Tiger Found a Partner in Howell

By Associated PressNovember 18, 2003, 5:00 pm
GEORGE, South Africa -- Tiger Woods stood off to the side on the 12th tee and studied the stance, the setup and the swing of the junior member on the U.S. team.

The ball shot off the tee, boring through the stiff breeze off the Indian Ocean, splitting two bunkers and landing safely in the middle of the fairway on a hole called ''Sheer Murder,'' reputed to be among the toughest in Africa.
Woods smiled and nodded approvingly.
''This kid can really hit it,'' Woods said.
Woods is playing on a U.S. team for the sixth time at the Presidents Cup. Charles Howell III is the first teammate he can call ''kid.''
When the matches begin Thursday on the Links Course at Fancourt, Howell figures to be next in a long line of partners for the world's No. 1 player.
''That's what Tiger has requested,'' U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus said. ''If you have two guys who want to play together, and they're playing reasonably well, I see no reason why they shouldn't play together.''
Woods, 27, and Howell, 24, first squared off in the quarterfinals of the 1996 U.S. Amateur, which Woods won, 3 and 1, on his way to a record third straight title.
Their friendship began to take root when they started playing early morning practice rounds at the British Open this year.
''I stand to learn something every time I'm around him,'' Howell said.
A practice round at Fancourt was no different. They stood in a swale to the right of the ninth green and took turns hitting flop shots that trickled down the green to an imaginary hole, and bump shots into the hill that skipped and stopped near a tee in the ground.
How this partnership will pay off in match play remains to be seen.
Woods already has had 11 partners in the two Presidents Cup and three Ryder Cup teams on which he has played.
Only once has he had the same partner all four team sessions -- Notah Begay, his former teammate at Stanford. They went 2-2 at the 2000 Presidents Cup.
Good friends don't always make a good team. Woods and Mark O'Meara were 1-2 in the '97 Ryder Cup at Valderrama. A powerful tandem isn't always the answer. Woods and David Duval, at the time Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, were beaten at Brookline in 1999.
Woods has played with shorter hitters (Justin Leonard and Steve Pate), big hitters (Davis Love III and Fred Couples), guys who make a lot of birdies (Mark Calcavecchia and John Huston) and those who grind out pars (Tom Lehman and Paul Azinger).
The results vary. His team record is 7-12-1.
Woods produced the most dominant stretch ever in U.S. Amateur history, winning his final 18 matches over three years.
When he played in his first Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in 1998, someone asked him the biggest difference between match play as a professional and as an amateur.
''The field,'' Woods replied.
True, there are better players. Finding the right partner is also important.
So far, it hasn't been easy.
Nicklaus used to pair up with Arnold Palmer, then Tom Watson. Curtis Strange often played with Tom Kite. Love and Couples were a good fit.
Woods has had enough partners to fill a team.
''I wouldn't think it would be that hard,'' Leonard said. ''He's so disciplined. He seems to do everything pretty well.''
Leonard and Woods played together twice in alternate shot. They halved their match in the '97 Ryder Cup and lost in the '98 Presidents Cup.
''I enjoyed playing with him,'' Leonard said. ''I think there's a lot of guys that can play with him. That's probably the reason he's had 11 partners.''
Strange planned to pair Woods with Scott Verplank last year at the Ryder Cup, but decided on Love at the last minute because of the golf ball; Love had a similar launch angle as Woods, important in alternate shot.
''I play the same game he plays -- maybe not the same club, but I understand what he's doing,'' said Love, who won both his matches with Woods at The Belfry. ''It's hard for a guy who doesn't play that way.
''But I've been around him since he was 15,'' Love said. ''If you throw a guy in there that hasn't played under the gun with him that much, who doesn't know him off the golf course, it might be a little disconcerting. That's true with any of the top players.''
Strange also mentioned the comfort level.
Woods was daunting as an opponent in stroke play during his first five years on the PGA Tour, especially when he started winning majors by double digits.
''As far as personality? He's the easiest guy to pair,'' Strange said. ''Everybody would like to play with him, but you don't want somebody who's intimidated by him.''
Woods and Howell flew to South Africa together on Woods' plane and spent a few days together in Cape Town.
They have spent equal amounts of time needling each other and working with each other on club selection off the tee and shots around the green.
''I feel comfortable around him,'' he said. ''I can't fault anything about him. I'm trying to do the things he's done. And the fact he call me 'kid' probably changes the dynamics of the relationship.''
Related Links:
  • Meet the Teams
  • Full Coverage - The Presidents Cup
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    Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

    The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

    “Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

    And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

    After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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    Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

    “Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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    Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

    He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

    Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

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    McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

    “I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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    A performance fit for a King

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

    So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

    “Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

    But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

    “Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

    But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

    Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

    Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

    Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

    McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

    “I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

    And entertained, of course.

    Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

    “And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

    McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

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    McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

    During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

    But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

    “The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

    McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

    “He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

    Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

    And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

    “The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

    All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

    Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

    Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

    Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

    “I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

    Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

    “He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

    It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

    “It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

    Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

    But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

    There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

    A kiss for his wife, Erica.

    A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

    The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

    “Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

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    McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

    By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

    McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

    “I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

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    A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

    Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

    “It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”