Nick Watney shoots 64 to take lead at HSBC Champions

By Doug FergusonNovember 5, 2009, 5:57 pm

HSBC Championship

SHANGHAI – Making the first of two trips to China this month, Nick Watney made an immediate impression Thursday in the HSBC Champions by tying the course record with an 8-under 64 to build a two-shot lead.

As hundreds of cameras inside and outside the ropes tagged along to see Tiger Woods open with a 67, Watney quietly went about his business on a sunny afternoon at Sheshan International Golf Club with an accidental eagle and four straight birdies.

He was 9 under through 13 holes until settling into a string of pars and ending his round with a three-putt bogey from the fringe.

“The greens are so good that if you hit a putt on line, it’s definitely going to go in,” Watney said. “I was putting very well. Just tried to give myself as many chances as possible, and I was able to make a few.”

Watch the WGC-HSBC Champions on Golf Channel
Thurs LIVE at 11 p.m. (ET) and Fri & Sat LIVE at 10 p.m. (ET)

Ryan Moore, who signed a new equipment deal Thursday, was in a group at 66 that included Shane Lowry of Ireland and Martin Kaymer of Germany, who is second in the Race to Dubai and facing a big week at this $7 million World Golf Championship.

Lin Wen-tang of Taiwan stirred the Chinese crowd with a 67, which left him tied with Woods, Anthony Kim and Paul Casey.

Still, it was Woods they came to see – and to photograph.

It started on the opening hole, with hundreds of fans surrounding the tee. Woods was flinching as he swung his 3-wood and dropped the club at impact. The shot was so short and to the right that his caddie, Steve Williams, had to walk 40 yards to find the yardage.

“The guy in the grandstand basically did almost a photo sequence,” Woods said.

It was a frenzy for the opening hour, with marshals barking at the gallery not to take pictures, and Thongchai Jaidee’s caddie having to walk up to a grassy hill and escort one photographer to the side of the ropes so his player could hit the shot.

Woods is ultra sensitive to cameras, and handled this day better than most. More frustrating was not knowing which way his ball was going, although he managed to take care of the par 5s and make enough putts for his 67.

“I got it around today,” he said. “It wasn’t my best ball-striking round for sure, but I made some putts, which was nice.”

Phil Mickelson opened with two straight birdies and made the turn in 32, although he didn’t make another birdie the rest of the way and had to settle for a 69. Defending champion Sergio Garcia made only one birdie in his round of 75.

Woods played the HSBC Champions twice, before it became a World Golf Championship, and both times he was runner-up. Mickelson is making his third straight appearance.

In some respects, Watney is the face of American involvement this week. For those who thought Americans would stay home this week because it doesn’t count as official on the PGA Tour, he is among 13 players who made the long flight.

And the leaderboard was filled with Stars & Stripes – Watney, Moore, Kim around the top, Pat Perez at 68 and Brian Gay and Jason Dufner at 69. Jerry Kelly tried playing with new grooves for the first time and ground out a 71.

“Got my first shank out of the way,” Kelly said with a laugh.

Sean O’Hair walked over to the side of the ropes to find out a World Series score. Upon learning the New York Yankees had won the title over his hometown Phillies, he made birdie on the par-5 eighth, although that didn’t keep him from a 74.

Watney signed up earlier this year for the World Cup the week of Thanksgiving at Mission Hills Golf Club near Hong Kong. He tried to find something to do in the Far East during the two-week break between the HSBC Champions and the World Cup, then figured he might as well go home to Las Vegas and get some rest.

His game appears sharp at the moment. All but two of his birdies were inside 10 feet, and he made eagle on the par-5 14th by hitting it where he wasn’t aiming. Watney meant to go toward the left side of the green, away from the flag and the water, but pushed his hybrid. It worked out fine, leaving him a 30-foot putt that he made for eagle to get his round going.

The 28-year-old American certainly has no qualms about traveling so far to play.

“The coolest thing about golf is being able to travel all around the world,” Watney said. “And to get this opportunity to come here and then back to Hong Kong, I didn’t think twice about it.”

A cab ride into Shanghai’s massive city center? That’s different. Watney went Tuesday and hung on for life as his cabbie weaved in and out of traffic and around bicycles on the road.

And what did he find to eat in Shanghai?

“We actually went in to eat Texas barbecue,” he said. “I felt a little bad about coming to China and eating Texas barbecue.”

Kim was among the last to qualify through one of two spots from the world ranking, and he almost didn’t make it. He spent all day Tuesday in Hong Kong trying to get a visa and missed the pro-am. He doesn’t know his way around Sheshan that well, which might have helped him. Aggressive by nature, he dialed back on some of the par 5s and picked up birdies.

Getty Images

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.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


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.

Getty Images

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.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


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.”