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8:49AM

U.S. Open third round: Chaos among the sand traps

By Art Spander

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Chaos among the sand traps. Phil Mickelson playing by his own rules, or his interpretation of the rules. Dustin Johnson playing by the skin of his teeth.

The wind blew, the bogies grew and the 118th U.S Open turned into a golf tournament of as many opinions as strokes.

Johnson had his seemingly solid lead get away before recapturing part of it Saturday in an agonizing third round at Shinnecock Hills, which definitively didn’t let its reputation as a brutal, testing course get away.

The last time the Open was here, at the eastern end of Long Island, caught between the devil and the deep, blue sea, was in 2004, and Shinnecock was so unfair that the sponsoring body, the U.S. Golf Association, decided to water the greens in the middle of the fourth round.

This time, looking for redemption as well as a tough championship, the USGA said it had learned from past mistakes and would keep Shinnecock playable. But as approach shots rolled for miles after hitting greens and golfers lost strokes along with their confidence, that promise appeared not to have been kept.

The USGA apologized for course condtions, as if that would ease the pain of those with bad scores. "Thanks guys did Bozo set the course," tweeted Ian Poulter, who shot 76.

 David Fay, a former executive director of the USGA, went on Fox TV and said the course was “close to the edge,” but Zach Johnson, a former Masters and British Open champion, who shot a 2-over-par 72, insisted, “It’s not on the edge, it’s surpassed it. It’s gone.”

That was the word that we believed would apply to Dustin Johnson, who began the day with a four-shot advantage. But it was the advantage that was gone, in a virtual flash. Dustin made double bogey on two and bogies on four, six, seven and eight, and with a 6-over 41 on the front nine he fell behind last year’s winner at Erin Hills, Brooks Koepka, and Henrik Stenson.

When the round finally was done, however, Dustin Johnson, even shooting a 7-over 41-36-77, was in a four-way tie for first at a not-surprisingly high total (for the Open) of 3-over for 54 holes, 213.

Sharing with him were Koepka (72) and two golfers who, because they were so far back after two rounds, had morning tee times, and they beat the wind — and everybody else on the course — with 4-under 66s, Paul Berger and Tony Finau.

Another shot back at 4-over 214 was 2013 winner Justin Rose, who virtually one-putted everything in sight (at least on the front) for a 73. Stenson was at 5-over 215.

Mickelson, on his 48th birthday and as frustrated as anybody — while others kept their emotions in check — had an 11-over 81 that included a two-shot penalty for hitting a moving ball when it rolled off the green at 13.

Fay, the former chief, said on TV that Mickelson should have been disqualified, but the question is whether the golfer is trying to keep the ball from rolling away or just hitting it when it is rolling.

“Phil didn’t purposely deflect or stop the ball,” said John Bodenhamer, managing director of championships for the USGA, alluding to a rule.

What Phil did, however, was a poor reflection of a man who has won every major except the U.S. Open, as if he could do what he wants.

“It was going to go down in the same spot behind the bunker,” said Mickelson, referring to where he earlier had played from. “I wasn’t going to have a shot.” So he had 10 shots. “I know it’s a two-shot penalty.”

Yes, the Open drives men mad.

Rickie Fowler shot 84 Saturday. His total of 226 was one lower than Mickelson’s 227. That two golfers far out of contention became newsworthy is part of the Open’s mystique and confusion. A few rounds at a course where par is almost impossible has golfers talking — and the media listening.

“I didn’t feel like I played badly at all,” said Dustin Johnson. “Seven over, you know, usually is a terrible score, but I mean with the way the greens got this afternoon ... they were very difficult.

“A couple of putts today I could have putted off the green. But it’s the U.S. Open. It’s supposed to be tough.”

Shinnecock was. Very, very tough.

 

6:02PM

The Open: Tiger won’t win; Dustin probably will

By Art Spander

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Halfway through a U.S. Open low in excitement and high in scoring, two assumptions are possible: Tiger Woods definitely will not win and Dustin Johnson probably will.

Neither could be considered a surprise.

Woods unquestionably was once the best golfer in the world. That was then, before aging and injuries. This is now, when Johnson could be considered the best golfer in the world. If nothing else, he’s No. 1 in the world rankings.

And after 36 holes at Shinnecock Hills Country Club, way out on Long Island, he’s in first place of this 118th Open by four strokes, at 4-under 69-67-136, the only player under par.

Woods was tied for 86th place, meaning nowhere, because only the low 60s and ties made the cut to play in the final two rounds. Tiger wasn’t bad in Friday’s second round (stop asking, “compared to whom?”). He shot a 2-over 72. If only he hadn’t shot 78 on Thursday.

That’s when, asked about his mindset after a round that included a triple bogey and two doubles, Woods advised, “Shoot something in the 60s (Friday) and I’ll be just fine.”

