Excerpt from Posnanski's Nicklaus-Watson book

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 3, 2015, 3:45 pm

NBCSports.com columnist and GolfChannel.com contributor Joe Posnanski's latest book is "The Secret of Golf: The Story of Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus." It is set to be released on June 9 from Simon and Schuster. Read an excerpt of the book below and click here to read more.

From the time he was in junior high school, Jack Nicklaus had reigned supreme in Tom Watson’s mind. Nicklaus had vanquished his hero, Arnold Palmer. Nicklaus had pushed the boundaries of golf excellence. When Watson first came on the PGA Tour, Nicklaus was a faraway star playing what seemed a different game. Watson would watch him, follow him, study him. One weekend in New Orleans, he walked with the gallery after Nicklaus. “It was hard with the fans out there, and I’m trying to see what club he’s hitting off the thirteenth tee or where he’s laying up or what type of shot he’s playing. But I studied him every chance I could.”

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"1114416","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","height":"364","style":"float: right; margin: 5px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"250"}}]]At the beginning of 1975, though, Watson felt ready to challenge Nicklaus. He had won a tournament. He had contended at the U.S. Open. Golfers and fans began to talk about him more and more; someone coined the phrase Watson par. A Watson par might go like this: Watson would hit a terrible drive into the woods somewhere. He often hit terrible drives then. He would smile his hard smile, find the ball behind a tree or barely visible in high grass, and hit a deft rescue shot to the fairway somewhere.

He would hit a good third shot that might stop eight or ten feet from the hole. And then he would make the putt for a par.

Watson made Watson pars so often and with such astonishing shots and putts that a little bit of a legend built up around him. There seemed no trouble he could not overcome.

“I never saw anybody—anybody—who was as positive after a bad shot as Tom Watson,” Johnny Miller said. “It was crazy, really. He just never let it bother him.”

In Augusta at the Masters, Watson got his chance to match up with Nicklaus. Tom Weiskopf, one of the fleet of “next Nicklaus” golfers who came onto the Tour, led the Masters going into Sunday. Nicklaus was a shot back; Miller was four back; Watson five. The Masters in those days mixed and matched the Sunday pairings. For some reason that neither golfer remembers, that day Watson and Nicklaus were paired, and Weiskopf and Miller played in the ground behind them. It made for great television.

Watson wasn’t a big part of the story. He played reasonably well, but Nicklaus, Weiskopf, and Miller left him behind. The CBS producer Frank Chirkinian gleefully described how the day unfolded like a perfectly structured drama. Nicklaus was the reigning king. Weiskopf was the dark and grim younger brother who longed for his moment. Miller was the blond and heroic prince making his charge. The crescendo came when Nicklaus teed off on the 16th hole. “Get up!” he shouted at the ball; he had hit a poor shot. The ball did not get up. It settled forty treacherous feet away from the cup; he would need all of his skill and nerve just to two-putt the hole.

Meanwhile, back on the 15th hole, Weiskopf and Miller were in position to make eagles or birdies and take the tournament away from Nicklaus.

After Nicklaus hit his shot, Watson played his role in the theater, plunking his tee shot in the water. He walked all the way to the green to see if his ball had crossed land; it had not. So he walked back to the tee, hit the ball again, and again hit into the water. Finally, on his third attempt, he put the ball on dry land.

Chirkinian could not believe his telecasting fortune. He did not know anything about Watson yet, but he did know that Watson’s fumbling had given Weiskopf and Miller time to hit their approach shots. This set up a remarkable television scene. The 15th green and 16th tee are only a few yards away from each other. Nicklaus would see exactly what Weiskopf and Miller did, and they would watch Nicklaus’s putt. Chirkinian built the drama by directing his camera to first show Weiskopf, then Nicklaus, then Miller. For Chirkinian it felt like the moment before a heavyweight boxing fight. Weiskopf putted first. He made his ten-foot putt to take the lead, and Chirkinian turned the camera on Nicklaus. “And that,” Ben Wright announced, “is going to be evil music ringing in Nicklaus’s ears.”

Then it was Nicklaus’s turn. ... (Click here to read more)

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.