Down to a Single Shot

By George WhiteMay 14, 2002, 4:00 pm
Tom Watson was Tiger Woods before there was Tiger Woods. In the late 70s and early 80s, he went through a six-year stretch when he won 26 times ' maybe not Tiger-esque numbers, but certainly far better than anyone else who was playing during that time.
 
Watson, curiously, had a reputation as a bridesmaid for the first five years of his career. He had a frustrating habit of being unable to finish off a victory until 1977, when he broke through for four wins. His 34 PGA Tour victories and five British Opens gave him a career total of 39 wins, and he dressed that up with a total of eight major championships and three Vardon Trophies.
 
The last of his regular-tour wins came in 1998 at the MasterCard Colonial. Watson was 48 then, nearly at the end of his glittering PGA Tour career. I had to learn to win by hating to lose, he said. He has gone on to the Senior Tour where he has played sparingly but successfully. Forever he will remember, however, his Colonial where he emulated a hero of his, Ben Hogan.
 
Watson hit one of the greatest shots of his career at Colonial in 98. Tom himself believes it ranks among the top four of his long and illustrious career ' the 60-foot birdie putt at the 16th green which helped defeat Jack Nicklaus in the 1977 British Open; the chip-in at the 17 at Pebble Beach to defeated Nicklaus in 82; his 2-iron to the final green at Royal Birkdale which clinched the 83 British; and the approach shot at the ninth hole at the 98 Colonial.
 
Watson had hooked up with Jim Furyk in a tense duel, and they were deadlocked at the 391-yard ninth when Watson hit his drive into a church-pew bunker on the right side of the fairway. The ball was only 132 yards from the pin, but it was too close to the lip for him to stand in the bunker. He would have to stand outside, on the grass a foot above the ball, to make contact.
 
To make the shot more treacherous, there is a menacing pond directly in front of the green. Watson would have to crouch over, swing on a level plane, and catch the ball crisply enough to carry the pond.
 
The whole tournament boiled do to that one shot on No. 9, said Watson. I was just trying to make contact and not hit it fat. I caught it flush, in the back of the ball. I was worried before I struck it. Not after, though.
 
The ball popped out exactly as he had hoped. The 8-iron caught it flush and he delivered a crisp blow, the ball rolling up to within 10 feet. One putt later, Watson had turned a bogey into a birdie. When Furyk bogeyed the 15th to fall three behind, Watson galloped home a winner.
 
In Watsons early days, he was a superb putter. I had the line, I hit the ball where I was looking, and the ball went in the hole, he said. I aimed the putter and I knew the ball was going right along the line.
 
But in the 90s, the putts mysteriously stopped dropping. At first it was mystifying. It became a little comical, the way the ball would stay out of the hole. Then it became pure frustration as yet another short one would slide futilely by. The agony of the missed short putt made a great ball-striker into only an average scorer. Had he had a putting game in his later years to match his long game, he would have won at least 10 more tournaments.
 
In 1988, he missed a three-footer in a playoff and lost the Hawaiian Open. In 1993 at the U.S. Open, he was in contention until he started missing short putts Saturday. That led to a 73 and meant that the 69 he shot Sunday would only get him a tie for fifth. In the 93 PGA, his first three rounds of 69-65-70 left him just one off the lead. But in the final round he began the day with missed four-footers on two of the first three holes and finished fifth.
 
Generally, my last rounds were pitiful, he says frankly. Mostly, its the inability to get the ball in the cup when I really had to. Of course, when youre under pressure, thats when your nerves take over. And they took over too many times.
 
With all the glory that has come Watsons way, there is one telling statistic: he has entered the final round of PGA Tour and British Open events 19 times within three shots of the lead ' and hasnt won. Thirty-nine times, he has been successful, but if he could have 11 of those 19 near-misses, he would have had 50 wins.
 
Another legendary golfer had the same problem ' Sam Snead. Another ' Arnold Palmer. Yet another - Ben Hogan.
 
You followed Hogan all those years and watched him suffer after hitting the ball just beautifully and not being able to take the putter back, said Watson. Its not to the point where I cant take the putter back ' the putter goes back in funny places. It doesnt go back where it should go back. Doesnt go through the way it should go through on the short putts, and the longer putts where I can use a little bit more of this and that, it works better.
 
The short misses, though, are the only blemish on what has been a wonderful career ' typified by his brilliant shot at the 98 Colonial. Today, there is Tiger Woods. In the 1980s, there was Tom Watson.
 
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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.