TPC River HIghlands, 6,841 yards, par 70, Hartford,
Defending champion: Jordan Spieth
Spieth sank a 60 foot bunker shot on the first playoff hole to prevail over Daniel Berger at TPC River Highlands. Spieth reaction was spectacular as he tossed his club to the ground jumped up and did a powerful shoulder bump with his caddie Michael Greller nearly knocking Greller down. It was phenomenal. However, Spieth is 188th on the tour in strokes gained putting this year and hasn't won since last year's Open Championship victory at Royal Birkdale. He'll need to putt better to be in contention with a chance to win here on Sunday and to tune up his game for the Open, which will be played at Carnoustie in Scotland this year.
TV: Thursday-Friday, 2:30-5:30 PM CT, Golf Channel; Saturday-Sunday, 12-1:45 PM CT, Golf Channel, 2-5 PM CT, CBS.
On Golf Channel in their Alternate Shot debate last night, Golf Channel analysts Geoff Shackelford and Matt Adams discussed a couple of interesting topics.
The first was which golfer is the favorite going into the Open. Adams said Dustin, and Shackelford went with Tommy Fleetwood. Those are both good choices, however Fleetwood's 63 was terrific on Sunday at the Open, but the course was setup much easier than Saturday and it could have very easily been a 62 had he not missed a 5 footer on 18. He just misread it. He read it inside left, in the hole, but the ball was actually a ball out left to right. It was very relevant because that would have put him at +1 and Brooks Koepka , the champion who now has back to back victories at the U.S. Open, bogeyed 18 which, if Fleetwood had birdied 18, would have sent the 2 players into a 4 hole aggregate playoff, a new playoff format initiated this year by the PGA Tour after having 18 hole playoffs on Mondays in the past. Instead, Koepka, at even par, had a 2 shot lead going into 18 and made a low stress bogey to win a pretty boring Open that didn't offer much drama on Sunday after a terrific day on Saturday. Koepka is an awesome player, but a little bit on the boring side. It was a disappointing Sunday. The Opens just haven't been the same since FOX started broadcasting them. Chambers Bay in 2015 was exciting with the golf, but the course was so bad, with trains coming by the 17th green, that it took away from the excitement of the tournament. Last year at Erin Hills, Koepka played well again on Sunday, but there was no competition. Oakmont in 2016 was saturated with rain and played much easier. I called it Jokemont. FOX keeps getting better with their coverage, but we need a better Open. Next year the Open will be held at Pebble Beach so hopefully it will hold up to its billing as the toughest test in golf. After Saturday's difficult day, which I loved personally because I like to see these guys sweat, the USGA listened to the criticism by the players and the media, and overcompensated on Sunday by making the course much easier with softer greens and much more accessible pin placements. So Koepka didn't have to sweat it out on 18 which is not the mark of a classic Open. He should've been nervous to the core and been sweating over that tee shot on the 72nd hole. His second shot should have demanded him to pick the right club and hit the green or have a highly difficult time getting up and down for par and winning the tournament. It was too easy for him. So the USGA needs to get it together and make this Open an epic like it has been in the past. I like the players complaining, that means the golf course is winning and they're struggling, which is what the U.S. Open is about. It should be the toughest test in golf. So they need to get this right next year or the Open is going to start losing viewers. Fleetwood's 63 was great, but Shackelford and Adams discussed the greatest final round in major history and I'll get to that in a minute with my own thoughts.
Dustin still can falter when the pressure is on as he showed last Saturday at Shinnecock. I like Patrick Reed heading into Carnoustie. He's one of my favorites. I like the way Daniel Berger and Tony Finau are competing. Jon Rahm is certainly in the discussion.
The second issue Geoff and Matt were asked to debate was what is the greatest final round in major championship history. Geoff went with Arnie's 65 at Cherry Hills in Denver in the 1960 U.S. Open. The King was trailing by 7 shots heading into the final round which was 36 holes on a Saturday and gave the players 30 minutes for lunch between the 3rd and 4th rounds. Arnie asked sportswriters Bob Drum and Dan Jenkins, according to the Denver Post, how far they thought a 65 might go in the final round. That would leave him at 280.
