Watson's few words served him well in 1993

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2014, 9:14 pm

If past performance is any indication, the dozen U.S. Ryder Cup players who board the chartered flight for Scotland on Sunday should not expect an impassioned speech from their captain.

No pleas for unselfish play or jingoistic fervor.

This captain, based on his last turn at the American helm 21 years ago, is far too subtle for that.

If the ’93 Ryder Cup is the ultimate litmus test, and the benchmark for an American side trying to win an away game for the first time since those 30th matches, 65-year-old Tom Watson doesn’t give speeches or hold pep rallies.

Instead, the Hall of Famer communicates a powerful message with an economy of words.

Photos: Ryder Cups 1979-2012

“To me he was so inspiring because he was Tom Watson and he was a legend and he would say cool stuff," recalled Davis Love III, who was a rookie on the ’93 team. "I remember being in the lounge of the Concorde and him saying, ‘Guys, we’re going on a big adventure. This is going to be one of the greatest trips of your life.' It was great.”

In the two decades that have passed since Watson led an American team into the Ryder Cup fray, much has changed. Leaderboards, purses, golf swings have all evolved, to say nothing of the motivations of the modern PGA Tour player.

But the key connection to that ’93 team will be Watson, and much like his ageless swing, Captain Tom’s message will remain unchanged.

“He told us early in the week, ‘We know we’re doing well when we silence the crowd,’” said John Cook, who was also a rookie on that U.S. team.

It was a common theme throughout the week and, many contend, the impetus behind America’s Sunday rally at The Belfry in England.

After falling behind on Day 1, 4 1/2 to 3 1/2, the U.S. lost Saturday’s foursome session (3-1) and was in danger of splitting the afternoon fourball frame until Cook and Chip Beck stunned the crowd with a 2-up victory over European anchors Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie to cut the American deficit to one point.

To put it in modern context, it was the U.S. side’s Ian Poulter moment. And it was during that crucial afternoon when Watson may have been at his understated and obvious best when he approached Cook before his match.

“Tom in his way came up to each of us and said, ‘We want this point. We need this point. We’re not just sending you out,’” Cook said of the fateful fourball swing match. “I looked at him and was like, ‘Really?’ Monty and Faldo had walked through everyone to that point.”

Sensing the momentum had turned, Watson didn’t offer any pearls of wisdom during the team dinner Saturday night. Instead he let a few players talk to the team, including the idiosyncratic Beck.

“Chip gets up and says, ‘The will to win will overcome any mechanical breakdown.’ That’s Chip Beck. It’s just Chip,” Cook laughed. “We all bounded. We became a unit and we were so proud. At that moment I knew we were a solid unit.”

The veteran captain backloaded his lineup for Sunday singles, and slowly the gambit paid off as American flags began to dominate the scoreboard and the partisan crowd grew quieter with each passing point.

The late Payne Stewart started the rally with his 3-and-2 victory over Mark James, but it was Jim Gallagher Jr.’s stunning defeat of European icon Seve Ballesteros, 3 and 2, that likely sealed the victory for the United States.

“I beat Seve; that would be like someone beating Rory [McIlroy] now,” Gallagher said. “I remember making the turn and everything changed and everyone was so much quieter. I guess my match started the ball rolling in our favor. Once you see the American flags up, it gets you fired up.”

Love would also add a late point for the U.S. side on Sunday, solidifying the importance of the rookies on the ’93 team.

While Watson may have been understated in the team room, he was very much a hands-on captain. During the team’s last practice round at The Belfry, he gathered his squad and talked about the importance of winning the 18th hole and told them not to leave the tee on that Thursday until they knew exactly how they were going to play the par 5.

He also stressed the importance of conserving energy and limiting distractions, a common theme among the current crop of Ryder Cup players.

“Paul Azinger had brought a Jenga game and we’d be in there late at night, like midnight, and someone would pull the thing and it would crash down and Tom would walk in and be like, ‘What are you doing? You got to go to bed. You have to practice. You have to fix your backswing,’” Love laughed. “It was like having your dad on your trip. It was great.”

Whether Watson can rekindle that spirit for an American team that has won just two of the last nine matches and lost by an average of 3 1/2 points in the last four Ryder Cups played overseas remains to be seen.

There are some who doubt Watson, 65, has the ability to connect with the next generation of American stars, particularly without the presence of Tiger Woods, who will miss his second Ryder Cup in seven years because of injury.

But for those who last played for Watson, and who hold the distinction of being the last American team to win a Ryder Cup on foreign soil, the captain’s cachet transcends generations.

“The coolest thing is we were in the front of the plane and Tom stood there and said, ‘They may have invented the game but we perfected it.’ That stayed with me the entire week,” Gallagher said. “He knew when to say the right things. Those words, some 20-something years later, still ring in my head.”

The dozen players who board this year’s charter on Sunday in Atlanta may be surprised to find out that their captain has little to say, but when he does talk, the message will be powerful and on point.

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii, the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilders Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''