Phil Mickelson will play this week's Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
LYNNE CAMERON/Landov
Thursday, January 05, 2012

Excellence calls for adaptability, among other strengths, so when I think of touring professionals I often think of a quote from the 1995 movie, Apollo 13. With astronaut Jim Lovell in peril, his mom, Blanche, is asked for her opinion. "Don't you worry," she says. "If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it."

It's like that with links golf, the flying washing machine of the pro game. Although they see it only a few times a year, the pros adapt, playing the ball along the bumpy fairways, avoiding deep pot bunkers, re-calibrating for slower putts. And this year they have help. For the first time since 1995, the Barclays Scottish Open returns to a links course, Castle Stuart, the Mark Parsinen/Gil Hanse design in the Scottish Highlands that Golf Magazine hailed as the "emphatic winner" of the best new international course of 2009.

The celebrated return to the linksland should help players prepare for next week's 140th British Open at Royal St. George's.

"We hardly ever play links golf," said Luke Donald, who is back at the Barclays expressly because of its new links home after a 15-year run at Loch Lomond. "It's just a different style. It's very different to what I play week in, week out. So it takes some time to adjust to where to land the ball, those chip-and-run shots you get a lot. It's just a little bit of a different style, but you have to kind of re-learn and remember."

Two-time British Open champion Padraig Harrington used to play the Irish PGA the week before the Open, because even though it was full of no-names, it was at least played on a links design (European Club). Now he's in the field at Castle Stuart. So are Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood and Matt Kuchar, who along with Donald make up five of the top 10 in the World Ranking.

Set on the Moray Firth coast, 10 miles from Nairn Golf Club, where Donald and Paul Casey led the 1999 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team to victory , Castle has generously wide fairways, which could help Mickelson revive his dormant game. The third hole is just 305 yards long. (Think he'll go for it?) Although the field is almost set for next week's Open, there are still two berths up for grabs, one at Castle, one at the John Deere Classic.

Stricker goes for third straight W in Moline
Here's how low you have to go to win the Deere at TPC Deere Run: A year ago, Paul Goydos shot a historic 59 in the first round, becoming the fourth player in Tour history to reach that exalted number.

And he had his doors blown off.

"The great thing was I woke up — played late the next day — I went to Starbucks and got a hot chocolate and a pastry of some sort and came back to my room and flipped on the computer and I was three back," Goydos said Tuesday. "That was more of like, what? I'm not even leading or even part of the story anymore?!"

He was and he wasn't. Goydos broke golf's four-minute mile, but Stricker carded a 60 and a 62 on the way to his second straight victory at the event.

Among others who figure to be in contention in Moline are Jason Day, Charles Howell III, Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and 2007 Deere winner Jonathan Byrd, who is enjoying perhaps his finest season.

Players love the low scoring, but that's not all the Deere has going for it. Louis Oosthuizen, who lives on a farm in South Africa, toured the John Deere headquarters for three hours and got to drive a combine. And the Deere oozes small-town charm. Said Goydos, "It's almost like a community event and less of a corporate event."

It doesn't hurt that the Deere offers players a spot on a 100-seat, chartered 767 that goes wheels-up at 8 p.m. Sunday, bound for Kent, England, and the British Open. About 20 players have confirmed a spot on the "Air Deere" charter so far. You can't beat the commute.

Women's Open returns to Broadmoor
Annika Sorenstam won the U.S. Women's Open for her first pro victory the last time it was played at this stately Colorado Springs track, in 1995. So it's appropriate that this week's big newsmaker could be Yani Tseng, who was only a rookie when Sorenstam predicted she would hit No. 1 in the world. (Tseng has.) The Taiwanese terror lives in Sorenstam's old house in Orlando and has long revered the quiet Swede as her idol.

Just 22, Tseng would achieve the career grand slam with a victory.

"I love a tough course," she said. "I love a challenge."

