By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Say Hey Kid dropped in on the Champions Tour Saturday.
Baseball Hall of Famer and San Francisco icon Willie Mays spent some time around TPC Harding Park at the start of Round 3 of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, greeting the final two groups on the first tee.
“Wish I’d have played with you, you could have showed me how to hit it long,” the 80-year-old legend said to Fred Couples and Mark Calcavecchia.
“You don’t need any help,” Couples said.
Indeed, Mays was a pretty good golfer back in the day, a mid-70s shooter who traveled with the PGA TOUR for a short time after his playing days, in association with a sponsor.
“They were so good, I’d shoot 75 or 78, they’d shoot 65 or 68,” Mays said. “When I was out there, it was a fun thing. I learned how to hit the ball, how to fade it, how to chip, how to read the greens. I played a lot with Raymond (Floyd), Trevino, Chi Chi.
Today golf is a popular pastime and topic of conversation in baseball clubhouses. Mays said that wasn’t the case in his time, though many ballplayers were good golfers.
“We talked baseball, why talk golf when you’ve got to go on the field and play baseball?” said Mays, who hit 660 home runs in 22 seasons, including 14 in San Francisco with the Giants. “We did have some golfers on the club. Most of the pitchers would play. But not me, they said ‘you couldn’t play.’ (Managers) Leo (Durocher) and (Alvin) Dark, they said ‘we don’t want you playing because it might mess up your swing.’
“Wouldn’t have messed mine up, but they didn’t see it that way.”
Mays, who was also at TPC Harding Park two years ago for the Presidents Cup, has history with several players in the field this week. Couples is a favorite, and Tom Watson goes back decades with Mays.
Watson remembers a priceless moment with his son and Mays from 1992 at Giants spring training.
“I remember it like it was this morning,” Watson said. “I went up to introduce Michael to him and myself to him, he had that big smile on his face and he looked at my son and started talking to him … ‘How would you like to play some catch?’ And for 15 minutes they threw the ball around. 15 minutes!”
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – Phil Mickelson talked earlier this week about how much his family was enjoying the many activities at The Greenbrier.
The way he’s playing on Friday afternoon, though, their stay could be an abbreviated one. Mickelson has played seven holes and just made his third bogey. He’s currently tied for 96th at 3 over and in danger of missing the cut.
Mickelson’s playing partners in the Featured Group – Greenbrier pro emeritus Tom Watson and defending champion Stuart Appleby – aren’t faring much better, either.
Watson, who skipped the U.S. Senior Open to honor his commitment to Greenbrier owner Jim Justice, is even par for the day but 5 over for the tournament. Appleby, who shot an historic 59 in Sunday’s final round last year, just bogeyed the seventh hole and is 2 over for the tournament.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- Phil Mickelson wasn't particularly pleased with the even-par 70 he shot in the first round of The Greenbrier Classic.
He didn't have much time to dwell on it, though. After all, he had a date to go white-water rafting with his wife Amy and their three kids on Thursday afternoon.
Still, Mickelson knows he'll need to do better on Friday to extend the family's stay at The Greenbrier into the weekend. But there will be time before his 12:40 p.m. tee time to work out the kinks with his putter which he used 31 times in the first round.
Mickelson had some flashes on Thursday, though. He started on the back nine and turned in 1 under, then birdied No. 1 to get on the leaderboard. But Mickelson made four bogeys over his next eight holes and just two birdies to finish at even par.
"It was a disappointing overall score for me, because I played
well enough to score low," said Mickelson, who is making his debut
at The Greenbrier Classic. "I missed six putts inside six feet, and
I just can't do that.
"I ended up making some longer ones, which was good, to offset it. But I've got to get this turned around for tomorrow."
Mickelson did enjoy the company on Thursday, though, as he played with defending champion Stuart Appleby and teed it up in competition with Tom Watson for the first time. Appleby shot 71 while Watson, the pro emeritus at The Greenbrier who skipped the U.S. Senior Open to play here, had a 75.
"It's great to see him playing in a regular TOUR event,"
Mickelson said. "It's great to see him back out here playing. Gosh,
he strikes it so well and so solid. He made some great putts early
on. Looked like he was going to have a good round. Unfortunately
didn't turn out that way.
"But he still has so much game."
Hall of Famer Tom Watson touched on a variety of topics during his Tuesday news conference. The 61-year-old Watson, the pro emeritus at The Greenbrier Resort, is playing The Greenbrier Classic this week instead of the U.S. Senior Open:
ON HIS DECISION TO PLAY AT GREENBRIER INSTEAD OF THE U.S. SENIOR OPEN: "There wasn't any question whether I was going to play this year -- I felt bad about not playing here the first year (when he played the 2010 U.S. Senior Open). ... I felt like I let Jim (Justice, Greenbrier owner) down. And when he called to ask me if I would play, I said, 'You got it, Jim.' I said ‘I was intending on playing anyway, probably before I called you.’ "
ON WHETHER ANY PLAYER WILL MATCH STUART APPLEBY'S 59 FROM LAST YEAR: "There's not going to be any 59s shot. ... About a month ago, I went out and saw the greens, and the greens are a lot firmer. They are like this (knocking on wood table). The ball is not going to stop. It's going to take a lot of skill to get the ball close to the flag positions on these greens. It's like playing the links greens where they really are hard and they release. The ball really releases, with every club in your bag."
ON THE RECENT SUCCESS OF AMATEURS: "The amateurs of today are pros. They are not amateurs. They are pros. They play a lot of competition, and they have the trainers like the pros do. They have the coaches like the pros do. They have the video equipment like the pros do. What do you call them, AINOs, amateur in name only, I guess."
ON PLAYING WITH PHIL MICKELSON FOR THE FIRST TWO ROUNDS: "I've never played with Phil before in a regular tournament. He may remember; I don't remember. He's a magician, that guy, he's an absolute magician."
IN POSITION: Two players in the field this week at the RBC Canadian Open have an opportunity to move atop the FedExCup standings with a victory. Luke Donald (currently 6th) and Matt Kuchar (No. 8) are both within striking distance of FedExCup leader Nick Watney.
NEEDING A MOVE: Of the 31 players ranked between 110th and 140th in the FedExCup standings, 20 will be playing this week at Shaughnessy. Spots in the top 125 will be there for the taking with four players ranked between 121st and 125th not playing this week. Stephen Ames, playing in his homeland, 2010 regular season points leader Ernie Els and 126th-ranked Steven Bowditch are among those within 75 points of the top 125 with a chance to move up this week. More on the Playoffs bubble
CROSSING THE LINE: There was just one change to the top 125 last week. George McNeill, who tied for 2nd at the Viking Classic, moved from 132nd to 92nd. Falling back was Zack Miller, who dropped from 124th to 127th.
WHO’S UP, WHO’S DOWN? McNeill’s 40 position leap was the second biggest of the week but 10 spots shy of the 50-position move from Tom Pernice Jr., who went from 212th to 50th after a T2 at Annandale. Anthony Kim moved inside the top 100, to 85th, after a top 10 at the British Open. Camilo Villegas, down seven spots to 114th, is among the players who fell furthest last week. More movers
NEW ARRIVALS: Nine players earned their first FedExCup points of 2011 last week during the dual tournaments at Royal St. George’s and Annandale. Tom Watson posted a T22 finish at the British Open and debuts at 214th in the FedExCup standings while Peter Lonard tied for 9th at the Viking Classic to reach 221st.
A YEAR OF CHANGE: If the season were to end today, two of the 30 players in last year’s TOUR Championship (Paul Casey and Ernie Els) would miss out on the Playoffs altogether. Interestingly, Els and Casey will be playing in the same group during Rounds 1 and 2 this week. A total of 34 of the top 125 in the FedExCup standings were not in the Playoffs a year ago, highlighted by former leader and current No. 7 Mark Wilson, who has won twice in 2011.
MORE ON LAST WEEK’S WINNER: Chris Kirk became the fifth rookie to win on TOUR in 2011 with his victory at the Viking Classic. Kirk, who was the No. 2 graduate on the Nationwide Tour last year, is currently second in the Rookie Rankings behind Masters champion Charl Schwartzel. Kirk has four top 10s on the year including his win and a tie for second behind Phil Mickelson at the Shell Houston Open.
DUBLIN, Ohio – The Captains Club of the Memorial Tournament has selected Tom Watson as the 2012 honoree.
Watson and Nicklaus’ names are forever linked by the “Duel in the Sun” at the 1977 British Open at Turnberry. Paired with Nicklaus for the final two rounds, Watson shot 65-65 to edge Nicklaus, who shot 65-66, by one stroke.
In 2009, Watson, who was then 59, nearly won again at Turnberry – eventually losing to Stewart Cink in a playoff. Watson owns five British Open titles along with two Masters and one U.S. Open.
Watson is also a two-time winner of the Memorial Tournament. He won the Senior PGA Championship just last week at Valhalla.
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tom Watson wouldn't be surprised to see Fred Couples slip on another Green Jacket on Sunday ... even at the age of 51.
"It's not out of the realm of possibilities," the two-time Masters champ said. "It can work. ... Freddie knows the golf course very well."
Couples shot a 4-under 68 on Friday to leave him at 5 under through 36 holes, firmly in striking distance heading into the weekend.
Should Couples win, he would be the oldest Masters champ in history. Jack Nicklaus holds the record for oldest champ with his memorable win 25 years ago at the age of 46.
Couples finished sixth last year at the age of 50. Watson said Couples has a big advantage with length but that it will be on the greens that likely decides his fate this weekend.
"Jack (Nicklaus) said it right -- he said this is a young man's golf course as far as nerves on putting," Watson said.
It wasn’t his last British Open. Not after he received a five-year exemption for last year’s playoff loss to Stewart Cink at Turnberry.
But Tom Watson played his final competitive round at the Old Course on Friday, and he finished with a flourish – coming within inches of holing a chip for eagle on the 18th hole.
Minutes earlier Watson had taken the traditional walk across the Swilcan Bridge, pausing for photographs as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, among other greats of the game, had done before him. Before he set foot on the bridge, though, the five-time Open champ bent over and kissed the old and weathered stones.
“I thought of Arnold on the bridge, I thought of Jack on the bridge, and their last Opens were both right here at St. Andrews,” Watson said later. “My last Open is not right here, the good Lord willing, the creek don't rise, as they say, and I have a few more years left thanks to the R & A's special exemption for me.”
The 60-year-old Watson has never won a British Open at St. Andrews, but his affection for the Old Course grew with each time he played there. Even on Friday when the conditions were brutal, and he likened the course to a boxer, saying “This was a hard test today.”
“When I first played here I didn't like it,” Watson said. “I didn't like the blindness of the golf course and the bumps and the humps and the way it bounced. I learned to like it and eventually to love it. It's just you have to accept the luck of the bounce and the way the game is played on this golf course.
“And it tests you, it really, really tests you.”
Watson joked with the adoring crowd on the 18th hole Friday as he surveyed his tap-in birdie. “Is this a gimme,” he asked, joking, and if the truth be told the fans would have given him a putt 100 times that length. He has always been a favorite here in Scotland, and that will continue next week at Carnoustie as he plays in the Senior British Open.
“I think the main thing was the respect I have for the way the game is played over here, the respect that the people have for their game,” Watson said. “The Scots invented golf, and they love the game with a passion unlike any other people. I enjoy that.” – Helen Ross
The horn has just sounded to signal the end of play on Friday.
Ten groups will return on Saturday morning at 6:30 to complete their rounds. Tiger Woods won’t be among them – he was on the 18th green when the horn blew and narrowly missed his eagle putt.
Tom Watson, meanwhile, had just hit his tee shot on the 18th hole. The 60-year-old stopped as he reached the Swilcan Bridge and kissed the weathered old stones, then walked halfway across and stopped for the photo op like all the great players before him.
The crowds cheered as Watson walked up the fairway to his drive. He nearly holed his chip for eagle but nonetheless went out in style with the tap-in birdie. – Helen Ross
The Senior British Open will be played next week at Carnoustie, and judging from early results at St. Andrews, Mark O’Meara would have to be among the favorites.
O’Meara made five birdies and two bogeys on the way to a 69 that left him the low Champions Tour player at the British Open. Mark Calcavecchia fired a 70 while Tom Lehman had a 71, Nick Faldo and Tom Pernice Jr. shot 72s and Loren Roberts, Peter Senior and Tom Watson each had a 73.