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Tiger, Rory lead storylines to watch out for at Pebble Beach

Joy Chakravarty

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Former World No. 1 Tiger Woods returns to the venue of his iconic U.S. Open victory in 2000 following his 15th Major triumph at The Masters recently.

Dubai: Finally, the U.S. Open, almost always in the spotlight because of wrong reasons over the last few years, looks set to be remembered as a proper golf contest.

The United States Golf Association (USGA), which conducts the championship, have taken great pride in their objective of providing the toughest test of golf at the U.S. Open, but have often went overboard in tricking up the golf courses.

In their zealous pursuit, the USGA has let playing conditions get out of hand several times in the past. In the 2004 edition at Shinnecock Hills, the seventh hole became so hard and fast, it had to be watered in between groups. In 2015 at Chambers Bay, the greens were so bad that Henrik Stenson referred to them as ‘broccoli’. 2016 was the year of the Dustin Johnson rules fiasco. And in 2018, there was the unforgettable sight of a frustrated Phil Mickelson running after his putt and hitting his next while the ball was still in motion during the third round.

Those who have already reached the stunning golf course in Monterey County have praised the way it has been set up for this week. India’s Anirban Lahiri, who qualified for the tournament after finishing second in the Sectionals last week at Columbus, quipped: “Doesn’t feel like the US Open! There is nothing to complain about the golf course this year!”

Now that the course is not the centre of attention, let’s focus on the tournament. And it promises to be a cracker with several compelling storylines. Let’s have a look…

Tiger returns to a venue he blitzed in 2000

No talk of a Major tournament these days is complete without Tiger Woods. The 15-time Major champion will be looking for his 16th at Pebble Beach, the place where he set the record books on fire en route to his 2000 triumph.

That year, Woods won by 15 shots! It kickstarted the ‘Tiger Slam’, when he had possession of all four Major titles, winning the Open Championship and PGA Championship in 2000 and the Masters in 2001. He started the week with a 65 and ended with a Sunday 67 for a 12-under par total, virtually lapping the field. Second-placed Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez were at three-over.

However, that was 19 years ago. Woods did win the Masters earlier this year, but he also missed the cut at the PGA Championship last month. He grew up in the area, so is used to the tricky poa annua greens. And his immaculate control over his iron shots will be a huge factor at Pebble.

Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy

McIlroy heads to Pebble in sizzling form

There was some concern about Rory McIlroy when he missed the cut at The Memorial after two fairly average outings at Majors – T21 at the Masters and T8 at the PGA Championship. This, despite the fact that he has a whopping nine top-10s in 11 starts, including a win at the Players Championship.

Any such talks were consigned to the trash bin after a most spectacular victory last week at the RBC Canadian Open, where he shot rounds of 64 and 61 over the weekend to romp home by seven shots.

There is just one issue though. Pebble Beach is not a golf course which can be dominated with the driver, which really has been McIlroy’s most lethal weapon. Will that change his gameplan, or are we in for yet another masterclass of aggressive golf from him?

Brooks Koepka

Koepka goes for a repeat and three-peat

It’s not beyond the realms of imagination, at least not with Brooks Koepka and the kind of form he is in. If Koepka wins on Sunday, it will be his fifth Major title, a third straight US Open and a second straight Major after winning the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black last month.

For the record, no golfer has ever won the US Open three times in a row in modern era (Willie Anderson won in 1903, ’04 and ’05).

Can Koepka do it? Form and his confidence level would suggest so. And then there is also the fact that he was so good getting out of the thick roughs at Bethpage Black. Brawn and brain is always a terrific combination.

Mickelson and his quest for Slam

Every US Open, and not without reason, Phil Mickelson seems to be one of the most engaging stories. The five-time Major champion needs just that one title to complete a career Grand Slam.

Mickelson has finished runner-up six times in the tournament, held every week during his birthday. It’s on Sunday this time, so there really could not be a better gift for himself than the U.S. Open trophy.

No player has won a Major aged 49 (Julius Boros was the oldest, winning the 1968 PGA Championship at 48 years, four months and 18 days), but then Mickelson seems ageless. He actually won at Pebble Beach earlier this year (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), and that should count for something.

The resurgence of Spieth

It will remain one of golf’s greatest modern-day mysteries that Jordan Spieth, the man who could do no wrong not too long ago, went without a top-10 finish for 43 weeks after the 2018 Open Championship (where he was tied ninth).

The American has the most sublime touch on the greens, but started struggling with the flat club, and that put some pressure on his long game as well.

