Watson Eyes British Seniors at Royal Portrush
Watson will be in Northern Ireland this week for the tournament at Royal Portrush, one of the worlds most renowned links layouts. He won last year despite a bogey on the final hole. But he got into a playoff when Carl Mason, ahead now by two, made a double bogey. And in the playoff Mason botched the 18th hole again, handing the title to the plucky Watson.
Watson had to withdraw from the British Open last week with shoulder and back ailments. He hopes to be ready to play the Seniors. And he hopes to break through to his first win this year after several close losses.
He tied for second at the ACE Group Classic, placed third at the Alliance Championship and tied for fourth at the Senior PGA Championship. But in his last outing, at the Bayer Advantage Celebrity Pro-Am, he was way back in a tie for 50th. Thats golf, he says, reflecting back on last year when he was the player of the year on the Champions Tour. This is a sport that takes just as fast as it gives.
We all go through bad spells, Watson says. If you go through a bad spell after a good year, you just say, Well, Ill just wait a while and itll be back.
If you go through a bad year and youre still going through a bad spell, you start panicking a little bit. Then you start to panic a lot.
But the panic is eased when you once again see the birdies falling.
A good year can help you get through those rough spots ' which we all have. It doesnt feel quite right today, I can do it, I know I can do it, dont worry about a bad swing or a bad shot. Thats what a good year will do for you. Thats what a good tournament will do for you.
Watson has blended in nicely with the gents of the Champions Tour. Now 54 years old, the winner of 39 victories on the regular tour has time for his family of three children amongst the tournament schedule. And he goes about the business of golf without the intensity he displayed 15 years ago.
This tour is more relaxed, he said. Over-all, its just more relaxed.
But that doesnt the Champions is any less competitive.
Look at Hale (Irwin) ' Hale has dominated this tour since he first came out here. The only reason I beat him for Player of the Year last year was because he was half crippled ' his back went out on him the U.S. Open and he couldnt play half the year. I probably wouldnt have otherwise. Hes the cream of the crop out here.
But you know, weve got Craig (Stadler) out here now ' Craigs going to win a lot. Watch out for Eduardo Romero in July! I saw him at the Masters and I said, When are coming out? He said, I cant wait! July! July! He hits the ball so far. Hell dominate the tour someday.
Watson is averaging 282 yards off the tee ' far more than he did when he was winning eight majors on the regular tour. Improved equipment has made him a long hitter even into the 50s. Its just an example of how different the game has become.
There was a real difference in short hitters and the long hitters in days past, said Watson. There isnt anymore ' there simply arent any short hitters. But in the old days of the persimmon driver ' you hit the ball in the neck with a persimmon, and it didnt go anywhere. The longer hitters might get 235.
Now, you hit it in the neck, that sweet spot is about two inches wide, it goes for a mile. The good players dont miss the big ole sweet spot very often.
Watson remembers taking out a persimmon driver a couple of years ago down in Australia. And he remembers the results. Its enough to want time to roll back the hands of time.
I hit it great, he exclaimed. Hit it right in the middle of the face.
Anymore, though, you cant work the ball with a driver. Thats the balls fault. The ball just doesnt spin as much.
Watsons step-children are aged 12, 15 and 17. They may be something of a detriment playing good golf. But its a detriment that he will gladly discharge.
Its a wonderful distraction. A wonderful distraction, he says readily.
The little girls is getting involved in team penning, a cattle game on which you chase three cattle out of a big herd into a pen at the end of the arena. You have to rope a little bit. Cowboy stuff.
Not me! I just pay the bills and watch.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.