Predicting Tigers Return
Situated amid the spring-fed Butler chain of lakes of southwest Orlando, Isleworth is one the prettiest places in Central Florida. And comparisons with the center of the Communist world back in the height of the Cold War have nothing to do with diametrically opposed ideologies.
Its just that the information coming out of Moscow in the old days was very guarded. The experts at deciphering that information were called: Kremlinologists.
Similarly Tigers camp keeps its own, close, careful counsel. Rarely does anything newsy emerge from Woods inner circle unless it has first been released on TigerWoods.com. There are no Tigerologists.
But there are Tiger sightings. And people do talk. And right now the entire golf world hangs on every scrap that might hint at when Woods will return from the reconstructive surgery he underwent last June after capturing the U.S. Open in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.
Recently word leaked out of Isleworth that Woods was not only playing more holes on a regular basis, but that he had adopted a new, much wider stance. This development came from a reliable source, who had watched Woods hitting balls at length and actually played a few holes with him.
Could this mean Woods was experimenting, as many had predicted, with a new swing that would put less pressure on his knee and produce less torque as a safety measure? The source also said Woods was looking incredibly buff.
So I ran it all past Hank Haney, Woods swing coach and the pair of eyes he trusts most when it comes to his game. Haney patiently responded without revealing any trade secrets. He is fiercely protective of a student from whom he freely admits he has learned more than he has taught.
Yes, Tiger is playing more holes at Isleworth, Haney said. And of course he is looking buff. He has been working out for about four hours a day for, like, six months.
As for Tiger looking different with his swing and working off a wider stance to be more protective of the knee? No.
How about this analysis: Tiger has played one tournament in nine months. One. The result of that is a lot of rustiness in his game.
He has had a lot of little things that have been different over the course of his working to get his game back on track. But to assume that everything that is different is by design is a wrong assumption.
Remember, assumption is the mother of all screw-ups. I was down last week (mid-January) to Isleworth and his stance was fine. I came down the next week and noticed that his stance with the driver was very wide. That has since been corrected. So that blows the theory of the new wide stance.
He is just practicing mostly, started playing a little recently and working to get the rust off. It is a slow process when you havent played in nine months.
I have no idea when Tiger will be ready to play. I do know that before he left the game for his surgery he had won 10 of 13 tournaments with two seconds and a fifth. So it might take a little while to get his game back to that level and I know that he isnt just looking to participate.
So what does all this mean and how should we best interpret it?
For starters, Woods is human. Like all golfers, he develops a bad habit every now again. Thats why Haney monitors him.
One teacher said the wide stance could have been a temporary device on Woods part until the knee is 100 percent. But the Isleworth source said Woods showed no trace of a limp and was taking his usual aggressive lines on shots that required long-distance carries.
We know Woods is as desperate to play in the Masters in April as we all are to have him in the field. We know he would like at least one tune-up before Augusta National. We also know that Woods doesnt want to return to competitive golf unless he feels like he can win immediately. He told us as much at his own tournament in December in California.
We also know his wife, Elin, is due to deliver the couples second child sometime this month. That anticipated event is an even higher priority than the knee and the comeback.
So there are a lot of moving parts here and a lot of variables. Haney is correct to assert that assumptions are dangerous.
Last month the Associated Press reported that it was likely Woods would make his 2009 debut at the WGC Accenture Match Play later this month near Tucson. Nobody from the Woods responded. And, to repeat, Haney doesnt know when Woods will be ready.
But the Match Play makes even more sense now for several reasons: Accenture is one of Woods sponsors. He is the defending champion. The galleries at the event arent historically huge. So an appearance at the Match Play would give Woods a relatively hassle free opportunity to check back in with his fellow players and the media. The circus there wouldnt have as many rings.
This much we know for sure: Tiger Woods will tell us where and when his next tournament will be only when he decides the right time has arrived.
So actually there is a Tigerologist out there. His name is Tiger Woods.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
CareerBuilder purse payouts: Rahm wins $1.062 million
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry on the fourth hole of sudden death to win the CareerBuilder Challenger. Here's a look at how the purse was paid out in La Quinta, Calif.:
|T20||Charles Howell III||-14||$57,754|
|T36||Tyrone Van Aswegen||-12||$27,189|
|T69||Billy Hurley III||-6||$11,623|
After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...
Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).
Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.
It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard
On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...
There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.
He sure looks like the real deal, though.
His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.
Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner
Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2
With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.
He picked up one more No. 2, too.
The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.
In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.
Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.
“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”
Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.
Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.
He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.
Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title
Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.
Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.
His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.
“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."
Tom Brady, postgame, on wearing the wrap on his hand: “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that. It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament.”— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) January 22, 2018
Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.
Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.