McDowell, Watson, Dufner discuss life after big wins

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2013, 8:04 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Wearing the winner’s tartan jacket last Sunday night, Graeme McDowell appeared relieved – that he had survived a hellish day at Harbour Town, that he’s seeing signs of improvement and that his near three-year winless drought on the PGA Tour was over.

In 2010, seemingly half a career ago, G-Mac enjoyed a dream season. He won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He delivered the clinching point at the Ryder Cup. He took down Tiger Woods at his own tournament. They were three spectacular, legacy-defining moments, and they occurred in a six-month span. A market correction loomed.

The following year, he changed equipment and grappled internally with who he was as a golfer and where he was going. Finally, he emerged as the man you saw at Hilton Head – ebullient, engaged to be married, a proud restaurant owner and, yes, a two-time PGA Tour winner.

Yet in the wake of McDowell’s resurgence, it’s worth exploring: Why is a breakthrough season so rarely followed by another stellar campaign?

After all, no 2012 major champion has won this year, on any tour, anywhere. Neither have a few of the promising stars of last season, namely Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner, the defending champion here at the Zurich Classic.

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Indeed, the latter may be best remembered this year for doing nothing, in the form of Dufnering.

In that viral photo from late March, Dufner was snapped leaning against a wall in a children’s classroom, legs erect, arms stiff at his side, completely zoned out. The pose has become something of a cultural phenomenon – when Wednesday’s pro-am was suspended due to severe weather, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and Fowler each took turns posting #Dufnering photos on Twitter. It never gets old, thankfully.

Unfortunately for Dufner, 36, however, this season has been similarly expressionless. A few months ago, he fell into a bad habit (shutting his clubface at the top of the swing) after playing in windy conditions. As a result, the two-time winner in 2012 has had four top 25s, zero top 10s and no realistic chances to win, but thinks now that he has “turned the page.”

“I don’t feel like I’ve added any pressure on myself (this season),” he said. “I feel like I can win events, but I don’t feel like I should win events out here on a regular basis. You can play a lot of great golf and not win events.”

Justin Rose says players such as Dufner are simply evolving. The Englishman initiated his own self-evaluation after last year’s victory at Doral, where he took a massive career leap in capturing his first World Golf Championship. Currently, he has racked up 16 consecutive top-25 finishes worldwide – an incredible streak that dates to Labor Day – as he has ascended to No. 4 in the world rankings. But there have been no victories during that span, save for the unofficial eight-man cash-grab in Turkey.

“Life gets busier,” Rose, 32, said. “Sponsorship demands, media obligations, the phone starts ringing a bit more. A lot of that happens without you really realizing it’s changing. All of a sudden you realize you don’t have quite the same time to practice or don’t have enough time for family or time for yourself. That all has a very big effect.

“Expectations ramp up and that can lead to frustration if things aren’t going your way. We want to play our best golf and have breakout years and push ourselves to the next level, but that next level comes with its own set of challenges. You’ve got to be ready to face them.”

Watson confronts those challenges more publicly than most. Last year, just weeks before the Masters, he and wife Angie adopted their first son, Caleb, now 14 months. In the months following the green-jacket ceremony, Watson has smashed produce with his pink driver on late-night TV, appeared in a few Ping commercials, filmed another Golf Boys video and unveiled his hovercraft golf cart. In other words, life intervened.

But since winning the Masters, since becoming a breakout star, Watson has not won or finished in the top 10 in his last four majors.

What changed?

Well, to hear Watson, quite a bit.

“The media, when you win a big event, they don’t attack you but they flock to you. You have a voice now, something to say. When you just top 10 each week, they don’t really flock to you. Sponsors want more of your time. Fans want more of your time. There are more charity things you can do, more events you can go to. High-up people are calling you, wanting to hang out. Golf is the last thing on everybody’s mind.”

Watson, 34, says he’s adjusting not just to celebrity life but to life itself. He hopes to start a foundation, to raise money for charity. He and Angie want to adopt another son, to enjoy their new house in Florida.

Soon, young Caleb will begin school, and Watson says it’s never too early to look at retirement options, or discuss insurance policies.

“There are a lot of things that distract you from golf,” he says. “But for me, golf is the easy part. Life is the harder thing. We all struggle with that at some point.”

Eventually, talent overcomes and they will win again, much like McDowell after a near three-year drought on Tour.

The hope next time, of course, is that the adjustment period isn’t so harsh.

