Nicklaus, Watson rivalry cemented by friendship, respect

By John FeinsteinMay 31, 2012, 10:14 pm

On the second day of the 1991 Masters, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus were paired in the final group. By the end of a long, rainy afternoon, Watson was on his way to a second straight 68 and the lead in the tournament. Nicklaus was en route to shooting 72.

Even in the gloaming, with the rain coming down steadily, the 18th green was ringed by spectators as the two men made their way up the final fairway. As always, Watson walked briskly while Nicklaus moved at a slower pace. There’s a spot at the top of the hill where applause for the players always begins. Those who have played at Augusta National often enough know exactly where that spot is and almost always take off their caps to acknowledge the applause just as it begins to build.

A few steps short of that spot, Watson stopped. He waited until Nicklaus, a quizzical look on his face, chugged up beside him.

“What are you doing?” Nicklaus asked.

“Waiting for you,” Watson said. “You walk up on the green first.”

Nicklaus shook his head. “Oh no,” he said. “You go first, you’re leading the golf tournament.”

 “Doesn’t matter,” Watson said firmly. “You’re going first. YOU’RE Jack Nicklaus.”

Finally, they put their arms around one another and compromised: They walked onto the green together.

Which was exactly as it should have been. The argument can be made that, among all the great rivalries in sports, there never has been one where those involved respected one another more than Watson and Nicklaus.

More often than not, rivals – teams or individuals – don’t truly understand how important their most feared opponent was until after they’re no longer competing against one another.

Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer privately sniped at one another for years until they became friends as they approached their golfing dotage. John McEnroe always wanted to be more like Bjorn Borg and Borg always wanted to be more like McEnroe but the two men remained baffled by one another long after each had retired. To this day fans of Duke and North Carolina fail to understand how much each means to the other.

Watson and Nicklaus got it almost from the beginning. Sure, there was the moment at the 1977 Masters when Watson thought Nicklaus was pointing back at him after making a birdie putt on Sunday to take the lead, but that was a moment in the cauldron of a major championship that passed quickly.

Watson always knew he wanted to emulate Nicklaus, not just as a player, but as a champion. No one ever competed harder than Nicklaus, no one ever wanted to win more than Nicklaus. No one ever BELIEVED he was going to win more than Nicklaus. Watson became all those things. Some of it was just who he was but some of it was also watching Nicklaus from up close in victory and defeat.

As dramatic as Watson’s 1977 victory over Nicklaus at Turnberry was, no win meant more to him than his U.S. Open victory in 1982 at Pebble Beach. His chip-in on the 17th hole on Sunday is as famous as any shot in golf history and the fact that it was his national championship made it that much more significant. After all, as a boy he hadn’t played “name the Masters champion” or “name the British Open or PGA champion” with his father. It was always – always – “name the U.S. Open champion.”

But what makes that memory so extraordinary for Watson is Nicklaus. It wasn’t just that he beat the man he considered the best to ever play the game in the championship he most wanted to win by finishing birdie-birdie, it was the reaction of that man when he walked off the 18th green.

“You did it to me again, you little SOB,” Nicklaus whispered in Watson’s ear. “I couldn’t be more proud of you.”

That reaction to a crushing defeat is what sets a champion apart from a great player. The same could be said of Watson after he came so agonizingly close to making history by winning the British Open at the age of 59 three years ago. “Hey fellas,” he said as truly dejected members of the media trudged into the interview room. “This isn’t a funeral, you know.”

It was that line that Nicklaus chose to quote Wednesday when he honored his old friend at the Memorial Tournament. The two have become extremely close in recent years, talking often. Nicklaus, who says he rarely watches golf on television, sat riveted along with everyone else on that Sunday in 2009 when Watson almost did the impossible at the site of his historic duel with Nicklaus 32 years earlier.

“Broke my heart,” Nicklaus said a few days later. “I really thought Tom was going to do it.”

They chat, they tease, they consult, they console. In 2007, the day after Tiger Woods won the PGA in a runaway for his 13th major title, Watson called Nicklaus.

“Did you watch the kid yesterday?” Watson asked.

'For a little while,” Nicklaus said.

“He’s pretty good,” Watson said, needling just a little bit.

“Tom,” Nicklaus answered, “I think he may be the greatest player of all time.”

He might be. He still might surpass Nicklaus’ total of 18 major titles.

But one thing is certain: Neither Woods nor anyone else is likely to have a rivalry – or a friendship – quite like Watson and Nicklaus. They’re linked forever, whether it is dueling in the sun in Scotland or on a windy links off Monterey Bay. Or walking arm-in-arm through the rain at Augusta.

Those memories are indelible in the minds of both men. And in the minds of all of those lucky enough to have witnessed them.

Rahm, Koepka both jump in OWGR after wins

By Will GrayNovember 20, 2017, 1:19 pm

Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka both made moves inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings following wins in Dubai and Japan, respectively.

Rahm captured the European Tour season finale, winning the DP World Tour Championship by a shot. It was his third worldwide victory of 2017 and it allowed the Spaniard to overtake Hideki Matsuyama at world No. 4. It also establishes a new career high in the rankings for Rahm, who started the year ranked No. 137.

Koepka cruised to a nine-shot victory while successfully defending his title at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix. The victory was his first since winning the U.S. Open and it helped Koepka jump three spots to No. 7 in the latest rankings. Reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele, who finished second behind Koepka in Japan, went from 30th to 24th.

After earning his maiden PGA Tour victory at the RSM Classic, Austin Cook vaulted from No. 302 to No. 144 in the world. Runner-up J.J. Spaun jumped 48 spots to No. 116, while a hole-out with his final approach helped Brian Gay rise 73 spots to No. 191 after finishing alone in third at Sea Island.

Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas with Rahm and Matsuyama now rounding out the top five. Justin Rose remains at No. 6, followed by Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson. Rory McIlroy slid two spots to No. 10 and is now in danger of falling out of the top 10 for the first time since May 2014.

With his return to competition now less than two weeks away, Tiger Woods fell four more spots to No. 1193 in the latest rankings.

Love to undergo hip replacement surgery

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 1:08 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Two days removed from arguably the most hectic week of his year, Davis Love III will undergo replacement surgery on his left hip.

Love, who hosted and played in last week’s RSM Classic, said he tried to avoid the surgery, but the pain became too much and he will undergo the procedure on Tuesday at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.

“I had a hip problem the last few years, and I had a hip resurfacing trying to avoid hip surgery because I’m a chicken, but after playing [the CIMB Classic and Sanderson Farms Championship] I realized it was an uphill battle,” Love said.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Love said doctors have told him recovery from the procedure will take between three to four months, but he should be able to start work on his chipping and putting within a few weeks.

Love, who missed the cut at the RSM Classic, said earlier in the week that his goal is to become the oldest PGA Tour winner and that the only way to achieve that was by having the surgery.

“Now I’m excited that I’ve crossed that bridge,” said Love, who will turn 54 next April. “Once I get over that I can go right back to the Tour. I won after a spine fusion [2015 Wyndham Championship] and now I’d like to win with a new hip. That’s the reason I’m doing it so I can get back to golf and keep up.”

LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

Parity reigned.

Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.

Vare Trophy
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.

CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.

LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.

Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

How did she evaluate her season?

“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”