|Prepping for British Open unlike any other major|
|Thursday, July 18, 2013 12:25 AM|
GULLANE, Scotland — The practice round schedule posted each day at Muirfield is not the only way to determine how players are getting ready for the British Open.
Johnson Wagner’s name was on the tee sheet at St. Andrews over the weekend.
Geoff Ogilvy could be found on the other side of the country, on links courses like Turnberry, Royal Troon and Western Gailes. Justin Rose was at North Berwick. So were Bubba Watson and Luke Donald, who got in plenty of golf along the Firth of Forth the week before the British Open.
It’s not unusual for players to take off from their regular tours a week before a major to prepare. What’s different about the British Open — isn’t everything? — is that preparations aren’t limited to the course they will be playing.
“You can prepare for the U.S. Open on the range,” Ogilvy said Wednesday. “But you can only prepare for The Open on the course. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be the course you’re playing. The seaside courses here, they’re the only courses with turf like this, with sand like this. There’s something different about the seaside wind in Scotland. … You can fly to Shanghai or Abu Dhabi and work on what you need at home. But you can’t work on what you need at home until you get here.”
Tiger Woods, a 3-time Open champion, arrived Sunday morning and has played nine holes a day. There was a time he would leave home a week early and head to Ireland with Mark O’Meara and David Duval, both former Open champions, and play the links courses there.
Woods loves to recall his first experience with links golf in 1995 as the U.S. Amateur champion. He played the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, then drove down the North Sea shoreline to St. Andrews for the British Open.
“I absolutely fell in love with it, to be able to dink a 5-iron from 150 yards and bump it on the ground, or vice versa — have 260 out and hit a 4-iron and it bounces over the green. That, to me, is pretty neat,” Woods recalled. “Because we play everywhere around the world — an airborne game where you have to hit the ball straight up in the air and make it stop. Here it’s different. A draw will go one distance, a fade will go another, and they’re so dramatic. And I just absolutely love it.”
True, adjusting to links golf can just as easily take place at Muirfield, where the British Open starts today. Defending champion Ernie Els came down from Castle Stuart and has stayed at Muirfield, wrapping up his final practice round Wednesday just after 6 p.m.
But there are no tricks at Muirfield. There are hardly any blind shots. Most of the bunkers are in plain view from the tee. That’s one of the reasons that Muirfield is a favorite of so many players, who use words like “fair” and “honest test,” which aren’t always heard on other links courses.
“I think of all the Open venues, it’s probably one of the least quirky ones,” Donald said Wednesday. “It’s quite straightforward. Obviously with the weather conditions, it’s playing firm and fast. It’s going to be about controlling your golf ball this week. And the weather looks good. The course is set up just the way the R&A would like it. It’s bouncy. It’s a little bit of a breeze out there. Firm conditions are a good protector of the golf course and we certainly have that this week.”
The forecast is dry for the week, with perhaps some mist on the weekend. Even though officials had the course just the way they wanted it early in the week, they have turned on a few sprinklers in the evening to keep it from getting overcooked.
It all starts to unfold this morning when Peter Senior of Australia hits the opening tee shot.
Among the early starters are Els, Rose and Brandt Snedeker in one group, with Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama a few groups behind. The afternoon groups include Woods, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen, along with Masters champion Adam Scott, Donald and Matt Kuchar.
Tom Watson won at Muirfield in 1980 by four shots over Lee Trevino, which was a rarity in one respect. That was the only Open in the last six times at Muirfield that golf’s oldest championship was decided by more than one shot. Els won in a record 4-man playoff the last time in 2002.
Muirfield is seen as a thorough examination that requires solid contact in any weather, which might explain why only the best players seem to win here — Els, Nick Faldo twice, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Walter Hagen, Trevino.
Snedeker tied the 36-hole record at the British Open last year at 130 — the same score Faldo had at Muirfield in 1992 — and eventually tied for third. That was at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
What happens from here is difficult to project. Woods is trying to end a zero-for-16 drought in the majors. Rose is trying to become only the seventh player to win the U.S. Open and British Open in the same year. Els believes he has a chance to win again, which would put him in rare company — Old Tom Morris in 1872 is the only other player in his 40s to successfully defend his title in a major.
Park, top field ready to go low at Marathon LPGA
SYLVANIA — Gone is the Jamie Farr name atop the marquee.
Even though it’s now the Marathon Classic for the first time in its 28 years — and the actor who played the cross-dressing Corporal Klinger from MASH has stepped into the background — a major drawing card for some of the LPGA’s finest players remains unchanged.
“When I first came here to Highland Meadows, I thought this was a tough golf course,” Inbee Park said. “But it seemed like everybody was scoring so low out here that I couldn’t keep up with them.”
When the No. 1 player in the world — and winner of the first three women’s major professional championships this year — thinks she’s being lapped by so many birdie-happy adversaries, that’s saying something.
The course in suburban Toledo, not far from the Michigan-Ohio state line, has been the site of some of the best rounds in LPGA Tour history.
