Watney leads by 3 heading into Sunday at PGA

By Doug FergusonAugust 15, 2010, 5:10 am

2010 PGA Championship

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – The only number that matters at the PGA Championship is on the scorecard, not the birth certificate.

Golf has been trending toward youth over the past several years, and on a Saturday at Whistling Straits, the final major of the year turned out to be a showcase of the next generation.

Leading the way was Nick Watney, whose college friends called him “Rube” after a character in “Major League II” because he was so polite to the seniors. He showed no mercy to Whistling Straits by firing off five birdies in the opening seven holes, leading the 29-year-old American to a 6-under 66 and a three-shot lead.

Right behind were 26-year-old Dustin Johnson and 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, two of the most talented young players on either side of the Atlantic. Both of them left their marks in the majors already this year, Johnson as the 54-hole leader in the U.S. Open, McIlroy for tying a record with a 63 at St. Andrews in the opening round of the British Open.


Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson is looking to atone for his Pebble Beach meltdown. (Getty Images)
Of the top six on the leaderboard – five of those players in their 20s –  none has won a major. The last time the top six contenders were this green in the PGA Championship was in 1992 at Bellerive, which Nick Price won for the first of his three majors.

“There’s some really good players that haven’t won a major,” Watney said. “And all the guys that have, at one point they hadn’t won, either. So you’ve got to start somewhere. And hopefully, tomorrow will be my day.”

Watney only seriously struggled at the end, when he went from deep rough on the right of the 18th to deep rough in the side of a hill left of the green. He did well to make a bogey and finish three long days at 13-under 203.

Johnson found enough accuracy to go with his awesome power for a 67, giving him a shot at redemption. He had a three-shot lead at the U.S. Open, only to lose it all on the second hole on his way to an 82.

He figures that will only help him.

“Any time you can be in that situation and know what to expect, you’ve definitely got a leg up on the other people,” Johnson said. “Because not everyone has been in that situation of being in the lead in a major. So I’m pretty confident. And I’ve been playing really well this week. I’m looking forward going into tomorrow.”

McIlroy also had a 67 while playing with Johnson, and while he made six birdies, he saved his round with a number of par putts from the 6-foot range that could easily have dropped him down the leaderboard.

McIlroy, who won the Quail Hollow Championship this year by closing with a 62, is coming off a memorable major of his own. He opened with a 63 at St. Andrews, got knocked sideways in the wind with an 80 in the second round, and rallied to tie for third.

Is he ready at age 21 to become the youngest major champion since John McDermott was 20 when he won the 1911 U.S. Open?

What’s too young anymore?

“The players are just getting so much better at a younger age,” McIlroy said. “Their confidence is so high that they can take on shots that other guys just might not have thought they could. I don’t know if that’s because most of the guys swing it better out here now or whatever, but it does seem the younger guys are coming out and they’re just a lot better and more ready to win.”

And there are a lot of them, especially at Whistling Straits.

Jason Day, the 22-year-old Australian who won in Dallas this year, had a 66 and was in the group at 9-under 207 that included Martin Kaymer, the 25-year-old from Germany who has top 10s in the last two majors. Kaymer shot 67.

The only player among the top six not in his 20s was the biggest surprise of all – Liang Wenchong, a 32-year-old from China who set the course record at Whistling Straits with a 64. He didn’t start playing the game until he was 15.

Some of these guys already were dreaming of winning majors at that age.

As for Tiger Woods? His only hope is to shoot his best round of his strange season on Sunday and try to earn a Ryder Cup berth.

Woods scrambled brilliantly in the morning to finish off the second round with a 70 and get within five shots, then opened the third round by stuffing his first couple of iron shots. He couldn’t make a birdie, however, and had to rally for a 72 on a day when the average score was 71 in soft conditions and relative calm.

Woods wound up 10 shots behind. He likely will need to finish at least in seventh place alone to make the Ryder Cup team.

“I just want to play a good round and see where that puts me,” Woods said.

Five of the last six major champions had never won one before, the exception Phil Mickelson this year at the Masters. To see so much inexperience at the top –  not to mention youth – is not nearly as surprising in a year in which 27-year-old Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open at St. Andrews, and 30-year-old Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland won at Pebble Beach.

“I guess you could say the younger guys are starting to play a lot better,” Johnson said. “We’re starting to contend in majors. We’re definitely moving forward, that’s for sure.”

Major championship experience is lurking.

Former Masters champion Zach Johnson shot a 69 and was in a group at 8-under 208 that included former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (70) and former PGA champion Steve Elkington (67).

The course was such a pushover that 19 players shot in the 60s. But at least everyone could see, ending two days of fog delays that forced some to play 30 holes on Saturday.

Watney has only two PGA Tour victories, the most recent last year at Torrey Pines, and while he has top 10s in two majors this year, he was never a factor in either one.

It sure didn’t look that way Saturday, when he came out firing.

He birdied the first two holes with wedges inside 6 feet to jump past 36-hole leader Matt Kuchar, who didn’t make a birdie until the 16th hole and shot a 73 to fall six shots behind. Watney then ran off three straight birdies starting on the par-5 fifth, perhaps his best shot a 5-iron to 12 feet on the tricky par-3 seventh.

Mickelson continued to hit tee shots all over the course, and it finally caught up with him in a round of 73 that put in a tie for 48th.

Woods almost certainly will end a second straight year without a major.

Even giving himself a chance on Saturday was a minor miracle. He hit only five fairways, putted for birdie on only half of his holes and made every hole an adventure. Standing behind the 17th green, where Woods hit a 4-iron right at the flag on the dangerous left side of the green for birdie, caddie Steve Williams shook his head.

“In my 32 years as a caddie, this is the greatest 70 I’ve ever seen,” Williams said. Before heading to the 18th tee, he added, “And if he bogeys the last hole, it will be the greatest 71 I’ve ever seen.”

Woods made par, but only after hitting a huge cut with a 5-wood from a bunker that was sunken below the fairway, leaving his 60-foot birdie putt inches short. “I’m right back in the ball game,” Woods said, who finished his second round at 3-under 141, only five shots back.

As has been the case for so much of the year, however, no one can ever tell who is going to show up.

Two hours after he finished his second round with 25 putts, he missed birdie putts from inside 10 feet on the opening two holes and soon was spiraling down the leaderboard.

“I didn’t make any putts early when I stuffed them in there,” he said, “and didn’t get any momentum.”

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.


Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin: