Monday, 27 July 2009

Calc Chalks up the birdies, nine in a row, a new record

Having had a flirt with the leaderboard all through the Open last week, Mark Calcavecchia continued the recent trend of the old dogs rolling back the years this weekend. In his third round he took full advantage of the softened greens and prefferred lies offered on a rainsoaked Oakville in the Canadian Open. Kicking off on the tenth tee the old stager had a remarkable run of nine consecutive birdies, beating the old record of eight which is shared by several PGA tourists over the years. To put it in perspective, the last time eight was acheived was Jerry Kelly back in 2003.

So to go one more was pretty special from the 49 year old former Open winner, as the more you roll in, the more pressure comes with each stroke. As it was, Calcavecchia kept things simple, all nine of his birdie putts coming from withing 15 feet. It all began on the par three 12th, his third and ended as his chip from over the green on the par four 3rd trickled by the hole.

A couple of bogeys coming in left him with a 65, who can blame him for taking it easy over the closing holes, it's quite an effort.

"It is just fly it right to the stick. You give the guys out here no wind and greens that are plugging then you are going to see a lot of low scores."

But it wasn't these guys, it was the dude one year from the champions tour doing it. Self effacing to the last, he wasn't putting any money on the record stnding for long, but I wouldn't be so sure.

"Records are made to be broken. Could somebody make 10 in a row? Sure, it wouldn't surprise me if some guy whips out 10 birdies in a row sometime this weekend, it really wouldn't. These guys are good."

They may be good, but can anyone get that lucky?

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Tom feels his age when he's putting, at least there'll be no young pups for him to beat his week...

Tom Watson has come out and admitted that when it comes to the clutch putts, he starts to feel like the 59 year old he is. It's always been the area of the game which seems to catch the old pros out, they lose a little bit of the bravery of old and the nerves jangle and the knees knock. And that's what Watson feels ultimately cost him a huge place in the record books. However he was glad to have shown that there is indeed plenty of life in the old dog yet.

"I don't deal with the pressure quite as easily as I used to, especially with the putting stroke, but last week was a confirmation that I can still play with the kids on certain courses."

Very true indeed, the Masters may be too much of a long driving competition for him to challenge but the like of the Ailsa Course, where strategy outweighs brute force, gives him a fighting chance. Even now.

Which begs the question, why have we spent the last decade or so adding hundreds of yards to the finest courses in the world to "Tiger proof" them - just let the grass grow. A few extra heights and hollows and your course is safe from embarrassment and will root out the man with the brains to play it. If it led to more weeks like last then I'd be all for it.

The fun doesn't stop for Watson, as he said himself "I'm going right from the frying pan into the fire." The Senior Open is this week at Sunningdale, and he's not in the mood for resting on his laurels just yet. he'll do that on Wednesday.

"I thought about not playing a practice round, but no. I'm in good health. I'm 59 and not hurting, as I did last year with my hip, it feels great. You learn how to pace yourself. On Wednesday I'm taking a day off, which is like taking a nap and naps are really good at my age, I assure you."

I wonder if he's 1500-1 this week...

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

What I meant to say was, he's a Dancing queen - Lyle shouldn have stopped talking long ago...

Lyle didn't just missed hitting Monty from the rough but a hybrid from the fairway took him down...

I missed the opportunity over the weekend to have a proper go at Sandy Lyle for his latest bout of media idiocy. This past few weeks he has single-handedly destroyed the slim whisker of a chance that he had of getting the Ryder captaincy. In fact he went at that whisker of a chance with a blowtorch and pair of pliers and has left it in a decidedly pitiable and mangled state.

It's the worst kept secret in golf that Sandy has been hankering after the captaincy for knocking on the door of fifteen years or more. In that time he's watched as the other members of Europe's Big Five, Ballesteros, Langer, Woosnam, even the hugely unpopular Faldo got the nod ahead of him. He might have understood why the hugely charismatic Sam Torrance was handed the Reins. But to have a man without a major to his name, who could conceivably win an award for "least likely to inspire men to greater things ", voted for by his own family, Mark "Jesse" James, that had to hurt.

