Plenty of Questions to Answer

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2006, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus shared a private moment three years ago in South Africa during the Presidents Cup, a time for them to swap stories about winning majors, dealing with scrutiny and staying on top in the face of constantly evolving competition.
 
'The one thing he told me was to make sure I was always part of the conversation,' Woods said.
 
The conversation is crowded headed into the British Open.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods tied for second in his first event since missing the cut at the U.S. Open.
Only it's not about rivals, but recovery.
 
How does Woods respond to missing the cut for the first time in a major? How long will Phil Mickelson be haunted by memories of his unseemly collapse at the U.S. Open that kept him from the threshold of the Grand Slam?
 
And has anyone heard from Ernie Els lately?
 
Woods is the defending champion, although that might not carry much weight at Royal Liverpool, which is steeped in as much mystery as history. It will be the first time the Hoylake links has hosted the British Open since 1967, before nine of the top 10 players in the world were born.
 
Woods, who has never even seen pictures of the place, is somewhat of an enigma himself this year.
 
He looked unbeatable at the start of the year, winning playoffs at Torrey Pines and Dubai in consecutive weeks, and holding off a strong field at Doral. But the death of his father led to a nine-week layoff after the Masters, and Woods is trying to regain sharpness.
 
He has played only 10 tournaments this year; the fewest he ever had played before the British Open was 13.
 
'This year has just been a difficult and different year. That's just the way it is,' Woods said before the Western Open, where he tied for second. 'But from here to the rest of the year, I'm playing in quite a few events, so I'll be back in the swing of
things.'
 
Jim Furyk had to sit out four months in 2004 with wrist surgery, making his return at the U.S. Open. He knows what it takes to get tournament sharp, and he knows plenty about Woods' game.
 
'The best way to get your game sharp is to be under competitive pressure,' Furyk said. 'I understand it's tough to come back from a layoff, and I suspect that very shortly his game will be back in very good form.'
 
Mickelson tried to get back on his bike quickly.
 
Having won the PGA Championship last August and the Masters in April, he was on the verge of joining Woods as the only players in the last 50 years to win three consecutive majors. He had a two-shot lead with three holes to play, and still had one shot to spare on the 18th tee, until perhaps the biggest blunder of his career.
 
Starting with a wild drive, it took him five shots just to reach the green, giving him a double bogey and his first blown major.
 
Mickelson was at Hoylake a week later, anxious to put his follies behind him.
 
'I've got two more (majors) this year,' Mickelson said. 'I'm playing too well, and I've got a system of preparation that has been helping me play some of my best golf. And right now, I'm excited about the chances at Hoylake.'
 
In his first tournament back, Mickelson opened with a 67 and then failed to break par the rest of the week at the Western. But a regular PGA Tour event is no place to judge the magnitude of a hangover, and the British Open might not be a true measure, either.
 
Mickelson has only one top 10 in golf's oldest championship, that one coming in 2004 when he was dominant in the majors, finishing a combined five shots out of the lead.
 
How well Mickelson is playing is up for debate.
 
He made it look easy at the Masters. He wasn't playing his best at Winged Foot, but seized control on knowledge and sheer determination. Even so, Mickelson only has put together two great weeks, winning at the BellSouth Classic by 13 shots and at Augusta National by two. He is pouring everything into the majors, even taking the week off before the British Open, which is rare for him.
 
'The great champions ... all have to have one thing in common. They have the ability to rebound,' said Rick Smith, the swing coach for Mickelson.
 
At least Woods and Mickelson can fall back on trophies.
 
They are Nos. 1 and 2 in the world by a margin that is slowly setting them apart from the rest of the field. The rest of the Big Five are sliding, and Els now has fallen to No. 8.
 
The Big Easy, like Mickelson, went to Hoylake a few weeks before the British Open to get familiar with the links course that features relatively flat greens, a comparatively small number of bunkers and 10 holes that have out-of-bounds.
 
But the frustration is setting in. When he was driving the ball well, his irons were off. When he was hitting his irons pure, his driving was off. And now that he has his driving and iron play in good order, he can't make a putt.
 
Els has gone 15 majors without winning, the longest streak among that elite group of Woods, Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen.
 
'We all know golf can be a funny game -- unpredictable, too,' Els said. 'You only need one good round and you can be right back where you want to be, playing your best golf again. Like all sports, it's a lot to do with confidence.'
 
Singh had gone 10 months without a victory until winning the Barclays Classic and is emerging as a factor again. He lurked around the lead all week at Winged Foot, then lost a 54-hole lead at the Western Open.
 
Combined, this has created a sprint to the finish for season-ending awards.
 
The British Open also presents an excellent chance for Europeans to end their drought in the majors -- 27 straight without a victory, the longest since they went 36 majors without winning until Seve Ballesteros won the claret jug at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1979.
 
And it will go a long way toward determining both sides in the Ryder Cup.
 
Majors are worth double points for the Americans, with a whopping 675 points going to the winner. Five of the 10 players in the U.S. standings never have competed in the Ryder Cup, and veterans such as Davis Love III (No. 11) and Fred Couples are in need of a strong week.
 
It all unfolds at Royal Liverpool, a mainstay on the British Open rotation until 1967, when the Royal & Ancient realized it had a big event that needed more space for viewing and corporate chalets.
 
'It's difficult to believe that almost 40 years has passed since an Open championship was last played at Hoylake,' said Nicklaus, the runner-up to Roberto De Vicenzo in 1967. 'I think it's good for the game of golf to see it return.'
 
Indeed, this British Open is about the return of Royal Liverpool.
 
Starting Thursday, it might be about the return of Woods, Mickelson, Els or someone else looking to rebound.
 
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  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And 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.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.