Watson the right choice by PGA

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2012, 6:59 pm

Old Tom Watson, Scotland’s beloved adopted son and the most recent addition to the two-time Ryder Cup captains club, was not a plan 'B.' Nor was the 63-year-old an emergency selection by a panicky group of PGA of America executives.

As PGA president Ted Bishop figured, “We have broken the mold,” not to mention Larry Nelson’s ginormous heart, but that’s another story.

Thursday was about Watson, the ageless American who won a British Open at Turnberry, lost a British Open at Turnberry and became the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history when Bishop & Co. dumpstered said mold and made a pick that was 13 months in the making.

It was, by any measure, an outside-the-box pick by an organization that is quickly becoming boxed in by mediocrity at its marquee event. It was, with a monsoon of respect to Nelson, David Toms and any number of potential captains, the only choice.

Whether it be meltdown or miracle, depending on one’s perspective, Medinah will be remembered as a crossroads for the American Ryder Cup cause, a handy victory that turned in a blur of roars and a relentless European rally on a September Sunday.

In Watson the PGA plucked the calm in a storm from a sea of uncertainty. Remember, this is the same man who after losing a playoff to Stewart Cink at the 2009 Open Championship entered the press room and grinned, “This ain't a funeral, you know.”

The U.S. side needed Watson like this year’s captain Davis Love III needed one more 5-footer to drop on Sunday in Chicagoland. The red, white and blue has lost seven of the last nine matches and the last time the U.S. won an “away game” was in 1993, the last time Watson led a team onto Kingdom soil.

“I was waiting almost 20 years to get the call,” Watson smiled Thursday from New York.

The only real surprise may have been the revelation from Bishop that he began coloring outside the lines some 13 months ago on a plane ride from Bermuda to Indiana. It’s a time line that suggests the PGA was primed for something new regardless of what happened at Medinah.

But this seemed less about wins, which there have been far too few of for the U.S. side, and losses than a shrinking demographic. The status quo, major champions who had played in multiple Ryder Cups and were in their late 40s and still relatively active on the PGA Tour, simply wouldn’t work anymore as an increasingly large number of majors started going to Europeans, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

As Bishop pointed out there was indeed a “short list of potential Ryder Cup captains based on the current criteria.” The answer, at least in the short term, was a dramatic paradigm shift in the form of a second Watson captaincy.

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To make his case Bishop created an 85-page document that outlined why Watson would work in 2014, but the truth is he could have saved some paper and gone with a 140-character tweet: “It is time for a change. #Watson2014”

Conventional wisdom was against Bishop. At 63 the rub was Watson was too old to know today’s players, but – with apologies to Love, Corey Pavin, Tom Lehman, et al – familiarity has only bred an all-too-familiar result.

Besides, few players in their 60s have remained as active on Tour as Watson.

“We’ve played a ton together and I don’t think there will be any disconnect,” said Brandt Snedeker, who has played a practice round with Watson every year at The Masters and British Open since 2008. “We see him at the Masters every year and he still has the passion and that fire. It’s not like he’s rode off into the sunset.”

Nor does a perceived frosty relationship between Watson and Woods, a dustup that dates back to early 2010 when Watson said of Woods, “He messed up,” seem to be much of a concern.

Woods almost immediately released a statement praising the new captain early Thursday and Watson countered with a familiar take from recent U.S. skippers. “I hope Tiger is first of all on my team. He is the best player in the history of the game and if he’s not on the team for any reason you can bet he will be No. 1 on my pick list,” he said.

To be brutally honest, there is precious little upside for Watson in this deal. He has participated in five Ryder Cups, either as a player or captain, has a 10-4-1 record and has never been on a losing team. But then Old Tom has never been interested in the easy way.

Way back in the early 1990s when he was pursuing his first turn as a U.S. captain Watson specifically requested an overseas assignment, “because of my record I’d had over there.” At least at the ’93 Ryder Cup, those five Open titles helped produce an 18 ½ to 9 ½ U.S. rout.

It was telling that moments after Bishop referred to the “Watson luck,” the man himself gave a nod to the vague forces that often decide these biennial bashes.

“The most important thing for me as a captain is to get lucky. To get lucky and have all 12 players playing well when we get there,” Watson said.

