Woods' biggest obstacle might be between the ears

By Doug FergusonFebruary 10, 2015, 2:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – The BBC called on Thanksgiving weekend in 2009 looking for insight on the shocking, sordid details about the private life of Tiger Woods and how this would affect his pursuit of golf's most meaningful record.

The line of questions made one thing clear. They didn't need a golf writer, they needed a psychologist.

Five years later, has anything changed?

Ignore for a moment the bunker shot that Woods blasted into the bleachers on the 16th hole during the pro-am at the Phoenix Open. Or the 82 he posted in the second round at the TPC Scottsdale, the worst score of his career. The record will show he has more WDs than top 10s in the last 18 months.

But this might be the most sobering thought.

Is it possible that perhaps his greatest strength - his mind - is now his weakness?

The look on the practice range is one of uncertainty. On the golf course, it is one of resignation. Woods has never appeared more fragile. And he has never been the subject of so much sympathy from peers he used to beat so badly that Charles Howell III once said only half-jokingly that he ''ruined a lot of guys' lives.''

There was some truth to a throwaway line from Woods at his Hero World Challenge in December that ''Father Time is undefeated.'' He is 39 with five surgeries and one public embarrassment behind him. Adding to accelerating years is that he has been in pursuit of greatness from the time he crawled out of a high chair.



Accepting his rapidly advancing age is another story.

A decade ago in the parking lot at Doral, when Woods finally adapted to a swing change under Hank Haney and was on his way to two majors that year, he said he would walk away from the game sooner than anyone imagined, that he would quit when his best was no longer good enough to win.

''I've won tournaments out here when I wasn't playing my best,'' Woods said that day. ''If I play my best and don't win, there's no reason to be out here. I don't lie. When I play well, I tell you guys. When I haven't played well, I'll tell you.''

At this stage in his career, his best isn't good enough to beat Rory McIlroy and maybe a few others.

Woods has never been forthcoming with the press or the public. The question is how honest he is with himself. For now he can fall back on injuries as the cause of his poor play, although the message gets muddled based on his recent comments about his back.

''It feels great. It feels fantastic,'' he said in December.

''That's not an issue anymore,'' he said last week in Phoenix.

And then he pulled out after 11 holes at Torrey Pines for what he described as tightness in his lower back. If only he had described it that way. Woods doesn't like to be perceived as a golfer. He wants to be perceived as an athlete, and it shows in his speech.

He warmed up fine on Thursday morning. The fog rolled in, the temperature dropped and his back never loosened up again after standing around. That happens. Instead, he said that ''everything started deactivating again'' and it was frustrating that he couldn't stay ''activated.'' Thankfully, he cleared that up by mentioning it was his ''glutes'' that didn't activate.

For the next two days, ''glute activation'' became a buzz word on the putting green and practice range. Woods became the butt of jokes.

No one wants to see this.

Most disturbing is how easily it has become to withdraw. In his brief interview among a circus atmosphere in the parking lot, no one asked if Woods risked further injury by completing the last six holes (and presumably two putts). Could he not have gutted out the first round and tried to activate his glutes Friday morning? Notah Begay said over the weekend on Golf Channel that a text from Woods indicated it was not a ''major concern.''

One major concern is motivation and, yes, desire.

That would be unlike the Woods of yesteryear - no one would ever dare question his desire - but it's reality. This is his 20th year on tour. He's gone to the top of the mountain four times. This would be the toughest climb of them all. He is a single father of two whose schedule is determined by the weeks when he gets the kids. He has been hurt on the golf course and humbled off it.

And he has chipping problems so severe that the dirtiest four-letter word in golf has been evoked - yips.

The Masters starts in 59 days. Woods is supposed to play the Honda Classic in two weeks, and there are questions whether he should even show up. Woods doesn't need competition. He needs a clear head and a strong mind.

Right now, the only thing clear about Woods is that he faces a murky future.

Getty Images

Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

Getty Images

Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

Getty Images

13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.