The countdown to Woods return continues
It’s been like that a lot lately.
Woods spent Tuesday at Augusta National, his second straight day of practice as he prepares to enter his new world of golf in two weeks at the Masters. Speculation is as prolific as the tabloid reports on his extramarital affairs.
How will the gallery respond to him?
Which two players will be in his group for the first two rounds in what figures to be a circus like no other?
What will he say to the media?
Such are the inquiries at the Arnold Palmer Invitational because Woods isn’t around to answer the questions himself. His only interviews came Sunday evening with ESPN and the Golf Channel, both lasting five minutes, neither revealing very much.
Jim Furyk won the Transitions Championship and walked into his press conference holding a three-page transcript of Woods’ interview. Players headed to the putting green or the practice range at Bay Hill, and whenever they saw a camera, a tape recorder or simply a media badge, the topic was predictable.
By now, they should be used to it.
“For a guy not being around, he sure has drawn a lot of attention, and rightly so,” Steve Stricker said. “It’s been a weekly thing. That’s why it will be good to get him out here, to get him back playing, to get that behind him – and us. Not only him, but it’s been difficult for us, too. Things are changing on a daily basis. We have to stay on top of it so we can be somewhat responsive to those questions.”
Geoff Ogilvy defended his title in the season-opening SBS Championship and was asked how much longer Woods would be a topic. “It’s going to linger for a while,” he said.
Woods was always going to be a topic at Torrey Pines, where he has won seven times as a pro. Perhaps it was merely a coincidence that the winner was Ben Crane, one of the players unwittingly dragged into his story when a magazine quoted Crane as making disparaging comments about Woods’ marriage – even though Crane said he hadn’t spoken to anyone at the magazine or in the media for three months.
Wood became the story at the Accenture Match Play Championship when it was announced during the first round that he would be making his first public appearance, and speaking during the third round.
Then came news, three weeks later at Doral, that he would return to competition at the Masters. Later, Furyk ended more than two years without a victory by winning at Innisbrook about the time Woods was giving his TV interviews Sunday.
Woods hasn’t played the first three months. That hasn’t made it a quiet three months, except for outside the ropes.
“The fact he’s not playing, he’s still the No. 1 story on our tour – if he chooses to be,” Paul Goydos said. “He did the interview during Accenture. He did an interview Sunday. … I didn’t even know he was doing the interview. I was watching basketball.”
Goydos says the last three months are far different from the eight months when Woods was recovering from knee surgery. He was out of sight, and only on anyone’s mind when Padraig Harrington was foolishly asked if his two major victories required an asterisk because Woods was missing.
“When he was hurt, that one you didn’t hear too much,” Goydos said. “People didn’t make that big of a deal about it. I would make the argument that this has been no different from when he’s playing.”
And when he’s playing, rarely is there an interview with other players that doesn’t include a question about what Woods shot that day.
“I haven’t played good enough to have a whole lot of media attention,” Scott Verplank said. “But I’m sure when you go into the media room after a good round they’re not asking you about Tiger’s round. You’ve got to go to TMZ or the National Enquirer to find out what he did. So that’s different.”
There have been other differences over the last three months.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it seems fewer players have made the cover of golf magazines – Ogilvy, Hunter Mahan and Ernie Els made the cover of the two main publications. Other weeks have featured golf courses or a sand wedge (grooves debate).
Galleries have been noticeably thin, sometime for reasons beyond Woods, such as Super Bowl Sunday, a rare Monday finish at the Bob Hope Classic and cold weather in Arizona.
“It’s been pretty quiet,” Mahan said. “Everyone is playing golf without him, like they did for six months (with his knee surgery). But I think he’s going to bring a whole new audience to golf when he comes back.”
It will be a golf-friendly crowd to start with – the Masters ticket is among the toughest in sports.
But after that?
“There’s not as much buzz,” Verplank said. “That’s getting ready to change.”
Stricker is as curious how the players will respond to Woods, although he figures that will get back to normal in no time. His greater concern is how the gallery will respond. Every tournament seems to have one hole where the crowd is a little more vocal, such as the 16th hole at Phoenix, the 17th at The Players Championship or the amphitheater behind the 12th green at Muirfield Village.
Then again, that might not last long, either.
“I think we’ll have more of a Phoenix atmosphere for a short time. But after he wins three of his first four starts and he’s on his way to the Grand Slam,” said Goydos, pausing to smile, “then it will be back to normal.”
LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse
The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.
While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.
The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).
The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.
An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.
The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.
The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.
“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”
While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.
For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.
Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:
Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million
Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million
Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million
March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million
March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million
March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million
March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million
April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million
April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million
April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million
May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million
May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million
May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million
May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million
June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million
June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million
June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million
June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million
July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million
July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million
July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million
Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million
Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million
Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million
Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million
Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million
Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million
Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million
Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million
Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million
Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million
Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million
Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million
Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth
Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.
And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.
Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.
Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent.
Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.
Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.
Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.
In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.
Masters Tournament: Return to the 12th; faltering on Sunday (T-11)
U.S. Open: 1 over usually good ... not at Erin Hills (T-35)
The Open: Unforgettable finish leads to major win No. 3 (1st)
PGA Championship: Career Grand Slam bid comes up well short (T-28)
TWO REGULAR TOUR WINS
AT&T Pebble Beach
FUN OUTSIDE OF TOUR LIFE
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates:
No. 3: Dec. 14
No. 2: Dec. 15
No. 1: Dec. 18
Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test
One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.
Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.
"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."
Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.
"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.
Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.
"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."