PLANO, Texas – On the eve of last year’s Open Championship Robert Karlsson withdrew because, he tweeted at the time, he had acquired “some bad habits in my game.”
The square-shouldered Swede later admitted it was the yips that drove him from Royal Lytham & St. Annes, all of which made the scene late Monday at Gleneagles Country Club all at once surreal and special.
With a return trip to this year’s Open at Muirfield hanging in the balance, Karlsson raced his first putt on the first hole of a four-players-for-three-spots playoff some 15 feet past the hole.
“I had the same putt an hour ago,” Karlsson later admitted.
In regulation, Karlsson had three-putted for bogey on the penultimate hole and then hit into a water hazard at the last hole to finish in a four-way tie for sixth place at 4-under 136. So from virtually the same spot on the 17th green he had the opportunity for the ultimate mulligan.
But then the last year has been something of a career mulligan for Karlsson.
“I felt like I started from the beginning,” Karlsson said. “In August (2012), I didn’t know if I would ever play golf again.”
Karlsson overcame his bout with the yips, regained his PGA Tour card at Q-School in December and took another step toward closing that dark chapter in his career when he calmly rolled in the 15-footer for par at the first extra hole at Gleneagles to earn his 12th start at golf’s oldest championship.
“I didn’t want to hit it short,” Karlsson grinned when asked about his first putt that raced by the hole at the par-3 17th. “I had the same line up the hill that I had (in regulation play) and knew what I needed to do.”
Brian Davis (66-69), who also qualified for the Open at Gleneagles in 2011, and Scott Brown (71-64) rounded out the top 8 to earn invitations to Muirfield in July.
It seems about right that on a day fit for flying a kite, eight players weathered the wind to advance to the ultimate wind-tunnel test.
“I’m quite surprised how good the scoring was,” said Davis, whose opening round featured a tee shot at the first that sailed out of bounds followed by six consecutive birdies. “It was blowing a hoolie all day.”
Not that Teater seemed to have much trouble with the winds after opening his day with a 64 and he was pleased with his closing card of 1 under considering the increasingly difficult conditions.
“I was just trying to hit shots in this crazy wind,” said Teater, who has never played a links course. “I wasn’t trying to attack any flags. Normally, in those 36-holers you have to go low but in that wind you just tried to hold on.”
And if dealing with the gale wasn’t challenging enough, Wagner had the added duties of also playing caddie for the day.
Wagner’s regular caddie, Matt Hauser, took the week off to be with his family following the death of his brother, Zack, two weeks ago; so Wagner’s trainer, Victor Trasoff-Jilg, stepped in at Gleneagles.
“It was the first time I had a yardage book in my hand since college,” Wagner said. “I may start carrying one all the time. It gave me a purpose walking up to the ball.”
Karlsson’s purpose since last year’s Open meltdown has been to savor how far he’s come. Following a pedestrian start to the season he withstood brutal weather on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this month to finish tied for fourth.
Quail Hollow was Karlsson’s first top-five finish on Tour since the 2011 Crowne Plaza Invitational. For a player of Karlsson’s caliber two years out of contention is an eternity and what makes Monday’s 37 holes so significant.
“I try to look at all the qualifiers as an opportunity,” said Karlsson, who tied for fifth in 1992 when the Open was played at Muirfield. “It’s a chance for me to go out and see what I can do without any pressure.”
He now gets to return to the Open Championship, where he hit rock bottom last year, with a similar attitude and, more importantly, without the “bad habits” that haunted him in 2012.