He didn’t and he wasn’t. That’s what happens in sports. You can plan, you can practice, but in the end you have to produce. 

Tiger produced for years. Now the production is from Johnson, trying for his second Open championship in three years. “Dustin,” said Woods, grouped with Johnson, “was in complete control of what he’s doing.”

Such a glorious feeling in golf. In life. For everything to go the way we want it, if only for a brief while. Yet bliss can end in the blink of an eye.

In football, the line is you’re always one play away from an injury. In golf, you’re one swing away from disaster — or from success.

Johnson is well aware. He led another U.S. Open, in 2010 at Pebble Beach, and in the final round, his drive on two landed in a bunker. The next thing he and we knew, Dustin went triple bogey, double bogey, bogey on two, three and four, respectively, losing six shots like that and blowing himself out of the tournament.

What Ian Poulter did on Friday at Shinnecock wasn’t quite as severe, but it was no less unfortunate. One shot behind at eight, his 17th hole of the round, Poulter went into a bunker on his approach, bladed the sand shot and took a triple bogey. Then he bogeyed nine.

“It looks really stupid,” Poulter said of his mis-hitting. “I felt stupid knifing the first one. I felt even more stupid chunking the next one. And I didn’t do much better on the next one either.”

A humbling game, golf. Such a harsh description. Such an honest description. Tiger Woods? Five amateurs had lower scores for two rounds in this Open than Tiger. One of them, Matt Parziale, is a fireman in Brockton, Mass. He made the cut.

What a strange Open his has been, with the stars making bogies and double bogies — but Phil Mickelson at least made the cut; Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy did not — the weather turning from light morning wind and rain to late afternoon stillness and sunshine.

Johnson went off the 10th tee at 8:02 a.m. EDT with Woods and Justin Thomas. Conditions were less than ideal. Yet when you’re playing well, the weather is secondary. You just hit and march on.

“Starting out,” said Johnson, “through our first seven or eight holes it was breezy and overcast. So it felt like the course was playing really difficult. But I got off to a nice start. I kind of hung in there and made some good saves for pars.”

Woods, 42, had years of success. He believes he’ll find it once more, which is understandable, if not quite realistic. His putting, once magnificent, now is best described as mediocre. And there’s no record of a golfer who became a better putter as he got older.

“You don’t win major championships,” said Woods, who has won 14, “by kind of slapping all over the place and missing putts. You have to be on.”

Which is why, while others play the last two rounds, he’s off.

 

8:37PM

Ted Potter beats Dustin — and everyone else at the AT&T

By Art Spander

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Ted Potter is what happens to golf. Which is the great thing about the game. Or, if you’re hoping for a winner who is famous, even familiar, conversely one of the problems.

It doesn’t matter if Potter isn’t one of those handsome young guys like Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson. Or one of those famous older guys like Phil Mickelson. He beat everyone, including Spieth, Johnson and Mickelson, to take the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Well, in a way it does matter, because golf, a sport without team loyalty as is tennis, needs instantly recognizable champions, so that those peripherally interested in the game won’t look up and ask, “Who’s he?”

Potter is a portly 34-year-old with thinning hair. You won’t be seeing him in any commercials. But after his three-shot victory Sunday, worth virtually $1.3 million, you will be seeing him high on the money list and, no less significantly, in the field of the Masters in three months.

You’d have thought Johnson, the world's No. 1, a two-time AT&T winner, would be the champion. He began the last round at Pebble Beach tied with Potter at 14 under par, and after two holes he had a one-shot lead.

But Dustin was the one who was stagnant, with a total of four bogies and four birdies, for a 72, while Potter, after a bogey on the first hole, made four birdies and no bogies over the next 17 holes for a 69.

That gave him a 72-hole total of 17-under 270. (Pebble and Spyglass Hill are par 72; the third course in the rotation, where Potter shot 62 Saturday, is Monterey Peninsula, par 71).

Tied for second at 273 were the 47-year-old Mickelson, who shot 67; Chez Reavie, 68; Day, 70, and Johnson. 

Potter, who turned pro out of high school in Florida, probably needed the victory more than Dustin and Phil, or Spieth and Day, major winners all. Nearly four years ago, in July 2014, after missing the cut in the Canadian Open, Potter, flip-flops on his feet, slipped off a curb near his Montreal hotel and broke his right ankle.

He was off the Tour for three years. Even at the AT&T, he entered as a Web.com Tour member and was unsure of getting into the coming week’s Genesis Open at Riviera in Southern California. But now he’s fully exempt, if still not fully known — by the public or some of his fellow competitors.

“There’s a lot of new guys I haven’t met in the last couple of years,” he conceded. ”It’s still an individual game.”

