Watson Says Hi to Old Nemesis
Tom Watson was once a dead-eyed dude with the putter. That was when he was winning 36 times on the PGA TOUR. But he lost his touch, and though he won three more times on the regular tour and eight times on the Champions, he never again has been a consistently good putter.
This time, it was the U.S. Senior Open, played in his home state of Kansas. Watson played brilliantly in front of the heartlanders, scratching out a two-shot lead as the final round began. But alas, on Sunday the old nemesis was right there, doing those funny little things in the most maddening of circumstances. He took 30 putts ' 16 the front nine ' and lost it by two strokes to a surprised Allen Doyle.
Actually, Watson is better than he used to be with the confound instrument. But it has a way of jumping up and submarining him in the most inopportune of times. He still makes plenty of long- and medium-range putts. But the short ones sometimes the bottom of the cup is covered with clear plastic when he gets ready to attempt a 3-footer.
Sunday got off to an ominous start when he 3-putted the second hole. Now he gets to No. 3, and hes shell-shocked, and he 3-putts again. And after that, it was apparent that he just wasnt going to get the job done.
Ive had problems with the short putts, with the stroke not going straight whack back and straight through, Watson said, and it was my Achilles heel today. It caused a couple actually, I think four very makeable short putts that I missed. And that's obviously, that puts me right there in the tournament to win the golf tournament.
What makes it all the more troubling is that, just Friday, putting was the strong point of his game. During that round he gave a very strong performance, one-putting 11 greens. Thats probably testimony to the fact that he didnt have very many short return putts.
But then, on Sunday, the old bugaboo reappeared. And hes suffered long enough with it that he knows it can rise at any time.
I fight it all the time, said Watson, who by now knows that it isnt going to get much better. He hits the woods and irons great. And if the putts would just drop on an average basis, he would be by far the best senior golfer in history.
The long putting stroke is OK, he said. The short stroke is just - I just have a hard time getting the ball to go - the stroke to go straight back and straight through.
But I'll just live with it.
Watson, indeed, has learned to live with it. Actually, last season he was all the way up to No. 6 in putting among the seniors. Back in 2003 he was second. But those figures were testimony to his prowess to his accuracy from 10 feet and more. The short ones have always been a hit-or-miss thing.
He explained what it feels like when you are zeroing in on the hole with the putter ' and he certainly remembers how with an excellent percentage as a younger player when he was good as putter as there was in the game. Up until the age of, say, 35, Watson was absolutely fearless in charging the hole. There wasnt an iota of a doubt in his mind that he would make the comebacker, the 3- , 4- and 5-foot return putt.
But eventually he slipped into a few bad habits on the rollers, and then ' voila ' it was there ' he started missing the short one.
Putting - what happens there is that you get in a bad set-up position and you work from that position for a long time, and it gets ingrained in your stroke. And it's hard to break that, any bad habits, he said.
At one time, the short misses drove Watson insane. But years and years of trying, working incessantly but still not improving much, made him realize that he never again would be a reliable short putter. He approaches it philosophically now, realizing that one changes the things that can be changed, and accepts those which cant.
It's always a guess, he conceded. I'm not very certain with it.
Before, I was a great wind putter. I had a short back stroke and a popping stroke. Now my stroke goes longer to the inside, kind of on a curve, and it's not pretty. The longer stroke is pretty good - straight back and straight through. But once I get to a certain stroke, way to stroke, where I have to hit a softer hit, it doesn't work very well.
Watson moves to the Ford Senior Players Championship this week, and he knows that, after 35 years as a professional golfer, there is no reason to expect a great improvement. He is hopeful that he wont let it blindside him again. But he realizes that it might. That is the life of Tom Watson at 55.
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South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team
South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.
Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.
Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.
Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.
So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.
Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.
The fourball results:
LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.
LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def. Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.
LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.
KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.
LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee
LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.
NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.
Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer
In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.
The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.
Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.
“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”
Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.
Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.
This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.
Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.
Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.
The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.
Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”
Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”
The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.
First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.
“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”
A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.
“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.
For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.
Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.
“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”
Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?
“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”
Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.
Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.
Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.
Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.
“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”
Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.
While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.
Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ
Updated at 11:14 a.m. ET
An Instagram user known as hwalks posted photos to her account that included images of Tiger Woods, President Trump and Dustin Johnson Friday at Trump National, as well as video of Woods' swing.
Here are some other social media posts that have surfaced:
Trump Jupiter Tiger, Johnson, Faxon,Trumps staff &team treats everyone the best, members and media guests alike, FACT pic.twitter.com/TB61q7Qe3y— Dr. Eric Kaplan (@drekaplan) November 24, 2017
Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.
President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
After Turkey call I will be heading over to Trump National Golf Club, Jupiter, to play golf (quickly) with Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson. Then back to Mar-a-Lago for talks on bringing even more jobs and companies back to the USA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2017
Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.
Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong
HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.
Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.
''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''
Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.
Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.
''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''
Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).
''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''