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Van Rooyen holes putt after ball-marker ruling

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Erik van Rooyen was surveying his 10-footer for par, trying to get a feel for the putt, when his putter slipped out of his hand and dropped onto his ball marker.

The question, then, was whether that accident caused his coin to move.

The rules official looked at various camera angles but none showed definitively whether his coin moved. The ruling was made to continue from where his coin was now positioned, with no penalty.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

This was part of the recent rules changes, ensuring there is no penalty if the ball or ball maker is accidently moved by the player. The little-used rule drew attention in 2010, when Ian Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on his marker in Dubai and wound up losing more than $400,000 in bonus and prize money.

After the delay to sort out his ruling Friday, van Rooyen steadied himself and made the putt for par, capping a day in which he shot even-par 71 and kept himself in the mix at The Open. He was at 4-under 138, just two shots off the clubhouse lead.

“I wanted to get going and get this 10-footer to save par, but I think having maybe just a couple minutes to calm me down, and then I actually got a different read when I sat down and looked at it again,” he said. “Good putt. Happy to finish that way.”

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Lyle birdies last hole in likely his final Open start

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 4:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – If this was Sandy Lyle’s final Open appearance, he went out in style.

Playing on the final year of his automatic age exemption, the 60-year-old Scot buried a 30-foot birdie on the last hole. He missed the cut after shooting 9-over 151 over two rounds.

“I was very light-footed,” he said. “I was on cloud nine walking down the 18th. To make birdie was extra special.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Lyle, who also won the 1988 Masters, has missed the cut in his last eight majors, dating to 2014. He hasn’t been competitive in The Open since 1998, when he tied for 19th.

To continue playing in The Open, Lyle needed to finish in the top 10 here at Carnoustie. He’d earn a future exemption by winning the Senior British Open.

“More punishment,” he said.

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DJ, Thomas miss cut at Open; No. 1 up for grabs

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The top two players in the world both missed the cut at The Open, creating the possibility of a shakeup at the top of the rankings by the end of the weekend.

Dustin Johnson became the first world No. 1 since Luke Donald in 2011 to miss the cut at the year’s third major.

Johnson played solidly for all but the closing stretch. Over two rounds, he was 6 over par on the last three holes. He finished at 6-over 148.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Thomas added to what’s been a surprisingly poor Open record. Just like last year, when he struggled in the second round in the rain at Royal Birkdale, Thomas slumped to a 77 on Friday at Carnoustie, a round that included three consecutive double bogeys on Nos. 6-8. He finished at 4-over 146.

It’s Thomas' first missed cut since The Open last year. Indeed, in three Open appearances, he has two missed cuts and a tie for 53rd.  

With Johnson and Thomas out of the mix, the No. 1 spot in the rankings is up for grabs this weekend.

Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can reach No. 1 with a victory this week.

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TT Postscript: Woods (71) makes cut, has work to do

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 3:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Here are a few things I think I think after Tiger Woods shot a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round. And yes, he made the cut:

• Tiger said all 71s are not created equal. On Thursday, he made three birdies and three bogeys. On Friday, he made four birdie and four bogeys. Which round was better? The first. His theory is that, despite the rain, conditions were easier in the second round and there were more scoring opportunities. He didn't take advantage.

• This is the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Tiger shot par or better in each of the first two rounds of a major. That’s quite a long time ago.

• Stat line for the day: 11 of 15 fairways, 13 of 18 greens, 32 total putts. Tiger hit one driver and two 3-woods on Thursday and four drivers on Friday, only one which found the fairway. An errant drive at the second led to him sniping his next shot into the gallery


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

• In his own words: “I could have cleaned up the round just a little bit. I got off to not exactly the best start, being 2 over through three, but got it back. The golf course was a little bit softer today, obviously. It rains, and we were able to get the ball down a little bit further, control the ball on the ground a little bit easier today, which was nice.”

• At some point Tiger is going to have to be more aggressive. He will be quite a few shots off the lead by day’s end and he'll have a lot of ground to make up. Hitting irons off the tee is great for position golf, but it’s often leaving him more than 200 yards into the green. Not exactly a range for easy birdies.

• Sure, it’s too soon to say Tiger can’t win a fourth claret jug, but with so many big names ahead of him on the leaderboard, it’s unlikely. Keep in mind that a top-six finish would guarantee him a spot in the WGC: Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks. At The Players, he stated that this was a big goal.

• My Twitter account got suspended momentarily when Tiger was standing over a birdie putt on the 17th green. That was the most panicked I’ve been since Tiger was in contention at the Valspar.