The Sun Hasnt Set

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2009, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship TURNBERRY, Scotland ' A country that clings to antiques is 18 holes away from having a relic claim the games oldest keepsake. Seems about right.
 
With his arms folded behind his back, looking more like a pondering professor than the years champion golfer, Tom Watson gave no ground on the type of day that drove sheep into furrows that would become sand traps so many eons ago.
 
On an artificial hip and genuine gumption, and on a golf course one announcer dubbed as hard as a dogs head, the five-time Open champion rolled in putts from Ayr to Maybole on his way to a third-round 71 and one-stroke lead over Mathew Goggin and Ross Fisher.
 
Tom Watson
Tom Watson reacts to his birdie putt on the 16th hole Saturday. (Getty Images)
Welcome to the 2009 Open Championship, the Duel in the Setting Sun.
 
In historical context, a Watson victory on Sunday, some 32 years after he etched his name into the games all-time highlight reels against Jack Nicklaus on these same windswept dunes, would fall into exclusive company alongside Nicklaus win at the 1986 Masters, Ben Hogans 1950 U.S. Open triumph and Tiger Woods one-legged masterpiece last year at Torrey Pines.
 
Not that Watson would ever allow himself to get that far ahead of reality, but as he inches closer to his fate he had to concede the obvious.
 
It would be special if I go out there and do what I intend to do, Watson allowed. Its impossible to overstate how improbable a road the 59-year-old now finds himself barreling down. Watson has not made a cut in an under-50 major since 2006. By comparison, Tiger Woods hadnt missed the weekend on the Grand Stage since 06.
 
Watsons last competitive round was more than a month ago and the standard for aged-perfection at a major is Julius Boros victory at the 1968 PGA Championship at a cubbish, at least by Watson standards, 48.
 
And yet despite conventional wisdom and clarity of thought, there he was on Saturday, charging his way around an Ailsa Course that was getting harder with each gust.
 
He wasnt perfect, but then he didnt expect to be. He rolled in par-saving putts of 8 feet (No. 3), 10 feet (No. 5), 6 feet (No. 13) and 25 feet (No. 14); all the while charging his attempts at the hole like the Watson of old. Before he developed what he calls hammer mitts for hands.
 
In between he posted three birdies, four bogeys and a bulletproof exterior that looked like a man on a Saturday stroll.
 
Things could have gone sideways, like they did for playing companion Steve Marino. Like on the 12th when Watson missed a 5-footer for par to drop into a tie for the lead. But he rebounded on the next hole with a steely 6-footer for par, and then rolled in cross-country birdies at the 16th and 17th. He wandered into the scorers hut with a sly smile and the look of a man with the answer to a question no one else has thought of. A man at peace.
 
On the fourth tee Watson paused to gaze out into the frothy Firth of Clyde, his pale blue eyes locked on Ailsa Craig shrouded in the distance, but ostensibly a sixth Claret Jug.
 
For some reason today I didnt feel nervous, Watson said. I guess serenity is the right word for it.
 
Surreal would be a more apt depiction.
 
But then no one who braved the cold wind on Saturday seemed to be expecting anything else. The Scots engage Watson as one of their own, an admiration he says that goes both ways: Coom on Tooom, they would yell.
 
I joked with him, You could probably be king of Scotland these people love you so much, said Marino, who played alongside Watson on Saturday. Makes sense, the man plays golf like a Scot ' fast and from the center of the clubface.
 
For the skeptics, who liked this show when it went by Greg Norman last year at Royal Birkdale, this is different. There has a for-the-ages-quality to it that even Watson is slowly warming toward.
 
The first day here, yeah let the old geezer have his day in the sun, Watson said, flashing that toothy smile. The second day you said, Well thats OK. And then now you kind of perk up your ears and say, This old geezer might have a chance to win the tournament.
 
But the question remains, how does an occasional senior win another Open Championship?
 
Ball-striking and putting are the formulaic answers. For the week Watson is among the weeks leaders in greens in regulation (70 percent) and fairways hit (73 percent) and looking with each round more like the younger Watson who feared no 4-footer than the aged version whose magical swing has been done in by a jumpy putting stroke.
 
Its hard for me to imagine him hitting too many bad shots in a round after what I saw today, Marino said.
 
Essentially, Watson has turned back the clock with experience. Each night when he heads up the hill to the Watson Suite in the resorts grand hotel he has created a game plan born from six major championships (four British Opens and two Senior British Opens) on the Ailsa Course.
 
Whether it all adds up to a historic finish, Watson declined to indulge. But the gravity of his plight was impossible to escape.
 
Who would have thought it, he smiled.
 
Indeed, who?
 
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    Schauffele just fine being the underdog

    By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

    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.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “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.”

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    Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

    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.

    Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    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

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    Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

    By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

    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.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    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.

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    Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

    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.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “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.”