A 20-year-old rookie named Se Ri Pak put up a 61 in 1998 while winning her first of a record five titles at the course. Paula Creamer had a 60 in the first round five years ago to cruise to a victory. And rookie So Yeon Ryu shot a final-round 62 to come off the pace to win last year.
Over the last six years, the winners are a combined 103-under par.
Creamer followed up her career-low 11-under 60 with a ho-hum 65 and then coasted to a 2-shot victory.
The galleries have become used to players going low. Maybe too used to it.
Locked in a 4-way, all-South Korean tie for first heading into the final round a year ago, Ryu pulled away with a string of birdies.
Park recognizes that this might not be exactly the track to fit her game. She believes she is at her best on courses where par is a good score, not where fans are disappointed by one.
She’s in the latter camp. Still, she has improved every year she’s played in Northwestern Ohio going from a missed cut to a tie for 25th, to sixth to a third-place finish last year.
This year’s field includes seven of the top 10 and 17 of the top 25 on the LPGA money list, including Yani Tseng, Na Yeon Choi and Angela Stanford. Also on hand are teenage phenoms Lexi Thompson and amateur Lydia Ko.
The tournament also serves as one of the last chances to pick up precious points before the Solheim Cup teams are announced after the Women’s British Open at St. Andrew’s on Aug. 1-4. The Solheim will be played Aug. 15-18 at Colorado Golf Club.
Many will also be watching St. Andrew’s to see if Park can collect a fourth consecutive major.
Like most events on every tour, this week’s tournament has had several sponsor changes over the years. But Farr’s name was always prominent. After last year, when the 89-year-old actor heard that the oil company from nearby Findlay was interested, he discreetly left the stage.
Stacy Lewis, the No. 2-ranked player in the world and who is sponsored by Marathon, helped close the deal.
Born in Toledo and usually trailed by a large group of friends and family wearing “Lew Crew” T-shirts, Lewis was participating in a Marathon corporate outing a year ago when the company’s CEO, Gary Heminger, surprised her by asking, “Why should I sponsor an LPGA tournament?”
“I must have given him a pretty good response because we’re at this point here today,” she replied.
Now if she can just figure out how to out-birdie everybody else in the field.
Kirk, Love III headline Sanderson Farms field
MADISON, Miss. — Former tournament champion Chris Kirk and 20-time PGA Tour winner Davis Love III highlight the field at the Sanderson Farms Classic at Annandale Golf Club.
The 4-day tournament — which is played at the same time as the British Open — begins this morning at the 7,202-yard course that has hosted the event since 1994 and served as a launching point for several young golfers’ careers.
Because most of the game’s biggest stars are across the ocean competing in the British Open, Annandale gives others a more realistic shot at winning on the PGA Tour.
Six former tournament winners are in this year’s field, including the 28-year-old Kirk who won in 2011.
Last year’s winner, Scott Stallings, earned a spot in this week’s British Open.
Five former major winners are also in the field, including Love III, Lee Janzen, David Toms, Shaun Micheel and Mike Weir.
Love III, 49, has been in the top 100 on the PGA money list for 27 straight years, going back to 1986. That streak is in danger — he is currently 158th — after he missed several months because of neck surgery earlier this year.
As is usually the case during mid-summer in Mississippi, the forecast calls for plenty of heat, humidity and the chance of thunderstorms.
If the course gets wet, Annandale’s greens can turn very forgiving and that’s led to low scores in the past. Stallings shot 24 under last year to capture the victory — beating Jason Bohn by two strokes — by shooting back-to-back 64s in the second and third rounds.
The highest ranked players in this year’s field are Charles Howell III and Kirk, who are No. 21 and No. 26 in the FedEx Cup standings, respectively.
The tournament has a $3 million purse, with $540,000 going to the winner.
Zachary Olsen leads Southern Amateur
THE WOODLANDS, Texas — Zachary Olsen eagled his final hole for an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead Wednesday after the first round of the Southern Amateur.
The 19-year-old Olsen, from Memphis, Tenn., will be a freshman at Oklahoma State.
Georgia Tech senior Ricky Werenski and 40-year-old Las Vegas developer Kevin Marsh were tied for second on the Nicklaus Course at The Club at Carlton Woods.
The winner will receive a spot next year in the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Stone beats medalist Rank in Public Links
LORTON, Va. — Joshua Stone beat qualifying medalist Garrett Rank on Wednesday in the first round of match play in the U.S. Amateur Public Links, topping the Canadian with a bogey on the first extra hole.
Stone, from Stockton, Calif., got into the match play field in a playoff Wednesday morning.
Playing in his first USGA championship, the 23-year-old Stone will face 51-year-old Sean Knapp of Oakmont, Pa., in the second round at Laurel Hill Golf Club.
Knapp beat Jon Trasamar of Minneapolis with a chip-in par on the 19th hole after squaring the match with a long eagle putt on the 18th.
The tournament is limited to players who don’t hold privileges at any course that doesn’t extend playing privileges to the general public. The 36-hole championship match is Saturday.