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Opinion & Analysis

5 Players who can win The Open on Sunday

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It’s the final round of The Open Championship, which means the once lush green hues at the Muirfield property have been baked out by the sun and wind-blown into a more diabolical light brown.

The Open Championship has turned into a marathon horse race on a fast track. Tempers are running hot, and golf balls running hotter.

Muirfield, the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, has given the best golfers in the world fits through the first three rounds. It’s no surprise that the previous champions at the venue in the past half-century are not only Hall-of-famers, but legends of the game. The winner this week will join the likes of Cotton, Nicklaus, Player, Trevino, Watson (Tom, not Bubba), Faldo and Els on the list of Open champions that have won on the hallowed grounds of Muirfield.

Ball striking, imagination, a few fortunate bounces and (as with any round of golf) putting will be paramount to joining the list of golfing greats who have beaten back the brutal test of links golf that is Muirfield.

Early week pretenders were filtered off the leaderboard by the course’s unusually firm and fast conditions. Through 54-holes, the top of the leaderboard is left with only a handful of contenders, ready to have their names etched into the Claret Jug below the name of Ernie Els, the defending champion.

Here are five golfers that have the best opportunity to become the 142nd Open Champion on Sunday, in order of best-to-worst chances:

Tiger Woods: 1-under (T2)

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The ultra-firm, fast conditions at Muirfield play to Woods’ strengths.

They allow him to keep his driver hidden beneath a head cover, and stick to a game plan reminiscent of his victory at Hoylake in 2006. That’s why despite his 2-shot deficit heading into the final round, the 14-time major champion is still the man to beat, because how can you bet against one of the best iron players to ever play the game at a venue that’s all about well-placed iron shots?

Over his professional career, Woods has also established himself as one of the best pressure putters of all time, particularly in majors. Westwood, who leads Woods by two shots, and Mahan, who is tied with Woods, are both without a major championship victory, and don’t even figure into the conversation of good pressure putters in their era.

If Tiger is going to regain his major dominance in an ever-growing pool of younger competition, he needs this victory. He knows that better than anyone. He was a poster boy for mental toughness once upon a time, but his self-applied pressure is likely his biggest competition on Sunday.

Lee Westwood: 3-under (1st)

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Westwood’s 39 worldwide professional wins, 15 top-10, and 7 top-3 finishes in major championships make him one of the most decorated and experienced players without a major victory. However, his inability to close leaves well-deserved question marks.

Born in England, the fans have tried to carry their local hero to a win on the big stage. With a victory, Westwood would become the first golfer from England to win the British Open since Faldo, ending the 21-year drought.

The 40-year old, ranked No. 12 in the world, recently switched to swing instructor Sean Foley and putting coach Ian-Baker Finch. Westwood has always been known as a wonderful ball-striker, but he has struggled in previous years to make the putts necessary to win. That has golf fans curious to see how his new and improved putting approach will hold up under the stress of a 2-shot leading heading into Sunday.

Saturday saw a mixture of fine putting and signs of shakiness from Westwood. He will need to make solid strokes early in tomorrow’s round in order to set the tone of confidence.

Westwood’s cushion over Mahan and Woods seems comfortable on paper, but it is anything but safe with the unpredictability of links golf and his previous history of missing out at the majors.

Adam Scott: Even (4th)

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On the back of Adam Scott, Australia gained its first Masters championship earlier this year with his dramatic playoff victory. The green jacket also meant Scott shed the burden of the “best player without a major” labels.

In last year’s Open, he notoriously bogeyed his closing four holes, handing the Claret Jug to Ernie Els.  Scott has since overcome his major struggles, surely opening the floodgates for more success.

One of the most pure ball strikers in the world, Scott’s career was always plagued with poor putting. For now, and until the anchored-putter ban takes affect, the long-putter has been Scott’s salvation. By filling in the blank that has burdened his game for years previously, Scott has once again put himself in major contention.

His putter, however, remains on the stand for questioning in the biggest moments. Scott is only three shots back, but birdies will be very difficult to come by in the final round, and a few bogies are almost unavoidable. That means the leaders will likely have to come back for Scott to win, or his long putter will have to get red hot.

Hunter Mahan: 1-under (T2)

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While many of his contemporaries have rejected the challenges of links golf on a brutally quick links course, Mahan has embraced them.