And clearly it did, every year, in forthright interviews he's expressed his confusion as to why he had been overlooked. But the recent appointment of his unofficial Cheerleader Colin Montgomerie was clearly the straw that broke the camels back. The committee took somewhat of a knee jerk reaction to the perceived disconnect between Faldo and his young charges - blaming it on the age gap rather than the real character flaws in Faldo which seemed so plain to most, particularly those who read between the lines of Lee Westwoods comments after the event. Suddenly Lyle was dismissed as too old and his personal champion Montgomerie swiftly installed in his stead. His pullout of last years Open after 11 holes hurt his cause also.

Lyle felt let down by this, and took it as a personal sleight from Colin. The fact that Monty had sung Sandys praises from the rooftops for so long and pushed him so heavily for the latest post made it all the worse. In Sandys eyes, and as he has said, he could have said no.

And in typical Colin style, he's done the wrong thing. Instead of coming out straight away and offering Sandy a VC role and recommending him for Gleneagles, defusing the situation, he stayed silent. Not just in the media but in real life too. They have hardly spoken since and in this state of Limbo Lyle has loosened his tongue.

He couldn't resist when faced with more questions on his early bath at the Open having a dig at Monty. And what a dig. He tried to conduct of a man with sore hands in terrible weather already massively over par withdrawing before he sustained injury to the actions of a man in need of a win taking one of the dodgiest of drops and swiftly moving on hoping no ones noticed.

He has a point, it was a form of cheating and he must have known, but surely Lyle must have realised how badly dredging up the past would reflect on him. He has publicly attacked the next Ryder Cup captain, how can that possibly enhance your standing as Captaincy material.

But in the subsequent interviews he has given he has far away Sandy is from thinking that. Persistently he has dug himself a deeper and deeper hole. Each apology has been coupled with a qualification that he still believes Colin cheated, one even stating Monty was a bit "strange".

Then he come out and profusely apologised after his first round on Thursday before he was asked straight out, as a man experienced in dealing with the media, should he not have known better than to say what he did. His response indicated that Lyle's brain could not compute a questioning of his media savvy. Instead he seemed to interpret it as a question on how naive Col was being about all this...

"I think Colin is Colin. We do sometimes call him a bit of a drama queen. He is milking it a little bit. He has got to stop hiding behind his manager and come out and have a talk. I want to bring an end to it. We are good friends and we respect each other's games.,"

It all just displayed that if he ever was a safe pair of hands to take on the Ryder mantle, he's not anymore. With the intense media scrutiny he'd be exposed to he can no longer be trusted not to run his mouth off. I'm not saying we don't want someone who can speak his mind, just someone who still realises when they're causing offence, and when they're compounding that offence and certainly someone who knows when it's best to just say nothing.

Who do we have this time? Oh dear, it's Monty...

Monday, 20 July 2009

Westwood tries to hide his wobbles, but we all saw them...

It was interesting to hear from Lee Westwood in his interview yesterday that he was glad he had kept it together on the back nine. What was that Lee? You did what there?

Having had a glorious week off the tee, finding 81% of Fairways, the best in the field, Lee started hocking it about like a Sunday golfer. It was a full blown choke. Leading after nine holes, he had the tournament in his grasp. With two shots in hand he conspired to lose it, unable even to make the play-off. Coming in with a 38, the worst score of an player on the back nine on Sunday. At any point he cold have turned it around to take what would have been a more deserving win to my mind than Stewart Cinks stealth smash and grab. But Lee took bogey on three onf the final four holes. That ain't holding it together and that ain't winning any majors.

But it's all there, he has the game to be a Major champion. He arguably has the strongest driving game out there, long and accurate and his tee to green play is generally superb. But crucially, the killer insctinct which marked him out in his early days on the European Tour seems to have left him of late. He had a fallow period around 2003, 2004 after winning the Order of merit in 2000, he failed to kick on and his career went on the rails somewhat. But he has recovered, with the faith shown in him by successive Ryder Cup Captains being richly rewarded (except for Faldo for whom he didn't perform at all for some reason...) and the talent and promise has seemed ready to be fulfilled this last few seasons.