Doesn't 280 always win the Open? Palmer asked.
"Yeah, when it's Hogan who shoots it, Jenkins replied.
Drum's response, Won't do you a damn bit of good.
Arnie was steamed. He hit a few practice shots on the practice tee and 4 hours later he won his 3rd major championship and first U.S. Open. An interesting part of this was on the first tee when Palmer, angered by Drum's and Jenkins' comments, pulled his persimmon driver out on the tee box of the 346 yard hole. Palmer lashed his balata covered ball which flew through the air into the rough, took a small hop and landed on the green. He made birdie and his greatest comeback was underway. His 65 beat out young amateur Jack Nicklaus and legend Ben Hogan. There's a plaque today commemorating Palmer on the first tee box at Cherry Hills. Two years ago, when the PGA Tour stopped at the historic course for a tournament, pros were given a chance to duplicate Palmer's shot using the outdated and inferior persimmon driver and balata ball, the way Palmer did back in the day. Nobody could reach the green. So the Bombers today have a lot more help with the golf ball and the equipment that is amped up to help guys like Johnson and Koepka hit it a ton. Arnie won 7 majors, the 1958, '60, '62 and '64 Masters, the '60 U.S. Open, and the '61 and '62 Open Championships.
Adams picked the victory by Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open where he beat out Harry Vardon, the number one player in the world, and Ted Ray, the number 2 player in the world. Vardon had won the 1900 U.S. Open and 5 Open Championships and Ray had just won the Open Championship in 2012. The U.S, Open was played at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass. After 72 holes of regulation the tournament ended in a 3 way tie between the 3 players, Ouimet won it the next day in an 18 hole playoff shooting 1 under and beating Vardon by 5 shots and Ray by 6. The great victory is depicted in the classic 2005 movie, The Greatest Game Ever Played. If you love golf and haven't seen it, I would highly recommend watching it.
Both of those choices were excellent and I'd go with either one. Johnny Miller's 63 at Oakmont in 1973 was one I saw and was brilliant golf. But I think I'll choose Shackelford's choice of Arnie. The King's final round at the '60 Open is the greatest of all time in my opinion also.
Key Holes at TPC River Highlands
No. 15, 296 yards, par 4
One of the exciting holes on the PGA Tour, this 296 yard, par 4 forces players to make good decisions. There is water on the left and sand on the right. Anywhere from 2 to 6 can be made on this hole.
No. 16, 171 yards, par 3
The scenic par 3 requires a well struck mid iron to clear the forced carry over water and stop the ball on a narrow green. The green has a lot of slope and pin locations can be tough.
No. 17, 420 yards, par 4
This is an intimidating hole. Players must hit their tee shots between a large lake that covers the entire right side and the difficult fairway bunkers on the left. A good drive is the first part of trying to get par on this hole. The approach shot is over water the entire way and with wind club selection is critical. Winds will be 7-10 for the 3 days and rain chances Saturday and minimal rain chances Sunday with very good weather tomorrow and Friday. Crowds will be huge at No.17 as it can be the breaking point of the tournament.
No.18, 444 yards, par 4
This is a perfect finishing hole as it allows a player to make birdie if he plays the hole well. At 444 yards, a good drive leaves the player a mid to short iron into the green. The green will be rowdy with spectators. There is a bunker on the front right side, the one Jordan Spieth blasted out of and sank his shot to win last year.
There is a super field this week with 6 of the top 10 players in the world playing. Brooks Koepka is playing, Jordan Spieth is playing, Rory McIlory is playing, Patrick Reed is playing, Bubba Watson is playing and Jason Day is playing. But I'm going with the 25 year old from Plantation, Florida, who finished tied for 6th last week at the Open and was in a tie for the lead on the final day. He won the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic in 2016 and '17 and shot a 67 here on the final day last year here. He's not going to finish second this year.