View From Outside the Ropes
If ever she was going to win a major, I would have bet that her first would be a Womens British Open. Her game is perfectly suited for links courses like Royal Lytham & St. Annes: Shes a good putter, shes very straight off the tee, has good control over her ball, and doesnt hit it too high. She also grew up in Scotland, so shes very familiar with this style of play. You could tell that she and her caddie (her husband, Graeme) knew exactly where to hit it off the tee. I dont think she was in any fairway bunkers. Youve got to know where these bunkers are. If you get too aggressive and try and bomb one out there, you can find yourself hitting into a bunker you didnt think you could reach, and thats almost a sure one-shot penalty.
I didnt find a single fairway bunker here in 2003, when I won my lone Womens British Open title. That was the goal that my caddie, Terry McNamara, and I had for the week. Terry said, 'I dont care what you do, were staying short of those bunkers, unless you know you can drive over them.' That strategy paid off, although I saw players hitting a lot more drivers this week than I remember in 2003. Its very hard to play conservatively and lay up short of everything, because then you can really have some long shots into the green. Its a fine balance: The conditions are constantly changing at the British Open, and you have to know when to play conservative and when you can be aggressive.
The two long birdie putts Catriona made on holes 13 and 14 were obviously huge for her confidence. She was not playing her best up to that point, just trying to hang on, but I could tell after she made the 40-footer on No. 14 that she was back in control of the tournament. No. 14 is one of the toughest holes on the course, and to walk off there with a birdie had to be a huge relief for her, not to mention a nice little buffer between her and the rest of the field. For every birdie the leader makes that late in the round, it makes it that much more difficult on the rest of the field playing ahead of her. They start to realize theyre running out of holes, and they need to make something big happen in a hurry.
Once Catriona made her third consecutive birdie on No. 15, there was no catching her.
Paula Creamer made a valiant run on Sunday. She was only one stroke back of Catriona standing on the 17th tee, and I think had she made par on No. 18 and finished at one under, she wouldve applied a little pressure on Catriona. However, she found the tall grass overhanging one of the fairway bunkers with her tee shot, and then after punching out, sent her third shot past the green up against the clubhouse. That put an end to her bid for that elusive first major.
I think its only a matter of time before Paula wins a major. She just has to go out there and let it come to her, and not get too aggressive. As I have said before, it is very easy to put too much pressure on yourself in the majors. I put a lot of pressure on myself to win majors and I think Paula does that too, although its not something that goes away easily.
I was surprised to learn that 17 different players have won the last 18 majors on the LPGA Tour. The only player with two majors during that span is Lorena Ochoa. That goes to show you that theres really no dominant player in womens golf right now. Lorena held that designation for awhile, but shes obviously not playing at her best right now. I dont know if her motivation and focus is what it used to be. Shes got a lot of other interests. Shes getting married soon and she has a very successful foundation; she changed caddies in the middle of the year. These are big changes. You have to be so hungry and motivated to stay on top year after year. And shes not there right now. We know she can do it, its just a matter of her putting all of her focus on competitive golf again.
Perhaps these majors will serve as a kick in the butt and shell come out strong next year. You never know.
Solheim Cup Thoughts I liked Beth Daniels captain picks for the American squad in the upcoming Solheim Cup. I know Michelle Wies selection raised a few eyebrows, but if you look at her stats this year, shes really performed very consistently all year long. She didnt have last year to build up her point total, but this year shes been very solid. If I were captain, I'd want someone who is peaking and is in good form, and Michelle is a very exciting player.
I could see Michelle getting paired with a veteran like Juli Inkster, Beths other captains choice. Juli gets along with everyone; that along with her proven track record as a winner and leader is why she's on the team. Not to mention that she's a fan favorite and has a lot of experience.
Annika Sorenstam writes a column for GolfChannel.com following all four LPGA majors and the Solheim Cup this season. Sorenstam played in 55 majors during her career, winning 10 and finishing in the top-10 31 times. Sorenstam now spends her time focusing on her Annika brand of businesses, which include the Annika Academy, Foundation, Course Design, Financial Group, apparel collection with Cutter & Buck as well as her signature wine and fragrance.
G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp
LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.
Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.
“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”
McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.
“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”
McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.
Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'
LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.
Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.
Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.
“When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”
Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.
“Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”
Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.
“Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”
Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'
LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.
Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.
It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.
“I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.
Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.
“I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”
Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.
Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win
LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?
The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.
Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.
In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.
What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.
If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.
Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.
“You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”
He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.
That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.
Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."
“Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”
While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.
“Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”
While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.
Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.
“I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”
It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.
One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.
“Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.
And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.