“The course is just awesome. It’s going to test every part of your game,” Mahan said earlier in the week. “The speed is up, and we really got to think ahead out here… It’s really neat.”

Sunday at a major championship requires steely nerves, not just a happy-go-lucky attitude, but Mahan sits at 1-under for the week following an impressive Saturday 68.

He’s ranked No. 23 in the world, has five PGA Tour wins, and boasts a robotic swing that Sean Foley has deemed the prototype for his other students (namely Tiger Woods). Mahan’s career resume in majors is less than stellar with only five career top-10 finishes, but a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open last month at Merion may have given him the confidence to contend late into Sunday afternoon (or morning, depending where you’re watching).

Mahan, one of the four members of the pop band Golf Boys, needs to prove his worth on the big stage—Muirfield, not Carnegie Hall.

Phil Mickelson: 2-over (T9)

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Despite two consecutive rounds over par and a five-stroke deficit, Phil has the propensity for theatrics.  He’s made football fields worth of par putts at Muirfield, but will need to make birdies on Sunday to contend.

The British Open has baffled Phil throughout his career, as he admittedly just didn’t like links golf. He’s claimed to turn that hatred into love, proven by his first win overseas last week at the Scottish Open.

Teeing off earlier than the leaders could give Phil an advantage with a couple more minutes of morning saturation. If he can come out early and make birdies, post a number in the 60’s and get to even par or 1-under for the championship, the leaders may crumble around him down the stretch on the demanding closing holes.

Phil will hope to add the Claret Jug to his major championship trophy case, which would be his first “Open” (British or United States) championship victory. Muirfield may be “too much course” for Phil to make up a 5-shots, but his go-for-broke mentality makes him the perfect suspect to make a comeback.

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He played on the Hawaii Pacific University Men's Golf team and earned a Masters degree in Communications. He also played college golf at Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Kristin

    Jul 24, 2013 at 7:32 am

    Right on. Hindsight is always 20-20 but rarely can one say that about foresight!

  2. Chris

    Jul 21, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Adam Scott has nothing to lose so watch out for him…plus Stevie will be highly motivated.

  3. Roll the Dice

    Jul 20, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Sorry but Tiger doesnt get er done, Hunter Mahan wins. C ya…..Tiger but your run is OVER:)

  4. Airbender

    Jul 20, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Go Tiger…

  5. Jud

    Jul 20, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    Go Tiger! Time to win a major after not leading going into the final day

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Podcasts

On Spec: Club fitting isn’t magic! Also, Lydia Ko and Stewart Cink win again

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On this week’s episode, host Ryan Barath covers everything from Lydia Ko’s comeback win on the LPGA tour, to why club fittings aren’t some magical thing that’s going to instantly lower scores.

It also covers Stewart Cink’s win at the RBC Heritage and offers a sneak peek at the GolfWRX Best Iron list of 2021.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) here

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Opinion & Analysis

Fix your golfing back pain, Step 2: Early stage rehab

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This article is co-written with Marnus Marais. Since 2011, Marnus has worked with some of the world’s best players on both the PGA Tour and European Tour, helping them to maintain optimal health and peak physical performance. His current stable of players includes Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, and Louis Oosthuizen, amongst others. 

You can find more information on Marnus and his work at marnusmarais.com

This article is No. 2 in a 4 part series.

Step 1 – The Importance of Assessment

Step 2 – Early Stage Rehab

Step 3 – Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns

Step 4 – Building global strength for prevention of future injury

Introduction

Now that we have identified the source of the back issue through assessment, it’s time to start working on the underlying causes, in order to reduce pain and decrease the likelihood of re-injury further down the track. 

In our experience, mechanical back pain in golfers caused by physical issues is most often caused by one or more of the the following 4 issues, with many amateur players displaying the entire collection!

– Lack of Mobility at the Hips and Mid / Upper Back

– Poor Posture

– Misalignment and Muscle Imbalances

– Weak Core Muscles

Because pain is likely still a factor at this stage, we need to proceed with caution and focus on rehab work that is low intensity and has a low risk of causing a pain flare up.

With that in mind, in ‘Step 2: Early Stage Rehab’ we are going to address Mobility, Posture and Misalignment / Muscle Imbalances. These 3 areas can be improved upon, and should have a positive impact on pain reduction, even if back discomfort is still restricting larger, more global movements.