However, a tied third place at the PGA Championship saw him returning to form with the putter and he has had two further top-10s in two starts after that. This could be the week where everything comes together for Spieth and a fourth Major title is not a wild thought.

Johnson’s chance to get even at Pebble

Dustin Johnson arrived at Pebble Beach as a precocious 26-year-old during the 2010 U.S. Open. He had won the AT&T Pebble Beach twice (2009 and ’10) and was being looked upon as one of the favourites.

DJ did not disappoint, racing to a three-shot lead after the third round at six-under par. But in his quest for a first Major, he collapsed on the final day. An early triple and a double bogey took him out of contention and he wound up with an 82.

Nine years later, he has a chance to get even. Johnson, who severed ties with coach Claude Harmon III after the PGA Championship, knows how to handle the golf course and is in good form. The other motivation is reclaiming his world No1 ranking from Koepka.

Anirban ready to break US Open hoodoo

This is Anirban Lahiri’s third appearance at the U.S. Open—his first two being disappointing missed cuts. The Indian ace, who turns 32 later this month, hasn’t had a good year, but is showing signs of regaining his form of late.

Not only will a good finish in the U.S. Open look good on his resume, he also needs it given his tenuous position in the FedEx Cup. The other issue he’d be facing is that this is his first visit to Pebble Beach, having never played a PGA Tour event there before.

But Lahiri’s irons are becoming hot, and they will be critical on the iconic course which is well known for the small size of its greens.

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My dream is to represent India at Olympics, says golfer Gaurika Bishnoi

Mahima Katariya

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Gaurika Bishnoi
Gaurika Bishnoi

New Delhi: Gaurika Bishnoi’s reaction was worth watching when asked to comment on golf’s inclusion in the Olympics. The Indian professional golfer excitedly said, “For me, my dream event has been the Olympics. It is fantastic that now golf is a part of the Olympics.”

But she is also a bit disappointed as she has to wait till 2024 to represent India at the Games. “Unfortunately, I have to wait for the 2024 Olympics. Since I just graduated, so three years, it’s been juggling between studies and sports, it gets a little tough to do two things at a time. But I’m pretty optimistic about my chances in 2024,” Gaurika told Sports Lounge.

Golf was an Olympics sport in 1900 and 1904 and returned to the fold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She said her source of motivation is Aditi Ashok, a fellow professional Indian golfer who also took part at the Rio Games. In 2017, Aditi became India’s first golfer in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

Gaurika’s target is to emulate Aditi.  “I’m really inspired by Aditi. We have played and travelled together. I have seen how much she has improved and dedicated herself to the game. It is always better to have very relatable idols and I draw motivation from her,” she said.

The 22-year-old Gaurika is playing golf for almost the last 10 years. She was the top ranked profesional women’s golfer of the country in 2017-18 and also picked up her maiden title of the season in Hero WPG Tour.

She is satisfied with her performance till now. “I am happy to be the number one player in the country. But as a sports person, we always feel that we can get better and better, it is a never ending process.”

To improve, Gaurika takes feedback about her game regularly. According to her, she has definitely improved herself. “I would want to play on the European Tour with the full card. So I think that’s my next target now.”

The sports ministry granted has granted a 90-day lifeline to the Indian Golf Union (IGU) to run the sport after de-recognising it for failure to implement the National Sports Code. The Indian Olympic Association has formed a governance panel to run the sport and appointed Women’s Golf Association of India’s president (WGAI) Kavita Singh to chair its meetings.

When Gaurika was asked about her views on the issue she said, “It is very unfortunate what happened with IGU. “But Kavita ma’m genuinely loves the sport. So I am very sure that Kavita ma’m will do whatever best can be done for the golfers in India.”

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Wolf claims Hero Women’s Indian Open, Anika best placed Indian at 5th

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Christine Wolf
Christine Wolf, winner of Hero Women's Indian Open 2019 with Dr Pawan Munjal, Chairman, Hero MotoCorp

Gurugram: The country’s top amateur golfer Anika Varma finished a creditable fifth in the Hero Women’s Indian Open with a 3-under par aggregate of 285 and a final day card of two-under 70.

The 15-year-old Anika was one shot ahead of best-placed home professional Tvesa Malik, who was tied sixth at one-under 287.

“I was pretty nervous in the beginning but as soon as I hit my first tee shot I felt fine. I had a good group (with Sweden’s Emma Nilsson and Manon De Roey of Belgium) today and I enjoyed playing with them. That helped me play well too,” Anika said.

