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The British Open: Tom Watson's Resurgence and Tiger Woods' Meltdown

Tiger Woods plays out of the rough on the 13th hole during the opening round of the British Open Golf championship at Turnberry on Thursday.
Tiger Woods plays out of the rough on the 13th hole during the opening round of the British Open Golf championship at Turnberry on Thursday. (Matt Dunham - AP)
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Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 17, 2009; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Barry Svrluga will be online on Friday, July 17 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the first two rounds of the British Open and Tiger Woods' performance from Turnberry in Scotland.

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Complete coverage: in washingtonpost.com's special British Open section. And check Barry's twitter feed for live updates from Turnberry.

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Barry Svrluga: Greetings to everyone from the Auld Sod. What a tournament so far. We now have the following angles: Local kid Steve Marino in at 5-under to take the lead. Five-time Open champ Tom Watson, 59, thrilling everyone with a pair of extremely long fronts on the back nine, including one at 18, to get back to 5-under and tie Marino. And some guy named Eldrick Woods perhaps missing the cut.

An aside: I may have to leave this to talk to Tiger Woods, who may miss the cut. Let's go.

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Falls Church, Va.: Please tell me my man Tom Watson can hang on!

Are you enjoying Scotland? I'm trying to imagine Sean Connery say "Svrluga" in a Scottish accent. "ShFURgalah," perhaps.

Barry Svrluga: Just got done chatting with Mr. Watson. What a day. He said the memories are with him, and that he has no aches and pains as a 59-year-old. An amazing, amazing story.

The Scottish are staying away from Svrluga, for now. A nice, clipped version of "Barry" is doing just fine.

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What's More Surprising: Tiger missing the cut or Watson being right up on top of the lead? Neither was on my radar ...

Barry Svrluga: Both were so far from the radar it's ridiculous. I mean, at 11 a.m. I was so comfortable with local boy Steve Marino and his passport-chasing dad being the dead-cinch lock story of the day, and he is likely surpassed -- twice.

Watch Tiger, though. He went birdie-birdie at 16 and 17, and the cut may come back to 5-over, which is where he stands after hitting his approach to No. 18.

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Washington, D.C.: What's harder to Twitter about, an international golf major or a Nats game? I imagine twittering a Nats game would be more soul crushing, but it sure seems like it'd be more straight forward too, right?

Barry Svrluga: Come on! You think Twitter was around when I covered the Nats. Those were the golden years. You know, 2005-2008.

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Washington, D.C.: What is going on with Tiger? What happened to his swing? In a chat yesterday, Boz said this looks nothing like the swing he had at his own event here a couple weeks ago.

Maybe the better question is: Why did he change everything now?

Barry Svrluga: I am not a good enough analyst of the golf swing to be able to completely answer that. If you saw my swing, you'd understand. But I will say that Woods seems to, perhaps, over-analyze everything, and even at the AT&T at Congressional he said he would go home to practice for playing over here, hitting different shots. Yesterday, Marino said Turnberry played something like a PGA Tour course, and there weren't that many adjustments needed. I think Tiger failed to recognize that.

Today, I'm not sure. He's been a disaster off the tee. What would a weekend without him be like?

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Arlington, Va.: Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the British Open -- always, but this one in particular -- is being completely overlooked here in America. I just feel like we aren't really paying enough attention to it, even with the great storylines of Watson and Woods' implosion.

Any idea why it seems to get short shrift in America, even though it's the oldest (which you'd think would make us all reverential about it)? Does it have anything to do with being a "links" course? And what does that even mean?

Barry Svrluga: I do think there's some Americans who turn on the TV, see a bunch of burnt-out heather and high grass, watch balls rolling up and around as if on a carnival ride, and they think it's not golf. I can say, having played my first round over here just the other night, that it's enormous fun, and I'd love to have another crack at it, just to get the feel for hitting those low shots and watching them run.

It's amazing how different the games are, and I think that might have something to do with some Americans' indifference to the British. I find it fascinating.

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Tiger's Future: Will he feel even more pressure now? One more major and none under the belt this year ...

Barry Svrluga: He's going to try to convince people that coming back from knee surgery and winning (at least) three times on Tour is more than could be reasonably expected. But there's no doubt he's going to be asked about it headed to Hazeltine for the PGA.

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Marinoville: Where did this surge come from? Did anyone have Marino pegged as an outsider with a realistic shot? I'd never even heard of him before ...

washingtonpost.com: Tee for Two, Marino and Saslow (Washington Post, 2007)

Barry Svrluga: Marino is one of those players on Tour who would be on a short list of next-to-win. He played the mini-tours for a long time, and finally, as they say, "figured it out." He was 34th on the PGA Tour money list last year, very very respectable, and he lost to Steve Stricker in a playoff earlier this year. He's ranked 77th in the world, and given how many Europeans and others are in those rankings, that's more than respectable as well.

