A New Era Set to Begin but an Old Problem Remains

By Associated PressDecember 19, 2006, 5:00 pm
PGA Tour (75x100)THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- A new era in golf begins in two weeks, and it might expose an old problem.
The TOUR has been trumpeting its new slogan in advertising campaigns over the last month, gearing up for the new FedExCup that tees off Jan. 4 at the Mercedes-Benz Championship. But this big launch in Kapalua might fizzle without its biggest rocket.
Tiger Woods might not be there.
'Undecided,' he said on Nov. 28.
'I haven't really looked forward to that,' he said one week ago, and by that he meant he was more concerned with finishing 2006 than where he would start 2007.
Asked a third time Sunday afternoon after he won the Target World Challenge, Woods opted for sarcasm.
'I'm going to play every event next year,' he said, trying to keep a straight face. 'I'm not taking any weeks off.'
Woods left California for the mountains to spend a week on the slopes with his family, then said he would figure out his plans for 2007. He has missed the season opener only twice, in 2003 while recovering from knee surgery and last year to spend time with his dying father.
What might the reason be this year?
Citing fatigue probably won't go over well because Woods caused a stink by skipping the season-ending TOUR Championship, and his overseas schedule at the end of the year included only 14 rounds in China, Japan, Hawaii and California (although there was that side trip to Dubai to launch his design company).
Meanwhile, there are sleepless nights for tournament officials in Kapalua, knowing that even the spectacular views of Maui in January are not as appealing to TV viewers without Woods in the picture.
And imagine the consternation at PGA TOUR headquarters.
Top officials are all going to Kapalua to kick off a campaign they have dubbed, 'A New Era in Golf.' The FedExCup is a yearlong competition in which players earn points each week. The top 144 qualify for four 'playoff' tournaments at the end of the year, with the fields whittled down until the top 30 arrive at the TOUR Championship with $10 million (deferred money) for the guy with the most points.
There will be no need to explain the system, because they will be busy answering a more important question.
Where's Tiger?
The next question: Where's Phil?
Masters champion Phil Mickelson hasn't played at Kapalua since 2001, and while he doesn't move the needle as much as Woods, they are two most popular players in golf.
It was no surprise, then, that PGA TOUR officials declined comment when asked whether Woods' missing the Mercedes-Benz Championship would be the biggest rally killer since ex-Dodgers reliever Eric Gagne was healthy.
Woods has given no indication which way he is leaning, and he might not know until he gets out of the snow. He was asked over the weekend what would go into his decision on playing Kapalua.
'It's practice, preparation,' he said. 'You've got to be ready to play, simple as that.'
So here's how it shakes out. Woods can either take two weeks off to ski and then practice for the Mercedes-Benz Championship, or he can take five weeks off and return at Torrey Pines to defend his title in the Buick Invitational.
Should he play? Yes.
Woods was largely responsible for PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem revamping the regular season to make it shorter and more compelling. And while the world's No. 1 player is singularly responsible for a $6 million purse considered routine, he needs the PGA TOUR as a platform for his worldwide success.
In other words, it's time to give back.
Woods has spoken freely about the end of the FedExCup, and he said in an interview last month he plans to play them all. But while the TOUR believes the FedExCup to be the greatest invention since steel shafts, Woods only cares about four tournaments a year -- those would be the majors, not the playoffs.
'That's the trick, the end of the year,' he said. 'You get inundated with tournaments. It's about trying to play and prepare for the big events ... but have enough for the season-ending events. It's going to be six out of seven, seven out of nine (including the Presidents Cup). It's going to be hard on all the guys.'
He also said that 'I can see myself playing all of them,' although made no secret that Westchester (Barclays Classic) is his least favorite of the courses. He has played it three times as a pro and never finished inside the top 10.
The broader message is that not even a shorter season with the FedExCup can get Woods to play more. It must be tough for the tour to ask a corporate title sponsor for $8 million a year when it can't guarantee the guy who can help them earn a return on the investment.
Woods has never played more than 21 times a year on the PGA TOUR, and only once has he played 26 tournaments around the world, including the silly-season stuff. But he wasn't the first guy who chose this formula, and it's hard to argue with the results.
'It's tempting to play too much,' Davis Love III said. 'But you remind yourself that Jack (Nicklaus), Greg (Norman), Tiger ... they win all their tournaments by playing less. Tim (Finchem) doesn't like that argument, but it's true.'
A few years ago, two caddies for players among the top 10 in the world were in a hotel bar talking about how their guys were playing too much. Inevitably, the conversation turned to Woods.
'He plays just the right amount of tournaments,' one of the caddies said. 'When he takes a break, he still has an itch to play. But when he comes back, he's hungrier than ever.'
With this 'new era in golf' about to begin, the tour has never been more concerned about Woods' appetite.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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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.”