Age, major venues make 2014 huge for Woods

By Doug FergusonDecember 31, 2013, 5:29 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Four years later, the words of Jack Nicklaus resonate even louder.

''If Tiger is going to pass my record, this is a big year for him in that regard,'' Nicklaus said at the start of 2010.

Nicklaus was referring to his record 18 majors, and the major championship venues that favored Woods – Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, all courses where he had won before. Woods never had a serious chance on the back nine of any major that year. His tally remains at 14.

And that makes 2014 even bigger.

Woods is facing another favorable menu of major championship sites. He already has won majors at Augusta, Royal Liverpool (British Open) and Valhalla (PGA Championship). The U.S. Open is at Pinehurst No. 2, were Woods was third in 1999 and runner-up in 2005.

''I'm trending in the right way,'' Woods said recently. ''I've finished third, second ... you get the picture, right? OK.''

A new year begins Friday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, and while Woods is among PGA Tour winners who chose to sit this one out, his performance in the majors this year figures to be a major topic of conversation over the next eight months.

''I always think that the Masters signals a lot with Tiger,'' NBC analyst Johnny Miller said during a conference call. ''If he doesn't win the Masters, I think it gives a great, big 'Uh-oh,' because that course is so perfect for his game. I'll leave it at that. But if he wants to get off on the right foot, I think he needs to get off at the Masters.''

There's a big difference with Woods the last time he faced such a tantalizing rotation of majors.

Nicklaus spoke of a ''big year'' when Woods was more of a mystery than ever. No one had seen Woods in more than a month going into 2010 and didn't even know where he was. His personal life at home, his mystique in golf and his appeal in the corporate world were crumbling in spectacular fashion.

Now, he is No. 1 in the world. He won five times last year against some of the strongest fields. He won the Vardon Trophy for the ninth time, the PGA Tour money title for the 10th time and was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year for the 11th time.

Still, there remains an uncertainty about Woods, mainly because he hasn't won a major since 2008 and he hasn't broken 70 on the weekend of any major since the 2011 Masters. That's a startling statistic for a guy who has built a reputation as golf's greatest closer.

''It's getting much harder for Tiger because guys are not wilting on him,'' Miller said. ''So he's got a double whammy in that he's not able to close as well as he used to, and then the guys are more heroic against him like they never were before. ... Guys are saying, 'Yeah, you're Tiger Woods and you're the greatest ever, but now at your age, I can beat you.' He needs to do it in the majors.''

Will familiar venues help?

Not necessarily.

Woods forever is linked with Augusta National because of his record score (270) and margin of victory (12 shots) in the 1997 Masters, his back-to-back wins (2001-02) and that magic moment with his chip on the 16th hole that led to his playoff win in 2005. But he has not added to his wardrobe of green jackets in eight years, his longest drought in any major. Who saw that coming?

And while he is trending in the right direction at Pinehurst No. 2, the Donald Ross design has gone through a restoration project that eliminated rough and replaced it with sandy dunes, pine straw and wire grass.

Woods won the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool when it was firm and fiery, a links that was more yellow than green because of a dry summer. Woods hit only one driver the entire week. It might not be the same course if England gets a wet summer – and yes, it does rain in England – and players see Hoylake green, lush and longer.

Valhalla is where Woods made what he considers the biggest putt of his career, a 6-footer on the final hole for birdie to force a playoff that he won over Bob May in the PGA Championship. It gave Woods his third straight major in that amazing summer of 2000.

If that seems like a long time ago, it was. Woods will not have seen Valhalla in 14 years when he returns this summer.

The best gauge of Woods and his pursuit of Nicklaus is more about him than the course he is playing. More than St. Andrews or Pebble Beach, more than Hoylake or Valhalla, it's best to consider Southern Hills. That's the course that supposedly gave Woods fits because of its tight, bending, tree-lined fairways. Woods won the 2007 PGA Championship that year, proof that when he's on his game and in the right frame of mind, he can win any major on any course.

More significant than where the majors are played in 2014 is the fact Woods turned 38 on Monday.

By age alone, Woods has been ahead of Nicklaus' pace in the majors since winning his seventh major in 2002 Masters at age 26. They are tied now. Nicklaus also had 14 majors when he turned 38, and then he added his 15th major that summer in the British Open.

That's what makes this a big year for Woods.

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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.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.

Rose (62) sets blistering pace in Indonesia

By Associated PressDecember 14, 2017, 3:06 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Justin Rose shot a 10-under 62 Thursday to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, starting on the back nine at Royale Jakarta Golf Club, had five birdies to go out in 31, then birdied four of five holes midway through his final nine and another birdie on his last hole in the $750,000 tournament.


Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters


Gunn Charoenkul (64) was in second place and Kim Giwhan and Phachara Khongwatmai (both 65) were tied for third.

Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Ranked 51st in the world, the American is aiming for a strong finish in Jakarta to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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LaCava: Woods wouldn't talk after H.O.R.S.E. match

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 2:27 pm

The competitive streak within Tiger Woods knows no bounds - even on the basketball court, according to caddie Joe LaCava.

LaCava has been on Woods' bag since 2011, and he recently shared a story on "Inside the Ropes" on Sirius/XM PGA Tour Radio about a clash between the two men over a seemingly friendly game of H.O.R.S.E. Actually, it turned into nine straight games (and nine straight wins) for LaCava, who exploited a weakness in Woods' on-court strategy while leaning on a mid-length jumper of his own:

"The thing with him was if I missed a shot, which I missed plenty of shots, but if I missed the shot he'd go back down to the 3 (point line) because he liked to make the 3," LaCava said. "But it's harder obviously to make a 3, and I'd go right back to the baseline 12-footer, and he couldn't make it."

It's a short list of people who have beaten Woods nine times in any athletic pursuit, let alone in a row. But for LaCava, the fallout from his afternoon of on-court dominance was less than subtle.

"He did not talk to me the rest of the day," LaCava explained. "I didn't even get the old text, 'Dinner is ready,' because I stay across at the beach house. I didn't even get that text that night. I had to get take-out. He didn't announce he wasn't (talking), he just did it. I'm telling you, nine games in a row. Like I said, he's so competitive, even at something like that."