Tiger's 40s full of questions and uncertainty

By Damon HackDecember 30, 2015, 1:00 pm

His 40s were always going to be a little complicated. 

For so long Tiger Woods seemed destined to arrive at his milestone birthday with more than 20 major championships and chasing 100 PGA Tour wins, and the biggest question would have been, how will he stay motivated in a record book of one?

That was his trajectory when he gutted his way to a 14th major on a postcard pretty Monday at Torrey Pines in 2008, back when Tiger was still picking off a major a season, back when his golden years looked like they would be one long standing ovation, a whistle-stop tour through the schedule. 

Maybe he'd get a surfboard in San Diego. Jack might gift him with a lifetime supply of Memorial milkshakes. Arnie? He'd just bust Tiger's chops with a rocking chair at Bay Hill.

You could easily picture it because that's where this story was going – until Thanksgiving 2009 changed everything, and the greatest player of his generation became fodder for the New York Post. 

Many observers thought he would never recover from that dark episode, but he emerged from the bottom rung of tabloid hell to win three times in 2012, five times in 2013 and reclaim the world No. 1 ranking with a third swing coach. When he won the ’13 Players by carving shots through Pete Dye's labyrinth, he spiked the football in the face of his doubters, and it all felt so right. 

"I know a lot of people in this room thought I was done," Woods said in that post-victory press conference. "But I'm not."

Could major No. 15 have been that far behind?

Instead, we were given the vision of Woods crumbling to his knees at that year's Barclays, followed by two more years of fits and starts, three back surgeries, and an unspecified number of skulled chips. Then came his unexpected pronouncements at his Hero World Challenge earlier this month that he had no timetable for a return to the PGA Tour and that anything accomplished in golf henceforth would be “gravy.”

Those were the sound bites played over and over, plus nuggets from a revealing Q & A in Time Magazine that showed Tiger in a way few had ever seen.

"He's matured from a 20-year-old that was thrown into the spotlight into a 40-year-old who's learned from the good, the bad and the ugly – all of it," says his long-time friend, John Cook. "He's looking at the big picture now. 'What are the next 10 years of my life going to look like?'"

We thought we had a pretty good idea. Tiger would put miles between himself and Jack, joust with this young wave of players who grew up in his image, and ride off into a Scottish sunset, just like the greats before him.

What now? Doubt, is what. With Tiger, 40 isn't the new 30. It's just 40, or maybe older. It's surgically repaired. It's nearly eight years removed from a major and six from scandal. 

With Tiger, 40 is anybody's guess.

"At 38, 39, 40, Tiger Woods very quickly became the oldest 38-, 39-, 40-year-old in the history of golf," says Brandel Chamblee, who nevertheless calls Tiger the greatest golfer to ever play. "You cannot name me another player in the history of the game that has sustained the injuries Tiger Woods has sustained. Then you add the cost of the technical change, the changes to his swing. And when you throw into the mix that he completely lost his short game, it is the trifecta, the perfect storm."

But what about 59-year-old Tom Watson, a survivor of the putting yips, nearly winning the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry? Or 54-year-old Greg Norman, star crossed in the majors, taking a lead into Sunday at Royal Birkdale the previous summer? Or 51-year-old Davis Love III winning at Greensboro last season, just 2 1/2 years after neck surgery? Can't Tiger – more accomplished than all three – find his way back to winning? Can't he have his Jack-in-1986-Masters moment, or even a few of them?

"If he comes back – and I hope he does because there is nothing like watching Tiger Woods play golf – it will be the greatest comeback story in the history of golf, and maybe sports, because no other athlete had risen so high and fallen so low," Chamblee says.

Love, though, doesn't see a comeback as farfetched, if Tiger's body will allow it. He sees a gifted player robbed of the reps required to compete at the highest level. 

"If he comes out and plays, that means he's healthy, and if he can play a whole season, then he can get his game back," Love says. "I don't think you're going to do it playing once a month and then getting hurt again, like he's been doing for four years. You can't be sharp unless you play. It doesn't matter how good you've been in the past, you've got to play. You have to have confidence and you have to do it enough where you screw up some and build on it. He hasn't had a chance to build on anything for a long, long time. If his back gets good, if anybody can play for a long time, it's him because he is so strong."

Golf would be lucky to have Tiger grinding in his 40s because nobody generates the same electricity, even now.

But there are other sentiments, of course. Turn the page to the ascendant 20somethings. Leave him be, he's given enough. Be thankful we had the high because the game never had it so good, with the fate of Wall Street seeming to rise with every Tiger win, with golfers suddenly the kids at the cool table.

Tiger built the modern golf industry, fueling global commerce as a one-man stimulus package. Equipment, instruction, fashion, charity, architecture, media, all benefitted wildly from the Woods machine (to say nothing of skyrocketing Tour purses). 

But that's why it is difficult to fathom that Tiger may have won his last major at 32, an age before Ben Hogan and Phil Mickelson won their first. Tiger was supposed to rule the world for as long as he wanted.

"I'm pissed that he doesn't have 25 majors," says Rocco Mediate, the last man Tiger vanquished in a major,

We are brutal on our sports heroes, incredulous when they lose speed on their fastballs or lift on their jump shots or start showing nerves on and around the greens. Their frailties are reminders of our own. 

To see Tiger in the Bahamas, moving slowly around a practice green with his peers, was a vision few could have predicted during the go-go years. 

But if you looked closely enough during the Hero, you also saw a more relaxed Tiger, free from expectations, free from tee times and gym work, free to ride around in a golf cart with his children, dishing out love and discipline.

"He understands that part of his life, how fulfilling it is, the connection, what it means to the kids and your own self-being," Cook says.

Who is Tiger Woods at 40? What a big question. He's a legend hoping for a few more sunsets, sure, but also a single dad with a bad back and one heck of a story to tell.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.