Watson Three Back at Senior British
Only four other players finished under par at stunning but demanding Royal County Down. Two other Scots, John Chillas and Peter Kerr, posted 69s for joint possession of third place at 2-under, while England's Tony Allen shot 1-under 70 to share fifth with five-time British Open champion Tom Watson.
'Most of my shots were a bit off,' said Watson, who is making his first appearance in a Senior British Open. 'It's annoying because I felt the golf course was there for the taking.
'When we went out, the wind wasn't blowing all that hard. It was very benign by Royal County Down standards so I feel as if I have let an opportunity slip.'
Watson kicked his round off in spectacular fashion with an eagle at the 522-yard, par-5 first hole, only to give a stroke back with a bogey at the second. Although he made three more bogeys the rest of the way, Watson was able to immediately answer each dropped shot with a birdie.
The 52-year-old Watson is coming off a disappointing showing in last week's British Open, where he missed the cut by 13 strokes with rounds of 77-78 at Muirfield, the site of his 1980 Open triumph.
He came out on the short end of a better stick a month ago after an exciting playoff loss to Don Pooley at the U.S. Senior Open at Caves Valley near Baltimore.
Sugai, whose resume includes four wins on the Japan PGA Tour and three more on the Japan Senior Tour, birdied the first two holes Thursday and added another at the ninth to make his way out in 32. A bogey six at the 479-yard, par-5 12th knocked him back to 2-under, but Sugai forged ahead with birdies at the 203-yard 14th and 375-yard 17th.
'The key was good putting and good approach shots,' said Sugai, 52. 'I like this course. Two years ago, on my first visit, I finished 18th and I have felt very comfortable ever since.'
South Africa's John Bland, the runner-up in the Senior British Open in 1997, '99 and 2000, was part of an eight-way tie for seventh at even-par 71. Japan's Seiji Ebihara, who successfully defended his Irish Seniors Open title in May and captured the Wales Seniors Open earlier this month, was knotted with nine players at 1-over-par.
Ebihara's 72 included a three-bogey, one double-bogey 40 on the front nine and a 32 on the back made up of an eagle, three birdies and one bogey.
Christy O'Connor, Jr., seeking his third victory in the Senior British Open, double-bogeyed the 18th for a 2-over 73.
'It was a horrible way to finish,' said the 53-year-old Irishman, who won the title in 1999 and 2000 but had to skip last year's championship after breaking his ankle. 'I have got to admit that I am mad at myself. I played superbly but my putting was filthy. I'm going to have to go home and give myself a bit of a talking to.'
Defending champion Ian Stanley of Australia made a brief appearance on the leaderboard with a pair of birdies to open his round but struggled in the windy afternoon conditions. He carded two double-bogeys later on the front side and finished with three bogeys over the last six holes to complete a 4-over 75.
'It's a bit disappointing but at least it is over and done with,' Stanley said. 'Today, we probably got the worst of the weather but tomorrow it might be different. Who knows, you are never quite sure on a links.'
England's Tony Jacklin, winner of the British Open in 1969 and the U.S. Open in 1970, was one of 32 players to post rounds in the 80s.
Full-field scores from the Senior British Open
Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion
Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.
Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.
“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.
It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.
“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”
The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.
“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”
Videos and images from Tiger's Tuesday at Torrey
Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Torrey Pines South, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since missing the cut in this event last year. Here's a look at some images and videos of Tiger, via social media:
Tiger sighting on the range! pic.twitter.com/rcJYLCes7R— Morning Drive (@GCMorningDrive) January 23, 2018
Back on TOUR.pic.twitter.com/OPmjaXFo1l— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 23, 2018
Power Rankings: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open
The PGA Tour remains in California this week for the Farmers Insurance Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, with weekend play exclusively on the South Course.
Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.
Jon Rahm won this event last year by three shots over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan. Here are 10 names to watch in La Jolla:
1. Jon Rahm: No need to overthink it at the top. Rahm enters as a defending champ for the first time, fresh off a playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge that itself was preceded by a runner-up showing at Kapalua. Rahm is perhaps the hottest player in the field, and with a chance to become world No. 1 should be set for another big week.