But this? After never playing links golf? Amazing.

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Barry Svrluga: Tiger in with a 74, and is 5-over 135 for the tournament. I must go talk with him, and will come back in 10 or 15 minutes. Sorry.

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Washington, D.C.: What is Watson doing right? Does club selection have anything to do with it?

Barry Svrluga: OK, I'm back.

Watson, by his own admission, is doing one thing better than most: driving the ball. He has hit 21 of 28 fariways (75 percent) while the field is hitting roughly 58 percent of the fairways. That has allowed him to get away with what he described as an "indifferent" iron game. And holing 150-feet worth of birdie putts over just two holes helps, too.

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Orlando, Fla.: How catastropic is having Tiger out of weekend play at a major for the event? And how about for the networks televising the event? Is this going to crush CBS (or NBC, can't remember who has it this weekend)?

Barry Svrluga: It would be ABC this weekend. And get this: Watson was supposed to be a commentator! He said Mike Tirico, the ABC/ESPN play-by-play man, said, "Well, you just fired yourself."

I think if Watson stays in it, it could really save ratings. If it comes down to, say, Steve Marino against Ross Fisher on Sunday, forget it.

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Madison, Wisc.: J.B. Holmes is only three shots off the lead? Really? Do you think he has the game to make a charge? We know how competitive he can be from the Ryder Cup.

Barry Svrluga: He's one of several guys who's going to be totally overlooked going into the weekend, but he is really hanging tough. I would like him in a come-from-behind fashion on Sunday, but not from ahead.

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San Diego, Calif.: I can imagine the thrill for the British amateur champion, Matteo Manassero, making the cut while paired with an old pro like Tom Watson, who is nearly four times his age.

Barry Svrluga: Watson was very complimentary of Manassero, who he said has a beautiful, confident putting stroke at just 16 (get your arms around that), and he hits the ball well, too. "He knows how to hit the ball," Watson said. Played wonderfully.

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Local Ties: What are the odds of Marino holding on, or even being in contention down the stretch? And if he won this thing, how other worldly would it be for him to win? Would it make him about as shocking a winner as we've ever seen at the British Open?

Barry Svrluga: Here's the stuff that works against Marino, regardless of how well he played today: He holed out twice, once from 116 yards out with a sandwedge (on No. 3) and once from a greenside bunker (on No. 6). He hit only six greens, and he needed only 22 putts. That means: He scrambled his rear end off and played admirably, but it doesn't necessarily mean he's playing the kind of consistent golf that will likely be needed over the weekend here. But he's an intriguing story.

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Washington, D.C.: If you have to put your mortgage on it, who's going to pull this thing out? Why?

Barry Svrluga: Oh, man. You must be from the wagering public here in the UK.

I would think it would be someone we're not talking about right now, a Jimenez or Goosen or Singh (all 3-under) or even a Westwood (2-under). There's plenty of time for massive shifts on the leader board, and given the age of one of the leaders and the inexperience on the other, my mortgage would be wagered elsewhere.

That said, I am pulling for the best story, and the best story, by a margin wider than the Atlantic Ocean, is Watson.

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Alexandria, Va.: How much does the Scottish weather come in to play up there? Do you think that will eventually get to a guy like Marino, who clearly can't be a used to it as guys who have played The Open a lot more times.

Barry Svrluga: The weather means everything here, at least when it kicks up. It was great to be out there on the edge of the water, feeling it today, even when it started pouring down rain. The front nine, in general, was dead into the wind today, the back downwind, and it completely changes things. The wind could completely turn and give the opposite feel tomorrow.

In talking to Marino's caddie, Gerald William (another Fairfax boy), he said Marino's experience playing the mini-tour in Florida, where the winds are legendary, helped today. But that doesn't account for how much the ball runs here after it lands. It's really amazing.

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"You Just Fired Yourself": Has an expected commentator ever played themselves out of a second job before? I know there have been guys in other sports to come out of retirement, but to play back into at the same event you're supposed to be commenting on?

Barry Svrluga: The thing is, he could have gone out and shot 72-72 and made the cut quite nicely, and not been in the booth, and it would have been a nice note, but not the overwhelming story. I'm telling you, I was greenside at the 18th when he made that last putt, and though the stands weren't full, it was a reaction like I've rarely experienced in sports.

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Comparables: Can you think of an American course that even slightly resembles Turnberry? You were talking about how far the ball runs. Why is that? Does the wind affect that?

Barry Svrluga: I'll say this: I do not have any experience over here, other than this week, so take this for what it's worth. But the ground here along the coast absolutely feels different under your feet. It's almost as if it's hollow.