His game is no doubt improved from his younger days, but the Lee Westwoood of old, won things when he got a sniff, he didn't fall away. But that has been his fate in recent times. He's in danger of becoming the new Sergio at this rate. I think he still is the most likely Brit to win a major, for all the up and coming youngsters who are around. He just needs to get his head right. Maybe call Bob Rotella, it worked for Padraig...

Thats one small tournament for Tom Watson, one giant leap up the ranks...

It's being proffered as consolation for Tom Watson, that he has had a welcome boost in the world rankings thanks to his second place at the Open. But considering Tom has been off the regular tour for some years now and the Open and Masters are the only tournaments he has entered the last two years, I doubt he'll really give a monkeys. But consider this, work with me here, if we remove the silly minimum divisor of forty, Tom would be averaging 15.00 - Why he'd be world number one! And at 59 too...
He may have fallen short of setting quite possibly more golfing records than anyone ever has yesterday, but he has gained one - the biggest leap up the world rankings in history, from World Number 1374 to 105. What odds he's top ten by Christmas?

Sunday, 19 July 2009

As the Man said himself - "It would have been a hell of a story"

Just a few holes too many. That was the problem for Tom Watson. When he'd given so much over the four days, leading virtually from wire to wire, it was always going to be a big ask to extend the magic for four more holes. Watson couldn't put his finger on what went wrong in the playoff, as he described it, it was like the air went out of the balloon, the wheels just came off after that second shot on the 73rd. It was really a sad thing to watch, as it was not what Watson deserved. Sudden death would at least have spared him fighting on on a lost cause, but then it did afford him one more richly deserved round of acclamation on his shot putt on the last. The outpouring of love and admiration was well earned as he provided one of the most compelling of stories ever seen in the Open. But it was the only point inthe whole week when Watson's age actually seemed to be an issue, testament to just how fit and supple he has kept himself.

It's a tournament that always seems to have a story to it, last year it was the return of the old shark, and the defending champ coming in with injury to go on to win. This year there was Ross Fisher with his missus at home ready to pop at any moment. And then there was Tom. Sweet magnificent Tom. He was meant to be there to make up the numbers, be the old guy sucking up the plaudits on day two as he went up 18 and they showed the clips of the duel in the sun and commentators reminisced and then gone home to leave the young guns to settle matters. But I wonder whether it was simply the case, that with all the interviews beforehand, where every paper in the land wanted to go over the events of 1977, the epic battle with Nicklaus, that it awakened some old memories in those old bones, (those that are left, he got a new plastic hip a few months back). The competitive fires got stoked thinking back on old glories and he decided there was one big one left in the old campaigner.

It is almost criminal that Watson didn't win, and it's all the crueller for the fact that Cink was rarely in the mix all week. He bubbled along, under the radar. Had it been Westwood, Goggin, even Goosen, it might have been a bit easier to take but the fact that Cink hadn't even registered as a potential winner until about two holes from home, grates with me somewhat. But then, Mark O'Meara wasn't exactly the one we were looking at until he rattled in that putt on 18 way back when he won his Masters. He cemented his reputation by picking up the Open. It'll take something like that from Cink before we'll really think of him as a Major champion, not the bloke who spoilt the party. I do feel sorry for him in one sense, though - after all, you can't pick your opponents for a playoff and it's pretty hard to come off looking good when you've beaten an old man.

But Watson shall get over it, as he was heard complaining to Mathew Goggin about on the first fairway, he has the Senior Open and then the Senior US Open to play in the coming weeks, I have a feeling his odds for those will be considerably shorter than 1500-1. Tom Watson, you're the very definition of the word legend and you know what, I think it was a hell of a story.

Watson a better bet to make history than old Greg was....

