Just When You Thought

By Brian HewittFebruary 20, 2008, 5:00 pm
2007- WGC-AccentureDifficult to do justice - with the printed or spoken word - to what went down late Wednesday in the first match between Tiger Woods and J.B. Holmes at the WGC-Accenture Match Play.
 
The shorthand: Woods, the No. 1 player in the history of mankind, was 3 down with 5 to play against Holmes, a strapping Kentuckian, longer than Woods himself and stronger than Makers Mark.
 
Woods birdied from 14 feet 1 inch to win the 14th. Woods birdied from 17 feet 5 inches to win the 15th. Woods birdied from 21 feet 9 inches to win the 16th. And Woods eagled the uphill, 601-yard 17th hole to win the 17th. When Holmes missed a 10-footer on the last, Woods had won the match of the day.
 
Everything just kind of turned my way, Woods said after producing another series of those moments that only he seems to be able to summon.
 
There was, at one point Wednesday, a strong possibility, if not the likelihood, of all four top seeds losing. This is not, of course, what the PGA TOUR, or anybody else for that matter, had in mind when they created the WGC events a decade ago.
 
But late Wednesday, first-seed Ernie Els already had lost to Jonathan Byrd; first-seed Woods was 3 down to Holmes; first-seed Steve Stricker was all square with Daniel Chopra and first seed Phil Mickelson was 1-up over Pat Perez.
 
Stricker birdied the 20th hole to outlast Chopra who had outlasted Stricker to win the Mercedes-Benz Championship earlier this year. Mickelson also lived to fight another day, holding off Perez and preserving his one hole lead at the end of 18 holes.
 
The shot of the day for Woods: My vote is the rocket ship he hit from the right rough on the 17th from more than 250 yards with a 5-wood out of a dicey lie.
 
It came out just like a bullet, Woods said. The decisive eagle putt followed.
 
And Woods, per usual, came out smelling like a rose.
 

HOPE FULL MONTY:
The first big upset Wednesday was 15th-seeded Colin Montgomerie, finishing with five straight 3s, to upset No. 2 seed Jim Furyk.
 
Montgomerie was 1-down after two holes but bounced back with a birdie 2 on the second and never trailed thereafter.
 
Montgomerie, who turns 45 in June, has failed to advance past the round of 16 in seven previous appearances in this event.
 
I enjoyed the challenge of seeing where I am, seeing where my game is, Montgomerie said. anybody, as we so rightly know, can beat anybody on any day.
 

OR ELS:
Yes, Monty, anybody can beat anybody on any day. Or, if youre Ernie Els, anybody can beat you in the first round of this event.
 
This time it was Jonathan Byrd, a 16th seed, knocking off the feckless Els, top-seeded in his bracket, 6 and 5.
 
It marked the fourth straight time Els has shown up in this event and lost in the first round. This time, much was made of Els last-second decision to jet over from London, committing to this event at the 11th hour.
 
Maybe it was the jet lag. Byrd won three of the first four holes (winning two holes with pars) and was 6-up at the turn.
 
He obviously helped me out a good bit, Byrd said when asked how Els played. I consider it an upset. But anybody can lose out here.
 

BELLY LAUGH:
The first match to end on the first day was Sergio 3 and 2 cruise over Aussie John Senden. The match concluded on the 16th hole with Garcia burying a 5-footer with his belly putter.
 
Turns out Garcia had two putters in his bag during the round. He started out using the more conventional of his two flat sticks. And I went for it for pretty much the whole round, he said. But then I started not feeling quite as comfortable. I hit a couple of not-very-good putts. So I decided to go with safe route for the last couple of holes. If I would have practiced it a little bit more, then I probably would have gone out with only one putter.
 
Garcia said he started feeling good on the practice green Tuesday with the short putter while working with short game guru Stan Utley. But its different, the putting green is, than when youre out there on the heat of battle and the pressure is on, Garcia said. So I wanted to take, like, you can call it a safety net, just in case I didnt feel quite as comfortable.
 
What a play, said an admiring Paul Casey, also a first-round winner, of Garcias choice to put two putters in the bag. I didnt use a 3-iron today. Didnt use a 4-iron either. There you go. Maybe I should take a look'maybe I should take three putters.
 

OFF WITH ITS HEAD:
Ian Poulter, who edged past Soren Hanson 2 and 1, was in a mild tizzy Tuesday when his driver broke.
 
Found a perfect driver last week, new Cobra driver was working great, he said. I was standing on the range about five or six shots into the driver and the head comes flying off. It just snaps. Its one of those things that happens every couple of years. So it was a panic on Tuesday afternoon to try to find a driver thats actually going to suit me. Ive managed to do that, which is great.
 

TABASCO ROAD:
Woody Austin, a 6 and 5 winner over Toru Taniguchi, doesnt wear the shirts with the hot sauce bottle pattern on them anymore. The company, he said, got tired of the criticism. For his part, Austin said, he liked the shirts.
 
How can I be so bad off, he said. Im not the one showing up in lavender purple pants and I dont show up with giant white belts and burgundy-colored shirts and Fedora hats. I dont show up with a tie. I dont understand how a fun, colorful shirt is so bad as opposed to all that.
 
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    Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

    Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

    RISING

    Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

    Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

    Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

    Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

    New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



    FALLING

    Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

    Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

    Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

    Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

    Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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    Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

    By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

    “I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

    Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

    “If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


    Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


    Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

    Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

    “He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

    As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

    "I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

    Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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    McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

    The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

    McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

    And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

    “I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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    Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

    No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

    Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

    With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

    “This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

    Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.