Watson Three Back at Senior British
Only four other players finished under par at stunning but demanding Royal County Down. Two other Scots, John Chillas and Peter Kerr, posted 69s for joint possession of third place at 2-under, while England's Tony Allen shot 1-under 70 to share fifth with five-time British Open champion Tom Watson.
'Most of my shots were a bit off,' said Watson, who is making his first appearance in a Senior British Open. 'It's annoying because I felt the golf course was there for the taking.
'When we went out, the wind wasn't blowing all that hard. It was very benign by Royal County Down standards so I feel as if I have let an opportunity slip.'
Watson kicked his round off in spectacular fashion with an eagle at the 522-yard, par-5 first hole, only to give a stroke back with a bogey at the second. Although he made three more bogeys the rest of the way, Watson was able to immediately answer each dropped shot with a birdie.
The 52-year-old Watson is coming off a disappointing showing in last week's British Open, where he missed the cut by 13 strokes with rounds of 77-78 at Muirfield, the site of his 1980 Open triumph.
He came out on the short end of a better stick a month ago after an exciting playoff loss to Don Pooley at the U.S. Senior Open at Caves Valley near Baltimore.
Sugai, whose resume includes four wins on the Japan PGA Tour and three more on the Japan Senior Tour, birdied the first two holes Thursday and added another at the ninth to make his way out in 32. A bogey six at the 479-yard, par-5 12th knocked him back to 2-under, but Sugai forged ahead with birdies at the 203-yard 14th and 375-yard 17th.
'The key was good putting and good approach shots,' said Sugai, 52. 'I like this course. Two years ago, on my first visit, I finished 18th and I have felt very comfortable ever since.'
South Africa's John Bland, the runner-up in the Senior British Open in 1997, '99 and 2000, was part of an eight-way tie for seventh at even-par 71. Japan's Seiji Ebihara, who successfully defended his Irish Seniors Open title in May and captured the Wales Seniors Open earlier this month, was knotted with nine players at 1-over-par.
Ebihara's 72 included a three-bogey, one double-bogey 40 on the front nine and a 32 on the back made up of an eagle, three birdies and one bogey.
Christy O'Connor, Jr., seeking his third victory in the Senior British Open, double-bogeyed the 18th for a 2-over 73.
'It was a horrible way to finish,' said the 53-year-old Irishman, who won the title in 1999 and 2000 but had to skip last year's championship after breaking his ankle. 'I have got to admit that I am mad at myself. I played superbly but my putting was filthy. I'm going to have to go home and give myself a bit of a talking to.'
Defending champion Ian Stanley of Australia made a brief appearance on the leaderboard with a pair of birdies to open his round but struggled in the windy afternoon conditions. He carded two double-bogeys later on the front side and finished with three bogeys over the last six holes to complete a 4-over 75.
'It's a bit disappointing but at least it is over and done with,' Stanley said. 'Today, we probably got the worst of the weather but tomorrow it might be different. Who knows, you are never quite sure on a links.'
England's Tony Jacklin, winner of the British Open in 1969 and the U.S. Open in 1970, was one of 32 players to post rounds in the 80s.
Full-field scores from the Senior British Open
Euro experience at Le Golf National 'a help to us'
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The European team has plenty of experience at Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National, which has been the longtime host of the French Open.
The question this week is whether it’ll matter.
The only American player to compete in this year’s French Open was Justin Thomas. Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Bubba Watson all got a look at Le Golf National before The Open.
Not surprisingly, the European team has a proven track record here – all 12 players have seen the course at some point. Alex Noren won in July. Tommy Fleetwood is a past champion, too. So is European vice captain Graeme McDowell. Francesco Molinari and assistant Lee Westwood also have runners-up here.
“I definitely think it’s a help to us, for sure,” Ian Poulter said. “It’s probably the most-played venue as a Ryder Cup venue for all of the European players that have played. So we definitely have a feel of how this golf course has played in very different weather conditions. I definitely think we have an understanding of how this golf course can play.”
Of course, this setup is no different than what players typically experience as they prepare for a major championship. They’ll play 18 holes each of the next two days, then maybe nine holes on Thursday, as they get a feel for the layout.
“When it’s the best players in the world, and we play on golf courses week-in and week-out where we have to learn a new golf course, it’s difficult to say how much of an advantage it will be,” Fleetwood said. “It can only be a good thing, or it can’t do any harm that we know the course better or that we’ve played it more times.
“Knowledge can only be a good thing. Maybe it’s a little advantage, but it’s the best players in the world that are out here, so it’s not something to look at too much.”
First-tee grandstand 'biggest you'll ever see'
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The first-tee nerves could be even more intense this week at the Ryder Cup.
If only because of the atmosphere.
The grandstand surrounding the first hole at Le Golf National is unlike anything that’s ever been seen at this event – a 6,500-seat behemoth that dwarfs the previous arenas.
“It’s the biggest grandstand you’ll ever see at a golf tournament,” Tommy Fleetwood said.
“It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had to hit that tee shot before,” Ian Poulter said. “When I think back (to my first Ryder Cup) in 2004, the stand is nothing like what we have today. So it really is going to be quite a special moment Friday, and it’s going to be very interesting to see.”
Poulter said it’ll be his job to prepare, as best he can, the team’s rookies for what they’ll experience when the first ball goes in the air Friday morning.
“The No. 1 thing I’ve pictured since the Ryder Cup became a goal is that first tee shot,” Fleetwood said. “But nothing prepares you for the real thing. The grandstand is pretty big – there’s no denying that.
“It’s something that everybody wants in their career, so as nerve-wracking as it is, and whatever those feelings are, everybody wants that in their life. So you just have to take it on and let it all happen.”
Impressionist Moore creates 'hilarious' video for Euros
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The European Ryder Cup team began its week by laughing at itself.
Noted impressionist Conor Moore made a 10-minute clip in which he took turns poking fun at the 12 team members in a press-conference setting.
The video has not, and probably will not, be made public.
“It was extremely funny, I have to say,” Ian Poulter said. “Clips like that, they can help the team get together. Although we’re taking the mickey out of one another, it’s quite a good way to start the week off.”
The best impression, apparently, was of reigning Open champion Francesco Molinari.
“I think Fran’s has made me giggle for about 10 hours now," Tommy Fleetwood said.
"Just how deadpan he was – just trying to make how excited he was with his deadpan tone. It was perfect, really. It was absolutely spot-on."
Even the typically stoic Molinari found the video hilarious.
“I’m actually thinking of it all the time now answering questions, trying to smile a bit more,” he said, laughing.
So is this the new, more lively version of Molinari?
“Can’t you tell the difference?” he said dryly.
Woods' final round is highest-rated FEC telecast ever
We've heard it a million times: Tiger Woods doesn't just move the needle, he IS the needle.
Here's more proof.
NBC Sports Group's final-round coverage of Woods claiming his 80th career victory in the Tour Championship earned a 5.21 overnight rating, making it the highest-rated telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs and the highest-rated PGA Tour telecast in 2018 (excluding majors).
The rating was up 206 percent over 2017's Tour Championship.
Coverage peaked from 5:30-6PM ET (7.19) as Woods finished his round and as Justin Rose was being crowned the FedExCup champion. That number trailed only the 2018 peaks for the Masters (11.03) and PGA Championship (8.28). The extended coverage window (1:30-6:15 PM ET) posted a 4.35 overnight rating, which is the highest-rated Tour Championship telecast on record.
Sunday’s final round also saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (up 561 percent year-over-year), and becomes the most-streamed NBC Sports Sunday round (excluding majors) on record.