Tiger Named AP Story of the Year

By Associated PressDecember 27, 2006, 5:00 pm
It was, even by Tiger Woods standards, an exceptional year: eight PGA TOUR victories, including a stretch of six in a row that took him from the British Open to the beginning of October.
 
What made that finish most remarkable, though, was the loss that preceded it. For anyone whos watched Woods dismantle opponents and golf courses alike and come away wondering if he was indeed human, the May death of his beloved father Earl was a heartbreaking reminder he is.
 
Woods ability to channel his grief into an extraordinary run of six straight PGA TOUR wins, including the British Open and the PGA Championship, was chosen as the sports story of the year in voting by members of The Associated Press.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' six-event PGA TOUR winning streak began at the Open Championship.
The hardest thing for me to do was play golf, Woods said recently. Usually people go to work to get away from a loss like that.
 
This was the third time Woods has earned such honors. He was the story of the year in 2000, when he won three of the four majors, and in 1997, after he won his first Masters title.
 
Woods received 422 points in the voting. Vince Young leading Texas to the national title with a thrilling fourth-quarter rally over defending champion Southern California was second with 380 points, followed by the doping stories involving Barry Bonds (342 points) and Tour de France winner Floyd Landis (303 points).
 
The rest of the top 10 were: Barbaro winning the Kentucky Derby, then shattering his leg during the Preakness; the Steelers winning their first Super Bowl title since 1980; the Duke lacrosse scandal;
 
Italys World Cup victory and the head butt seen round the world; the Detroit Tigers remarkable turnaround; and Andre Agassi retiring after the U.S. Open.
 
It was a rewarding year all around for golfers. Woods also was voted AP male athlete of the year while Lorena Ochoa picked up female athlete of the year honors. Its the first time since 1945 that golfers have swept the athlete awards, and the first one-sport sweep since Sheryl Swoopes and Michael Jordan in 1993.
 
Earl Woods was grooming his son to be a golfer before the boy could even walk and, had he handled things differently, their story could have been that of any other prodigy driven too far, too fast. But Earl Woods tough lessons were accompanied by even more love, and he never pushed further than his son wanted to go. Instead of bitterness and resentment, Tiger Woods had only love, respect and admiration for his Pops.
 
Dad introduced me to the game of golf, Woods said. He taught me a lot of life lessons on the golf course. So when I came back and started working on my fundamentals, who do you think I learned my fundamentals from? I learned them from my dad.
 
The elder Woods death on May 3 wasnt a surprise. A habitual smoker who had heart bypass surgery in 1986, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998 and was treated with radiation. The cancer returned in 2004 and spread throughout his body.
 
He was so ill last Christmas that Tiger Woods went several days without sleeping, trying to cram in as much time as he could with his father. That Earl Woods was father, mentor, coach, sounding board and buddy made his death all the more wrenching.
 
My dad was my best friend and greatest role model, Woods said when his father died, and I will miss him deeply.
 
Though Woods won his first two starts of the year, he wasnt at his best with his father always on his mind. As the father grew sicker, it showed in the sons game. He tied for 20th at Bay Hill, where hed won four times, then tied for 29th at THE PLAYERS Championship.
 
He went on to the Masters, but it was the first time Earl Woods didnt accompany him to Augusta National. Woods also believed it would be the last time his father would see him play in a major.
 
Thats something I still continue to think about, even to this day, Woods said. It was my last round that my dad ever watched me play. Knowing that going into it, if I could have given him one last shot, some positive memories before he goes, it would have been huge.
 
But it wasnt meant to be. Without his trademark steely focus, he made one bad putt after another Sunday afternoon. He three-putted twice in the final eight holes, and missed two other eagle putts. He finished three shots behind Phil Mickelson.
 
It was the only time I saw him try too hard, caddie Steve Williams later said.
 
Woods took the next nine weeks off, first to be with, then to bury his father. He ended the longest break of his career at the U.S. Open, but it was quickly evident he still wasnt himself.
 
For the first time in 10 years as a professional, he missed a cut at a major, shooting 76-76. It was only the fourth time hed missed the cut at any tournament.
 
It took me longer than I thought to cope with it, Woods said of his fathers death. Ive never gone through anything like that.
 
His next outing was the Western Open, one of his favorite tournaments at a course perfectly suited for his game. But an opening-round 72 left him flirting with the cut line again.
 
He trudged down to the practice range as he always does. And somewhere during those three hours of hitting balls, the grief lifted and Woods reclaimed the gift his father had given him so long ago.
 
I had about an hour where I really hit it that was fun, he said. I had every shape shot, height, spin, whatever you wanted, I had it for about an hour. Thats what youre always looking for. Then I just built upon that for the rest of the year.
 
He shot a 67 the next day, the first of 17 straight rounds under par. He wound up second at the Western, then won his next six starts.
 
There are hundreds of players'good ones, too'who dont win six tournaments in an entire career, let alone one season. To go 6-for-6, well, only Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan know what thats like.
 
But it wasnt simply the victories that piled up, it was how Woods got them. He used his driver once at the British, and rode his putter to the title at the PGA Championship. He gutted out a playoff victory at Firestone, and shot a 30 on the front nine of the final round at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
 
When the year ended, he led the tour in scoring average (68.11) and birdie average (4.65), and his greens in regulation average (74.15) was a full two percentage points ahead of second-place Jeff Grove. He was sixth in driving distance.
 
Since that first round at the Western, hes shot above par only four times in tour events. Hes been no worse than second in stroke play since missing the cut at the U.S. Open.
 
Its the most dominant stretch golf has seen since 2000, when Woods won nine times'including three straight majors to round out his career Grand Slam at the ripe old age 24.
 
Its mind boggling, it really is, Billy Andrade said. Is he at that point he was in 2000? Yes. Is everybody playing for second? Well, were not going to concede it, but he sure finishes the deal better than we do.
 
After Woods won at Hoylake, the emotions of the year finally spilled out. He threw both arms in the air on the 18th green and screamed, Yes! then buried his head in his caddies shoulder and sobbed.
 
When he hugged his wife, it was with the desperation of a man searching for something'or someone'he knows hell never find.
 
If you take into account what happened off the golf course, its my worst year, Woods said this fall. People asked me ... How do you consider the year? I consider it as a loss.
 
In the grand scheme of things, golf doesnt even compare to losing a parent.
 
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Getty Images

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.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


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.

Getty Images

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.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


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.”