Baddeley Win a Reminder that Tiger Lacks Young Rival
Golf seemed easy when he was an 18-year-old amateur who caused such a sensation with his victory in the 1999 Australian Open that the Masters and U.S. Open gave him exemptions, and Tiger Woods called him a better ball-striker than he was at that age.
His swing was fundamentally sound.
And when Baddeley refused to flinch against Colin Montgomerie and Greg Norman to win the Australian Open seven years ago, he had a clear of vision of where he wanted to go, how to get there and whom he had to beat.
'My goal is to become better than Tiger,' Baddeley said at the time. 'If Tiger is the best player in the world, and I want to be the best player in the world, then I have to be better than Tiger. He's the benchmark, and I want to get better than the benchmark.'
Instead, Baddeley has become another statistic.
His victory in the Verizon Heritage is cause for celebration. The seven-year journey to a PGA Tour title ended with a 7-foot par putt that curled in the right side of the cup on the final hole for a one-shot victory over former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk. And the way Baddeley raised his arms over his head and closed his eyes showed this was as much about relief as sheer satisfaction.
'I feel like I've been out here forever,' he said. 'And I'm only 25.'
In a peculiar way, though, his victory was another reminder that youth continues to fall short of expectations.
Baddeley joins a list of other young players who were billed as the next challenge to Woods, but who have not done anything to merit further consideration.
'I've worked hard since I first started playing the game at age 7, and that's always been my goal to be the best player in the world,' Charles Howell III said at the Memorial in 2001 during his rookie-of-the-year season. He won a year later, is still sitting on one PGA Tour victory and is no longer the highest-ranked Howell (that would be David Howell of England).
Justin Rose, who tied for fourth as a 17-year-old at the 1998 British Open, finally has a PGA Tour card, but not a trophy. Adam Scott was 23 when he became the youngest winner of The Players Championship, but he has yet to contend in a major. David Gossett won the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach in 1999, shot 59 at Q-school a year later and won the John Deere Classic in 2001, the first player since Woods to win a PGA Tour event on a sponsor's exemption. Now, he doesn't even have status on the Nationwide Tour.
Has anyone heard from Ty Tryon lately?
Before anyone knew of Baddeley, the promising young star was 19-year-old Sergio Garcia, who chased Woods down the fairways of Medinah at the '99 PGA Championship, went 3-1-1 at the Ryder Cup and embraced a rivalry before he had a driver's license.
'If they compare you with a good player, that means that you have something in your game,' Garcia said when he made his PGA Tour debut as a professional in the '99 Byron Nelson Classic.
After winning twice on the PGA Tour, Garcia began 2002 by saying his goal was to become the first player to win the money title on both sides of the Atlantic. And when asked that day whether he was closing the gap on Woods, Garcia replied, 'He's 26. I think that I can be as good as he is at 26 when I'm 26, or hopefully sooner.'
Garcia now is 26 and no closer to Woods that he was four years ago, starting with the fact he hasn't won a major.
And he's the best of the young players.
Instead, Woods' challengers are coming from experience.
Vijay Singh was approaching 40 when he set a target of becoming No. 1 in the world at the end of the '02 season. He worked harder than ever on the range and in the gym for two years, and finally took Woods down in 2004 by winning nine times, rising to No. 1 after beating Woods head-to-head on Labor Day outside Boston.
The latest challenge is from Phil Mickelson, who turns 36 during the U.S. Open, where he will be going after his third consecutive major. Mickelson was better than today's young crop of players when he was their age, but it took him winning a major -- now at three straight years winning a major -- for him to be a certifiable threat.
Ernie Els has been part of the picture as long as Mickelson, winning the U.S. Open right after Woods' watershed victory in the '97 Masters, and winning the British Open in 2002 when Woods was going after the Grand Slam. The Big Easy turns 37 in October.
It's not too late for a youngster to emerge as a serious threat to Woods.
Garcia remains the top candidate, and while he struggled at the Masters, he is one victory away from moving into the top five in the world ranking, and one major away from being perceived differently.
There is plenty of attention on rookie J.B. Holmes after he won in Phoenix by seven shots, and on Camilo Villegas of Columbia with his three top-3 finishes (in two of those, he was a combined 16 shots out of the lead). But until any of them wins consistently against strong fields, or captures a major, who's to say they won't be another David Gossett or Justin Rose?
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Day finishes strong, leads Aussie Open by one
Jason Day birdied three of his final five holes to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand in Sydney:
Leaderboard: Day (-10), Lucas Herbert (-9), Jonas Blixt (-7), Matt Jones (-7), Cameron Smith (-6), Rhein Gibson (-5), Anthony Quayle (-5)
What it means: Day has a great shot at his first victory – in his final start – in 2017. It’s been a frustrating campaign for Day, who has dropped to 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking. A win this week, in his native Open, would be a huge boost as he embarks on the 2018 season.
Round of the day: Day’s 2-under 69 wasn’t the lowest of the day, but it was the most important. Day parred his first 13 holes before birdies on Nos. 14 and 15. He bogeyed the 17th, but finished with a birdie at the par-5 18th for the outright lead.
Best of the rest: Blixt’s 66 put him in position to win. Meanwhile, Japanese amateur Takumi Kanaya shot the low round of the day, a 6-under 65, to reach 4 under for the tournament.
Biggest disappointment: No one really blew it on Saturday, but Jordan Spieth was unable to make a move. His 1-under 70 has him eight shots off the lead. Herbert managed an even-par 71 but he had a two-stroke lead until an errant tee shot at the par-3 11th. Speaking of which …
Shot of the day: Not every Shot of the Day is a great shot. Herbert made a long birdie putt on the eighth and was two clear of the field through 10 holes. But he hit his tee shot long at the 11th and was not able to find it. He had to re-tee, made double bogey and lost his advantage. He’s now chasing a major champion in the final round.
Spieth stalls on Moving Day at Australian Open
Moving Day? Not so much for Jordan Spieth in Round 3 of the Emirates Australian Open.
Spieth, the defending champion and also a winner in 2014, continued to struggle with his putter, shooting 1-under 70 on Saturday at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.
“I was leaving them short yesterday and today it was kind of misreading, over-reading. I missed a lot of putts on the high side – playing wind or more break,” he said. “I just really haven’t found a nice marriage between line and speed to get the ball rolling.”
The world No. 2 started the day eight off the pace and was unable to make a charge. He had three birdies and two bogeys, including a 4 at the par-5 finishing hole.
Spieth praised his ball-striking in the wind-swept conditions, but lamented his putting, which has hampered him throughout the week.
“Ball-striking’s been fantastic. Just gotta get the putts to go,” he said.
Spieth, who is scheduled to compete in next week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, is still holding out hope for a third title in four years at this event. He fired a brilliant 63 in very windy conditions to prevail in ’14.
“Tomorrow is forecasted as even windier than today so you can still make up a lot of ground,” he said. “A few years ago I shot a final round that was a nice comeback and anything like that tomorrow can still even be enough to possibly get the job done.”
South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team
South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.
Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.
Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.
Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.
So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.
Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.
The fourball results:
LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.
LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def. Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.
LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.
KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.
LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee
LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.
NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.
Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer
In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.
The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.
Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.
“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”
Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.
Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.
This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.
Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.
Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.
The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.
Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”
Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”
The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.
First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.
“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”
A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.
“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.
For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.
Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.
“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”
Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?
“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”
Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.
Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.
Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.
Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.
“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”
Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.
While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.