20 Years of Golf: Woods, Nicklaus intersect at St. Andrews

By Al TaysJanuary 16, 2015, 1:30 pm

(Editor’s note: Golf Channel turns 20 years old on Jan. 17. In recognition, we are looking back at golf over the last two decades with a series of articles and photo galleries throughout the week.)

I’ve always said being a sports writer or editor beats having a job. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been either or both for the entire span of my career. As a writer, you often have a front-row seat when history is made, as well as the opportunity to ask the principals what was going through their minds at the time. 

In the summer of 2005 I had the opportunity to witness history being made by the two greatest players of all time, on the greatest golf course of all time, on my personal greatest road trip of all time. 

On the Old Course at St. Andrews, Jack Nicklaus made his final appearance in a British Open. That story line ended on Friday, with Nicklaus missing the cut but dramatically birdieing his final hole, and Tom Watson unable to stem a flow of tears as he talked about playing that final round with his longtime friend and rival. The weekend was given over to the battle at the top of the leaderboard, as Tiger Woods went wire to wire for his 10th professional major. The Scottish crowds were stirred by the challenge of Colin Montgomerie, who got within four shots of Woods after a second-round 66 and was only three back after 54 holes, but Woods slammed the door on Sunday with a 2-under 70, the only round under par among the final 14 players. 

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Because I was covering the tournament for the Palm Beach Post, Nicklaus’ hometown newspaper, I spent the first two rounds following him. I did my traipsing outside the ropes, where I stopped to chat with fans, asking them about their allegiance to the Golden Bear. One American fan told me he grew up in Columbus, Ohio, Nicklaus' hometown, and their high schools were in the same athletic league. "I just came to see Jack,” Chuck LaMotte told me. “I know it sounds crazy, but that's all I'm here for." 

I spent much of those two days walking and talking with Nicklaus’ family, especially his wife, Barbara, and daughter, Nan O’Leary. We talked extensively about the emotion associated with Jack’s final major. "You can just feel how much they all want him to be here," a teary-eyed O’Leary said, referring to the fans who were constantly applauding and shouting “Go, Jack,” all while wearing Jack hats and Jack T-shirts, carrying Jack signs. "It's touching. How can you not be emotional?" Barbara Nicklaus talked about the relief of knowing, once it became evident that Jack wasn’t going to make the cut, that the end of his career had finally come. "I think the buildup is probably more emotional than the actual happening,” she said. “The buildup, you know it's coming but it's not here. Now it's here, and it is what it is." 

No tears, no regrets. Jack was 65 and no longer competitive. It was time to move on to other things. He and Barbara knew it. Accepted it. It was what it was. 

At the post-round news conference, Nicklaus made several references to being “a sentimental old fool”; wearing the same type of blue argyle sweater he wore when he won the British Open at St. Andrews in 1978; deliberately not wearing a hat for his final round of major-championship golf; getting to play his final round with Watson. ."Tom's probably more of an old sentimental fool than I am,” he said. “He came up 18 and had more tears in his eyes than I did.” 

There were no tears on Sunday, just joy. Woods easily put his 10th major in the record books, beating Monty by five shots. Woods’ second British Open win also completed his second trip around the career Grand Slam. There was another accomplishment as well, one that I intended to make the focus of the column I had to write as a complement to the game story. Pressed up against a wall in a standing-room-only interview room, I was sure one of the golf writers would ask the question I needed Woods to answer. But 10 minutes into the session no one had broached my subject, so I raised my right hand in my best “pick me, pick me” gesture, hoping that the moderator would note my urgency and call on me despite my completely unfamiliar-to-him face. 

Mercifully, he did. 

So I was able to ask Woods how it felt to tie Bobby Jones on the all-time majors list. Using the same criteria for both golfers, Woods’ three U.S. Amateurs combined with his 10 professional majors to add up to 13, the same number Jones won in his brief, meteoric career. 

"He's the one that set the mark before Jack came around," Woods said, politely referring to "Mr. Jones."

"He had just an unbelievable career - and he cut it short, too. To win that many tournaments that early in his career is amazing."

Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones. St. Andrews. What a week. Just don’t get me started on driving on the wrong side of the road, sitting on the wrong side of the car, shifting with my wrong hand. That’s a story for another day.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x