Watson stands by decision to bench Phil and Keegan

By Jason SobelSeptember 27, 2014, 8:15 pm

GLENEAGLES, Scotland – It is right around high noon on Saturday and Phil Mickelson is preparing for a duel.

Waiting at the Gleneagles clubhouse for U.S. captain Tom Watson, he simply needs confirmation of his assumption. He just needs Watson to assure him that he’ll once again be paired with Keegan Bradley in the afternoon session, just as he was twice the day before and three times when the Ryder Cup was last contested two years ago.

Why would he think any differently? This is the 10th straight appearance in the biennial event for Mickelson and never once has he been benched for an entire day. He has already been left out of the morning session, though, an idea which Watson believed was the right call during dinner the night before.

“I sat at the table with him,” the captain would later explain. “He was exhausted.”

Exhausted because he’d competed in two matches with Bradley during the day, posting a 1-1 record while playing a total of 34 holes. At 44, Mickelson is no longer a lock to play all five sessions. In fact, two years ago, after earning three wins with his younger partner, he requested to sit out the Saturday afternoon matches.

He was always going to sit out a Saturday session this time, too, especially after playing twice on Friday. In retrospect, Watson admits now, perhaps that was a mistake. Perhaps he should have given him Friday afternoon off.

Ryder Cup: Articles, videos and photos

Now, though, Mickelson is rested and ready to go. He is getting prepared to compete in the foursomes session – his preferred format, even if it doesn’t necessarily suit his skillset.

When the captain arrives, he gathers Mickelson with Bradley and fellow team member Webb Simpson. Instead of confirming their inclusion in the matches, though, he breaks the news to them.

They won’t be playing today.

“I expected exactly what Phil said to me,” Watson later recalled.

Unhappy with the decision, maybe even growing irate, he lobbies for the captain to change his mind.

"I've got a good record in the alternate-shot,” Mickelson tells him. “We can get it done, captain. We want the chance."

Watson doesn’t budge.

It takes a certain kind of captain to take such a stand against a five-time major champion and fellow Hall-of-Fame member, but Watson is exactly that kind of captain. He listens to Mickelson’s plea, hears him out. Then he answers once again.


With that, Watson hops back into his cart to watch the four matches in the morning session. Mickelson isn’t done, though.

This time he sends a text message to the captain.

“Give us a chance,” it reads.

Watson doesn’t, though. He sticks to his plan.

When he texts Mickelson back, he tells him the same answer.


For the remainder of the afternoon, Mickelson shuttled between the four team matches, wearing oversized gloves and alternatingly playing the roles of cheerleader and motivational speaker.

It’s a different role than he’s been so accustomed to having over the years. It must be equal parts debilitating and embarrassing, being told to watch from the sidelines while other less accomplished players compete for his country.

It must be a helpless feeling, too. Mickelson could only watch as Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar lose their match, then Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan, then Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler, until finally Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed surrender a lead on the final hole to only earn a disappointing half point.

Later, Watson is forced to explain the decision to keep Mickelson – and Bradley – from playing the entire day.

“I felt that we had the four best teams possible in the afternoon for alternate shot,” he says. “We can talk about decisions on teams all you want. The players that perform are the people that you have to talk about.”

He was then asked about it again, about the reaction from his heralded tandem to being left out.

“They were disappointed. I said, ‘I'm trying to make the best decisions possible in the afternoon with the lineup that's going to be the best for our team to win points.’ They were disappointed. They wanted to play. I like that in a player. I like the push-back that I got from them.”

Yes, Watson likes the attitude, he likes players who want the pressure on their shoulders. In this instance, though, he just didn’t like them enough to insert them into the lineup.

He’s then asked one more time about the move. He’s questioned as to whether he regrets it. To this, the captain only offers up a simple response that had become a theme throughout the day.


Getty Images

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.''

Getty Images

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. 

Getty Images

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 Hideki 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. 

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

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."