So here we are again, for the second year running we enter the final day of the Open and we're looking at an old stager leading the way. In 2008 it was the great White shark doing the seemingly impossible and somehow you had the feeling he was laways going to be caught by someone and so it proved. The steady play of the first three days became that little bit more shaky and defending champ Padraig Harrington went into overdrive on the final few holes to grab his second claret jug and leave the old Aussie coming in a creditable third. It had a certain amount of inevitability about it. You just knew at some point the wheels were going to come off somewhere. Norman seemed nervous and almost as though he realised he was not supposed to be leading the Open at his age.

This year our elder statesman is the venerable Tom Watson, at an even more advanced age than the 53 year old Norman. Just one year from the big Six-O, Watson has defied expectations and perceptions to mount a challenge that amazingly looks even likelier to bear fruit than the relatively youthful Greg. Why? Its the complete lack of nerves we've seen from Watson. He encountered a huge setback on his Friday front nine as he leaked five shots in six holes and you'd have been forgiven for thinking that was that. But Watson stayed calm, never altered his approach and pulled out some of the most extraordinary putts you could imagine. He's shown that should the rough times come he still has the game and the cool head to keep it together and make birdies.

And that has been his motto this week, not to worry about the bogeys, accept they will come and realise the birdies are out there and he has the putting game to make them. That is what has made the difference for Tom, he has on several occasions on each of the three days had to make some outrageous putts for par and made them, and when there's been a sniff of a birdie on the closing holes he's made them. And that is the other quite extraordinary thing, he is certainly not struggling for stamina. After three rounds he has played the final three holes in five under. SHould it be coming down the stretch and he's still there, he knows he can pick up shots.

And crucially, Norman had a notoriously flaky nature at Majors, under pressure he was likely to crack. The heat of battle only ever seemed to make Watson strnger and thats why I'd say Watson is a hell of a better bet to come through this time - fingers crossed he does.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

TW leads the way, unfotunately for Nike, its the wrong one...

Watson could deny his love for ball no longer...

Same old, same old at the Open this year. A lad with the initials
TW takes the lead over the first two days and has the crowds in raptures doing it. Except it's not the noughties TW whipping up a storm at Turnberry, it's the seventies version showing the whippersnappers how it's done. Tiger is, for only the second time in a major, not around for the weekends play, as a 59 year old Watson revisits the scene of his finest triumph and is finding that the body has retained the muscle memory of how to play Ailsa Craig. It was always going to be hard to top last years hurrah by Greg Norman, bouyed by the spring of his step placed there by stepping out with Chris Evert, Watsons done it and in some style.

The round of day one was immaculate. Not a blemish on the card as he gave a virtuoso display of course management. Birdies at 1 and 3 induced a reaction of the "oh, isn't that nice to see." kind, reserved for the elder statesmen of the game but it was an indication that the old lithe swing of yesteryear was still intact and the eyes can still read a putt or two. Two more birdies came quick after the turn and suddenly heads were turning. Some massive putts were required to hold things together on the closing holes, but where the older players usually fall away, the fearsome competitor Watson proved up the the task, holing monsters for par and one for birdie to take the clubhouse lead. 500-1 that was before play started. The finest round of his career? Quite possibly (though that one in 1977 wasn't shabby either).

He'd have been up there on his own but for one of the most sensational finishes to a round you could ask for from the unheralded Kenichi Kuboya. 2, 3, 3, 3 on the final four - three birdies and an eagle on 17 - hauled the Japanese player to the top of the pack. Yesterday, Watson was off to a flier on 1 again, another birdie in his pocket there, but then the oft predicted collapse associated with guys rolling back the years seemed to kick in. Five bogeys in the next six took him tumbling down the leaderboard, which brought the usual condescending commentary again, too much to expect from a man of his advanced years.

Stuff that. Watson was not down, he was just getting warmed up (takes a bit longer when you're 59). Birdie on 9 stemmed the flow and the old knowing grin was back and he hit the back nine with all the nous he's accumulated, taking birdie on 11, 16 and a
crowd pleasing one on 18 too. The putter is working beautifully for him and the swing is still holding up. I wouldn't bet against him holding on a bit more on this evidence. He's still up there and I think he means to stick around.