Step 2.1 – Improving Mobility in Hips and Mid / Upper back

Certain areas in the body need to be more stable, and others need to be more mobile. The lumbar spine (lower back) falls into the stable category, partly due to its limited capacity for rotation and lateral flexion (side bending). We know the unnatural golf swing movement imparts both rotational and side bending forces on the spine, so it’s an area we need to keep stable and protected.

In order to avoid excessive low back rotation forces in life and especially in the golf swing, it’s very important that we try to maximize the range of movement in other areas, most notably the joints above and below the low back, where the majority of rotation in the golf swing should take place:

Hips

We need sufficient range of movement to turn into, and out of, both hips. For example, if we can’t turn and load into our lead hip due to a lack of internal rotation mobility, we tend to compensate with excessive rotation and side-bending in the lower back.

Suggested Exercise Circuit – Hip Mobility

1) Self Massage Glutes – 45 secs each side

2) Cross Leg Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side

3) Prone Glute Stretch – 30 secs each side

4) 90 90 Hip Mobility – 5 reps each side

Thoracic Spine (mid to upper back)

Having sufficient rotation in our thoracic spine to both left and the right is extremely important. The thoracic spine has significantly greater rotational capabilities compared to the lumbar spine (low back). If we maximise our mobility here, we can help protect the lower back, along with the cervical spine (neck).

Suggested Exercises – Thoracic Mobility

1) Self Massage Mid / Upper back – 60 seconds

2) Upper Back Extension – 30 seconds

3) All Fours Rotation – 5 reps each side

Step 2.2 – Improving Posture

Posture can be described as the proper alignment of the spine, with the aim of establishing three natural curves (low back, mid/upper back and neck).

The 3 major spinal curves: 1 – Cervical, 2 – Thoracic, 3 – Lumbar

Modern lifestyles and the associated muscle imbalances have pushed and pulled our spines away from those three natural curves, and this has had a damaging effect on our spinal health. Our backs are designed to function optimally from the neutral illustrated above, and the further we get away from it, the more stress we put on our protective spinal structures.

Aside from promotion of pain, poor posture also does terrible things for our golf swings; reducing range of motion in key areas (hips, mid back and shoulders) and creating inefficiencies in our swing action, to give us a double whammy of back pain causes.

The muscles responsible for holding your posture are located deep in the body and close to the spine. Strengthening them can be tricky, as we don’t really have a lot of conscious control over their activation. Hence posture being such a difficult thing to remember! The combination of the 4 exercises featured below help provide the stimulus to those deep muscles that, if trained often enough, will automatically hold your posture in a good position.

Suggested Exercises – Strengthening posture muscles

1) Wall Posture Check – 30 secs

2) Posture Cue – 60 secs

3) Posture Cue Knee Lifts – 10 reps each side

4) Arm Press – 15 reps

Step 2.3 – Fixing Alignment Issues and Muscle Imbalances

Imagine a car with wheel alignment issues; front wheels facing to the right, back wheels facing to the left. Not only will the tires wear out unevenly and quickly, but other areas of the car will experience more torque, load or strain and would have to work harder. The same thing happens to the lower back when we have body alignment issues above and / or below.

For example, if we have short / tight / overactive hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hips that bend our knees to our chest) on one side of the body; very common amongst golfers with low back pain, then this would rotate the pelvis forward on one side, which can create a knock-on effect of imbalance throughout the body.

If the pelvis rotates in one direction, the shoulders naturally have to rotate in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance. Our low back is subsequently caught in the middle, and placed under more load, stress and strain. This imbalance can cause the low back to bend and rotate further, and more unevenly, especially in the already complex rotation and side bending context of the golf swing!

Below is a pelvic alignment technique that can help those with the afore mentioned imbalance.

In the next article; Step 3: Essential Strength and Golf Movement Patterns, we will show you the progression of exercises and key technique principles to build up the strength and movement patterns to return to regular exercise and golf.

If you would like to see how Marnus can help with your golfing back pain, then check out the resources below:

Marnus Marais – marnusmarais.com

If you would like to access training programs designed for elite and recreational players, then check out the following resources and services from Nick at Golf Fit Pro:

Articles
Golf Fit Pro App (iOS)
Online Training
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Opinion & Analysis

A golfing memoir in monthly tokens: March (belatedly)

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Editor’s note: All latency on the publishing here is the fault of the Editor-in-Chief.

