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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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.
Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.