When a Miss Becomes a Choke
There's no telling how long the word 'choke' has been part of the golf vernacular, or when it first came into vogue. Perhaps the most famous use came at the 1989 Masters, and then only because Scott Hoch's last name rhymes with 'spoke,' or something like that.
A year later, Johnny Miller was in the broadcast tower for NBC Sports, watching Peter Jacobsen stand over a 225-yard approach from a downhill lie over water to the 18th green at the Bob Hope Classic.
'This is absolutely the easiest shot to choke I've ever seen in my life,' Miller said that day.
Jacobsen pulled off the shot and won the tournament, and Miller was vilified for daring to mention what everyone thinks.
'You'd think I'd exposed warts on Miss America,' he wrote in his book.
And maybe Miller himself has become sensitive about the 'C' word, because he didn't utter it Sunday at the Honda Classic when Weekley three-putted from 30 feet on the 18th hole, missing a 3-footer that would have brought him his first PGA TOUR title.
Nor did he use it a week earlier at the Accenture Match Play Championship when Woods missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole that would have won his third-round match against Nick O'Hern.
And that leads to a question that is hard to answer.
When does a miss become a choke?
Paul Goydos was asked Tuesday to define 'choke' and his response showed how touchy this subject is around golfers.
'Food lodged in the throat,' he said.
Miller defines it as stress manifesting itself mentally and physically. If that's the case, it happens every week.
'If you're out there and you don't feel pressure, you're not into what you're doing,' Curtis Strange said.
The two-time U.S. Open champion has felt both sides of emotion. He saved par from a bunker on the final hole of the 1988 U.S. Open to force a playoff with Nick Faldo, beating him the next day. Seven years later, Strange missed a 6-foot par putt on the last hole to lose a crucial match to Faldo in the Ryder Cup.
'Anybody who has played this game has done both,' Strange said. 'It can beat you up if you let it.'
Scroll down a list of tournaments on the PGA TOUR and it's not hard to find example of blown opportunities.
Greg Owen had a 3 1/2 -foot par putt on the 17th hole at Bay Hill last year that would have given him a two-shot lead with one hole to play. He three-putted for double bogey and lost the tournament with a bogey on the 18th.
Mike Weir had a chance to become the first Canadian in 50 years to win his national open, on the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Open. He had a 5-foot par putt to win on the second playoff hole against Vijay Singh in 2004 and missed it, then lost on the next hole.
Charles Howell III hit a superb bunker shot on the 10th at Riviera in a 2003 playoff, only to miss the 6-foot putt.
Was that a miss or a choke?
And is that any different from Bernhard Langer? He faced a 6-footer on the final hole at Kiawah Island with no less than the Ryder Cup hanging in the balance. The anguish on his face when he missed remains one of the most indelible images of the Ryder Cup.
Langer is remembered more for his two Masters titles than a missed putt at the Ryder Cup. And it would be difficult to say Weir choked because of the 6-foot pars he made on the 17th and 18th holes in winning the 2003 Masters in a playoff.
'Circumstances are what define whether it's perceived if you choked or not,' Paul Azinger said. 'What is choking, anyway? Is it the hands shaking? Is it your thought process?'
Weekley needed only two putts from 30 feet for his first PGA TOUR title. The birdie putt stopped 3 feet short of the hole. He studied the par putt from both sides, then saw the ball run by the cup on the left.
'I was shaking. I ain't gonna lie about it,' Weekley said. 'I was just focusing on getting that ball in the hole and turning around and waving to everybody. I made a good stroke. I just hammered it.'
Woods had to rap in only a 4-footer for birdie to beat O'Hern, advance to the quarterfinals and stay on track for his eighth consecutive PGA TOUR victory. He blamed the miss on a ball mark he neglected to repair.
Whether he pushed the putt with a quick stroke or the ball was knocked off line by a slight indentation on the green has been a popular subject the last few weeks. But one fact is undeniable -- he missed. And if he didn't notice the ball mark, then that would have to be classified as a breakdown in the thought process.
'It's my fault for not paying attention to detail,' Woods said.
Woods gets a pass because he has faced a dozen or so other crucial shots and made most of them, whether it was that 6-footer for birdie at Valhalla to force a playoff with Bob May at the 2000 PGA Championship or that 15-foot par putt that kept the Americans from losing in the 2003 Presidents Cup.
'Tiger has proven over and over again that there's not a lot of choke in him,' Azinger said. 'Until Boo Weekley makes a putt like that, people are going to speculate whether he choked.'
Ditto for Camilo Villegas. He hit a terrific flop shot to 3 feet and missed by a mile to fall out of the playoff.
'Every other sport, with the exception of bowling, you're pretty much reacting,' former PGA champion Rich Beem said. 'Here, you're making the ball react. You have a lot of time to think.'
'And hopefully,' he added, 'you don't think too much.'
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."