HOYLAKE, England -- As Rickie Fowler was walking beside Rory McIlroy up the 18th hole Sunday at the British Open, the tournament's final group playing the final hole, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were flying over the Atlantic after frustrating weeks. That could lead many to think the torch has been passed to a new generation. Not so says British Open runner-up.
"I don't see Tiger and Phil and some of those guys running off anywhere," Fowler commented after the round. "We're ready to go to battle against them, though."
Sounding proud but humbled, Fowler spoke softy following his bogey-free final-round 67. The 25-year-old led the field in birdies with 23 and was 12th in greens in regulation with 51 from 36 fairways hit. The overall performance left him questioning why his consistent play in 2014's majors -- he's now had three straight top-five finishes with a T-5 at the Masters and T-2 at the U.S. Open -- hasn't translated to weekly success on the PGA Tour. Not that he's totally upset.While he won't discount the old guard, Fowler did not hesitate to nominate his walk up 18 with McIlroy as the week's highlight.
"It's definitely up there as the best walk in golf," Fowler said. "And to be there with Rory when he was about to win ... I had a chance at making eagle there, and put a little bit of pressure on him. But it's definitely fun to walk up the 18th hole here at an Open Championship, especially Sunday when you're in the final group."
HOYLAKE, England -- There was something about Rory McIlroy that was lost in the glare of the glitzy unveiling of his mega deal with Nike last year in Abu Dhabi.
When it comes to equipment, he's a bit of a gear head.
The fact was evident during a sitdown with him last month to discuss his Nike clubs.
"I was really into different shafts and everything," McIlroy said. "I guess now I've got a little more to think about and worry about than just being focused on new equipment. So I let the guys that know more about it than I do help me on that. I let them put the stuff in my hands that they think is going to work, and then we go forward from there."
Not that McIlroy doesn't provide valuable input into the process. "This is really the first time I've worked with a manufacturer where I've been so involved," he said. "We might discuss something, and the guys will come back a couple of weeks later and right away we're working on how does this look, how does it feel, is it what you imagined it to be like. I've worked really hard with the guys on developing stuff that's going to work for me."
Those clubs worked quite well for the newly crowned British Open champion at Royal Liverpool, specifically his Nike VRS Covert 2.0 Tour driver.
"I remember having a conversation at the Barclays last year at dinner," McIlroy said. "We talked a lot about Covert 2.0 and what it was going to be like and what I'd like to see in the driver and what sort of things I'd like to change from the current model."
And what did McIlroy want to alter? "Everything is related to the details," he said. "I want it to look a certain way. I want the face to sort of look a little longer so I can square it up at impact. Then there's the technical: Why they do certain things like a cavity back in the driver. It all makes sense to me now."
Enough sense to get the third major win of his career. Here's the clubs and ball McIlroy had in his bag at Royal Liverpool.
Ball: Nike RZN Black
Driver: Nike VRS Covert 2.0 Tour (Mitsubishi Kuro Kage XTS 70X), 8.5 degrees
3-wood: Nike VRS Covert, 15 degrees
Irons (2): Nike MM Proto (3-9): Nike VR Pro Blade; (PW): Nike VR Forged
Wedges: Nike VR Forged (54, 59 degrees)
Putter: Nike Method 006
Here are the lessons Rickie Fowler can use from past majors to try pulling off a Sunday upset at Hoylake
“He’s definitely in control of the golf tournament right now,” said Rickie Fowler.
Despite the long odds Fowler faces in trying to overtake McIlroy, there are actually legitimate reasons for the 25-year-old Californian to carry some optimism with him. Most notably, Fowler trailed McIlroy by the same six strokes entering Saturday’s third round but erased that entire deficit by the time he got to the 13th hole thanks to carding seven birdies to just one bogey.
OK, OK ... I know. Fowler then stumbled home, going two over par in his last five holes while McIlroy was four under. Still, the notion that half-dozen stroke lead is insurmountable is not entirely true.
More importantly, perhaps, Fowler takes with him the experience of being in the thick of contention in the final round of three prior major championships, including two in the last four months. Each resulted in another man holding the title, but all offer secrets for Fowler on what he must do as he puts together a game plan for this Sunday.
2011 British Open, Royal St. George’s
Started Sunday: Fowler entered the final round T-3, three strokes back of 54-hole leader Darren Clarke.
What happened: He plodded along with 13 straight pars to start the round while, Clarke stretched his lead to five strokes after just seven holes. A bogey on the par-5 14th and another on the par-3 16th ended any of Fowler's claret-jug dreams.
Finish: Two-over 72, T-5, five behind Clarke
Lesson learned: You can’t ease your way into a round if you’re trying to put pressure on the leader. You’ve got to be aggressive early to have any real hope.
2014 Masters, Augusta National
Started Sunday: Fowler entered the final round T-5, two strokes back of co-leaders Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth
What happened: After birdieing the difficult first hole, Fowler made a momentum-crushing bogey on the par-5 second that short-circuited a final-round charge. By the time he made bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes, he already was essentially out of the hunt. His place on the leader board didn't by day’s end, and it was his best ever showing at Augusta, but it was a bit hollow.
