Watney wrestles away title from Rollins

By Rex HoggardFebruary 8, 2009, 5:00 pm
2006 Buick InvitationalSAN DIEGO ' Nick Watney ' the strong, silent type with an athletic swing and sometimes apathetic putting stroke ' watched his 22-footer at the 54th hole trundle by the hole for a pedestrian par on the South Courses final hole and headed directly for Torrey Pines pit-marked putting green.
 
Watney grew up in Northern California and knows how fickle Poas imperfect surfaces can be, but it wasnt the turf, it was the technique. Something in his putting stroke wasnt right, hadnt been for some time.
 
For all of Watneys fearlessness and raw power, it has been the 27-year-olds putting that marked the middle ground between trophy hoisting and heading home empty handed. Its what drove Watney to Torreys practice green as darkness spread across the seaside muni. If only for 30 minutes, It was enough, the newest member of the Tours burgeoning Club Twentysomething smiled.
 
History will count Watneys towering hybrid second shot from 235 yards on the last hole as the haymaker that denied John Rollins the Buick Invitational title most had conceded to him five holes earlier. With a knowing smirk, Watney will count his nervous two-putt from 60 feet at the par-5 closer as the game winner. Or he will recount his 57-foot twofer on the 13th to keep pace with Rollins as the play of the game. Or hell cut straight to the case: Didnt have any three-putts.
 
Conversely, Rollins had too many a three-swipes, particularly down the stretch when he could have closed out Watney and fellow antagonist Camilo Villegas.
 
Rollins, who scorched the South on Friday with a 64 to move into the hunt, had four three-putts in an eight-hole stretch beginning at the 12th on Saturday and culminating with a sloppy bogey at the first to begin a final round that should have been a walkover considering he started the final lap leading by three.
 
Not that Rollins went meekly or quickly. Even after his unsteady start, he maintained the lead for 17 holes, pulling away with what appeared the clincher when he eagled the par-5 13th hole from 21 feet. With five holes to play, Rollins was three up on a group that included Watney, Villegas and Lucas Glover.
 
Despite the cushion, there was the slightest of cracks in Rollins game, an action that had appeared in perfect tempo for three days. From his home in Dallas, Rollins swing coach Randy Smith nervously watched his man round the turn Sunday.
 
He seems a little tense on his right side, said Smith, who suggested Rollins move closer to the ball on Tuesday. I want to see that right elbow fold a little earlier in the swing.
 
The result, Smith continued, was a shot that sailed slightly to the right. The first miss occurred on the 14th, when Rollins approach fell short and right of the green. Two holes later, another miss and some bad luck added up to a bogey-4 and his lead had been condensed to the size of a Southern California parking spot.
 
It was as bad a plugged lie as Ive had in a while, Rollins said of his tee shot on the 16th. It was an unfortunate break at that stage in the tournament. Things had been going along kind of OK, and then that got me there on 16.
 
Watney was dealing with his own sordid history on the 16th. During the final round of last years U.S. Open he three-putted from a similar spot on the scenic par 3, so when he stepped in on his 38 footer he wasnt expecting to walk off the green with a share of the lead.
 
I had an idea that it breaks a ton right there. I was really just trying to hit good speed, said Watney, who closed with a 68 for a 11-under 277 total. I wasn't sure if it was going to catch the front lip or not, but it did, and I'm very happy about that.
 
From there, Watneys power and an increasingly confident putting stroke finished things off. A towering drive followed by his bold approach at the last set up a two-putt birdie that had been anything but routine last year when he ranked a clumsy 138th on Tour in something called three-putt avoidance.
 
To his credit, Watney and swing coach Butch Harmon took a long look at his game after 2008 and spent two months in Las Vegas playing catch up. The focus for much of that time was on putting and short game, the payoff was Sunday at Torrey Pines.
 
I made quite a few short putts this week, so every 5, 6, 7-footer that I make, I think my confidence grows a little bit, and the 3-footer at the last will help, as well, said Watney, a long time cross handed putter who switched to a conventional grip last year.
 
Its a testament to Watney, whose only other Tour title came two years ago in New Orleans and from the front of the pack, that Harmon kept him among his stable of players when he trimmed to his Fab Five pupils last year. Among Harmons high-profile pupils is Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Natalie Gulbis, and perhaps the biggest surprise Buick week, Phil Mickelson.
 
Mickelson arrived at Torrey Pines, where he has won three times, fresh from a missed weekend at the FBR Open armed with a new driver and plenty of optimism. The new driver wasnt much better than the old version and, although the week started well on the unpredictable Poa, things unraveled on Sunday when he four-putted from the fringe at the sixth, an episode that included two misses from inside two and a half feet.
 
Villegas, one of the most dominant players on Tour since closing the season 2-0 in the FedEx Cup playoffs, played his first two rounds in 11 under and remained upbeat after tying for third despite a 2-over-par weekend.
 
I had a lot of fun. It was great playing with John and with Nick out there, Villegas said. As a matter of fact, walking down the 15th fairway, Nick looks at me, and he goes, 'You've got to love this.' I said, 'If you don't, just go sit on the couch.
 
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”