The cynic would suggest given recent history – or, to be more precise, America’s 0-for-the-millenium slide in the transatlantic member-member – Watson’s only real challenge for Gleneagles would be quality raingear and a respectful consolation speech.

But that kind of defeatism, even when viewed through the prism of America’s pedestrian record, isn’t Watson’s style or the reason behind the PGA’s dramatic break from the norm. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, which would make Watson’s selection to lead the ’14 team, as crazy as it may seem, the most sane possible choice.

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Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

“It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

“We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

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The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

“I’ve got a chance,” he said.

And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

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DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

“It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

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DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

“I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”

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Woods fielding Masters practice-round requests

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 10:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Heading into what is likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Tiger Woods is starting to set up his schedule for the days leading into the season’s first major.

Woods has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005, and in the wake of a runner-up at the Valspar Championship and a strong showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he’ll head down Magnolia Lane with more momentum than he’s had in years. As a result, it’s not surprising that he has received more than a few inquiries about a possible practice round at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week.

“I’ve gotten a couple requests here and there,” Woods said with a grin after a third-round 69 at Bay Hill.

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Woods has played the Masters only once since 2014, but don’t expect him to try out some unfamiliar pairings on Tuesday and Wednesday amid the azaleas. Woods still plans to rely on a rotation he’s had for several years, playing with former champs Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara. O’Meara, who received his green jacket from Woods in 1998, plans to make this year his final Masters start.

“I traditionally have played with Freddie, if he can. We’re hoping he can come back and play again and play Augusta. I’ve played with Mark just about every single year,” Woods said. “It’s generally been those two guys, and those are the two guys I’ve grown up with out here on Tour. We sit next to each other actually at the champions’ dinner, and so we have known each other for a very long time.”

While Woods is no stranger to fielding offers for tips and advice from younger players, especially on a course he knows as well as Augusta National, one top-ranked name continues to stick out among the requests he’s received in recent weeks.

“Just the normal JT (Justin Thomas),” Woods said. “He’s always trying to get some practice rounds in.”

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Stenson one clear of loaded leaderboard at Bay Hill

By Nick MentaMarch 17, 2018, 10:10 pm

Four of the top 15 players in the world and two men with stellar amateur resumes will do battle Sunday to win Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how things look through 54 holes at Bay Hill, where Tiger Woods sits five back at 7 under par.

Leaderboard: Henrik Stenson (-12), Bryson DeChambeau (-11), Rory McIlroy (-10), Justin Rose (-9), Ryan Moore (-9), Charley Hoffman (-8), Rickie Fowler (-8), Talor Gooch (-8), Ben An (-8)

What it means:  For the second straight day, Stenson (71) will go off in the final pairing with DeChambeau (72), after both players failed to separate themselves from the field in Round 3, shooting a combined 1 under. Stenson really should have a win at Bay Hill by now. He finished in the top-10 four years in a row from 2013-2016, with three top-5s. The closest he came to victory was in 2015, when he lost to Matt Every by one shot after being put on the clock and three-putting the 15th and 16th greens. If he’s finally going to close the deal Sunday, the world No. 15 will need to hold off challenges from three of the top 13 players in the OWGR – No. 5 Rose, No. 7 Fowler and No. 13 McIlroy – and two men who won both the NCAA individual championship and the U.S. Amateur – DeChambeau and Moore.

Round of the day: John Huh and Austin Cook both made the 1-over cut on the number and shot 66 Saturday to move into a tie for 18th at 5 under.

Best of the rest: McIlroy, Rose and Jason Day (-5) all signed for 67. McIlroy remains in search of his first worldwide win since he walked away from East Lake with the Tour Championship and the FedExCup in 2016.

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Biggest disappointment: Fowler was 11 under for the week but dropped three shots in his last two holes. He failed to get up and down from the front bunker at 17 and then had his ball almost fully bury in the lip of a greenside trap at 18. With only a small portion of the ball visible, Fowler took two to get out of the sand and two-putted his way to a double-bogey 6, dropping him to 2 under for the day and 8 under for the championship.

Shot of the day: Woods’ 210-yard 5-iron from the fairway bunker at the par-5 16th:

Quote of the day: "I'm going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow, and probably get a little bit of help. But my responsibility is to go out there and shoot a low one first." – Woods