Watson falling short of major expectations

By Bailey MosierFebruary 3, 2014, 9:11 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When a player wins a major championship we often project onto them great expectations. Their moments of brilliance, for that week, are magnified and glorified, fueling the fanatic within us.

When Bubba Watson hit that hook wedge shot from the right woods at Augusta National and won the 2012 Masters, we bought into the self-taught, uber-talented Southerner and his persnickety presence and thought, perhaps, we were witnessing the birth of genius.

Rarely are we caught off-guard in this game; such is our passion for keeping up with all the top-10s, shots, chips and quips of every player. Occasionally, stars fall from the sky or come from the woods. Oak Hill gave us a 27-year-old Lee Trevino in 1968, and he didn’t disappoint. But Trevino was a rare bird whose barrels of birdies over the years helped him win an additional five majors en route to the Hall of Fame. His eccentricity enriched the game.

And yet there are many players who’ve transcended the upper echelons of the game, only to have the glue that holds their wings together melted by the sun.

Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 Open Championship at age 30, two years after winning the 1989 Crowne Plaza Invitational. He then lost confidence and his swing, and from 1994-97, he missed 32 consecutive cuts. He retired six years later, after shooting 92 in the first round of the ’97 British and withdrawing from the event. His total PGA Tour wins: two.

Waste Management Phoenix Open: Articles, videos and photos

Trevor Immelman was 28 when he won the ’08 Masters, and many believed the South African was destined for northerly heights. Instead, he dropped as low as 294th in the world after having risen to No. 15. His only other PGA Tour win came at the ’06 BMW Championship, two years prior to his win at Augusta.

A similar thing happened to Wayne Grady, who won the ’89 Westchester Classic and then followed that with a win at the’90 PGA Championship when he was 33. Winless on the PGA Tour ever since, Grady has said, “I should have done better after the PGA, but people were giving me money for nothing. Then I got fat and lazy and lost sight of the ball.”

A bevy of other players with similar odysseys come to mind: Geoff Ogilvy (2006 U.S. Open at age 29), Mike Weir (2003 Masters at age 33), Corey Pavin (1995 U.S. Open at age 35) and David Duval (2001 Open Championship at age 29).

To each their own tales, but none of these players was ever the same after their lone major. Be it money, family, injury, distraction or the free pass that comes with winning a major (previously a 10-year exemption on Tour, now five and thus, minimal motivation to continue to excel), most of these men are a shell of their former professional selves.

Winning a major elevates our expectations of a player because for those four days, four times a year, we are exposed to their excellence. Yet the mark of a great player comes when one can manage their strengths and weaknesses so that both work to their advantage.

John Daly is another player no one saw coming when he won his first major, and for the first time on Tour, at the ‘91 PGA when he was 29. Daly won a few more events – most notably the ’95 British – but soon spiraled into near-oblivion (although the mullet, cigarettes, Diet Cokes and the loud outfits can so instantly and so vividly be recalled). The thing that’s different with Daly is that we calculated his erratic behavior, his vices and addictions into our expectations and thus, have been far less dumbfounded by his decline.

This brings us back to Watson, who is now winless in the 23 months following the ’12 Masters he won at 33. Like Daly, we must calculate Watson’s haphazard, disorderly approach to the game and his unfiltered and uncensored monologues. Wizardly with his wedges, destructive with his driver, yes. But is that enough to expect so much from him?

We consider Bubba a colorful player because he uses a pink shaft and is a tall, gangly and unorthodox player. But at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Watson abhorred slow play every chance he got in post-round interviews, admitting he was unable to overcome its effect on him during the tournament. He spoke of his charity work and its importance in the bigger picture and that life’s not all about winning golf tournaments. Fair enough. But then on Saturday after positioning himself with a two-shot advantage over Kevin Stadler heading into the final round, Watson said: “We need to be under five hours tomorrow. I want to watch the Super Bowl. I want to get ready for the Super Bowl. Who cares about the golf? Under five hours tomorrow, boys. That's not going to happen.”

Spoken a little tongue-in-cheek, perhaps, but Watson uttered similarly dissonant comments all week, including after missing a 5-footer on the 72nd hole to lose by one. He said, “Let's look at it from the prize money standpoint. … I look at what it does for my family, look at what it does for my career, and look what it does to help me inspire me to get better so I can win the next one.”

Unabashed and unapologetic, a stark contrast to the players of today no doubt, with his untaught and untutored swing, Watson is like a Jackson Pollock painting – a masterpiece of mayhem, to be enjoyed with beauty left to the eye of the beholder. While he certainly has the talent, perhaps last week suggested he's lacking the patience and mental acuity this game requires of its greatest dignitaries. He is what he is, and we should expect no more.

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Getty Images

Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

Getty Images

Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.

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.