At 7,047 yards, the par-71 Broadmoor will be the longest course in the history of the Women's Open, eclipsing Interlachen C.C. (6,789 yards) in 2008. Players will try to bust it off the tee and ride the altitude.

"The fairways are generous for a U.S. Open," said Cristie Kerr, who added that she couldn't find her yardage book from the '95 U.S. Open and had to make a new one. (Yes, sometimes the pros are just like us.)

Fans are still getting to know Tseng, who sometimes practices with fellow Orlando touring pros Trevor Immelman, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose. She's winning friends in the media, too, having helped her cause by enrolling in immersive English classes in Orlando last year.

"It feels really good," said Tseng, who will be paired with 2010 Open champion Paula Creamer for the first two rounds. "Then on the tour I kind of just keep talking. So hopefully now I don't talk too much."

The chase for a share of the biggest purse in women's golf ($3.25 million, $585,000 to the winner) will likely be won by a player who can start fast and then minimize damage on the back nine's long par 4s.

"I think the key to this course is getting off to a good start," said Stacy Lewis, who held off Tseng at the Kraft Nabisco earlier this year. "You have 1 through 4 that are pretty good birdie holes."

McIlroy in the news even as he sits out
Rory McIlroy, 22, is not playing anywhere this week, meaning he will not have hit a shot in competition since his U.S. Open coronation at Congressional last month. This has given rise to a parlor game in which players and pundits second-guess Rory's schedule-making strategy. Scotsman Colin Montgomerie, no doubt in defense of his home Open, went on record to say McIlroy was making a mistake. Harrington has disagreed with Montgomerie, saying the time off won't affect McIlroy. Remember when we used to obsess over Tiger's schedule?

McIlroy is so top of mind even in absentia that he's being mentioned anywhere golf is being played. At the Women's Open, Michelle Wie was asked about her final-round 82 at the 2005 Open at Cherry Hills. Still a 15-year-old amateur, she held a share of the 54-hole lead but quickly tumbled out of contention.

"I learned a lot from it," Wie said.

"That sounds like Rory McIlroy," someone replied.

Cristie Kerr's husband, Erik, is friends with McIlroy's manager, Chubby Chandler, and Kerr said Tuesday that she had heard through the grapevine that McIlroy liked her putting stroke. "That was a big compliment coming from Rory," she said.

Tseng said she took inspiration from McIlroy's win. "I always feel so much pressure on U.S. Open course," she said. "It's so tough. But after I see Rory McIlroy do it, I feel much relaxed."

Sluman eyes third win at First Tee
Jeff Sluman, who won the Nature Valley First Tee Open in 2008 and '09, is rounding into form just in time for this week's annual senior stopover at Pebble Beach, having finished T7 in Montreal.

The field also includes Mark O'Meara, a five-time winner at Pebble when he was on the PGA Tour; John Cook; John Huston; Mark Calcavecchia and Tom Kite (both finished T3 a year ago); Tom Pernice Jr. (second); and defending champion Ted Schulz.

Between the Scottish Open's Castle Stuart, with its dazzling views of the Moray Firth, and the seniors playing Pebble Beach, Golf Channel viewers will see no shortage of postcard-pretty cutaway shots.

Short game
Wie has just two quarters of school remaining before she gets her degree at Stanford. ... By giving up wine and bread , and increasing the intensity of her workouts, 2007 Women's Open champion Kerr has shed about 12 pounds since last fall. ... Anthony Kim became the latest to get into next week's British Open when injured Tim Clark withdrew. Robert Garrigus replaced injured Thomas Levet earlier Wednesday. ... The first Annika Invitational at Mission Hills, Aug. 24-26, will be China's first girls-only junior event and will send the top three finishers to the 2012 Annika Invitational in Orlando. ... A year later, Goydos said he has almost total recall of his 59: "I look back at my final round of Bay Hill when I won, the final round at Sony when I won, and it's starting to dissipate. I can remember pretty much what I did on every hole but not as clearly. The 59 I can remember my mood on the third tee."

 

 

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