Its a Different Watson But a Contented One
Watson, by the way, was Tiger Woods before there ever was a Tiger Woods. For eight years, he was the best player in the game. From 1977 to 1985, he won 29 times ' six in 1980, five each in 78 and 79.
Now, though, he is just a pretty good Senior. He only plays occasionally, 13 times for each of the past two years. This year he has been coaxed away from his wife and stepchildren 10 times to go play with the elders. That is more than the usual, but Watson obviously is comfortable doing it his way, popping out only occasionally to play golf.
Sunday was yet another runner-up finish for Watson. He was second this time to Don Pooley at the U.S. Senior Open. Pooley was often injured when he was playing the junior tour, so his two PGA Tour wins are hardly a synopsis of the way he played. But suffice it to say, he was no Tom Watson.
But this is approximately 20 years after Watson was high-stepping it around winning tournaments as often as Pooley changed socks. Watson doesnt play too often anymore, and Pooley is much improved in both his health and his mechanics. Obviously, the vast chasm that separated them when they were 30 doesnt mean a whole lot here in the year 2002.
Ergo, one shouldnt be too surprised that the gap has shrunk considerably. This tour will do that to you, a tour that lifts former journeyman such as Doug Tewell, Bruce Fleisher, Gil Morgan and Allen Doyle to the status of so many Nicklauses.
Of course, theres the rather indelicate matter of Watsons putter. For a decade, he rolled it as well as anyone in the game. But his last 10 years in the game have been an almost daily exercise of jab-it-and-miss-it.
Root for my putter, will you? Watson joked at the Senior Open. I need a little help in that area.
In the second and third rounds, Watsons putter was the putter of those last 10 years. In the final round Sunday, he found something ' again ' and began stroking in everything. Oh, if only he could putt like the old Watson. He stripes the ball up fairways to the green. But once he gets the putter in his hands, its the ultimate adventure.
The Watson saga is the downfall of so many of greats past. Sam Snead. Ben Hogan. Arnold Palmer. All were impressive putters at one time, but after years and years of dropping them in, something just seemed to come unwound. Watson has heard it, experienced it, so many times that a missed putt has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The fine motor skills ' theyre the first to go with some people, Watson said. Thats what has happened to me.
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. It doesnt go through the way it should go through.
Hes gotten putting tips from all across North America. He reads them all, even if he doesnt necessarily try every one.
I listen to them, sure, said Watson. Sure, I listen to some more than others. I have scientists sending me all sorts of theories that they believe in. I send them back a note saying, Thank you for the tip.
There is the occasional one from the other end of the galaxy ' the ones where they said to close the left eye and putt left-handed sidesaddle, he said.
But those times when Watson is putting well, he doesnt see anything but the hole. You arent even thinking about how you stroke it. You just see the hole and you go after it.
So Watson labors with this one enormous handicap, a handicap that, for one beautiful afternoon Sunday, didnt exist. He holed everything. If he could putt like this, all the Senior Tour records would go out the window. If I could putt, I could win, he says simply. Theres no question about that. But I preface that with the if.
Still, Tom Watson is nothing if not a man of convictions. He dropped out of the Kansas City Country Club because of its stance on not admitting Jewish members. He isnt Jewish, but his ex-wife was. He once was involved in a rules clash with Gary Player, and his feelings about Bill Murray at Pebble Beach are rather well known.
Perhaps nothing, though, explains Watson as much as a decision he made at Winged Foot during U.S. Open week in 1984. The father of a close friend from his Stanford days had died unexpectedly. The funeral was clear across the continent, but Watson never hesitated. He caught a flight at 9 a.m. out of Newark, attended the funeral, then turned around and caught a red-eye, and straight to Winged Foot for practice. His friend, Jim Vernon, will forever be grateful for Watsons kind act.
And, he was runner-up in the U.S. Open, senior variety. He won an Open, junior variety, with his great chip-in in 1982. This one was just as exciting, though he didnt quite win. It fits within the framework of your age, he said. In other words, the Senior Open means every bit as much to the 50-and-overs as the U.S. Open means to Tiger.
The only thing was, in the days when he was a junior, it seems like he won them all. That was a different time, of course, and Watsons life goals were in a different place. That was a time when Watson was all golf. This is a time when Watson is a little bit golf, but a whole lot just the man down the street.
Perhaps, too, is Pooley. And cest la vie, said Watson, who obviously is pleased with the present-day Thomas Sturgis Watson.
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.”