Sunday Nervous Sunday

By Mercer BaggsJune 18, 2005, 4:00 pm
Its Sunday. Its a major. Youre in contention.
 
Even your nerves are nervous.
 
Phil Mickelson
The pressure of trying to win a major championship can get the better of even the best players.
Theres nothing quite like being in one of the final groups in the final round in a major championship. Its a feeling every player would love to experience. But one which not everyone knows how to handle.
 
How do you handle this, the biggest day of your professional career?
 
It varies from player to player. Its based in personality. It can depend on experience.
 
You ask a hundred different guys and youll get a hundred different answers, said Brad Faxon. I dont think theres any right or wrong way to handle it.
 
The waiting may be the hardest part.
 
Before last years U.S. Open, Retief Goosen was up before 8:00 in the morning. The 54-hole leader, he wasnt scheduled to tee off until seven hours later.
 
He said he tried to bide his time by playing with his son and watching movies: Alien 3 or whatever it was. Ghostbusters, he said with a laugh.
 
Jim Furyk tried a similar routine when he was in Goosens position a year prior.
 
It was a little tougher than I expected, he said after winning the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. The worst part about today was the 3:00 tee time, and waking up at 8:00, 8:30 in the morning ' trying to figure out what I was going to do to kill the time until 12:30, 12:45 when I wanted to leave for the golf course.
 
I watched a movie this morning. My daughter was running all over the place. But I was pretty much quiet, and I think my family sensed that I was tight this morning. No one really said a word to me, and that was probably all the better for me, because I was pretty nervous.
 
That same year, Chad Campbell found himself in the final twosome alongside Shaun Micheel at the PGA Championship.
 
Campbells recipe for wasting away the day is simple: I like to sleep as much as I can, he said.
 
But even he found his preferred method of killing time an impossible endeavor when contending on a major Sunday.
 
You have all that extra time to deal with, he said. Even I cant sleep that long.
 
That was Campbells first experience in such a situation, which means he may better know how to manage the day when it comes again.
 
Ernie Els has had plenty of those days. The first one came in the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
 
I think I had a two-shot lead. Obviously, I was very nervous, he said. Youre always pretty nervous. Youre pretty tense.
 
Faxon also felt the nerves and the tension in '94, when he held a share of the 54-hole lead at the British Open. He couldnt keep his mind from racing that Sunday. He finished with a 3-over 73 and tied for seventh.
 
Youre thinking about the fact that you want to get out there and play. Youre thinking about how youve played. Youre thinking about what you want to do. Youre thinking about everything, he said.
 
At some point during the day, prior to actually hitting that first official shot, the nerves will subside. Theyll wear themselves out and need an early-afternoon nap. But theyll be back.
 
Because after youve settled down a bit, had a bite to eat, hit a few balls; its go time.
 
Then not only do you have to find a way to appease those reawakened nerves; you have to execute golf shots under the most extreme conditions.
 
Probably the most difficult thing about it is the emotion, said Sergio Garcia. Although you might be in contention, you might have a chance to win; youre going to get excited. But you dont want to get too excited.
 
Even the most experienced and accomplished players get overly anxious when trying to win a major championship. And even they cant put those nerves in a box and hide them away. Instead, theyve learned to try and embrace the edge.
 
I think that you never really get comfortable, but you start to enjoy the nervous feeling, that excitement, that uncertainty, said 2004 Masters champion Phil Mickelson. Instead of fearing it, you start to enjoy it.
 
Such a transformation can only come through experience. Thats why you expect Goosen to win come Sunday evening, and not Olin Browne or Jason Gore.
 
The former knows what it takes to win a major championship. He knows how to handle those nerves. He knows how to keep his composure. And he knows these things because he's experienced it all before ' time and time and time again. And he's overcome it.
 
Its putting yourself there many times, said nine-time major champion Tiger Woods. If you put yourself up there, youre going to have failures. But then again, if you put yourself up there enough times, youre going to have successes, too. The whole idea is to put yourself there time and time and time again. Eventually, the odds are in your favor.
 
The more youre in it, the more comfortable you get, said three-time major champion Vijay Singh. You get butterflies, but you kind of focus in on what youre doing.
 
Of course, experience in these situations is no guarantee for victory. Just ask Todd Hamilton or Ben Curtis or Shaun Micheel.
 
Nerves can be overwhelming. They can override all other faculties. See Tiger playing the final two holes of regulation in this years Masters. See Justin Leonard trying to close out last years PGA Championship. See Els and Singh and Norman and Palmer, and even Sorenstam at some point in their careers. Even the greatest of the greats had to let their nerves and the pressure of winning a major championship get the best of them at some point. Regardless of what we are led to believe, Jack Nicklaus didnt always make every putt he had to.
 
As Micheel, the '03 PGA champion, said: I think the fear of the unknown frightens all of us.
 
Its Sunday. Its a major. Youre in contention. Even your nerves are nervous.
 
Now how are you going to handle it?
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
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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.