New Tiger looks nothing like the old one

By Doug FergusonMay 10, 2010, 4:36 pm

The Players ChampionshipPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Even at his worst, Tiger Woods has never looked this bad.

It was only a month ago that Woods returned to golf with a performance that satisfied everyone but him. He tied for fourth in the Masters, his first competition in five months. And while his personal life was a mess, it appeared his golf game wasn’t about to suffer.

So much has changed in such a short time.

Woods looked lost on the golf course in missing the cut at Quail Hollow last week with the highest 36-hole score of his career. He looked even more distant as he sat in front of his locker Sunday at the TPC Sawgrass with his head bowed, elbows resting on his knees. He failed to finish another tournament, this time because of a sore neck that forced him to withdraw after six holes.

It was the first time Woods, with more than $93 million in career earnings, has gone consecutive weeks without making a dime.

“It’s early,” Paul Goydos said. “What he’s going through is unprecedented. We don’t know what’s going on. At some point, his life will normalize, as normal as Tiger’s life ever gets. And then we’ll see.”

When he looked up to take a few questions, Woods leaned against his locker with his eyes closed as if he were not listening. At one point, he slammed his shoe to the floor.

Tiger Woods swings golf clubThree months ago in the same clubhouse at the TPC Sawgrass – down the hallway and up a flight of stairs – Woods appeared in public for the first time to read a statement about the extramarital affairs that shattered his image and fractured his family.

He wore a dark suit then, his Sunday red shirt now.

In both cases, his aura of invincibility was missing.

It is too early to judge how Woods will recover from this scandal, and it doesn’t help that Woods is no more forthcoming about his game or his health than he was even in good times.

Only at the Masters did he reveal he had a torn Achilles’ during 2009. And while he said Friday that his rebuilt left knee was 100 percent, he never said anything about his neck until Sunday, when he mentioned that it had been bothering him before the Masters.

Who knew?

He has received warm receptions, though the praise is not universal. One woman in Charlotte, N.C., gave a thumbs-down when Woods walked by on his way to the tee. The low point might have come Saturday, when a young boy with an autograph from Phil Mickelson yelled out to Woods, “Tiger, say so long to No. 1. Kiss it goodbye.”

Mickelson, who could have replaced Woods at No. 1 with a victory Sunday, was standing only a few feet away.

“He got heckled by a 7-year-old,” Goydos said with wonder. “That’s brutal. He’s got to get used to that. He’s got a lot on his head and the game is hard. And it’s hard for everybody. He made it look so easy, so when he’s not making it look easy, we wonder what’s wrong. He’s going through a tough patch. If he has 80 percent of the people completely idolizing him, that’s still a big drop.

“He hasn’t been playing, and he’s not playing well,” Goydos said. “And he’s never been under a microscope like this before.”

Woods bristled at the media for making a big deal about hitting five balls in the water during nine holes of practice Tuesday. He said he was working on his swing, not overly concerned with the results when he wasn’t keeping score. But when the tournament began, there were shots that didn’t belong to the No. 1 player – or any PGA Tour player.

Woods twice popped up a tee shot so badly that he had to hit 5-wood for his second shot into a par. Another went 45 degrees to the right and landed in the pond on an adjacent hole.

Even the shots that stayed inside the gallery looked ordinary. This hardly looked like the guy who collected his 82nd title worldwide in Australia six months ago, or who has 14 majors going into a year in which he is expected to resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus.

The U.S. Open next month is at Pebble Beach, where Woods won by 15 shots. Then comes the British Open at St. Andrews, where he already has won twice by a combined 13 shots.

“His history is particularly good at those golf courses, “Goydos said. “If he goes through all those places and is not competitive, then you can ask questions.”

So many questions still remain.

Woods will not delve into family matters, although a divorce seems imminent. He spent some of his time at The Players Championship denying speculation that he is about to leave Hank Haney, his swing coach since 2004.

Haney said he had been paid last week for work in the next quarter. Woods followed by confirming that he was still working with Haney, although he didn’t go into specifics and spoke throughout the week about changes to his swing.

Meanwhile, it already is May and Woods is No. 122 on the PGA Tour money list. He is tied for 147th in the FedEx Cup standings. He will stay No. 1 in the world for the next two weeks, at least until Mickelson next plays at the Colonial and gets another shot at him.

Above all, he does not look like the same Tiger – and he’s certainly not playing like him.

“Tiger is facing his greatest challenge,” Hal Sutton said earlier in the week. “Tiger meets every challenge with his head held high and knowing that he will overcome. He’s had better control of his mind than almost any player I’ve ever watched play the game.

“You know, I’m sure Tiger will figure that out,” he said. “He’s figured everything else out.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.