Tiger on the Mend 2002 Was Tough Year
In his first interview since knee surgery, Woods revealed that another dominant performance last year wasn't as easy as it might have looked. Pain in his left knee was so intense he felt sick to his stomach, and even took injections just to keep playing.
``It was a tough, tough year, one I don't want to have to go through again,'' Woods said Wednesday during a conference call for the Masters.
There was nothing wrong with the results.
Despite a knee injury that got worse as the season went on, Woods became the first player in 30 years to win the first two majors. He wound up with six victories worldwide, and swept all the big awards for the fourth straight year.
How good would he be on two legs?
Woods could get an answer soon. He received clearance from his doctors Saturday to hit a driver and as many practice balls as he wants. He will decide next week whether he is fit enough to return Feb. 13 for the Buick Invitational in San Diego.
If not, Woods said he would try to play either of the following weeks, in the Nissan Open at Riviera or the Match Play Championship.
Woods had knee surgery when he played at Stanford, although he says this injury is unrelated. He started feeling intermittent pain about two years ago, but it was never sore long enough for him to pay attention.
``Last year, toward the end, it was brutal,'' he said. ``A lot of times, I didn't want to go out there and play. I felt nausea in my stomach because the pain was so great. I had it injected numerous times to play last year.
``I know what other athletes go through with those needles. It's not fun.''
Woods said the pain affected him in some of the majors. It was hard to tell.
He won the Masters and U.S. Open by three strokes each, finished second by one stroke in the PGA Championship and was in contention in the British Open until an 81 on a cold, blustery Saturday at Muirfield.
``You've got to put it aside and play,'' he said.
The worst he felt was at Sherwood Country Club in December, when he made up seven shots on Padraig Harrington in the final round before losing by two. He told his agent the night before he might have to withdraw.
``In the morning, it was borderline I would play,'' Woods said. ``I took painkillers, and it still hurt. As it started getting warmer, I was feeling better and said, 'Let's give it a try.'''
The one-hour surgery removed fluid from inside and around the anterior cruciate ligament, and removed benign cysts. Woods' doctor said the long-term recovery prospects are good.
``But once you've had the procedure done, you're susceptible to having the same procedure,'' Woods said. ``Hopefully, that won't be the case.''
Woods never got too far away from golf. He putted on his carpet, chipped into pillows and onto his bed, and started hitting wedges by the end of the year.
The real test comes this week.
Woods said hasn't felt any pain since he started hitting a few practice balls at his home outside Orlando, Fla.
``I need to know if this knee will hold up in a full practice session,'' he said. ``Once I know that, I'll be fine competing. I may be rusty when it comes to hitting one shot. ... Playing my way into shape is going to take a little time.''
There could be some interesting ramifications.
Woods is closing in on Byron Nelson's record of making 113 consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour. He is at 96, and narrowly avoided the weekend off at Torrey Pines last year.
He also is going for a record fifth straight money title. During his rehabilitation, Ernie Els won the first two tournaments of the year in Hawaii, and Vijay Singh won in Phoenix.
``I'm anxious to get back out, I really am,'' Woods said. ``I'm anxious to compete. As far as them, that's great. It's going to be a challenge, because they're both doing well.''
When he does return, the Masters looms. Woods will be going for an unprecedented third straight title at Augusta National.
``It's going to be one heck of a challenge ' hopefully, one I'll be prepared for,'' he said.
There might not be any way to prepare for what awaits at Augusta National and protests over its all-male membership.
Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations and Jesse Jackson have vowed to protest outside the gates unless the club invites a woman to join. Chairman Hootie Johnson has said that won't happen any time soon.
Woods said he won't be distracted.
``I'll be fine,'' he said. ``Once it's time to play, it's time to play. Whether it's all the things outside the gates, or the fact I'm trying to win three in a row ' all that goes away once it's time to tee it up.''
Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders
PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.
She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.
Her confidence is high.
“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”
Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.
Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.
“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”
Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.
“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”
Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.
“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”
That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.
Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead
PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.
While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.
But then . . .
“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”
In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.
She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.
With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.
At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).
Park’s back with a hot putter.
That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.
“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.
“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.
Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.
“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.
Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.
Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.
They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.
Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.
“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.
“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”
Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.
“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”
Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.
“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”
Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers
PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.
It came on St. Patrick’s Day.
“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”
Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).
One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.
“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.
Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year. Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.
Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF
PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”
She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.
That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.
With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.
Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.
Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.
Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?
“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”
Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.
“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”
Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.
“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”
About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.
“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.
Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.
While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.
Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.
“You never know,” she said.