Willett's life changes - again - with Masters win

By John FeinsteinApril 11, 2016, 1:03 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sunday was supposed to be a special day in Danny Willett’s life. If all had gone as initially scheduled, his first child would have been born. And, if that had been the case, Willett would have been in Sheffield, England with his wife Nicole when Zachariah James – their first child – arrived.

But Zachariah made his first public appearance on March 30 after a C-section and, after talking it over with Nicole, Danny decided to come and play in his second Masters.

Now, he’ll be coming back forever.

On the day when he thought he would become a father, Willett became a Masters champion. Playing three groups in front of the week-long leader, Jordan Spieth, he shot a solid, bogey-free 67. And, like everyone else, Willett was stunned when Spieth completely collapsed going through Amen Corner, playing the 10th, 11th and 12th holes in bogey, bogey, quadruple bogey.

Spieth had birdied the last four holes on the first nine to go out in 32 and had a five-shot lead as he made the turn. It seemed almost inevitable that the second nine holes would be a coronation march to Spieth’s second straight Masters title.

But, as Greg Norman often said, there’s a reason why golf is a four-letter word.

Until Sunday, the most memorable collapse in Masters history was Norman’s loss to Nick Faldo from six shots ahead in the final round 20 years ago. On that day, Faldo shot a bogey-free 67 (to Norman’s 78) and made the comment that he hoped people would remember that he played well, not just that Norman played poorly.

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“I hope they’ll remember that I came through with a very good day,” Faldo said that day. ”But I suppose they’ll talk more about Greg when all is said and done.”

They did. And they have. But that doesn’t change the fact that Faldo did play superbly that day. The same is true of Willett, whose performance was all the more remarkable given his lack of experience in major championships. Faldo’s win in 1996 was his third at the Masters and his sixth major title, in all.

Willett was playing in his 12th major and had one top-10 finish – last year’s Open Championship where he tied for sixth – on his resume. For most of the day, it looked as if he would add a second solid finish and perhaps his first top-five to that record. But a win?

“I thought we had to get to 6 under or 7 under,” Willett said. “Then I looked up and Jordan was already at 7 under. After that it became a little bit surreal.”

To put it mildly. Willett began the day in a tie for fifth place, three shots back of Spieth. Willett was on the 12th hole, having birdied the sixth and the eighth when Spieth rolled in a long birdie putt at the ninth. Willett was in second place, but still – as he noted – trailed Spieth by five shots.

And then, while Willett was birdieing Nos. 13 and 14, Spieth was suffering one of the most stunning and inexplicable collapses in golf history – most notably at the 12th, where he mis-hit his tee shot, chunked his wedge even more dramatically and then bounced his fifth shot into the back bunker. From there, he made a very good up-and-down for 7.

Suddenly, as he walked off the 15th green, Willett was leading the Masters – by one shot over the man he was paired with, Lee Westwood.

“I heard the groaning or oohing or whatever the sound was,” Willett said. “I looked behind me and saw what had happened.” He smiled. “For a second I thought it was a joke and they were going to change it and put a 7 back up there.”

They didn’t.

If there was ever a moment for nerves to hit WIllett, it was as he stood on the 16th tee. He never blinked, hitting an 8-iron to within 8 feet and holing the putt for birdie. When Westwood three-putted from 50-feet, Willett had gone from trailing the leader by five to leading by three in less than an hour.

Athletes in any sport will tell you that the most difficult thing to do when you are close to a dream is to stay in the present – in this case to not think about putting on a green jacket. Taking his time, taking deep breaths before every shot, Willett got up-and-down from just off the 17th green for par and then hit two sterling shots on 18 to set up a two-putt par. When his final putt went in, he hugged his caddie, Jonathan Smart, as if he had just won the Masters.

Spieth still had a chance, having somehow calmed his shattered nerves long enough to birdie Nos. 13 and 15. But when he missed a curling 8-foot birdie putt at 16, then missed the green at 17 and made bogey, it was over.

“Words can’t really describe it,” Willett said, wearing the green jacket that will be part of his life forever. “I’ve won a few times in the past, but this is a different league. It will take a while for it to sink in.”

While he waited for Spieth to finish, Willett called Nicole. “The line was a bit crackly,” he said. “I think she said, ‘well done.’”

That’s putting it mildly. Willett was a late bloomer as a junior golfer in England and had accepted a scholarship offer from Jacksonville State (Alabama) before he began to win more tournaments and drew more attention. He kept his commitment to coach James Hobbs and spent two years there before turning pro.

His career has been on the rise for the past several years and included a third-place finish in the WGC-Dell Match Play a year ago and the sixth-place finish at St. Andrews last summer. He decided to pass on joining the PGA Tour this year because of the impending arrival of his son.

“I guess he heard my prayers and knew he had to come early,” Willett said. “I’m not sure what’s been more thrilling today or last Tuesday. I’m not sure which one it’s politically correct to say.”

Informed that it was the birth of his son, Willett, the son of a preacher, smiled. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “It really was amazing.”

So was Sunday. Spieth’s pain was Willett’s joy; Spieth’s near-miss changed Willett’s life – at the age of 28 – in ways he could not begin to imagine, certainly not yet.

On the 18th green, just before he tapped in his final putt, Willett took off the white sweater he’d been wearing all day to reveal the green shirt he was wearing.

“I was warm, really,” Willett said. Then he smiled again. “And I thought the green looked a little better.”

He now has the green every golfer dreams about owning. Because he stayed home until the last possible minute, Willett didn’t arrive in Augusta until Monday evening. Since he was the 89th – and last – player to register, Smart wore No. 89 on his white caddie jumpsuit.

He won’t be wearing that number next year. Every player at the Masters receives his number based on when he registers. Except the previous year’s champion.

He gets No. 1.

Regardless of when he arrives a year from now, that will be Willett’s number. And while people will remember Spieth’s collapse, there is no doubt that Willett earned his victory.

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More sun, dry conditions expected early at Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 9:14 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – An atypically dry Scottish summer is expected to continue this week at The Open.

There’s a possibility of a few showers Thursday and Friday, but otherwise conditions are expected to remain dry with temperatures around 70 degrees and winds in the 15-20 mph range.

The forecast for the opening round at Carnoustie is sunshine with clouds developing later in the day. The high is expected to be around 70 degrees, with winds increasing throughout the day, maxing out at 18 mph.

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There’s a chance of rain overnight Thursday and into Friday morning, but it’s not expected to slow down the fiery conditions.

It’s been one of the driest summers in recent memory, leading to fairways that are baked out and fescue rough that is lighter and thinner than in previous years.

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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 8:40 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on GolfChannel.com.  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; GC.com=GolfChannel.com or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 8:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.