Texan Leonard Back in the Saddle
``I'm walking to the 10th tee and this guy says, 'Nice putt,' and I turned around and looked at him like he was crazy,'' Leonard recalled. ``I had to fight myself from walking back there to say something.
``Then, I realized he was probably talking about last week. At least I hope he was.''
The year was 1999, and the week before, Leonard stood 45 feet away from the hole on the 17th green at The Country Club with nothing less than the Ryder Cup on the line and his country counting on him.
What followed became one of the most famous shots in golf.
When the ball banged into the back of the cup, the Americans were assured the half-point they needed to pull off the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
Leonard was the hero.
Little did the patriotic Texan know when he walked off the course, it would be four years before he would get a chance to return to the atmosphere he cherishes.
Leonard and Jim Furyk will represent the United States in the World Cup this week at Kiawah Island, S.C., then join the rest of the U.S. team at the Presidents Cup in South Africa.
``I've missed it a lot,'' Leonard said.
Certain shots can become a player's legacy.
David Duval's 6-foot eagle putt to shoot 59. Hal Sutton's 6-iron into the 18th green to hold off Tiger Woods at The Players Championship. Ben Hogan's 1-iron into the 18th green at Merion in the U.S. Open.
Leonard is a major champion. Coincidentally, the decisive blow when he won the '97 British Open at Royal Troon also was a long birdie putt on the 17th. A year later, he came from five strokes behind to win The Players Championship.
But mention his name, and the first thing that comes to mind - maybe the only thing - is the Ryder Cup. The twisted part of Leonard's fame is that he's never even won a Ryder Cup match.
Everyone remembers the putt. Not many realize that Leonard only halved his match against Jose Maria Olazabal.
Throw in the Presidents Cup, and Leonard's record in team matches is bordering on pathetic - one victory, nine losses, five ties.
``I know it's pretty bad,'' Leonard said. ``I know I haven't won a lot of matches. I've tied a lot of matches, but I've lost a bunch. I'd certainly like to change that.''
Leonard, who played in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup four years in a row, never imagined having to wait so long for the next opportunity.
Some of it was bad play. Some of it was bad timing.
He went through a slump in 2000 and just missed out on the Presidents Cup. Leonard hired Butch Harmon to retool his swing, and he didn't adapt to the changes until after the 2001 Ryder Cup team was selected.
Then came the one-year delay because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
``It's been strange the last couple of times to be on the outside looking in,'' he said.
Leonard seems to have all the right ingredients for match play, especially the team variety. He is easily paired. He generally keeps the ball in front of him. While he's not a power player, Leonard has a gritty short game and a knack for making pivotal putts.
So, what gives with that 1-9-5 record?
Nothing that can be explained. Nothing for which he should apologize.
``He's a guy you want out there making putts that are important,'' said Davis Love III, who walked with Leonard during his comeback against Olazabal in the Ryder Cup. ``His record is not that good, but he played the best stretch of six holes maybe in Ryder Cup history. He knows he can do it.''
One of the most overrated aspects of the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup or Solheim Cup is an individual's record, especially the team variety.
There are countless stories about two guys who play well enough to win any match during that session except the one they're playing.
Records never reflect how well, or how poorly, a partner is playing.
``His record is not the greatest,'' Furyk said of Leonard. ``But he's a hell of a teammate.''
Love would be the first to admit that he played below his standards in the 1998 Presidents Cup by hitting a few errant tee shots and plenty of missed putts. He and Leonard were 0-1-1 as a team, and that halve was courtesy of Leonard's approach into 6 feet on the final hole for birdie.
``I put him under some trees,'' Love said. ``We were both not good, but I killed him. If not for me, he would have won a few matches.''
Raymond Floyd was as tough as they come, yet his record was 12-16-3 in the eight Ryder Cups he played - and he was on the winning side seven times.
Tiger Woods is 10-13-2 in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
``People don't talk about Bernhard Langer's record or Nick Faldo's record in the Ryder Cup,'' Woods said. ``They talk about how many teams they made. That's what is important.''
Leonard is back on the team. To him, that's what matters the most.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Schauffele just fine being the underdog
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.
Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.
Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.
“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”
Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.
“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”
Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1
Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.
So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.
Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.
Jordan Spieth: 7/4
Xander Schauffele: 5/1
Kevin Kisner: 11/2
Tiger Woods: 14/1
Francesco Molinari: 14/1
Rory McIlroy: 14/1
Kevin Chappell: 20/1
Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1
Alex Noren: 25/1
Zach Johnson: 30/1
Justin Rose: 30/1
Matt Kuchar: 40/1
Webb Simpson: 50/1
Adam Scott: 80/1
Tony Finau: 80/1
Charley Hoffman: 100/1
Austin Cook: 100/1
Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.
For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.
By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.
But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.
As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.
“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”
Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.
As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.
But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.
After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.
“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”
But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.
Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.
“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.
There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.
Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par.
And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.
As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.
“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”
Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.
Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.
The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.
Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.
It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.
Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.
One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.
McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.
“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”
McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.
“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”