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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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x