Time Machine Tom Watson turns back the clock

By Jay CoffinJuly 16, 2009, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship TURNBERRY, Scotland ' Its impossible to walk 10 steps around these hallowed grounds without seeing a reminder of the 1977 Duel in the Sun. The epic battle between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry is still regarded as one of the most electric major championships ever and signage, video reels, scoreboards and shirts documenting that occasion blanket this place. Theres even a pub here named after that magical Sunday.
 
Tom Watson tips his hat to the gallery after making birdie on No. 12 in the first round. (Getty Images)
Nicklaus hasnt played a British Open since 2005 at St. Andrews so Watson has been asked ad nauseum this week to recall the events from 32 years ago. He talked about his love-hate relationship with links golf in the early years, he talked about a young neighbor girl who gave him a lucky piece of aluminum foil and heather before he won the British Open at Carnoustie in 1975 and he talked about how he could remember each of the 65 shots he took to defeat Nicklaus in 77.
 
But it wasnt until late Wednesday afternoon, when his pre-tournament obligations were complete, that he saw the biggest indication that hed play well this week. Watson received a text message from Nicklaus wife Barbara, who simply wished Watson good luck. Watsons return message told Barbara how much he misses spending time with the Nicklaus family during Open Championship week.
 
Theres something slightly spiritual about today, Watson said following his first-round 65 that put him atop the leaderboard. Just the serenity of it was pretty neat.
 
Pretty neat? Some in the gallery were nearly in tears watching Watson rekindle the magic that helped him win five British Opens. Someone forgot to tell Watson that its 2009, that hes 59-years-old and that hes not supposed to be leading major championships against Tiger Woods (the TW that most thought would be leading) and a handful of players who are young enough to be Watsons grandchildren.
 
It wasnt too long ago when Watson made noise at the 2003 U.S. Open where, then 53, he fired a first-round 65 at Olympia Fields to hold a share of the lead with caddie Bruce Edwards on the bag fighting a battle against ALS. Edwards passed away 10 months later.
 
This time is altogether different. This is the major with which Watson is most associated. He freely admits that hes a ceremonial golfer at the Masters and cannot contend with the kids at Augusta National. But he knows he has a fighting chance to contend here this year and next at St. Andrews, where hell play in his 33rd and final British Open.
 
I feel inspired playing here, Watson said. A lot of it has to do with being in the presence here at Turnberry again, just the culmination of a lot of things that have gone on already.
 
I feel that Im playing well enough to win the golf tournament. It doesnt feel a whole lot out of the ordinary from 32 years ago except that I dont have the confidence in my putting as I had 32 years ago. But, again, a few of them might go in.
 
It was vintage Watson. Dressed sharply in his gray trousers, gray and black argyle sweater with a light purple shirt underneath he smoothly charted his way through these links with five birdies, the last coming at the par-5 17th hole where he hit his tee shot longer than playing partners Sergio Garcia and amateur Matteo Manassero. Watson was in control (he hit 12 fairways and 15 greens), his putter didnt let him down as its done several times in the past and he used his vast experience and knowledge of these championships to make him seem unstoppable.
 
He flushed it today, Garcia said. The quality of his shots, it was awesome to watch.
 
Watson hit his drive in the right rough off the 18th tee but he hit a 7-iron from 200 yards onto the green and two-putted to close with a par.
 
Its fun to hit the ball solid, Watson said. The reason Im out here is to hit quality shots when the pressure is on. I love to compete and I still like to hit a shot when it really counts.
 
No one knows what to expect from Watson the next three days. He doesnt know what to expect. Prior to this he had not been playing much and had turned his attention to filming an instructional video hes wanted to produce for a long time. He doesnt know if hell be able to handle the pressure that goes with his situation, saying that some days he finds it easier to deal with than others.
 
But none of that matters. At least for one glorious day in Scotland the magic was back.
 
He did everything well, Watsons caddie Neil Oxman said.
 
There were signs everywhere that said he would.
 
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    Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

    By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

    Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting a competitive shot was very much in doubt.

    Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show in which he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

    Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

    "I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

    But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

    After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

    "What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing> Great on him, and great for golf."

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    McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

    By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

    For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

    The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

    McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.


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    "I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

    By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

    But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

    Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.

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    Vogel Monday qualifies for eighth time this season

    By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:27 pm

    The PGA Tour's regular season ended with another tally for the Monday King.

    While Monday qualifiers are a notoriously difficult puzzle to solve, with dozens of decorated professionals vying for no more than four spots in a given tournament field, T.J. Vogel has turned them into his personal playground this season. That trend continued this week when he earned a spot into the season-ending Wyndham Championship, shooting a 5-under 66 and surviving a 4-for-3 playoff for the final spots.

    It marks Vogel's eighth successful Monday qualification this season, extending the unofficial record he set when he earned start No. 7 last month at The Greenbrier. Patrick Reed earned the nickname "Mr. Monday" when he successfully qualified six different times during the 2012 season before securing full-time status.

    There have been 24 different Monday qualifiers throughout the season, with Vogel impressively turning 19 qualifier starts into eight tournament appearances.

    Vogel started the year with only conditional Web.com Tour status, and explained at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May that he devised his summer schedule based on his belief that it's easier to Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event than a Web.com tournament.


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    "The courses that the PGA Tour sets the qualifiers up, they're more difficult and sometimes they're not a full field whereas the Web, since there's no pre-qualifier, you have two full fields for six spots each and the courses aren't as tough," Vogel said. "So I feel like if you take a look at the numbers, a lot of the Web qualifiers you have to shoot 8-under."

    Vogel has made three cuts in his previous seven starts this year, topping out with a T-16 finish at the Valspar Championship in March. The 27-year-old also played the weekend at the Nelson and the Wells Fargo Championship, missing the cut at The Greenbrier in addition to the RSM Classic, Honda Classic and FedEx St. Jude Classic.

    While Vogel won't have another Monday qualifier opportunity until October, he has a chance to secure some 2019 status this week in Greensboro. His 51 non-member FedExCup points would currently slot him 205th in the season-long race, 13 points behind Rod Pampling at No. 200. If Vogel earns enough points to reach the equivalent of No. 200 after this week, he'd clinch a spot in the upcoming Web.com Tour Finals where he would have a chance to compete for a full PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season.

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    Woods adds BMW Championship to playoff schedule

    By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:01 pm

    Tiger Woods is adding a trip to Philadelphia to his growing playoff itinerary.

    Having already committed to both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship, Woods' agent confirmed to GolfChannel.com that the 14-time major champ will also make an appearance next month at the BMW Championship. It will mark Woods' first start in the third leg of the FedExCup playoffs since 2013 when he tied for 11th at Conway Farms Golf Club outside of Chicago.

    This year the Sept. 6-9 event is shifting to Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., which is hosting the BMW for the first time. The course previously hosted the Quicken Loans National in both 2010 and 2011. Woods won the BMW en route to FedExCup titles in both 2007 and 2009 when it was held at Cog Hill in Illinois.


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    Woods was already in good position to make the 70-man BMW field, but his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship vaulted him from 49th to 20th in the season-long points race and assured that he'll make it to Aronimink regardless of his performance in the first two postseason events.

    Woods' commitment also means a packed schedule will only get busier leading into the Ryder Cup, where he is expected to be added as a captain's pick. Woods' appearance at the BMW will cap a run of five events in six weeks, and should he tee it up in Paris it could be his seventh start in a nine-week stretch if he also qualifies for the 30-player Tour Championship.