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
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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    Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

    Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

    “If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

    Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

    It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

    It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

    “I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

    It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

    Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Gosling Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

    That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

    That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

    A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

    Horschel told last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

    “I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

    “Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

    Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

    “I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

    Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

    With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

    Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

    Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

    Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

    “We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

    “We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

    Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

    “But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

    McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

    “They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

    The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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    Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

    It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

    At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

    And now?

    Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

    A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

    “Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

    That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

    On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

    It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

    Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

    There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

    And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

    That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

    “Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

    Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

    He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

    “I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

    Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

    For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

    The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

    Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

    “That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

    If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

    “It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

    It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.

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    Furyk tabs Woods, Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains

    By Will GrayFebruary 20, 2018, 9:02 pm

    U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has added Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to his stable of vice captains to aid in his quest to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

    Furyk made the announcement Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., site of this week's Honda Classic. He had previously named Davis Love III as his first vice captain, with a fourth expected to be named before the biennial matches kick off in France this September.

    The addition of Woods and Stricker means that the team room will have a familiar feel from two years ago, when Love was the U.S. captain and Furyk, Woods, Stricker and Tom Lehman served as assistants.

    This will be the third time as vice captain for Stricker, who last year guided the U.S. to victory as Presidents Cup captain. After compiling a 3-7-1 individual record as a Ryder Cup player from 2008-12, Stricker served as an assistant to Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014 before donning an earpiece two years ago on Love's squad at Hazeltine.

    "This is a great honor for me, and I am once again thrilled to be a vice captain,” Stricker said in a statement. “We plan to keep the momentum and the spirit of Hazeltine alive and channel it to our advantage in Paris."

    Woods will make his second appearance as a vice captain, having served in 2016 and also on Stricker's Presidents Cup team last year. Woods played on seven Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2012, and last week at the Genesis Open he told reporters he would be open to a dual role as both an assistant and a playing member this fall.

    "I am thrilled to once again serve as a Ryder Cup vice captain and I thank Jim for his confidence, friendship and support," Woods said in a statement. "My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do what I can to help us keep the cup."

    The Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry in England.

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    Watch: Guy wins $75K boat, $25K cash with 120-foot putt

    By Grill Room TeamFebruary 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

    Making a 120-foot putt in front of a crowd of screaming people would be an award in and of itself for most golfers out there, but one lucky Minnesota man recently got a little something extra for his effort.

    The Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center has held a $100,000 putting contest for 28 years, and on Sunday, Paul Shadle, a 49-year-old pilot from Rosemount, Minnesota, became the first person ever to sink the putt, winning a pontoon boat valued at $75,000 and $25,000 cash in the process.

    But that's not the whole story. Shadle, who describes himself as a "weekend golfer," made separate 100-foot and 50-foot putts to qualify for an attempt at the $100K grand prize – in case you were wondering how it's possible no one had ever made the putt before.

    "Closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Shadle said of the attempt(s).

    Hard to argue with the result.