2. Jason Day: The Aussie has missed the cut here the last two years, and he hasn't played competitively since November. But he ended a disappointing 2017 on a slight uptick, and his Torrey Pines record includes three straight top-10s from 2013-15 that ended with his victory three years ago.
3. Justin Rose: Rose ended last year on a tear, with three victories over his final six starts including two in a row in Turkey and China. The former U.S. Open winner has the patience to deal with a brutal layout like the South Course, as evidenced by his fourth-place showing at this event a year ago.
4. Rickie Fowler: This tournament has become somewhat feast-or-famine for Fowler, who is making his ninth straight start at Torrey Pines. The first four in that run all netted top-20 finishes, including two top-10s, while the last four have led to three missed cuts and a T-61. After a win in the Bahamas and T-4 at Kapalua, it's likely his mini-slump comes to an end.
5. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has become somewhat of a course specialist at Torrey Pines in recent years, with six top-10 finishes over the last eight years including wins in both 2012 and 2016. While he missed much of the second half of 2017 recovering from injury and missed the cut last week, Snedeker is always a threat to contend at this particular event.
6. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama struggled to find his footing after a near-miss at the PGA Championship, but he appears to be returning to form. The Japanese phenom finished T-4 at Kapalua and has put up solid results in two of his four prior trips to San Diego, including a T-16 finish in his 2014 tournament debut. Matsuyama deserves a look at any event that puts a strong emphasis on ball-striking.
7. Tony Finau: Finau has the length to handle the difficult demands of the South Course, and his results have gotten progressively better each time around: T-24 in 2015, T-18 in 2016 and T-4 last year. Finau is coming off the best season of his career, one that included a trip to the Tour Championship, and he put together four solid rounds at the Sony Open earlier this month.
8. Charles Howell III: Howell is no stranger to West Coast golf, and his record at this event since 2013 includes three top-10 finishes highlighted by last year's runner-up showing. Howell chased a T-32 finish in Hawaii with a T-20 finish last week in Palm Springs, his fourth top-20 finish this season.
9. Marc Leishman: Leishman was twice a runner-up at this event, first in 2010 and again in 2014, and he finished T-20 last year. The Aussie is coming off a season that included two wins, and he has amassed five top-10s in his last eight worldwide starts dating back to the Dell Technologies Championship in September.
10. Gary Woodland: Woodland played in the final group at this event in 2014 before tying for 10th, and he was one shot off the lead entering the final round in 2016 before Mother Nature blew the entire field sideways. Still, the veteran has three top-20s in his last four trips to San Diego and finished T-7 two weeks ago in Honolulu.
Davis on distance: Not 'necessarily good for the game'
It's a new year, but USGA executive Mike Davis hasn't changed his views on the growing debate over distance.
Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, Davis didn't mince words regarding his perception that increased distance has had a negative impact on the game of golf, and he reiterated that it's a topic that the USGA and R&A plan to jointly address.
"The issue is complex. It's important, and it's one that we need to, and we will, face straight on," Davis said. "I think on the topic of distance, we've been steadfast to say that we do not think increased distance is necessarily good for the game."
Davis' comments echoed his thoughts in November, when he stated that the impact of increased distance has been "horrible" for the game. Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who claimed there was "no evidence" to support Davis' argument.
That argument, again reiterated Tuesday, centers on the rising costs associated with both acquiring and maintaining increased footprints for courses. Davis claimed that 1 in 4 courses in the U.S. is currently "not making money," and noted that while U.S. Open venues were 6,800-6,900 yards at the start of his USGA tenure, the norm is now closer to 7,400-7,500 yards.
"You ask yourself, 'What has this done for the game? How has that made the game better?'" Davis said. "I think if we look at it, and as we look to the future, we're asking ourselves, saying, 'We want the game of golf to be fun.' We want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what scores you should shoot versus necessarily the equipment.
"But at the same time, we know there are pressures on golf courses. We know those pressures are going to become more acute."