Notes: Woods still wants to play, not broadcast

By Doug FergusonDecember 29, 2015, 7:12 pm

No one knows for sure when Tiger Woods will compete again, and that includes Woods. Still, there were indications earlier this month he wasn't ready to retire.

Woods watched from a golf cart at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. He also spent time in the TV booth, as he often does during his tournament. Woods might not always have a lot to offer in an interview, but he's a natural talking about golf. He is so good in the booth that someone jokingly suggested perhaps he should replace Johnny Miller when he's done playing.

Woods laughed.

''Talking about golf comes easy to me. I can do that all day,'' he said. ''But I don't want to sit around and watch golf up there. I want to be out here.''

The waiting game will continue into 2016, and who knows how much longer?

In the meantime, there were plenty of activity and anecdotes that went beyond Jordan Spieth's two majors, the rise of the next generation and Woods' future.

So much has been made of the high school class of 2011, and it came into focus during a practice round at the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook. Spieth joined Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Ollie Schniederjans for a (small) money game on the back nine.

Golf Channel wanted a shot of them all standing next to each other on the 11th hole, and one of them got the idea they should line up in order of their age. They were all 21 at the time. Spieth was in his third year on tour. Thomas and Berger were PGA Tour rookies. Schniederjans was still at Georgia Tech, playing that week on an exemption.

They started calling out their birthdays to get in the right order. The youngest of the bunch?


This was one week after he cleared $9 million in career earnings.

Unlike the PGA Tour's clandestine policy of discipline, the European Tour will confirm when a player has been fined, even though it might not disclose the amount.

That much was evident when word surfaced at Doral that Rory McIlroy had hurled a 3-iron into the lake to the left of the eighth fairway in the Cadillac Championship. McIlroy is a member of both tours.

A few British journalists inquired about a fine, leading to a radio exchange between two European Tour officials working the event.

''Is throwing a club a fine?'' came the query.

European Tour chief referee Andy McFee, sitting in a cart near the 11th hole, replied that it depended on the circumstances. A player who tossed his club in the direction of his golf bag, for example, might not be disciplined.

Long pause.

''In that case,'' the other official said, ''it appears his bag would have to be at the bottom of the lake.''

Not long after Augusta National Golf Club opened, co-founder Clifford Roberts wanted members to wear their green jackets during the tournament so that they would be easily recognized as reliable sources of information for the patrons.

It's a tradition that still lives today.

During the tournament, Augusta National member Geoff Yang (also working as a rules official) was in a cart to the right of the ninth fairway in his green jacket. About that time, a man approached and politely said to Yang, ''Can I ask you a question?''

Certainly, Yang replied.

''Do you have the time?''

OK, maybe this wasn't what Roberts had in mind.

Spieth and Justin Leonard were on the putting green at the Memorial when Leonard mentioned he didn't play the Byron Nelson Championship this year for the first time. This was a big deal. Leonard, among the prominent players to come out of Dallas, has never fared well at his hometown event.

Spieth was surprised and asked Leonard if he caught any grief.

''No. Because you played,'' Leonard told the Masters champion. ''So thank you. I owe you dinner.''

Spieth smiled, slowly nodded and went back to work on his putting. Moments later, two representatives from a PGA Tour event approached Spieth to introduce themselves. Spieth stopped what he was doing to shake their hands, and the two men felt comfortable enough to keep talking. A few seconds turned into a few minutes.

Leonard, in his 22nd year on tour, saw what was going on and walked over Spieth.

''Hey, Jordan, I need to tell you something,'' he said, placing his hand on Spieth's shoulder.

The two representatives recognized the private moment, thanked Spieth for his time, said goodbye and walked away.

Leonard looked right at Spieth and said in a low voice, ''You're welcome. And now we're even.''

Anirban Lahiri showed class and grace at the Presidents Cup, where he patiently took every question on a 3-foot putt he missed that cost his team a chance to win.

He is capable of frustration, too, and he showed that at the Hero World Challenge when he said, ''If my mom had putted, she would have shot 65.'' The next day, he felt terrible about what he said (after making it clear that his mother doesn't play golf) without making excuses.

''That's probably the most embarrassing thing I've said in the media in my life,'' he said. ''I pride myself in how I carry myself and what I say, and that's nothing like I would like to come across as. Having said that, what's said is said.''

How he presents himself was clear at ''India Night,'' a party Hero Motor Corp. hosted at Albany. Lahiri dressed for the occasion - a red kurta and jobhburis, which are sandals he said can be found only in the northwest region of India.

''I have to thank my wife for that. She made sure I put it in my suitcase,'' he said. ''Hero is very much part of the family, and it was important for me to represent.''

He gets to represent the PGA Tour next year, and it should be happy to have him.

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1