Renewed inspiration has a healthy Tiger on right track

By Damon HackDecember 13, 2016, 3:33 pm

Tiger Woods was sizing up a five-foot par putt in the Bahamas two weeks ago when a small woman in a beige sun hat leaned in for a closer look.

She had followed Woods countless times, but she remained interested in the 40-year-old’s every step.

As soon as Woods struck the ball, she broke the silence.

“In,” Tida Woods, Tiger’s mother, said before the ball dropped into the hole. She turned away and disappeared back into the Bahamian gallery.

All throughout the week at the Hero World Challenge, there were echoes of a time gone by. The greatest player of his generation, raised from the crib to be a champion, broke a 466-day leave of absence with his most emphatic flourishes since he was the game’s No. 1 player three years ago.

The week was tantalizing, rife with rust and double bogeys but also more birdies than anyone. (“Only Tiger Woods could take a year and a half off and put up the numbers he’s putting up,” said the eventual Hero champion, Hideki Matsuyama.)

Woods was far more than a surgically-repaired legend playing out the string. He was a confident shot-maker spinning clubs and turning heads. He was at ease throughout the week, cracking jokes with Patrick Reed, poking fun with reporters (and at himself about his world ranking, which shot up 248 spots, to 650, after the tournament.)

What it means for his final act, however, remains murky, no matter how powerful the nostalgia.

The PGA Tour is overflowing with youngsters who crave the power game and long gym session that Woods once did.

By his own admission, Woods can no longer beat balls for hours on end, nor can he log 30 miles of runs in a week.

But he does have new motivation beyond the resumption of major championship glory.

One Woods confidant in the Bahamas said Woods’s children – who were too young to enjoy his dominant years - are his primary inspiration these days.

Woods also has the perspective that comes with age, accomplishment and defeat, both on and off the course. Through long stretches of doubt, he has rebuilt a body, a golf game and a life.

“I can’t imagine from where he was in the early 2000s, arguably the best to ever play the game, to having to deal with struggle,” said Rickie Fowler, a frequent practice partner of Woods in Jupiter, Fla. “Not being able to put the same move on the ball and hit the same shots he’s used to seeing, and to be patient and go through that whole process and wait until he was ready to make that progress in the last few months. It’s not surprising, but it’s impressive.”

The significance of a 15th place finish in a field of 17 players (many of them counting down the days to Christmas) is unclear, but many of Woods’s peers saw a turning point in his career in the Bahamas.

One year ago at the same venue, he moved stiffly around the golf course, going through his hosting duties while wondering out loud if he would ever play again.

His comeback included months of tiny, tedious repetitive movements to strengthen a back that had been operated on three times.

At the Ryder Cup, after a week of hugs and chest bumps, he postponed a long-awaited comeback at the Safeway Open in October, when he described his game as “vulnerable.”

To some, it was stunning choice of words, an admission of fragility from the player once considered the most mentally tough.

“Napa, as interesting as that was, a nick in the armor, ‘I’m not ready to do this in front of people,’ he’s now shown that he didn’t really care what anybody else was going to think,” Jordan Spieth said. “He wanted to make sure that he was going to come back and be as confident as possible.”

Said Woods: “I wanted to have a more well-rounded game. I just felt like, ‘What’s the point?’ My competitive juices said ‘You can pull this off,’ but why pull it off instead of being more ready? I think I did the right thing.”

Upon his return, Woods showed bursts of the old brilliance, in particular a bogey-free round of 65 in the second round punctuated by par saves reminiscent of his game at its height.

And though he is more than three years removed from his last win – and nearly nine from his last major – he has a new incentive that could boost him.

“Golfers play for different reasons in their 20s, 30s and 40s and these changes are developmentally predetermined,” said Dr. Gio Valiante, the sports psychologist and author who once interviewed 100 golfers for a study in 2002 on golfers and inspiration. “Jack Nicklaus said the hardest thing is finding motivation over a long career.”

In 2002, at age 26, Woods had finished off a run of seven major titles in 11 starts.

“In his 20s, Tiger’s motivation was to see how good he could be, to actualize his talent,” Valiante said. “In the 30s, it shifted during the dark years. It went from mastery to ego. ‘I want to beat that guy.’ His demise was preceded by a loss of motivation. When motivation left him, so did his ability to be great.”

But Valiante sees another shift in motivation for Woods now, just as Jay Haas found a spark in his own game as his son, Bill, neared the PGA Tour, or Mark O’Meara, a practice partner and father figure to Woods, raised his level to win two majors in 1998 at age 41.

“You can have high desire, but if it’s for the wrong reasons, that leads to bad outcomes,” Valiante said. “Wanting your kids to see you be great is a natural and healthy source of motivation.”

Woods beams at the mention of his children, Sam and Charlie, the latter of who finished tied for second in a junior golf tournament in West Palm Beach, Fla., in June.

In the Bahamas, Woods told the story of the two Scotty Cameron putters he doesn’t allow 7-year-old Charlie to touch. The clubs combined to win 14 majors.

“Touch any other putter, do anything you want with any other putter,” Woods said. “These putters are off-limits. These two, Daddy only.”

A renewed drive alone won’t bring birdies or good health, but victory seems farfetched without it.

Woods left the Hero World Challenge in a better place than he arrived. He knows there are those who believe he will win more majors and others who say he is finished.

“It’s noise and you block out the noise,” Woods said. “My job is to go out and execute and win golf tournaments.”

It sounded so familiar, one last reverberation, with a legend trying to keep his hold on the game for just a bit longer.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."