Hawk's Nest: Love lost, but plenty gained this week

By John HawkinsMay 26, 2014, 2:20 pm

A word to the wise: If Colin Montgomerie accepts your invitation to play in the member-guest this summer, you might want to warn your opponents about Monty’s antics when things slow to a crawl. The big fella does not like to wait. Unlike most tour pros, he has virtually no tolerance for tortoises, and that includes Bernhard Langer, a man whom Montgomerie has been competing against for more than a quarter-century.

“Bernhard is different,” Monty assessed after the third round of the Senior PGA Championship. “You have to adjust your own pace. There’s no point in playing faster to make up for someone who isn’t as fast.”

Of course, Monty’s idea of an adjustment isn’t the same as yours or mine. He goes into a tizzy, or at the very least, he gets quite demonstrative. His body language suggests that someone recently dumped a nest full of hornets down his trousers. As Langer goes to take a third look at that 7-footer for par, there is no letup. Have you ever seen a 9-year-old boy who really, really needs to use the bathroom?

When it’s finally his turn, Montgomerie barely comes to a standstill before slamming his putt into the back of the hole. He turns and heads to the next tee in that lumbering march of his, looking a lot more like a guy on his way to shooting 85 than leading the tournament.

I find his behavior rather hysterical, especially when he gets to the media center and talks about Langer in almost reverential terms. I’ve seen Monty lose the U.S. Open because he came unglued. I’ve also watched him dominate Ryder Cups, where the pace of play is often glacial, holing everything he stood over and maybe missing one fairway each day.

All these years later, I still can’t figure the dude out. How can such a brat be such an outstanding player? Would he have been even better if he’d exercised a little more composure? In victory and defeat, Montgomerie is the puzzle no one ever managed to solve, and in that respect, few players in the modern era have been more fascinating.

AND JUST LIKE that, golf’s two best young players turn their seasons around, winning tournaments six time zones and five hours apart. The Adam Scott-Jason Dufner playoff at Colonial was ultra-riveting, but Rory McIlroy’s triumph at Wentworth was a much bigger deal – over a premium Euro field in his first start since breaking up with fiancee Caroline Wozniacki.

Really? That’s all it took? I know McIlromantic is sincerely bummed out about losing his steady, but it’s hard not to read between the lines on this one. Distractions can be a serious problem for a 25-year-old kid with two major titles and more money than he knows what to do with.

From the very start, Tiger Woods had an ample support staff to handle anything that didn’t involve striking a golf ball. Not that McIlreality is doing his own laundry, but there are plenty of signs that indicate he hasn’t pursued greatness as a single focus. There has been a lot of change in his professional life since he crushed the field at the 2012 PGA – it’s hard enough to win when that’s all you’re thinking about.

Hey, if Thomas Bjorn doesn’t stumble to a Sunday 75, McIlroy grabs another top 10 and doesn’t resolve any issues as to which direction he’s heading. He hasn’t been playing poorly in 2014, but when a guy with his talent goes winless for 21 months, there clearly has to be a reason.

AS FOR THE tournament McIlrebound won, there is no reasonable explanation as to why the Euro Tour’s PGA Championship isn’t a WGC event. They launch one in China and and play it in November, which makes no sense, but Camp Ponte Vedra can’t see the credibility value by staging one in the United Kingdom?

Too bad. Wentworth is one of the game’s great venues. London might be the world’s coolest city, and to leave Europe out of the WGC equation altogether is just plain silly. It helps explain why every high-profile American player passes on the event year after year, but then, our guys only travel overseas when there’s a big fat appearance fee involved.

When the WGC series began in 1999, the third and final event of the season was played at Valderrama GC in Spain, which simply wasn’t a good idea – too remote a location, too underdeveloped as a golf nation, too goofy a layout. American Express was the title sponsor, however, so Valderrama it was, although the tournament soon began moving around until AmEx surrendered its host status in 2006.

A couple of those WGCs were played in Ireland, and in ’06, the AmEx was held in England. Other than the Open Championship, that was the last time a PGA Tour event was held on British soil. For all the interest shown in Asia by the game’s governing bodies, the motivation there is purely commercial.

That grow-the-game stuff is all well and good, but you’d think the neckties would sense an obligation to the part of the world where golf holds the most cultural significance.

NOT THAT I have any reason not to believe him, but it will be interesting to see if U.S. Ryder Cup skipper Tom Watson adds Woods to the team regardless of how he plays upon his return from back surgery. Watson has made it clear that he intends to use a captain’s pick on Sir Eldrick, but things can change, and we’re still a long way off before a decision has to be made.

There are several things to consider here other than Woods’ health and on-course performance. Tiger and Watson are not exactly buddy-buddy – the captain hasn’t been bashful about expressing negative opinions regarding Woods’ behavior over the years. And Tiger, as we all know, is one of the great grudge-holders in the history of golf.

Instead of thinking out loud, let’s turn to Paul Azinger, who knows both men well and was the last U.S. pilot to actually win a Ryder Cup. And Azinger did it without Woods, who missed the 2008 matches at Valhalla while recovering from knee surgery.

“I wouldn’t be giving Tiger a whole lot of thought at this point,” Azinger said. “You have no control over how he stands physically. I would have a hard time not picking him. I would put it to him as, ‘Do you want to help us avenge what happened last time [2012]’

“If you’re Watson, you go right to Tiger and ask him point-blank: Do you want to play? It becomes a terrific leadership option for Watson. Pick him or not, he becomes assertive either way. The day he makes that decision is the day he truly becomes the leader of that squad.”

An educated guess? Woods will want to play. His return remains the source of great speculation, but there’s a decent chance he’ll play in at least one major, perhaps two. He’s still Tiger Woods. He could win both and make it a moot point.

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G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.

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Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:56 am

LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.

Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.

Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.

“When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

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Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.

“Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”

Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.

“Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”

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Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:37 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.

Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.

It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.

“I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.

“I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”

Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.

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Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:25 am

LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?

The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.

Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.

In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.

What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.

If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.

Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.

“You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.

That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.

Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."

“Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”

While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.

“Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”

While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.

Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.

“I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”

It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.

One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.

“Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.

And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.