Saturday, July 19, 2008

Shipnuck Alan Shipnuck, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, covered the final groups' third round  this morning. He blogged the early rounds on Friday, and Gary Van Sickle took the afternoon shift. 

11:49 a.m. PT OK, let's do some prognosticating. After his stellar up-and-down at the last Norman is at +2. Choi and Harrington are two back and obviously the biggest threats tomorrow. Just for fun, let's say they both shoot 80 in the 25 mph winds, then what? Count on Wakefield (+5), playing only his fourth career major, to blow up. Curtis (+7) is definitely a threat - quite simply he has a flair for links golf. I expect him to play well tomorrow. I also love the fearlessness of Anthony Kim (+7) and was cheered to see how pumped-up he was after eagling 17. He thinks he can still win, but I'm not so sure. Not yet. Tomorrow will take monumental patience and he's still a bit frisky. Here's the bottom line: If either Kim or Curtis plays great and shoots a 69 Norman still needs only a 74 to tie. Someone will definitely go out early and post a lowish round. I like Stenson (+8) or Mediate (+8) or Goosen (+9) or Immelman (+11) but I think they're all too far back. So, all that said, who's gonna win? I like the defending champ, Paddy. The crowd will be with him and since his opening 74 he's been getting strong and stronger. I expect Norman will hang tough but he has a lifetime of scar tissue to overcome. But even if Shark doesn't win he has elevated this tournament to a completely different level. Tomorrow could be epic. At the very least, it will be thrilling.

11:32 a.m. PT Norman's spectacular finishing kick - as he walks up 18 he's played the last seven holes in 2-under - has greatly simplified this Open. This is now his tournament, win or lose. He's the story. Not only is Shark leading by two, but there are only three players within five strokes. Either Norman will pull off the crowning achievement of his career or solidify his place as the game's most tragic loser. It doesn't matter who wins if Norman loses, he's still the story.

11:01 a.m. PT I am in awe of Greg Norman. Through 16 holes his game has been rock-solid and he looks utterly at ease playing with the lead. If he can somehow pull this off it will instantly go down as one of the greatest victories in golf history. It's not just that Norman is 53. More amazingly it that he has been a part time golfer, at best, for the last decade. When Nicklaus pulled off his miracle at Augusta in 1986 he was only six years removed from his epic 1980 season during which he won two major championships. Norman hasn't even sniffed a major since the '99 Masters and hasn't won anything of note since before that. Talk about back from the dead. And it goes without saying what a boost a Norman victory would be at the beginning of this Tigerless epoch.

10:21 a.m. PT By the way, how good is my Furyk prediction looking now? Dude is six over par on his first five holes of the back nine. Yikes.

10:12 a.m. PT Norman just had another adventure putting out on 13, which brings us to my colleague Charlie Hanger, who writes,"Conditions are silly, but so is the rule. What do you think of it? Why assess a penalty stroke when the wind is crazy like this?" You assess a penalty stroke because that is the rule - if the ball moves after you address your ball, you get zinged. The obvious solution is to never ground your putter and let it hover behind the ball, but this feels awkward if you rarely do it. So whether you ground the putter or not there is a level of unease and uncertainty, which explains, in part, why nobody is making putts.

9:39 a.m. PT So let's look into the crystal ball: With leaders Choi and Norman now at +4 and everyone on the course getting beat down mentally and physically, it's likely that Simon Wakefield, in the clubhouse at +5, will be leading at day's end. That means anyone at +10 (right now 29 players) or even +11 (36) are in the ballgame tomorrow. Some early rounds are now looking monumental, beginning with Anthony Kim's 71 that has him at +7 and currently tied for 7th with a bullet. I've always been a Henrik Stenson fan, and his 70 has propelled him 37 spots to 15th. And then there's Ben Curtis, whose 70 shot him 31 places, to +7. As crazy as this round has already been tomorrow - even with milder weather - could be that much wilder.

9:28 a.m. PT Sorry, little breakfast break there... I'm watching Choi and Norman try to putt out on 10 as their balls and putter heads are blowing around. As much as I love tough conditions, this is getting silly. You don't want this tournament decided by penalty strokes on the greens.

8:50 a.m. PT Faithful reader Jeff writes "It's moving day at The Open...I've been up here on the west coast in Canada for many hours now watching the coverage and hanging on your every word...question: is there a special Open moving day breaky I should be enjoying, or is cold pizza more than adequate? I know you won't let me down." Honestly, I don't know what's saddest aspect of this post: living in Canada, having cold pizza for breakfast or the fact that anybody out there is hanging on my every word. Jeff, you need counsel from a qualified professional, not the likes of me.