As for Tiger, the swing just couldn't hold up in the worsening conditions. He doesn't seem sure whats going to occur. Grimaces not of pain but of worry where his ball is going to finish constantly adorn his face. It's a pity he's not still around for the weekend but fighting himself like that it would not have been pretty anyway.

Flying the yankee flag along with Watson in the final paring today is Stev Marino. Second alternat this time last week, late withdrawls including Phil Mickelson saw a dash from his dad to post his passport to him in time to make the flight over to Blighty. Worth the effort I'd say. He's never played a Links course before, has no idea how hard it is and for now that ignorance is bliss. To be fair, it's taken him two days to learn what most Americans struggle to do in their whole career, the ball needs to go low, and some bumping, running, chasing little beauties from him shot him up top.

Ian Poulter meanwhile, could do with being a bit less excited by his twittering and being a bit more focused on the job at hand - 15 over? I know men of damn near 60 can get it round in 20 less shots.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The bets that might have been...

Sometimes I hate gambling. Not on religious grounds or anything like that, don't get me wrong, I'm a gambler. It's the disappointments that really get to you. The missed bets. They're the worst. Like the canny wee punt I just missed out on last night. Offering Each way 1/4 odds to 7 places on Paddy power yesterday I had a ponder at some of the big outsiders. There were a few tempters there, and the one I plumped for as the big outsider was a player I don't even like. Michael Campbell, a former Major Champion no less, out at 750-1. I don't like him, precisely for the reason I backed him. He is for 90% of the time a nothing player, but then, out of nowhere he gets hot, and I was hoping he'd get warmed up a little this week. Wrong. Unless something drastic happens overnight, perhaps involving a a Tin Cup style coaching tip such as putting all his change in his right pocket to balance him out, Campbell is gone. And so are my few pennies (I never said I was a "big" gambler!) Maybe I should send him a few extra pennies for his right pocket to sort him out, it could be a shrewd investment.

The other big outsider I had a pop on was David Howell, so unfortunate that he finds himself quoted at 500 -1 these days, were it not for his back injury setting him back so much, with his talent he should be where Paul Casey is these days. He's faring a lot better though and it's looking a canny wee bet.

The proper bets I've had include the Northern Ireland trio, Clarke (who I have to bet on out of tradition now), McDowell and the Rorinator himself. (does that work, I might uses it for a while, see if it catches on). Then Westwood, who is just the model of consistency just now - if only he could chip! Poulter too, so improved over this past year, he has to be worth a look. All each way, some of them have to be in the mix come Sunday. Oh, the other bit of value I saw, Petterson, 300-1, he's better than that price, surely?

The bet I had a little chuckle to myself over was a 1500-1 shot. I almost put a few pennies on it before chiding myself for thinking foolish thoughts on. "Don't be getting carried away on a flight of fancy, he's 59 for gods sake". I should have known better than to doubt Tom Watson...

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Sandy's Sour Grapes

It's the classic tactic of a child caught by momma with his hand stuck in the cookie jar - point out that your brothers been stealing from her purse.

In the latest twist in the Bitter saga of the Ryder Cup captaincy, Sandy Lyle has stooped to a fairly low level, taking a swipe at Monty's integrity.

Questioned as to whether his decision to walk off after 10 holes of last year's Open cost him the captaincy, Lyle dragged up an incident at the 2005 Indonesian Open.

"Monty dropped the ball badly and that is a form of cheating," said Lyle. "What he did was far worse."

And to think just a few weeks ago, Gary player had been touting him as without doubt the man for 2012. Maybe if he'd kept his trap shut that might have been the case. But poor old Sandy's clearly hurting. Colin had been a true champion of Sandy's cause for many years, always pushing on how he'd like to see the elder Scot at the Ryder helm. But the quick installation of Monty as captain at Celtic Manor has soured relations. Best buds now barely break breath to eachother.

"I rang him a few times after the decision but didn't get a reply," said Lyle.
"I got a letter but I had the impression it was written by his manager, Guy Kinnings. He (Montgomerie) is a bit aloof sometimes. He disappears. Playing on the regular Tour you don't see him much."

It's all a bit tragic really, but you have to say, Sandys well and truly done a number on himslef this time.