact is I’m comfortable enough with who I am as a person that I don’t feel like I need to comment on every little report that comes out.”

Chutzpah, thy name is Phil.


To give some pizazz to the three Tour events between the two Opens, PGA Tour players can qualify for the Open Championship with victories and/or high finishes in those tournaments. Last week at The Greenbrier, Danny Lee scored a trip to St Andrews by winning in a sudden-death playoff over three other players.

Danny lives in our neighborhood in DFW, and plays out of our club, so my friends and I were quite pleased to see our “homeboy” do well (for the record, he is of Korean decent, but emigrated here from New Zealand). One would think that winning $1.2 million and qualifying for the Open would be enough, but no:

I love it here. My one wish is that I had a girlfriend. It wouldn’t be so lonely in my room.”

Ladies, operators are waiting.


Who the hell knows? Great players win at St Andrews . . . as do some long shots, like John Daly. The last Open champion at St Andrews was a then-unknown Louis Oostheizen, who anhialated the course and the field in 2010. Much depends on the wind, which is truly the Old Course’s major defense. When it blows, the winning score runs around 6-under (Nicklaus, 1978, and Daly, 1995 come to mind). When it doesn’t, it can go deep into the red numbers.

So . . . some predictions:

Watson: Makes the cut

Faldo: Doesn’t make the cut

Tiger: Squeezes into the top 20 if he remembers to aim left.

Bubba Watson: Pisses off Ivor Robson by constantly calling him “Ian.”

Ian Poulter: Effusive in his praise of St Andrews (while still steaming about the condition of the greens at this year’s US Open). Top Ten finish, doesn’t win.

Ricky Fowler: Unveils special Old Course Puma clothes lines. Makes cut.

Danny Lee: Finds true love; heart-broken when he learns that his intended has visa issues.

Speith: Experience with wind play helps, makes decent run, but doesn’t win.

Louis Oostheizen: Your winner.