Tiger the Whistle Stop Tour Pt 3

By Casey BiererJanuary 3, 2007, 5:00 pm
Editors note: Golf Channel business reporter Casey Bierer participated recently in Nike Golfs Whistle Stop Tour; a press and media junket that traveled a group of Nike execs and invited media to four cities in 48 hours. This column is the third entry of a six-part series chronicling the journey.
 
Preface
Heres a recipe we havent seen before. Take the following key ingredients: one Nike GV jet, four cities in 48 hours, three PGA TOUR stars - Tiger Woods, David Duval and Jason Gore, a number of key Nike Golf executives, five print journalists, one television reporter (me) and the launch of two new Nike drivers. Mix thoroughly. The result? Nikes Whistle Stop Tour (WST); a media junket extravaganza that, even by Nike standards, is unprecedented.
 
The assignment given to me by Golf Channel ' create a reporters first person video journal of the trip. Roll tape as much as possible. When in doubt shoot first, beg for forgiveness later. And, oh yeah, interview Tiger Woods. This was going to be fun.
 
Part 3
I believe I left off with the fact that it was snowing in Portland in the early morning of our anticipated departure to Los Angeles. There was accumulationground cover as it were. The shuttle van door had frozen shut. As we finally exited the shuttle van we heard, Welcome to Nike Air. Its slippery there. Watch your stepit might be a little icy in spots. Ice? Slippery? This language is not conducive to flying.
 
We were led through the Nike Air waiting area. Posh, oh man, it was posh. Through a set of double doors and it to a huge hanger, (maybe there arent any small hangers, I really dont know) white and very, very clean. Large banners with famous Nike athletes lined the walls. The one of Michael Jordan captured my attention. It was located, not surprisingly, almost directly in front of the nose of the first Gulfstream GV I encountered. Yeah, thats rightthe first one. I told you it was a big hanger. This GV, it was explained to me, was Phil Knights personal plane. Not for company use. Understandable, I suppose. I mean the guy founded Nike. He can have his own plane. It was, by the way, beautifully painted; white with yellow and black accenting and NIKE painted on each of the two aft engines. And clean, clean, clean.
 
In fact, after a couple of minutes getting adjusted to the somewhat surreal surroundings of this private jet hanger, thats what really stood out. Just how clean everything was. And nothing more so than the hanger floor. This might put it in perspective. If someone said to you youve got to have open heart surgery and they followed it up by saying you have to have it on the floor of Nikes hanger, youd say sureno problem. Thats how clean this floor was. A whiter, cleaner floor you have never seen. We were later told that the flooring is made of a special material, impenetrable to oils, grease, fuels and the like...its non-porous nature lending well to the frequency of applications of high polish. Judging by the gleam Id say they polish it like every five minutes or so.
 
On the far wall of the hanger was an enormous American flag. It must have been very large indeed for beneath it and off to one side were several vehicles: a pick-up truck, a sedan of some sort and a Hummer SUV. They looked like miniature toy models in comparison to the size of the American flag and the jets. Yup, the hanger was huge.
 
I kept walking towards jet No. 2. This one was also sparkling clean white but it had no markings. I rounded the nose of the plane and the boarding stairs came in to view. A gentleman was greeting passengers one by one. Hello, Im Captain Blair. Im your pilot on this trip. Youre welcome to go on board, he said with a big smile. Id find out later Captain Blair was always smiling.
 
Hi, Im Casey from the Golf Channel, I said, my mini-DV camera recording all the while. So, Captain Blair, I said, This weather going to affect us? The weather in Los Angeles is beautiful, replied Nikes GV jet pilot. Well be flying at mach eight-five at four-five-thousand feet. Should be a nice ride, said the youthful, smiling captain.
 
But Im thinking to myself he didnt really answer my question. I was asking him about the weather in Portland, not the weather in Los Angeles. Maybe he didnt hear me or maybe the cameras were throwing him off. I mean, heck, he must see its snowing to beat the band out there.
 
So, this plane has a good de-icing system? I ask. Absolutely, yes, replied Captain Blair. This plane has an excellent de-icing system.
 
With that I boarded the plane. Hey, when in Romeright? If Bob Wood is getting on the plane Im getting on the plane. In reality, I dont think we had much choice. The Nike Whistle Stop Tour was on a very tight schedule. We were due in Los Angeles at 8:45 a.m. for the first of a two-part day: Tiger Woods in the morning in L.A. and then David Duval in the afternoon in Scottsdale. Wouldnt do to be latenope, wouldnt be prudent.
 
Within moments of boarding the plane and taking our seats the door was shut and the ever smiling Captain Blair formally introduced himself as well as co-pilot Keith and flight attendant Allison. In no time we were pulled out of the hanger. One engine fired up and we began a slow, careful taxi out to the runway. Beautiful, stirring music was playing over the planes stereo system. Kind of an eerie music, really.
 
The taxiway was a blanket of fresh white snow. This didnt seem to bother anyone else on the plane. Then I heard my cameraman say, Everybody except the pilot and co-pilot grab a shovel. Well, at least someone else noticed the white wet stuff. No matter. The jets second main engine fired up and we turned on to the runway. With an initially gentle engines up ' then full power ' the Gulfstream GV was airborne.
 
You know the push-back in your seat you get during commercial jet takeoff? Well, the push-back feeling was more pronounced in the GV. Way more pronounced. This baby was airborne in a heartbeat. I could sense a sigh of relief from the Nike execs that there was no delay in spite of the bad weather. We were on our way to Los Angeles and we were on schedule.
 
In a matter of a couple of short hours wed be hanging out with Tiger Woods. I wonder if they serve breakfast on this baby.
 
Related Links:
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 2
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 1
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    G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

    LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

    Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

    “I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

    “Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

    McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.

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    Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'

    By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:56 am

    LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.

    Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.

    Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.

    “When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.

    “Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”

    Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.

    “Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”

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    Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:37 am

    LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.

    Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.

    It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.

    “I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.

    “I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”

    Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.

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    Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:25 am

    LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?

    The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.

    Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.

    In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.

    What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.

    If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.

    Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.

    “You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”


    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


    He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.

    That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.

    Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."

    “Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”

    While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.

    “Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”

    While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.

    Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.

    “I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”

    It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.

    One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.

    “Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.

    And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.