A Major-less Mantel for Tiger

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2003, 4:00 pm
SANDWICH, England (AP) -- Slump? Tiger Woods -- and those trying to knock him off -- snickered at the notion all along.
``He's won eight majors and he's 27-years-old,'' Ernie Els said. ``If I had his record, I would not be out here. I would be out of here. It's ridiculous. I cannot take it serious.''
Woods certainly doused talk of a career downturn with his dominating victory at the Western Open last week. Of course, this guy is held to a different standard than everyone else, which is why his mantel looks so empty.
For the first time since 1999, Woods doesn't have possession of any Grand Slam trophy. It's a glaring circumstance, one he hopes to rectify at the British Open.
As usual, Woods is the overwhelming favorite. But, as Els (British), Rich Beem (PGA Championship), Mike Weir (Masters) and Jim Furyk (U.S. Open) demonstrated at the last four majors, Tiger can be tamed.
If Woods doesn't win at Royal St. George's, he'll go to the PGA Championship needing a victory to avoid his first season without a major since 1998.
That is no small motivation. As a kid, Woods already was chasing Jack Nicklaus, who won a record 18 major titles. Ten away from catching his idol, Woods wants to get his pursuit back on course.
He's always tried to taper his routine to ensure his best play at the Big Four. As he is wont to say, ``If you win one major, you've had a great year.''
Woods wasn't much of a factor in the first half of the Grand Slam, tying for 15th at the Masters and 20th at the U.S. Open. But he made an emphatic statement at the Western Open, blowing away a strong field on the way to a five-stroke victory.
``He's one of the only guys I would sit and watch hit balls all day long,'' said Beem, the distant runner-up. ``When you get into a groove, golf seems really easy and fun. For him, it's even easier than it is for everyone else. Obviously, he's got unbelievable amounts of game.''
Woods took great satisfaction from silencing those who wanted to turn his 3 1/2-month winless streak into something more. After all, he played only four official events in that span -- and never finished out of the top 20.
A slump? Hardly. All the while, Woods was working on his game, fine-tuning his swing and settling his putting stroke for a run at major No. 9.
``As I'm walking around, people are asking that question all the time. 'When are you going to start playing good again?''' he said. ``Golf is very, very difficult. And to be honest with you, I'm pleased with the way I've been playing.''
Actually, Woods has only himself to blame for raising the bar so high. Coming off knee surgery, he won three of the first four times he teed it up this year. When he didn't win, it was an upset.
``I'm sure that's going to be how it is my entire career,'' he said. ``If I don't win for a few weeks, then all of a sudden I'm back in it again. One of the things I've learned about being out here is not to get trapped in this up-and-down roller coaster of the press. Sensationalism. That's what sells.''
Then again, Woods helped turn up the attention-meter with his campaign against ``hot'' drivers. Heading into the Western, he went so far as to say he knew of one player who was using illegal equipment to increase the length of his shots.
``I'm not the only one that feels that way,'' he said. ``We're trying to protect the integrity of the game.''
Coincidentally -- or maybe not -- the one glaring flaw in Woods' game is his performance off the tee. Normally one of the PGA Tour's longest hitters, he ranks 21st in driving distance (293.4 yards) and 116th in driving accuracy (hitting the fairway only 64.5 percent of the time).
But that's nitpicking. With his victory at the Western, Woods has won at least four tournaments in five straight years. No one -- not even Nicklaus -- had accomplished that feat.
``I've been able to not only be consistent, but close the deal, too,'' Woods said. ``That's where you ultimately want to be. It's also one of the reasons why I changed my game back in '97, '98, the beginning of '99, to be more consistent, put myself there more often and give myself a chance to win. It's paid off.''
A victory at Sandwich would propel Woods into another exclusive club. Nicklaus is the only other golfer to claim a double career Grand Slam -- winning each of the majors at least twice -- and he was three years older when he reached the milestone in 1970.
Woods' first British Open victory came three years ago at St. Andrews, where he romped to an eight-stroke win. He would like to erase the memory of last year's trip across the pond, when a third-round 81 -- his worst score as a pro -- knocked him out of contention.
While overhauling his swing in the 1990s, Woods played in 10 majors without winning. He was hardly ordinary in that period, finishing in the top 10 five times, and he emerged from the transformation as a more complete player.
Woods no longer has to rely on pure power. He can get away with a flaw in his timing. His shot repertoire is much deeper.
``I'm just like you. I'm a golfer,'' he said. ``It's the eternal thing. You're always going to try and get better.''
Woods has won seven of the last 15 majors, a streak that began at the 1999 PGA Championship and included the ``Tiger Slam,'' when he became the first player to hold all four majors at the same time.
In that context, does the past year qualify as a slump? C'mon, get real.
``We laugh at it,'' Els said. ``I think Tiger should laugh at it, because it's crazy.''
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”