As some might say, if you don’t take the plunge, you can’t taste the brine. Others might not say such a thing. I’m taking the plunge, because I want to taste the brine.

Here you’ll find the third installment of “A Golfing Memoir” as we trace a year in the life of Flip Hedgebow, itinerant teacher of golf. For January, click here. For February, click here.

Absolutely. Meet me up north (and, to himself, what have I got to lose?)

No sense in putting the cart before the horse, as the old pro used to say, as cirE “Flip” Hedgebow used to ignore. As March came to a close, as cirE locked the pro shop for the last time until November, he took a leap of faith. How big of a leap? Let’s get through March, and find out.

Speaking of carts and horses, March for Flip always came in like a lamb, and went out like a lion. That ran contrary to the folklore but, all things considered, there was always a 50% chance of things running contrary.

No, the best reason for topsy and turvy in March, for Flip, was explained by his birthday. Being born in the middle of the month might suggest balance to some; for him, it was a constant reminder of the chaos that led up to his earthly arrival, tempered only by the madness that ensued. If that’s balance, you can have it.

In Flip’s world, March was about the arrival of the most seasoned of snowbirds, the ones with more than five years of retirement under their growing-shrinking belts. Some were expanding, as they had given up on fitness; the rest were shrinking, as the truest effects of age caught them up. In each case, this pod arrived with military precision, knowing where and when nearly every penny would be spent. No frivolity remained in their schedules, no ambiguity survived from younger, budgeting days. No longer minnows, they recognized that uncertainty stalked them, and that all of their remaining wits needed to center on a small and precise target. The smaller, the more precise, the better…for the women.

Like all men, the old guys appreciated the consistency and precision their wives brought to their worlds.

Like all men, the old guys detested the ever-encroaching, loss of control over their own destinies.

They would enter the pro shop, grab the latest hat like a modern-day Judge Smails, and set it at a rakish angle, atop their sleek domes. Flip learned quite early on that the only way to ensure the sale was cash. When the wives invariably came to complain and demand a refund, Flip could “only” offer a pro shop credit, guaranteeing that something would be purchased. If they bought it on account or on a card, the sale was irretrievably lost.

Flip expected these purchases from his March gam: the cheapest golf balls, when their supply of northern culls ran out; the attire from last fall, or even the previous summer, ready to be shipped back to the manufacturer when March 20th arrived; and some odd or end that the pro had overlooked, lost to some sort of missionary of time. The only thing stronger than the will of the spouse, was the desire of the old guy to make some sort of purchase, to re-establish some semblance of power and control, for at least a moment.

How did you get your name, and why is the last letter, and not the first, capitalized?

(silence. he rarely heard the first question, as everyone knew him as “Flip;” he never heard the second one, as no one paid attention anymore.)

Two stories are a lot to tell. Let’s save both answers, even if it’s just a little while.

(silence. she wasn’t satisfied)

If the red hair caused his eyes to move from the mundane nature of packing and sealing boxes, everything else physical compelled him to put down the tape gun, sense that his throat was dry, know that he would not clear it without a squeak, turn away for a bottle of water, take a swig for lubrication, and, finally, turn back with his finest Axel Foley smile, and greet her with: How long have you been retired?

It was an incalculable risk. There was a 90% chance that she would react with an I’m not that old sort of affront, turn on her heels, and march out the door. There was a 5% chance that she would get the joke, and would stick around for another exchange, before smiling awkwardly and departing. There remained a 5% chance of something else. On this 21st day of March, that final 5% wafted in.

Wafted in, in the guise of a lesson he thought that he had planned. Planned for one of the wives, a late-sixties model whose swing was frozen in time: the unlikely combination of a forward lurch of the torso, a reverse pivot of the feet, and right in the middle, an impossible heave of the hips in one of four unpredictable directions. If anyone were to discover a fifth cardinal point, it would be Agnes Porter. Until this moment, Flip Hedgebow gave thanks that the world was blessed with just one of her; more than one might have tilted the globe off its axis. Now, he offered up a different type of gratitude, thanks to the visage of her granddaughter, who bore no resemblance to the matriarch, beyond the title of Agnes Porter.

They write that a story may be deemed worthy for its inerrant language, or for its compelling events. The story of Agnes Porter the way-younger and Flip Hedgebow benefitted from both, along with an overdose of peripeteia.

 

Artwork by JaeB

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