Finish: One-over 73, T-5, six behind Watson
Lesson learned: Perfect starts aren’t always going to happen, but you can't let an early stumble keep you from staying aggressive.
2014 U.S. Open, Pinehurst No. 2
Started Sunday: Fowler entered the final round T-2, five strokes back of leader Martin Kaymer.
What happened: For the first time in the final pairing at a major, Fowler bounced back from a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 fourth hole with a birdie on the par-5 fifth. Again though, he couldn't put down the gas and force his competitor to sweat.
Finish: Two-over 72, T-2, eight behind Kaymer.
Lesson learned: Flawless golf is difficult to pull off, but you must avoid a big number at all cost, particularly when you're facing a large deficit.
HOYLAKE, England -- One of the side stories of the R&A deciding to go to a weather-induced two-tee start for Saturday's third round of the British Open at Royal Liverpool is the fact that omnipresent tee announcer Ivor Robson can't be in two places at the same time. That begged the question as to whom would assume the duties on the 10th tee while Robson was holding down the fort on No. 1?
Now on the tee ... Mike Stewart.
Stewart is the senior tournament director of the European Tour who among other assignments oversees the tour's Qualifying School tournament. Catching up with him after the final group of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rhein Gibson teed off, Stewart said he was having dinner with his family in Yorkshire -- some 100 miles away -- when he received a call last night around 9 p.m. informing him that his services would be needed.
Unlike Robson, whose sing-song lilt has made him a favorite with players and fans alike, Stewart played it straight, announcing the names in a monotone, professional manner.
"I've done this a few times before," Stewart noted with a smile.
Stewart did have one thing in common with Robson, however. He didn't leave his post for the duration of his duties.
HOYLAKE, England -- There is only one group of people more curious about Saturday’s forecast at Royal Liverpool than the players who made the cut at the British Open.
The men carrying the golfers’ bags have no more challenging a scenario than doing it in rainy and windy conditions, much less with major championship pressure on the line.
Thankfully at the British Open they have one less responsibility than usual. With each group on the course, the R&A assigns a volunteer to accompany the players, rake in hand, with the job of tending to the bunkers as well as helping replaced player divots.
The British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) is charged with organizing the volunteer pool, soliciting its members from around the U.K. to apply for the 52 posts each year. Those selected are housed in the area for the week.“It’s a pretty prestigious thing to be chosen,” said Robert Welford, a member of the BIGGA board of directors, who was making assignments for the Saturday games. "People ask through out the year about getting the chance to do this."
There’s some work being done -- the volunteers are also on call to help with Royal Liverpool’s course greenkeeper in the event the bad weather causes issues on the course -- but the appeal of being so close to the action makes the job particularly attractive.
"It's fun to chat up the players and caddies. They're very friendly to us," said Harvey Brooke, who went off with the threesome of George Coetzee, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen Saturday.
BIGGA has some fun with the bunker responsibility, even tracking how many bunkers their members rake; Thursday’s total was 335, down from 352 in the first round at Hoylake in 2006, and Friday's was 344 compared to 353.
When the R&A decided to change to a two-tee start on Saturday, it meant that almost two dozen of Welford’s charges would actually have the day off. Welford says those volunteers will be guaranteed a group on Sunday.
HOYLAKE, England -- Cutting edge and the R&A? Don't be daft!
Only a couple of years removed from banning phones at the British Open, the R&A has embraced a more comprehensive strategy to encourage fan use of smartphones. For the first time at a professional golf tournament, free (and working) Wifi is available throughout the course to power The Open's artfully designed app. Even with huge galleries at Hoylake, the combination of a sensible design and a working Wifi system has raised the bar in offering fan interactivity for all of professional sport.
Future Workshops of London's app design offers a customizable leader board, options to watch or listen to BBC coverage and a bulletin stream emphasizing replays of key shots, great photos or breaking news. The ad-free video feed loads quickly and, so far, has worked remarkably well. And if there are Wifi dead spots not covered by the 350 access points? Youthful ambassadors are walking the course, helping spectators who have questions while also documenting any areas where access is poor. Technicians immediately make modifications to get the areas internet access.
The slightly Orwellian use of "iBeacons" is quietly becoming of the on-site experience, though never to sell anything. Users are asked if they are coming to the event, and those who say no have the beacon detection deactivated. The beacons detect a spectator's locale, offering a welcome entry into a drawing for free tickets to the 2015 Open. Those in the third-hole grandstands get notifications on the next group coming to their hole.
The iPhone and iPad designs differ, with the ingenious iPad layout the ideal user experience since there is almost no need to leave the homepage. Both versions include an interactive course map, where a user can click a red dot appearing on the holes to reveal which grouping is on said hole. It's a pretty handy feature for finding your favorite players.
While the Open fans have shown worse manners than their American counterparts by taking too many photos as players hit shots, a glance at the grandstands reveals many using their phone to watch or listen to action. As someone who watched golf on a Sony Watchman at the 1986 Masters, seeing fans able to pass the time between groups by keeping up with BBC's coverage, getting their fill of Peter Alliss commentary or checking out the latest updates mercifully brings golf spectating into the 21st century. And just think, it's the Royal & Ancient leading the march to technological progress.
