Birdie's Eye View: How things have changed for Tiger

By Bailey MosierMarch 28, 2013, 11:00 am

Day in and day out, I listen to the men around the office debate, extrapolate and prognosticate over the most finite of details surrounding the game. It is the writers and on-air types’ job, after all, to dissect and deliver the meaning of every made cut, cut of the rough and rough patch that players face each week.

While it’s easy – and necessary – to get caught up in the here-and-now of stats, figures and trends, there’s something to be said for taking a more aerial view of golf’s landscape. That’s what this new weekly feature, Birdie’s Eye View, aims to accomplish – looking at golf through the lens of one year ago, to help shed a more peripheral perspective.

What better opportunity to examine just how much can change in a year than on the heels of Tiger Woods' victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and his return to the world's top? It seems all smiles and smelling of the roses now, but things looked very differently just one year ago.

1. Woods officially won for the first time, post-scandal

Tiger Woods

Then: One year ago, many believed Tiger would never win again. But he did. Woods ended his 30-month winless drought (not counting the unofficial World Challenge) when he captured the 2012 API by a five-shot margin over Graeme McDowell. It was Woods' 72nd all-time win and it moved him from 18th in the world to No. 6 – his highest world ranking since April 24, 2011.

Now: Woods has secured five additional wins (three this year) since then, for an overall Tour victory total of 77 – passing Jack Nicklaus on the all-time wins' list, along the way. We take it for granted now, but with all the nay-saying and nit-picking, it's pretty impressive that Woods went from zero to six in no time flat.

2. Els was battling to qualify for his 19th consecutive Masters

Ernie Els at the 2012 Arnold Palmer Invitational

Then: Ernie Els hadn't missed a trip down Magnolia Lane since 1993, but this time last year he was battling to break into the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking to ensure his spot in the 2012 edition. After missed opportunities earlier in the season at the European Tour's Volvo Golf Champions and the PGA Tour's Tampa Bay Championship, Els needed a solo third-place finish or a two-way tie for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational to break into the top 50. Els began the final round of the API three shots back, but twice missed par putts inside 3 feet and shot a final-round 75 that put him in a seven-way tie for fourth place. His only hope was a win at the Shell Houston Open

Now: Els finished T-12 in Houston and missed out on his 19th consecutive Masters showing. Now, the reigning British Open champion – currently ranked 24th in the world – is fully exempt into all four majors for the next five years. Eventually it all worked itself out, but turns out not everything comes easy to the Big Easy.

3. 'The Big Miss' hit shelves

Tiger Woods

Then: Hank Haney, who worked with Woods from 2004-10, chronicled his six years coaching the 14-time major winner in 'The Big Miss.' Haney received plenty of backlash from the golfing community, insisting he violated the unspoken coach-player code of confidentiality, upon which Haney retorted that the time spent with Woods were his memories, too. The book told of Tiger's fear of hitting driver left; how Tiger injured his knee in 2008, because of the training he did with the Navy SEALs; and his subdued relationship with then-wife Elin, among other things.

Now: One year later, 'The Big' buzz has settled, but the tale remains a must-read in the world of golf. As for Haney, he's moved on to coaching another, shall we say, 'accomplished' athlete – Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. Tiger's moved on, too, to Sean Foley and Lindsey Vonn. Not sure either one – Tiger or Hank – is really 'Miss'-ing the other right now.

4. Palmer returned home from hospital after health scare

Arnold Palmer

Then: Few may recall Arnie was absent from the API trophy ceremony last year because he had been taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure against high blood pressure. The King returned home the following day and everything appeared to have checked out alright.

Now: From check-ups to Kate Upton's cheek, it's a safe bet to say the King is doing just fine. He met, dined with and kissed Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Upton at Bay Hill this past week. No trips to the hospital this year. Does that mean Kate didn't get Arnie's blood boiling?

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''

Park's stumble creates wide-open finale

By Randall MellNovember 18, 2017, 11:46 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park didn’t turn the CME Group Tour Championship into a runaway Saturday at Tiburon Golf Club.

She left with bloody fingernails after a brutal day failing to hold on to her spot atop the leaderboard.

OK, they weren’t really bloody, but even the unflappable Park wasn’t immune to mounting pressure, with the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the money-winning title among the prizes she knew were within reach when she teed it up.

“It’s honestly some of the worst pressure,” Stacy Lewis said of CME week. “It’s so much pressure.  It’s just really hard to free yourself up and play golf.”

Lewis isn’t in the mix for all those prizes this year, but the two-time Rolex Player of the Year and two-time Vare Trophy winner knows what the full weight of this week’s possibilities bring.

“It’s almost nice to come here without all that pressure, but you want to be in that situation,” Lewis said. “It’s just really tough.”

Park is no longer in charge at Tiburon.

This championship is wide, wide open with a four-way tie for first place and 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Park is one shot back after stumbling to a 3-over-par 75.

Count Michelle Wie among the four tied for the lead after charging with a 66.

Former world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn (67), Suzann Pettersen (69) and Kim Kaufman (64) are also atop the leaderboard.

Kaufman was the story of the day, getting herself in contention with a sizzling round just two weeks after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.

Park is in a seven-way tie for fifth place just one shot back.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Lexi Thompson (69) is in that mix a shot back, as is Lewis (67), who is seeking to add a second title this year to her emotional win for Houston hurricane relief.

For Wie, winning the tournament will be reward enough, given how her strong rebound this year seemed derailed in September by an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie fought her way back from two of the most disappointing years of her career, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” Wie said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun. That’s when I play my best.”

All the subplots make Sunday so much more complicated for Park and Thompson, who are best positioned for a giant haul of hardware.

They have the most to gain in the final round.

Park has already clinched the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, but she can add the Rolex Player of the Year title, joining Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win both those awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978.

A fifth place finish or better could give Park the Player of the Year Award outright, depending what others do.

“There are a lot of top players right now at the top of the leaderboard,” Park said. “Keeping my focus will be key.”

Thompson can still take home the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy and the CME Globe jackpot. She needs to win the tournament Sunday to win Player of the Year.

Like Park, Thompson is trying not to think about it all of that.

“I treat every tournament the same,” Thompson said. “I go into it wanting to win. I’m not really thinking about anything else.”

The Vare Trophy for low scoring average is Thompson’s to lose.

Park has to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson on Sunday to have a shot at the trophy, and they are tied at 9-under overall.

The money-winning title is Park’s to lose. So Yeon Ryu has to win the tournament Sunday to have a chance to wrestle the title from Park, but Ryu has to pass 31 players to do so.

The CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot remains more up for grabs, with Thompson and Park best positioned to win it, though Jutanugarn is poised to pounce if both stumble. A lot is still possible in the race for the jackpot.

The pressure will be turned way up on the first tee Sunday.

“There is always that little bit of adrenaline,” Thompson said. “You just have to tame it and control it.”

Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”