Tom Watson will skip the U.S. Senior Open to honor a commitment to play at the Greenbrier.
Tim Hales/AP
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Tom Watson was more interested in honoring a longtime relationship than competing in one of the biggest senior events of the year.

Watson is the pro emeritus at The Greenbrier, and when the West Virginia resort became host of a PGA Tour event last year, he couldn't play because it was the same week as the U.S. Senior Open. Watson told Greenbrier owner Jim Justice he would play this year - before the 61-year-old won the Senior PGA Championship.

"To his credit, after I won the Senior PGA, Jim called me and said, 'I don't want to put any pressure on you to play. If you want to play in the U.S. Senior Open, I know how much it means to you to play in that,'" Watson said Tuesday. "Very simply I said, 'Jim, I made a commitment to you and I'm sticking to it.' So here I am."

Watson has a long history with the Greenbrier, starting with peculiar circumstances.

He was part of the 1979 Ryder Cup team at the Greenbrier, and his ex-wife went into labor at home in Kansas City, Mo. Justice's father used a company plane to fly him home for the birth of his daughter, Meg.

Watson saw enough of the place to fall in love with it. He started bringing his sponsors to the Greenbrier and has done that for the past 30 years. Then, he was asked to replace Sam Snead as the pro emeritus.

Justice said it "means volumes" for Watson to be playing, especially considering what he is giving up this week.

"Tom Watson told us he would be here and that was the end of that," Justice said.

Watson will play the first two rounds with Phil Mickelson. They have combined for 78 wins and 12 majors.

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SUTHERLAND WOES: Kevin Sutherland stepped back to line up a shot on the practice range at the Texas Open in April when his foot caught a rope and he fell over backward. Little did he know then it would cost him the majority of his season.

He tied for 11th that week - his best finish of the year - and that was that. With pain increasing each week, Sutherland missed the cut in his next three tournaments through The Players Championship before heading home to Sacramento, Calif., to find out what was wrong.

"I've got a herniated disk in the base of my neck, and I have a bone spur in the middle of my neck and that drove it into the spinal cord," Sutherland said. "There was a bunch on inflammation. They told me I needed rest."

Turns out to be a lot of rest.

He likely is done for the year, having already been given approval to take a major medical exemption for 2012. Sutherland has gone so long without playing that when he picked up a 6-iron last week, it felt strange in his hands. If rest doesn't fix it, the 47-year-old Sutherland isn't interested in surgery.

"I've come to the conclusion that I'm going to do surgery if it bothers me in everyday life," he said. "I'm not going to have surgery just to play golf."

Sutherland's lone win on tour came at the Match Play Championship in 2001. He has been a steady performer, never losing his card since he joined the PGA Tour in 1996 while averaging 28 starts a year. He played 11 times this year, which has made one person happy - his 10-year-old son.

"Keaton is loving it," Sutherland said. "He thinks it's the greatest thing in the world, because he's got his dad for the summer. So that's obviously one of the plusses. But I am going a little stir crazy."

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FIRESTONE FIELD: Ryo Ishikawa still hasn't won this year on the Japan Golf Tour, although he has a knack for finishing runner-up at just the right time.

In the final week to earn a spot in the U.S. Open, the 19-year-old from Japan lost in a playoff and earned enough world ranking points to move to No. 49 and get an exemption into Congressional. On Sunday, he was runner-up to K.T. Kim and moved up four spots again to No. 49 - just in time to qualify for the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, the third World Golf Championship of the year.

The cutoff for the top 50 was Sunday, with another cutoff after this week. Ryan Palmer (No. 52) and Webb Simpson (No. 53) are not eligible for Firestone, although both are playing the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.

Also at The Greenbrier is Anthony Kim (62), who has not missed Firestone since his rookie year in 2007.

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LPGA QUALIFYING: The good news for 16-year-old Alexis Thompson is that the LPGA Tour has waived its age requirement and will allow her to join the LPGA Tour if she can earn a card. But that meant having to abandon qualifying for the Women's British Open for the first of three stages at the LPGA qualifying tournament.

The 72-hole event began Tuesday at LPGA International, featuring Thompson, Stephanie Kono of Hawaii and Victoria Tanco of Argentina. Only the top third of the 150 players advance to the second stage at the end of September, and the top 70 from the second stage get to the finals.

Thompson had the 54-hole lead at the Avnet LPGA Classic before stumbling to a 78. Since then, Thompson missed the cut in three straight events (including two majors) and has a scoring average of 74.3.

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SETTING ASIDE RIVALRY: Raising money to help tornado victims is enough to united Alabama and Auburn.

Three days of festivities will conclude Aug. 15 with a charity pro-am at Greystone Golf Club in Birmingham, Ala., in which tour players such as Jerry Pate, Leonard Thompson, Steve Lowery and Boo Weekley have agreed to participate. Among the school celebrities who plan to play are Cornelius Bennett, Lee Roy Jordan, Al Del Greco, Gene Stalling and Pat Dye.

Amateurs will play in a group featuring one pro and one celebrity.

The pro-am follows a flag football game between former players of the two schools on Friday and a silent auction on Saturday. The weekend is known as "Heart in Dixie," and all proceeds go to the Governor's Emergency Relief Fund.

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DIVOTS: Asked on Tuesday if he were still Tiger Woods' swing coach, Sean Foley replied, "Yes." And the Internet-fueled rumors that he is not? "Hilarious," he said. ... There were no bogey-free rounds at the Canadian Open, the first time that has happened at a regular PGA Tour event was in 2008 at The Players Championship. ... Paul Casey has donated the $32,600 he won from the "PowerPlay Golf" exhibition at Celtic Manor to the English Golf Union for its help during his amateur career. "I had great support from the EGC when I was coming through the ranks as a junior, so I am very happy to help them with their player development program," Casey said. ... With so much attention on UCLA freshman Patrick Cantlay, Bud Cauley has quietly put together a nice summer since turning pro at the U.S. Open. Cauley already has earned $319,145 in four starts, and needs another $244,584 by the end of the year to earn special temporary membership.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Only 10 players who won an NCAA title have gone on to win majors over the past 50 years.

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FINAL WORD: "What keeps you going is just your love for the game and the love for the competition. Plus, if I quit I'm probably going to be flipping burgers because I can't do anything else." - Sean O'Hair.

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