The saying on the bags -- "Respice et Prospice" -- translates to "Remember the past, look to the future." It's the same phrase featured on Hoylake's coat of arms.
HOYLAKE, England -- Tom Watson isn't the player he used to be, but he still understands the player he can be when his seemingly timeless swing is functioning optimally.
Watson will start Saturday's third round of the British Open as the oldest man to make the cut. The five-time claret jug winner played his final five holes Friday in one under par for a second straight 73, good enough to be among the low 70 and ties at two-over 146 or better. At 64, Watson broke his own record for the oldest player to make the cut in the Open. Two years ago, at 62, he finished T-77 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Since losing to Stewart Cink in a four-hole playoff at Turnberry in 2009 that would have made him the oldest major champion in golf history, Watson has made the cut three of the last five starts. He finished T-22 in 2001 at Royal St. George's.
"I am enjoying it," Watson said with his familiar gap-toothed smile. "I came over here with a purpose to play my best golf and play on the weekend. And let's see what happens on the weekend -- see if the old guy can maybe get it rolling a little bit."
Though busy making preparations for the upcoming Ryder Cup as the U.S. captain, Watson continues to defy odds and conventional wisdom. Earlier this year at the Toshiba Classic at Newport Beach CC Watson beat his age with a second-round 63.
"That's fun to shoot your age when you're my age," he said.
Almost as fun is shooting better than players half his age -- or more. Among the youngsters dismissed from the premises and looking up at Watson's score were Patrick Reed, 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson and reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson.
The elder Watson made an adjustment in his swing after finding a flaw in his setup Thursday afternoon. Friday's pre-round warm up, he said, was his best of the year. He struggled midway around Royal Liverpool, but he talked to himself after bogeying the par-5 10th hole. "I said, 'I better play some golf, which I did. I hit every fairway and green coming in and made a birdie on 14, and it was a pleasure."
Indeed, Watson still enjoys digging for answers in the dirt. His advantage is knowing where to look. Not many players do. The eight-time major winner doesn't just own his swing, he owns the soul and sinew of his game.
"Today I look back on the round as a very positive round," he said. "I kind of knew what was happening when I hit some shots. It was not very good, but I didn't panic. I was still working on the same things that were still good and building on what I found on the range yesterday. That is something that never changes. You have to go through the process and continue to work on the things that bring you success. And you never stop working on them."
Though Watson said he doesn't think about age when he's playing, he can't ignore the feeling of being old. It is with him for every swing and every step, and nothing can change that. He accepts it, and in some ways he seems to rally around trying to overcome the handicaps that have yet to plague his younger competitors.
He knows something they don't know. He knows himself.
"I do feel old out there, sure," Watson admitted with wistfulness in his voice. "I feel old in comparison to both how I see myself against players I'm playing against now and against how I used to play. How both Darren [Clarke] and Jim [Furyk] hit the ball onto 18 today, the par-5, I can't do that anymore. I have to play to my capabilities - and I still have some capabilities - and they come out in places like this. Distance off the tee is not the factor. It's where you place the ball and position shots.
"Yeah, I'm hitting longer clubs off the tee than most of the kids are, but I can still find a way to hit it to the area that I need to be in. I know the game I have well enough to do that."
Chances are he'll continue to do that. For Watson, age is just a target number.
By John Huggan
HOYLAKE, England -- To his credit, Bryden Macpherson faced up to and answered every single question. He did so after his opening round of 90 and he did the same following the 80 he shot on Day 2. Dead last of those who completed the first 36 holes of the British Open, it would have been easy for the 23-year-old Australian to invent an injury and so avoid a second hammering from Hoylake, or simply slip away after signing his card. But he did neither.
"Today was better," he said with a smile. "I actually hit the ball in play today. That was the problem yesterday, just getting on the golf course. I actually played pretty well today, enough to be scoring half decent. But I got away from one of the 'feels' I've been using in the last eight tournaments. Don't ask me why. And that has obviously taught me a lesson not to do that again."
Still, whatever the explanation, this was extraordinary stuff from a young man good enough to win the 2011 Amateur Championship and go on to shoot a respectable 71-73 in his Open Championship debut at Royal St. Georges a month later.
A professional since April 2012, Macpherson competes mostly on the PGA Tour China and the One-Asia circuits and earned his way into this event through his T-4 finish in the Australian Open at Royal Sydney, where he finished nine shots behind the eventual champion, Rory McIlroy. His background is pretty cosmopolitan too. His mother, Debbie Mortimer QC, is chair of the human rights committee of the Victorian Bar and one of the most revered legal figures in Australia. And his father writes science fiction novels for a living. So he can play. Just not this week at Hoylake. And, to his further credit, he never gave up.
"This morning I just went through my normal warm-up routine," he continued. "I didn't do anything different. I thought I owed it to myself to do at least that. I went out and played the round to the best of my ability. Today was not to the best of my ability, but it was certainly a lot closer. This is just character building. If you see it as anything more or anything less, then you're looking at it the wrong way. I've never pulled out of a tournament and I plan to keep that for the rest of my career."
Good on y'ah mate.