8:43 a.m. PT This is a macho quartet atop the leaderboard at +2: Furyk, Harrington, Choi, Norman. No one else is within three strokes. There's obviously a ton of golf left but at this moment you gotta assume the winner is going to be one of these four guys, and Furyk has to rate as the favorite. Making back-to-back birdies in these conditions - as Furyk has done on 8 and 9 - constitutes an epic charge, and his game is perfect for this weather: ball-control, and then a great short game for scrambling whenever you miss a green.

8:31 a.m. PT Reader Jeff writes,"Given the conditions and the scoring thus far, what score be leading at the end of the day? My guess is +5." If I was any of those poor bastards out on the course right now I would take +5 and run.

8:10 a.m. PT On the beastly 6th hole Choi just made his first bogey in 22 holes - in this case, a double -  a truly remarkable stretch that may or may not key his victory. To put it in perspective: In his two rounds Vijay Singh had consecutive bogey streaks of 7 holes and four holes, which speaks speaks volumes about both men.

8:06 a.m. PT In the comments section below "Watcher" begins a post with "Serious question..." No kidding. We're as serious as cancer here. Anyway, the post posits: "Is this exciting or tedious? I realize the wind is a factor and it's the same for all players and watch[ing] "craft shotmakers" navigate the course can make the golf purist weep into his tam-o-shanter. But if we gave the USBank classic the same field, and the same hagiographical coverage and reverential blather, wouldn't people be just as thrilled to see the best players in the world going low? Your thoughts?" I see the point. No tournament in golf, including the Masters, is viewed as reverentially as the Open, and sometimes it can be over-the-top. But just about every week fans get to watch their heroes go low, in perfect playing conditions. The whole essence of the Open is that it offers a unique challenge, and thus demands a different skill set. It would be tedious watching guys fight for bogey week after week, but for this event, in these conditions, I find it thrilling.

7:59 a.m. PT It's truly enlightening watching the Open with little ones. I have been joined on the couch by my three girls, all of them under the age of 5. So far what they have most enjoyed is the IBM commercial with the 'Wizard of Oz' music and any graphic that features the Claret Jug, because of an abiding family love of trophies, stoked by the shrine on my desk to my old athletic achievements, such as they are. Also the source of much levity is the word 'bogey'. In the Shipnuck household we say that instead of 'booger', so to my daughters it sounds as if the announcers keep talking about the crusty stuff hanging out of Greg Norman's nose.

7:48 a.m. PT Let's take a moment to appreciate Paddy Harrington. A few days ago it looked like he might have to W/D due to his wrist and now he's in solo second. But he clearly needs better coaching. If he wants to be lionized like Tiger at Torrey he needs to start milking his injury more effectively. More grimaces, more rubbing his wrist, popping Advil for the cameras, etc. Not to suggest Tiger was overdoing it, but Padraig is clearly too understated for his own good.

7:46 a.m. PT Norman just played a beautiful 5 iron approach on the 4th hole...from 121 yards!!!! Is links golf cool or what?

7:27 a.m. PT We've got our first TV coverage rant in the comments section. If you people were as engaged in the political process or in discovering renewable energy sources or any number of other uplifting endeavors the world would be in much better shape. Yes, the BBC feed by way of TNT/ABC has been truly lame, and it's pathetic when the cameraman on the third hole loses in the air both Norman's and Choi's drives, but let's try to focus on the positives. I'm struggling to come up with any right now, but I'm sure there must be some...

7:20 a.m. PT I've always been a big K.J. Choi fan. I like to stand on the range and listen to him hit balls. It's just a different sound, his strike is so pure. Earlier this year I was talking to his people about possibly going to Korea this fall to trace his incredible journey from a rural farming town to the top of the golf world. I'm thinking I better re-start those conversations, because at this moment Choi feels like a lock to win this thing.

7:09 a.m. PT The first talk of suspending play has begun on the telecast, so you know it's windy. Me, I'm absolutely loving this. This round is going to be a war of attrition, pure and simple. The majors are supposed to separate the men from the boys, and whomever survives these 35 mph gales will have earned  their shot at the jug.

6:56 a.m. PT Sorry, I would have been typing here sooner but I had technical difficulties. And by technical difficulties I mean I overslept, the residual effect of my 4 a.m. blog-a-thon yesterday. Anyway, I'm back in the saddle and ready to rumble and any other cliches I can conjur.....

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