Lietzke Lands Maiden Major

By George WhiteJune 29, 2003, 4:00 pm
TOLEDO, Ohio -- Chalk one up for the Accidental Golfer, who finally has won a U.S. Open of sorts after having skipped it so many years on the regular tour.
 
No, Bruce Lietzke didnt win a regular Open. But he won a U.S. Senior Open. He outlasted Tom Watson and Vicente Fernandez, draining the last bit of skepticism from his competitors on the Champions Tour. He opened up a six-stroke lead after an eagle on the front nine, hung on while his slipshod driving and an mini-rally by Watson trimmed the margin to three, then eventually staggered home to win by two shots.
 
I won a big tournament on an outstanding golf course that was set up brutally, said Lietzke. I thought it was pretty fair, but it was brutal. I am thrilled to death to have won the contest, on this golf course, and to have beaten a player of Tom Watsons caliber.
 
Watson shot 5-under par, Lietzke 7-under. Watson said he thought if someone shot 5-under, they would have been a dead-lock cinch to win. But credit Lietzkes pluck, his heart, and his good fortune for staving off Watson and Vicinte Fernandez.
 
Bruce was leaking oil today, said Watson. He didnt hit the ball in the fairway very often today, and I just kept thinking ' but the old engine just wouldnt quit on him. He may have been smoking a little and spewing some oil, but the engine just didnt quit on him.
 
Thats a tribute to the guts he has to pull it out when hes not playing well.
 
After Lietzkes eighth-hole eagle propelled him to 10-under while Watson ' his nearest competitor ' was 4-under, it looked like the back nine would be a formality.
 
But Watson birdied the ninth while Lietzke made bogey, reducing the margin to a four-shot lead. And when Lietzke three-putted the 12th hole for bogey, the margin was cut yet again, to three strokes.
 
And Lietzke didnt birdie the par-5 13th. The 14th? His tee shot was far in the rough, so far that he landed in trampled-down grass where the gallery had been standing.
 
Lietzke at that point had hit only four fairways. But he got up-and-down for his par, his putt ringing the cup a couple of times before finally sinking. And on No. 16 he again drove the ball again in the rough, then just barely cleared a bunker en route to the green. However, the ball rolled up to within two feet of the cup for a birdie.
 
With such adventures, stellar play by an opponent would have put considerable heat on Lietzke. But Watson could never sink a putt to close the gap. So when Lietzke bogeyed the 17th and the 18th, he had enough of a margin where he could limp home a winner.
 
I was pretty fortunate today, considering the many, many fairways Ive missed, said Lietzke, who hit only 12 of his last 30 fairways. I had swings at the golf ball most of the time.
 
But that 16th hole, coming out of a pretty hairy lie, barely making it over the bunker, Im sure it bounced in the rough, and then it rolled up two feet from the hole, said Lietzke. Thats crazy ' thats goofy stuff. But I really believe thats how you win major championships. There has never been a major championship winner that had bad luck going for him.
 
And probably never has there been a major championship winner that had the same feelings for the runner-up.

He has the respect and the admiration of everyone out here, said Lietzke of Watson. The admiration we have for him is second to none. I might put Greg Norman in his class. Their integrity is impeccable.
 
Lietzke would never be playing this time of year if he werent old enough for his children to be well along in their teen-age years. He was a bachelor when he came out on tour in 1975, and for eight years, golf was his No. 1 priority.
 
He married in 1981 and his children were born in 83 and 85. And that totally changed his life. It (golf) was my job, but it was probably not in my top five priorities, Lietzke said.
 
He began the life of fatherhood. My dad was a little league coach on my baseball team, and I was going to be a little league coach if my son decided to play baseball, he said. I really quit playing summer golf entirely.
 
He gave up the U.S. Open and British Open entirely, since they are contested in June and July. For six years, he coached his sons baseball team in those months.
 
He (Lietzkes son) turned to junior golf and my daughter started playing softball and I coached her team for about four years. The last few years my son has been playing junior golf and I kind of escorted him around the summer junior schedule.
 
Actually, it was pretty simple for him. I just didnt believe in dragging my kids ' after they had been in school for an entire year, I didnt think of dragging them around motel rooms for a summer of tour golf, I dont think it was the way they wanted to live and the way I wanted to live.
 
For that reason, it sounded strange hearing Lietzke say Sunday that Watson should play more golf.
 
I dont have the nerve to tell him that, coming from somebody like me, he said, laughing at the irony. But he is as happy as Ive ever seen him. And he is spending a lot of quality family time, and Id be the last guy in the world to tell him he needs to come back out and play more golf.
 
But Ill tell you what ' he has turned that putting thing around. His putting looks fabulous to me ' I think hes third now on the Champions Tour (in putting).
 
But I think he looks a little rusty in some of the tournaments that Ive seen him play. And that would go away with a little more tournament play. I would never tell him to do that, because he is doing exactly the same thing I was doing 15 years ago. He would be winning more tournaments if he were playing more golf, but Im going to let him make those decisions.
 
More tournament play, and he becomes the best player on the Champions Tour.
 
For the week of the U.S. Senior Open, though, there was someone else who was the Champions Tours best player. And that player was Bruce Lietzke.
 
Related Links:
  • Bio: Bruce Lietzke
  • Full Coverage of the U.S. Senior Open
  • U.S. Senior Open Leaderboard
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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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    McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

    Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

    Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

    The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

    McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.