Never Ceasing to Amaze

By Jay CoffinJuly 14, 2010, 8:43 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Tom Watson desperately would love to muster one last charge at the home of golf. The Scottish fans would love to see a performance that mirrors last year’s at Turnberry. A better ending would suffice, too.

Is it possible for Old Tom Watson to find the magic at an Open Championship one more time?

When Watson takes to the first tee Thursday morning with Padraig Harrington and Ryo Ishikawa it will be for his seventh Open Championship at the Old Course, but likely his last here. He has an exemption through the 2014 at Royal Liverpool and would need to do something special to make it back here to St. Andrews for the 2015 championship.

Anything indeed is possible, as Watson has shown us over the past 52 weeks. He’s wowed galleries at just about every turn beginning with his Open performance at Turnberry last year. There he arrived with memories of winning the Duel in the Sun – the famed slugfest against Jack Nicklaus in 1977 – and nearly created more memories as he was the leader standing on the tee of the 72nd hole, but ultimately lost to Stewart Cink in the four-hole playoff.

Tom Watson
Watson lost in a playoff at the 2009 Open Championship. (Getty Images)
Just when people thought he couldn’t find his swing again, Watson shot a first-round 67 at the Masters this year and was a shot out of first place. He tied for 18th place.

Less than a month ago Watson, 60, playing on a special exemption, arrived at Pebble Beach for what could be his final U.S. Open. An opening-round 78 made him a virtual afterthought until he shot 71 in the second round to make the cut on the number, then followed it up with a third-round 70 to get him into the top 20. He shot 76 and tied for 29th place.

Point is this man just never ceases to amaze.

“I never think about my history at the Open,” Watson said. “What I think about is I’m still here as a competitor to try to play the golf course the best I can, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Watson contends that his ballstriking is not as crisp as it was a year ago, although it was getting better during each of his three practice rounds. His wish is to hit nine out of every 10 shots the way he prefers rather than the 50-60 percent range he’s been stuck in since Sunday. He is pleased with his putting, which is the one thing that kept him from winning more major championships over the years. He’d have won at Turnberry last year had he converted a par putt from 8 feet.

“Every time I play with him I see that it’s possible [for Watson to contend] because he hits the ball very solidly, and I think if the wind blows, if it blows a lot and the course is dry and firm, that’s when Tom Watson has the best chance,” said Cink, who played a practice round with Watson Monday at Watson’s request. “He has a very good head on his shoulders and his swing is standing the test of time before all of our eyes.”

Watson is perhaps the best links player in the history of golf, having won the Open Championship five times on five different golf courses. But the one glaring omission – if there is such a thing from a man with his resume – is that Watson never won an Open on the Old Course. His second attempt was the closest in 1984, but he shot 73 in the final round and lost by two shots to a hard-charging Seve Ballesteros. Watson hasn’t finished better than a tie for 31st place in his next four championships here.

“When I went out to play on Sunday, it was like I was playing it all over again for the first time,” Watson said. “St. Andrews is a hard course to understand, and you have to relearn it and relearn it and relearn it all the time. That’s how I felt on Sunday and then Monday and yesterday. The same feelings come back.”

He’ll need to rely on all those past feelings of joy and find a way to dig deep this week, as the windy, rainy conditions will make contending a much more difficult task.

Following his performances at last year’s Open Championship and this year’s Masters and U.S. Open, it will be a tall task to expect Watson to provide one more thrill for the golf masses.

“There are certain places that I’ve enjoyed over my career where I’ve played and had some wonderful experiences,” Watson said. “Obviously the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach was at the top of my list. Playing at Augusta, I’ve had success there. It’s been a very special time.

“And here at St. Andrews, it would be a great triumvirate if I did well here at age 60.”

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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."