Watson on brink of another milestone

By Al TaysJune 28, 2015, 1:36 am

He speaks of “not having the tools in the toolbox I used to have,” but somehow, Tom Watson still manages to make do. Now here he is, at age 65, on the precipice of yet another amazing accomplishment.

With one round to go in the U.S. Senior Open, Watson is just one shot off the lead. Bernhard Langer, who has established himself as one of the best Champions Tour players ever, and Jeff Maggert stand in front of him, and seven other players, including Champions Tour stalwarts Kenny Perry and Colin Montgomerie, are tied with him, so nothing is likely to come easy for Watson at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento.

But Watson has never shied away from challenges. Anybody else old enough to remember when he had the reputation of being a choker? That ugly tag came courtesy of his not being able to close after holding the 54-hole lead in the 1974 U.S. Open (the infamous “Massacre at Winged Foot”) and the 36-hole lead in the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah, where he shot 67-68 on Thursday and Friday, 78-77 on Saturday and Sunday.

Watson put that image to rest when he broke through to win his first major, the 1975 Open Championship, where he beat Australian Jack Newton in an 18-hole playoff at Carnoustie. It was the first of Watson’s eight majors, which ranks sixth on the all-time list, and five Open Championships, which makes him one of four runners-up to Harry Vardon’s six titles. Watson birdied the 72nd hole to force the playoff, then benefited the following day when Newton bogeyed the final hole to lose by a stroke.

Langer, Maggert share U.S. Senior Open lead | Scores

Watson will be best remembered, of course, for his “Duel in the Sun” victory over Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977. Both golfers went 68-70 in the first two rounds. Nicklaus turned up the heat in the final two, going 65-66. It wasn’t enough. Watson went 65-65.

As hard as that major was to top, Watson almost did just that 32 years later at the same course. At the age of 59, he tied for the lead after 72 holes with Stewart Cink. Had he been able to get up and down for par after his second shot went over the 72nd green, he would have had his sixth Open Championship title. That miss seemed to deflate him. In the four-hole playoff that followed – his 1975 Open victory was the Championship’s final 18-hole playoff – he lost to Cink by six strokes.

Now Watson is looking ahead to his final Open Championship, next month at St. Andrews. He has won the Open on five different courses, but never at the home of golf. He shared the 54-hole lead in 1978, but closed with a 78. In 1984 he was tied for the lead with two holes to play, but bogeyed the 17th and lost as Seve Ballesteros birdied the 18th.

But first, there’s this little matter of the U.S. Senior Open. It’s a title Watson has never won. If he does, he would become the oldest winner of the event, the oldest to win a senior major and the oldest to win on the Champions Tour.

He’s not thinking in those terms, though.

''To hit a shot under pressure that's really a good golf shot is why I'm out here,'' he told reporters on Friday. ''That's what I like to do. And when I get to the point where I can't do it or I can't do it often enough to really satisfy myself, then I won't be out here.''

Those of us who love the game, who love to watch the game’s greats, are fortunate that day has not yet arrived.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.