“I was pretty consistent today, just had one double (bogey) on the 16th. Before that, I was doing pretty good and I didn’t miss a single regulation before the 16th hole, I think only that one and the 18th, which was the highlight of my day.”

Last year, Tvesa had finished as the best home golfer at tied 13th and Sunday’s result was significant progress for the LET rookie as well.

“I think it was a little bit more of a struggle but I am happy with my overall performance for the week. I think I am happy with my game and the way I handled the pressure on the course, so I’m quite pleased overall,” said Tvesa.

“I missed a lot of putts so that was not a great part of my game. On the 18th hole, I definitely wasn’t expecting that to happen at all (chip-in from off the green) so I’m glad I could make a birdie from there.”

Christine Wolf of Austria buried the ghosts of the past with a bogey-free final round to clinch her maiden Ladies European Tour title.

The HWIO and the DLF Golf and Country Club is becoming a happy hunting ground for first-time winners. Following Welsh veteran Becky Morgan’s breakthrough win after 19 long years on the Ladies European Tour in 2018, it was the 30-year-old Austrian Wolf’s turn as she grabbed her first title after six years on the Tour.

Wolf, who received the trophy from Hero MotoCorp Chairman Pawan Munjal, showed no nervousness on the final day as she delivered a commanding bogey-free final round of 69 to total 11-under 277 and win with rounds of 73, 68, 67 and 69.

She finished three shots ahead of Marianne Skarpnord (70 and eight-under) and four ahead of MacLaren (72 and seven-under). Whitney Hillier, the halfway co-leader, shot 72 and was sole fourth at six-under.

Last year, Wolf fumbled twice. First on the third day while being well ahead and on the final day, when she was tied for the lead. She shot a quadruple bogey on the third day and a double bogey on the final day and finished Tied-second allowing Morgan to grab the title. This time, there was to be no such error.

“I’m super happy obviously with this first LET win, but also that I did it here,” said a beaming Wolf.

“Everyone knew of last year’s drama coming into the week here so to win by three shots was very nice. But you can’t get ahead of yourself in golf and I was obviously a little nervous.”

Among other Indians, Astha Madan (70 and 2-over 290) was Tied-19th, Vani Kapoor (75 and 3-over 291) was T-21st, Diksha Dagar (74 and 7-over 295) was Tied-32nd, Amandeep Drall (78 and 9-over 297) was T-37th, amateur Pranavi Urs (75 and 11-over 299) and Gaurika Bishnoi (77 and 11-over 299) were Tied-47th.

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Wolf leads, Anika best-placed Indian at Women’s Indian Open golf

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Anika verma
Anika Verma.

Gurugram: Teenager Anika Verma shot a stunning five-under 67 in the third round to be the best ranked Indian at tied ninth alongside compatriot Tvesa Malik in the Hero Women’s Indian Open golf tournament.

The 15-year-old Anika, who had six birdies, five of them on the front nine, against one bogey added a 67 to her first two round scores of 76-72.

While Tvesa followed her even par 72-72 with a 71. The duo are one-under par 215, seven shots behind leader Christine Wolf.

“I left a few shots out there on the course but I made the putts when I needed them. Overall, I’m very happy with my first under-par round of the week and positive about tomorrow,” Tvesa said.

Meanwhile, Wolf exorcised the ghosts of the past with a birdie on the 18th in the third round to take sole possession of the lead after 54 holes. She is now eight-under and one shot clear of Meghan MacLaren (69).

Another shot behind at seven-under 209 was Marianne Skarpnord (71), the highest-ranked player from the LET Order of Merit in this field.

Vani Kapoor shot an even par 72 to be tied-13th at one-over 217, following a steady round, in the course of which she swapped two bogeys for as many birdies.

Amandeep Drall could not build on her momentum of Friday with a three-over 75 that dropped her into a tie for 27th place at three-over 219.

Astha Madan was next best at four-over 220 (73, 75, 72) with her first par round of the week.

Diksha Dagar too left shots out on the course and is now tied 36th at five-over 221 (72, 73, 76) and Gaurika Bishnoi was tied-42 at six-over 222 (73, 74, 75).

Anika, till recently India’s top ranked junior and a qualifier in the US Girls Championship earlier in the year, hit six birdies and looked poised to bring in a bogey-free card till she dropped a shot on the intimidating par-4 17th hole. That was her only blemish of the day as she showed great composure and calm.

“I kept hitting it very good today. I didn’t need very long putts other than the eighth hole where I needed a little over 20 feet for the conversion. Most of my approach shots were within range so I could just go for most of the putts,” Anika said.

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