The Age of Tiger Talking Annika

By Brian HewittMay 31, 2007, 4:00 pm
These days in golf there are 31 flavors. And were not talking about ice cream.
 
Tiger Woods, the undisputed best player in the game is 31 years old.
 
Zach Johnson, the current Masters champion who backed his jacket up with a victory in Atlanta earlier this month, is 31 years old.
 
Rory Sabbatini, unafraid to challenge Woods publicly and victorious Sunday at Colonial in Texas, is 31 years old.
 
Henrik Stenson, the highest-rated European (No. 7) in the Official World Golf Ranking and a winner at the prestigious WGC-Accenture Match Play earlier this year, is 31 years old.
 
Is this is a coincidence?
 
The answer, according to my theory, is that it is not.
 
Woods ambushed his elders when he turned pro in 1996 and players like Ernie Els (now 37), Phil Mickelson (37 next month), and Davis Love III (43) never really recovered from Woods instant success. (Obviously Mickelson hasnt suffered too much, having won two of the last four Masters and the 2005 PGA.)
 
The younger top players'read: Sergio Garcia (27), Adam Scott (26), and Charles Howell III (27) just to name a few'only know Woods as a kind of golfing god.
 
But his contemporaries, the guys his own age, have been aware of Tiger for a long time. Many of them competed against him when they were youngsters. They recognize how good he is. But they have known no other condition of competition other than Woods being the guy they had to beat to win meaningful titles.
 
Vaughn Taylor, a Ryder Cupper and two-time PGA TOUR winner, is also 31 years old. So is Hank Kuehne, an immense talent who hasnt blossomed as a professional mainly because of injuries and personal problems.
 
When I ran this theory past Morris Pickens, Johnsons mental coach, he didnt shoot it down. But, he warned, Any time anybody has success with Tiger, it is only temporary.
 
THE CHASE RESUMES:
There isnt any doubt in the mind of LPGA Hall of Famer Kathy Whitworth that Annika Sorenstam will one day catch'and pass'her on the all-time victory list.
 
Whitworth won 88 times. Sorenstam trails by 19. Its just a question of when, Whitworth told me this week.
 
Amazingly, Whitworth never missed a tournament due to injury during her career. She turned pro at 19 and won for the first time at age 22 at the 1962 Kelly Girls Open. Her last victory, the 1985 United Virginia Bank Classic, came at the age of 45. For her part, the 36-year-old Sorenstam is returning from back and neck problems this week at the Ginn Tribute. Whitworth says she does not see Sorenstam slowing down.
 
Whitworth also says she has never talked about the record with Sorenstam. But, she says, she will be rooting for Annika. There is nothing wrong, Whitworth says, with being someones motivation.
 
This is especially heartening to hear at a time when Barry Bonds is chasing Hank Aarons home record in baseball while controversy surrounds Bonds and frost dances from Aarons mouth every time somebody asks him about Bonds.
 
NOTHING SPECIAL:
If you were waiting for the USGA to announce its special exemptions into next months U.S. Open at Oakmont, you can stop holding your breath.
 
There wont be any this year.
 
No specials last year either, said USGA Executive Director David Fay. As is the case each year, the decision was made after developing a list of those who were not already exempt.
 
One player who deserved consideration was Loren Roberts, still highly-competitive on the Champions Tour at the tender age of 51. Roberts, you may remember was one of three players in the 1994 U.S. Open playoff at Oakmont won by Ernie Els.
 
On the other hand, judging from reports on the golf courses severity emanating almost daily from Oakmont, maybe Roberts is glad he wasnt asked.
 
LIGHTS OUT:
Starting with the final four holes of his second round at Colonial last week and counting the first 14 holes of his third round, eventual winner Rory Sabbatini needed just 17 putts in that 18-hole stretch.
 
NOTES:
The longest putt made on the PGA TOUR this year measured 100 feet and one inch. It was canned by Ben Curtis at THE PLAYERS on the 14th hole. There have been 105 putts of 50 feet or more made on the PGA TOUR this year.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Memorial Tournament
  • Full Coverage - Ginn Tribute Hosted by Annika
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.