A game in which Potter, who six years ago won his only other Tour event, the 2012 Greenbrier Classic, struggled after his injury, at one point missing 24 cuts in a row. But fellow pro Russell Knox has said Potter is the most talented player he’s ever battled.

Talented, yes, but as Potter admits, a trifle lackadaisical. “I’ve never been a hard worker, I guess,” he said. “I mean, I’m probably better than I think I am.”

He and Johnson were in the final group Sunday, and even if it wasn’t match play there was a feeling of head-to-head. “I had a great day today,” Potter agreed. “Dustin wasn’t, I guess, on his game.”

Johnson said as much. He thought he was prepared, but shots just flew over Pebble’s small greens. They also did for Potter, but on the short par-3 7th, the signature hole, he chipped in for a birdie. “That was one of those moments,” said Potter, who hadn’t had many of late.

Mickelson, a four-time AT&T winner, made a strong run, an indication that although he doesn’t have a victory since the 2015 British Open, Phil might break through again.

“I’ve played similarly all four weeks,” Mickelson said of his rounds this year. “I’ve had much better results the last two weeks (he tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open). I’m going to try and take the momentum and carry it to Riviera.”

As is Ted Potter, a Mr. Nobody who now very much is somebody.

6:34PM

Is Dustin a lock to win the AT&T? Unpredictable

By Art Spander

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — So there’s Dustin Johnson, No. 1 in the world rankings, tied for first three rounds into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which he’s already won twice.

Meaning? Absolutely nothing, and then again a great deal.

The guy sharing first place with Johnson is Ted Potter Jr. That’s Ted Potter, not Harry, and you’d probably think Dustin is a lock to win. But if there’s anything more unpredictable than golf it hasn’t been invented yet, although maybe the weather is a distant second.

Who would have thought that Potter, 34, a one-time winner on Tour, would go out Saturday and shoot a nine-under-par 62 at Monterey Peninsula, where Friday Johnson shot a 64? So MPCC isn’t Augusta National, or even Pebble Beach, where Saturday Johnson had a two-under 70, It still has 18 holes and can be tricky.

As three-time major champion Rory McIlroy knows all too well. He shot a 74 there Friday, which is the reason he missed the cut. Would you have imagined that Rory would be 13 shots worse than Potter on a relatively easy course — keyword, relatively?

Johnson and Potter both were at 14-under-par for 54 holes, a round on each of the courses used for the first three days of the tournament, Pebble, Monterey and Spyglass Hill. Everyone who made the cut, low 60 and ties for the pros, low 25 for the amateurs, plays Pebble for Sunday’s final round.

Making the cut was four-time AT&T champion Phil Mickelson, who at Pebble had a three-putt par on the par-five sixth and a three-putt bogey on 18. His even-par 72 left him five shots back at 206. Missing the cut by three shots at 211 was Gary Woodland, who seven days earlier won the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Did I mention golf was unpredictable?

Or that Potter, who started at 10, bogied his last two holes — after making birdies on his first four (10 through 13) and six of his first seven? Or that Potter is a righthander who plays lefthanded, as is Mickelson? Or that while conditions still were pleasant enough, people and dogs packing the beach at Pebble, a cool breeze arrived for the first time in days?

“The wind out there on the point made the last three holes pretty tough,” said Potter. “But it was a great round today. I’ll go out (Sunday) and feel good about my game. As long as I can keep the nerves under control, I’ll be fine.”

Johnson figured out to do that a couple of years ago. He became infamous for falling apart in the final round of the 2010 U.S, Open at Pebble and missing a playoff by a shot in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Then he turned into a terror, winning event after event, including the 2016 U.S. Open.

“I was playing solid,” Johnson said of his third round. "I feel like it’s in really good form going into (Sunday). I’m going to be in good position, but I’m going to have to go out and play really well if I want a chance to win.”

He has a chance, an excellent one. So does Potter. So do Jason Day and Troy Merritt, tied for third at 203.

Asked if the vibe changes for the final round of any tournament, Johnson said, “Yeah, it does for sure. Sunday you start focusing a little bit more. Probably should have focused more today. But yeah, on Sunday, we’re trying to win the golf tournament.”

Isn’t that the whole idea any day?

 

9:20AM

The Athletic: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am endures as a singular celebration of golf

By Art Spander
The Athletic

PEBBLE BEACH — You start with arguably one of the game’s three most impressive datelines — St. Andrews and Augusta are the other two — add decades of history, laughs and people named Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and are blessed with an event that’s as much a treasure as it is a tournament.

The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is a mid-winter celebration of sport and, yes, entertainment, when amateurs — some with big names, some with big games — pair up with champions on three courses that are as beautiful as they are testing: Pebble, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

Read the full story here.

 

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