I played my one round over here (or at least 13.5 holes) with Doug Ferguson, the AP's golf writer, who's been over here a ton. Doug, a fine player, hit 1-iron off a ton of tees and ran it under the wind, allowing it to bounce up. Watson hit 7-iron 200 yards yesterday on the 18th, just playing it low and allowing it to roll. Fifty-nine-year-old men simply do not hit 200-yard 7-irons at, say, TPC Sawgrass.

Yes, the wind affects it. But the ground -- which is not rich soil on which you could grow stuff, but a sandy base that drains quickly -- seems to me to be the biggest difference.

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New York, N.Y.: Do you think Watson being in contention could really make up for the lack of Tiger in TV ratings? I'm just not sure Watson has the star power anymore. Tiger is so transcendent people always take notice when he's hovering around. Can Watson do that? Or is this just a better connection with core fans?

Barry Svrluga: You are completely right. Tiger has long ago transcended golf, and he draws in Tiger fans, not just golf fans. I think Watson could draw in a 45-65-year-old demographic, but a lot of those would be golf folks in the wheelhouse anyway.

I would say, from a reporter's standpoint, Watson's presence props up the tournament quite nicely, whether Tiger's here or now.

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Anonymous: Did someone pick up Tiger's ball on Ten? Why was it lost?

Barry Svrluga: It happens here, though it is surprising, with all the people around, no one could find it.

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Not cut yet: Wires say Tiger likely to miss cut, but only 67 players are in or locks to be in at +4 or better. He -- and Monty and Curtis and a bunch of others -- could still make it.

Barry Svrluga: Yes that's totally correct. Lot of debate in the media tent, but that is the consensus -- and again, "the wires" mean my man Doug Ferguson, who is never wrong about this stuff.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: Is Vijay Singh really, really do? He's right on top of the lead and seems completely overlooked.

Barry Svrluga: Like I said, given the storylines -- Marino (for us locally), Tiger and Watson -- everyone else is likely to be overlooked. I mean, look at Mark Calcavecchia, alone in third and one shot off the lead. His hey-day was 20 years ago, and he's won this thing before. There are years when we'd consider his story a fine one at this point of the Open. In 2009? Barely a breath of mention.

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You in Plaid: Do you like covering golf? Not sure if anyone's ever asked you that. What's it like, compared to baseball and football?

Barry Svrluga: Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it.

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Tiger and Links Play: Is Tiger well suited for Links golf, or is it kind of a stretch for him? Granted, when he's on he's better at any style of golf than anyone else, but it seems like he's had some inflated British scores before, too, no?

Barry Svrluga: Well, he has won the British Open three times, so it's hard to say he's NOT suited for links golf. But he has generally fared better in better conditions over here. I think he has all the shots for it, and he can manage his way around a course as well as anyone. Having not covered all his Open Championships, it's hard for me to give a true assessment of that, other than to say that three titles would seem to indicate he knows something about what to do.

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Baltimore, Md.: Is the British Open kind of a fairer style of play? I know people complain about the U.S. Open being intentionally hard every year, but the British Open often seems more egalitarian; brutal weather, but a more approachable course. Am I crazy, or is it just a little more fair to the golfers themselves?

Barry Svrluga: You are not crazy, I don't think. The interesting thing I've heard this week -- and Calcavecchia said as much today, after shooting 69 -- is that the R&A doesn't care what the winning score is. They set the golf course up, and if the weather's bad, it's going to be brutally hard (Harrington won at 3-over last year), and if the weather's nice, it's going to be approachable, and they're not going to worry about it. The R&A folks said they're not concerned about the winning score, only that it's a fair, stern test.

The USGA is very interested, for whatever reason, of having a U.S. Open champ who's within a few shots of level par. I think one of the things that's great about golf's majors is they're all so different, each offering something unique, be it in the approach or the setup or the courses used. Well, all except the PGA.

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Barry Svrluga: About covering golf: I'm really just getting used to it. Watched it all my life. It's different than covering the same baseball team all the time, for instance, because there you're around the guys every day for six or seven months, and you know them well, and you just deal with the grind. This is so much about the individual, but it's great to be able to describe the setting and the history and all that as well (which comes into play at a place like Fenway or Wrigley in baseball, of course).

It's a nice variety. Put it that way.

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Scottish cuisine: Had any haggas? What else have they been feeding you over there? And can we assume Boo Weekly is not too pleased with what's on his table this week?

Barry Svrluga: I've had a nice beef-and-ale stew in puff pastry one night, some lamb, etc. No haggis. Might try it over the weekend.

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Fun With Clubs: Which golfer has been the most fun for you to cover so far? Anyone who's particularly frosty?

Barry Svrluga: Right now: Thommas Sturges Watson, age 59.

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Barry Svrluga: Folks, I've got to go -- oh, I don't know -- right for the newspaper. And the Web site. Oh, and if you're not on my Twitter feed, get on it. Updates all weekend. I promise.

http://twitter.com/barrysvrluga

Thanks for stopping by.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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