Tom Watson headlines final senior major of 2009

By Associated PressOctober 1, 2009, 2:05 am
Champions Tour

TIMONIUM, Md. – Even if Tom Watson won the British Open, it’s hard to imagine his life would be much better than it is right now.

Watson skipped the past couple weeks on the Champions Tour to work on an instructional DVD and book. Sales should be rather brisk because of his performance last July at Turnberry, when he came tantalizingly close to becoming the oldest player to win a major on the PGA Tour.

“This DVD was planned in March of this year. It didn’t have anything to do with the British,” Watson said Wednesday before quickly adding, “Oh, by the way, it will help. The timing is pretty darn good.”

Now 60, Watson still gets a thrill out of playing in major tournaments. He’s sure to be a crowd favorite at the Senior Players Championship, which starts Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Baltimore Country Club.

“This is a favorite course of mine,” said Watson, who finished second here in 2007. He didn’t participate last year because he was getting left hip-replacement surgery, an operation that changed his way of life.

“I rode a horse at a parade last Saturday,” he said. “Last year, I couldn’t spread my legs wide enough to get on the back of a horse. Now, man, I can ride a fat horse, no problem. That’s the difference between this year and last year.”

That is not the only difference. Even though he lost a playoff to Stewart Cink in the British Open, Watson has been the recipient of an outpouring of love from around the world.

“The response has been humbling, it’s been overwhelming. It’s a response that I would have never foreseen for a guy finishing second in a golf tournament,” he said. “The theme has been, ‘You’ve given me hope. You’ve given me a second charge in my life. You’re 60 years old and still doing this? Maybe I can still do what I thought I couldn’t do anymore.’ It’s kind of the wonderful theme that’s come out of this thing.”

Fred Funk, one-third of a stellar threesome with Watson and Nick Price on Thursday, won’t soon forget Watson’s unexpected brush with history.

“Almost everyone wanted Tom to win that thing, and he did everything he could,” Funk said. “Had he won, that would have been one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sports accomplishments ever.”

This tournament, the fifth major on the Champions Tour, could come down to duel between Funk and Watson. Funk has finished in the Top 5 in each of the previous four majors this year, and Watson has three top-10 finishes in those events.

Funk is the Tour leader in Schwab Cup points and finished third and second in the past two years at this course. But he has been struggling lately, in part because he’s trying to recover from a staph infection in his knee.

He paid to have his teacher come in from Wisconsin to help him perfect his swing.

“Last week, I don’t know what it was, but my whole game just went in the toilet,” said Funk, referring to his 18th-place finish in the SAS Championship. “I’m a little concerned about where I am right now, and I want to get it fixed.”

Perhaps he can have a revelation similar to the one Watson experienced 15 years ago.

“I learned how to swing the golf club on the practice tee at Hilton Head at 3:15 in the afternoon after a practice round at the 1994 Heritage Golf Classic,” Watson said. “I made that change, and the golf swing got easy for me.”

Funk grew up in Maryland and coached at the University of Maryland in the 1980s, so winning here is clearly a priority.

“This is big. Not only the significance it has for the Schwab Cup and having a major under your belt, but it’s my home state,” he said. “I get so much support here, I would love to put something of this much significance on my resume.”

He expects his threesome to draw the biggest gallery – by far.

“That’s a pretty strong group right there,” he said. “Whoever’s here is probably going to be following our group. Hopefully I play well.”

The tournament is sponsored by Constellation Energy.

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Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

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'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

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Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”