T. Watson pulls 'miracle' by playing within himself

By Joe PosnanskiApril 9, 2015, 8:35 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Moments after Tom Watson became the oldest golfer to ever break par at the Masters, he explained something: He cannot play No. 7. He just can’t play the hole; he cannot hit the ball far enough to reach the green with his second shot. He needs a perfect drive and a little bit of luck to par No. 9. He’s more or less looking for heavenly help on Nos. 10 and 11, he has no shot at No. 14 and he says No. 17 requires him to hit a 4-iron approach to the green, a geometric impossibility.

Remember: He explains this AFTER he shot a 71 at age 65. The only other man in his 60s to ever break par at the Masters was Sam Snead, and he was a relatively spry 61 at the time.

“At my age,” Watson says of his sub-par round, “that’s a minor miracle.”

Watson has sprinkled the latter part of his career with minor miracles. There was the 67 he shot in his opening round at Augusta five years ago, putting him just a shot off the lead. There was the time in 2003 when he led the U.S. Open after the first round – this while his longtime caddie and friend Bruce Edwards carried the bag though he was already in the early stages of ALS. And, most famously, he was a shot away from winning the Open Championship at Turnberry just before he turned 60.

This minor miracle was different, though, because despite all the evidence, Tom Watson still BELIEVED he could contend in those days. His wife Hillary would tell him, “You are as good as anybody out there … even if he didn’t always believe it in here,” she added parenthetically as she pointed at her heart. “And then he would do these unlikely things and act surprised that anyone else was surprised.”

“It’s your job, guys, to write the stories,” Watson would say. “It’s my job to make them.”

This time around? “Well,” he said sheepishly, “now I know how you guys feel when you play golf.”

That’s because he just can’t hit it long enough to compete at Augusta National. Watson says he really didn’t start seeing his shot length fall off until a couple of years ago, but now he seems to lose significant yardage every month. Watson says that he isn’t hitting the ball nearly as long as he did even at last year’s Masters. And last year he checked out after shooting 78 and 81.

Put it this way: Ben Crenshaw is two years younger than Watson and he has announced that this will be his last Masters. If it wouldn’t have stolen Crenshaw’s moment, you get the sense Watson would have announced the same.

“I can’t really play here,” he said.

So then, how does he break par? Well, he does it by “playing within myself,” or, in the language weekend golfers can understand, by playing old-man golf. He played all the par 5s as three-shot holes, of course, and he birdied two of them. His bunker shot at No. 10 was moving too fast, but it dropped in the hole – turning bogey to birdie. He hit a spectacular tee shot at the par-3 16th and made a short birdie putt.

And the rest of round? He held on for dear life. On the longest holes he hit the ball into the general area of the green and used his short game to try and eke out pars. In his younger days, Watson was so wild that he became known for making what the other golfers called “Watson Pars” – remarkable saves from the woods and off the greens. Watson’s pars on Thursday weren’t quite as spectacular, but they were impressive. He had an up-and-down at No. 11, a nice pitch at No. 14 and a good putt at the 18th.

“I struggled the last few years trying to hit shots like I used to,” Watson says. “My ego got involved too much. Today, I just played within myself. … And yes, the competitive juices start to flow. Are you kidding? It’s fun to shoot under par at Augusta. That doesn’t get old, ever. I didn’t know if I could ever do that again.”

Then he is asked if he can contend. I’ve known Tom Watson for 25 years, and I know his pride. I’ve never once heard him say that he can’t contend … and he doesn’t exactly admit that on Thursday either. Not exactly.

“Let’s just say that I’m not kidding myself.”

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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.