U.S. Senior Open: Leader Watson Nearly Shoots Round for the Ages
June 25, 2015
As Tom Watson stood over a 35-footer on his final hole during the first round of the U.S. Senior Open at Del Paso CC in Sacramento, a crazy thought entered his mind.
He had the chance to shoot his age in an Open.
The 65-year-old vigorously studied the break of his putt on No. 9, excitedly eying it once he sent the ball on its way. But the putt just lost steam as it reached the hole, breaking across it and finishing on the low side.
Watson tapped in for a 4-under 66 and the morning lead, a stroke in front of a slew of others (at one time the group at 3 under swelled to 10), including Olympic Club member Michael Allen. Hometown hero Kevin Sutherland and defending champ Colin Montgomerie are among those who lurk at 2 under.
“Man, I was grinding on that last putt,” conceded Watson, who hasn’t won on the Champions Tour since 2011. “I really wanted to make that putt, more than any other in a long time. To shoot my age at a U.S. Open would have been special.”
Turning to a tip he remembered writing in a short-game book he published in 1980, Watson went 4 under on his final nine, erasing a watery double-bogey he made on No. 16 during his first nine.
“Why do we ever forget that stuff?” Watson asked rhetorically. “Why do we go away from what works?
“Any time you shoot under par at a U.S. Open, you feel really good,” added Watson, who has twice led a U.S. Senior Open after three rounds, but never won one. “I am ecstatic to shoot 66.”
Watson missed just one fairway, which helped him navigate what he called the toughest rough in a U.S. Open he has ever played.
“This grass around the greens is as tough as I’ve seen for a U.S. Open or U.S. Senior Open,” Watson said. “To me, that has always defined a USGA championship. When you think about an Open, you think about gnarly, nasty rough, and this place definitely has it. More than half the time you are in it, it’s just a guess. The rough is really lush, and growing in every different direction.”
The primary rough is 3 inches thick, but it is as dense as 4 inches in certain spots, particularly around the greens.
Added Allen about the 6,994-yard, par-70 setup, “It’s a much longer course than we’re used to playing in a Champions Tour, but I thought it was still very fair and reasonable. I thought it was a beautiful setup.”
Among the five early 67s was Lee Janzen, who reached 4 under twice, but finished at 3 under. The two-time U.S. Open champ also played Chambers Bay last week.
“This is quite different,” Janzen said. “This week, we’re putting on ideal greens, perfect conditions with perfect speed.”
Watson posted his score early Thursday, before temperatures climbed as high as 103 degrees. He’ll be playing in the hot stuff Friday afternoon.
“In your yardage book, you’re adding the areas where you can stand in the shade,” Watson said with a smile.
But just as the weather is unpredictable, so is the body of a senior.
“You never know what aches you’re going to have when you wake up,” Watson said. “It’s a guess.”
There were four NCGA members who couldn’t wait to wake up Thursday morning — Jeff Wilson, Jim Knoll, Randy Haag and Terry Foreman.
Wilson, 52, is playing in his third straight U.S. Senior Open after qualifying through his home course Green Valley CC. Wilson missed the cut in 2013, but shot an opening 1-under 70 last year, and was the low-am through three rounds. He finished tied for 43rd at 10-over 294.
Wilson reached red figures twice on Thursday, including with his third birdie of the day on No. 3 (his 12th hole). Wilson was even through 14 holes, but a four-putt double-bogey on No. 6 and a bogey after his drive jumped a yard into the rough on No. 8 dropped him to a 3-over 73, which is tied for 75th and one stroke outside the projected cutline.
“I had my chances,” Wilson said. “I hit the ball plenty well enough. I drove it well. I had myself in position, I just putted terribly.
“The greens were about a good foot to a foot-and-a-half faster than the practice rounds, so I got a little tentative. Once you do that, it just kind of builds and builds. Pretty soon you start missing it from everywhere, and that’s kind of how it went down.”
Six-time NCGA Player of the Year Randy Haag teed off right in the dead of the heat at 2:20 p.m., and had to channel his inner Jason Day.
“It’s the first time I ever played golf and I got dizzy,” said Haag, who still gutted out a 4-over 74. “It was almost right away. I was drinking so much water every hole, and I never went to the bathroom once. It’s not quite as bad as vertigo, but you get a little light-headed.”
Haag, 56, is aiming to make his first U.S. Senior Open cut. He shot 77-72 the only other time he qualified in 2011.
“It was a tough day,” said Haag, who has also played in four British Senior Opens. “My goals are different than most players. My goal is if I make the cut, I get into the U.S. Senior Amateur. That’s a big bonus. That’s one less qualifier I have to play in.”
Haag is tied for 84th, but he knows never to give up.
“I remember in 2012 I double-bogeyed my 18th hole at Turnberry, and I was devastated,” Haag said. “But it was blowing 50 mph. And then the last group came in and I made the cut right on the number. I was packed and already in the car – but you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“You want to play all four days – especially the amateurs. It’s really a treat to be here and play in a tournament with the likes of Tom Watson and all these great pros.” buy Instagram followers with instant delivery
This was Foreman’s first U.S. Senior Open — and it was filled some wild firsts. That the 58-year-old found the fairway on his opening tee shot at 2:40 p.m., and proceeded to play his first eight holes in 1 over, is quite remarkable.
While warming up for his round, his TaylorMade SLDR broke. A weighted screw fell off during a swing, and was lost somewhere on the range. Foreman was still awaiting confirmation that the club was conforming just 3 minutes before his tee time.
The club was approved, but he suddenly had to swing a foreign driver with weighting that was off-kilter.
“Can you believe that? The first tee, when you’re already a nervous wreck?” reflected Foreman after a 6-over 76. “I was kind of panicked on the first tee, but I got up there and hit a good drive and moved forward.”
Even amid all the chaos, Foreman still soaked in the dream/nightmare, both literally (with an ice towel around his neck to combat the triple-digit heat) and figuratively.
“Every now and then I would look around and go, ‘God, I’m in the Open right now.’ And I’d look up at the blimp and see the cameras,” Foreman said. “This is what I worked for.”
Four-time defending NCGA Senior Player of the Year and this year’s points leader Jim Knoll scooted out to a score of 2-over through 10 earlier in the morning, but wore down on the back nine, finishing with an 11-over 81. Even so, Knoll escaped a better fate than his playing partner, who took a 10 on the first hole of their second nine (No. 1).
“It’s really special to be here,” said Knoll, who also played in the 2006 and 2007 U.S. Senior Opens. “I got tired, that’s it. I played solid on the front. I drove it well on the front. I shot 2 over, and I could have shot a couple shots better.”
Knoll also has the privilege of playing in front of his 85-year-old mom and brothers, who are all local.
“I’m probably the oldest non-exempt player here,” said Knoll, 62. “So that feels good. And to be able to do this at home is really cool. I wish I would have played better, but maybe I will tomorrow. I’m anticipating a pretty high cut, so we’ll see what happens.”
The low amateur Thursday was Michael McCoy, who fired an even-par 70. McCoy passed Wilson in the final round last year to claim low-amateur honors, as well.
How do we put these amateur performances in perspective? Well, for one, no amateur has ever won the U.S. Senior Open. And outside the inaugural U.S. Senior Open in 1980 when William C. Campbell finished second, no amateur has seriously flirted with winning. The best amateur finish since then was a tie for 11th by Tim Jackson in 2009.
What can beat today for Wilson, Haag, Foreman and Knoll? Playing well enough tomorrow to play again this weekend.
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