Notes Watson Ready for British Opens

By Associated PressMay 24, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 Senior PGA ChampionshipEDMOND, Okla. -- At 56, Tom Watson understands that his golf career is winding down. But he still thinks he can be competitive in one of his favorite tournaments -- if the conditions are right.
Watson, who will play in the Senior PGA Championship this week at Oak Tree Golf Club, already is looking forward to playing in back-to-back British Opens in July. The regular British Open will be in England at Royal Liverpool, a course Watson never before has played, and the following week, the Senior British Open will be at Ayrshire in Scotland.
Those two tournaments will end a five-week stretch during which Watson also will play in the Greater Kansas City Golf Classic in Overland Park, Kan.; the U.S. Senior Open at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan.; and the Ford Senior Players Championship in Dearborn, Mich.
The five-time British Open winner was asked Wednesday if he thinks a player 50 or older will someday win a major on the regular PGA Tour. (He answered yes.) That led to an obvious question: Could that player be him?
'I think that the British Open is more of a place where I could win,' Watson said. 'The Masters, I'm out of the equation at the Masters. Unless we get real hard conditions, the Masters is pretty much out of my league. The U.S. Open, the way they're adding length ... I couldn't do it at the U.S. Open. But at the British Open, I might still be able to do it.'
He said that at last year's British Open at St. Andrews, 'the golf course played like a rock,' which is ideal for his game.
'The conditions would have to be firm, they would have to be rock-hard and they would have to be pretty windy for me to win,' Watson said.
Gil Morgan, who plays out of Oak Tree, said the par-5, 528-yard 16th hole could loom large this week. It's probably the best chance players will have to reach a green on a par-5 in two shots, but they must navigate away from two large bunkers and a creek to the left of the split-level green.
'I think 16 is a hole that could make or break somebody's championship,' Morgan said. 'It's a situation where you can make an eagle or ... you might make a big number there.'
Hale Irwin has only played one previous tournament at Oak Tree -- the 1988 PGA Championship -- but agreed with Morgan that No. 16 and the 175-yard par-3 17th are key holes. But Irwin added the course's opening hole, a 437-yard par-4, should grab a golfer's attention quickly.
'I think 1 can set the tone, because it's a very difficult starting hole,' Irwin said. 'It's a narrow driving hole. You've got a relatively short second (shot). But you have to hit the fairway. If you don't, you've got the pond there in front (of the green). So you could start really uncomfortable on this golf course.'
Tom Kite tied for fourth in the 1988 PGA Championship at Oak Tree. He fancies himself a contender again on the Pete Dye-designed course if he can correct a recent inconsistency in his game.
'My iron play has got to step up,' Kite said. 'That's the thing I'm working on right now. I'm putting very well and I'm driving it pretty well right now, so if I can get a little better control of my irons, I think I'll have a good week.'
Kite has four top-five finishes on the Champions Tour this year, including a win in the AT&T Classic in Valencia, Calif., in March.
Arnold Palmer and Ray Floyd are among the 12 golfers who have withdrawn from the tournament for various reasons.
Palmer, 76, withdrew May 15 because of concerns he wouldn't be competitive. The Senior PGA would have been his first Champions Tour start of the year. Floyd withdrew Monday, citing medical reasons.
Others who have withdrawn this week are Bobby Nichols, Gibby Gilbert, Mark Lye, Mike Sullivan and Stan Souza. All did so for medical reasons except for Souza, who said he had travel difficulties. Souza had received his berth a day earlier, when Floyd dropped out.
Replacing Souza will be Efren Serna of Mexico. Serna is thought to be the first Mexican-born professional to compete in the Senior PGA.
The Senior PGA will have a $2 million purse, with the winner receiving $360,000, the runner-up earning $216,000 and the third-place finisher taking home $136,000. ... Kathy Whitworth, a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, is the recipient of the 2006 PGA First Lady of Golf Award. She was to be honored at a banquet in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night ... Two golfers are making their Champions Tour debuts in the Senior PGA. Joe Ozaki of Japan turned 50 on May 18 and Kirk Hanefeld's 50th birthday was Wednesday.
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”