Slow start, but season still young for Woods

By Doug FergusonFebruary 25, 2014, 9:51 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Imagine being one-third of the way through the PGA Tour season and having a slight edge over Tiger Woods in the FedEx Cup.

''I would say, 'God, I'm playing well,''' said Joe Ogilvie.

Except that he's not.

But he does have a slight edge over Woods, who is hardly playing at all.

The points distribution system goes down to the very decimal. Ogilvie finished in a two-way for 74th at the Phoenix Open, but because one full point is awarded only to 70th place, he earned 0.91 points. Woods did not make the 54-hole cut at Torrey Pines and finished in a two-way tie for 80th, thus receiving 0.79 points.

So at least Ogilvie has that going for him.

''It is amazing that we're one-third of the way through the season,'' Ogilvie said. ''But he's playing the Honda Classic, so I know he's looking at the stats and saying, 'If I can just get ahead of Ogilvie, I should be OK for the rest of the year.'''

Woods has said he's having a hard time getting his head around the wraparound season that started in July. That should start to clear up this week at the Honda Classic, which the No. 1 player sees as the start to his season.


Honda Classic: Articles, videos and photos


The Florida swing is better known as the road to the Masters, and it's time for Woods to get into gear.

He's in good company, of course. Masters champion Adam Scott, who has played twice as much as Woods this season on the PGA Tour (that would be two tournaments) is holding steady at No. 101 in the FedEx Cup. He's three spots ahead of Rory McIlroy.

That's what prompted NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller to effectively dismiss the three wins this season by Jimmy Walker, the winners of the tournaments last fall (which include Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson), or even the 64-64 weekend by Bubba Watson when he won at Riviera.

''We've had a lot of good stories,'' Miller said. ''But I think now the guns are back and probably ready to do something in the next couple weeks. So I don't see players that maybe are the second-tier players ... I think the big boys are warmed up and ready to go.''

Some of them are, anyway.

Scott followed his amazing run Down Under with a pair of top 10s in Hawaii before taking a six-week break. McIlroy had chances to win at Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Woods is the mystery, though it's early, even if the PGA Tour's new schedule says otherwise.

He has played only four times since the Presidents Cup last October – the Turkish Airlines Open, his World Challenge against an 18-man field, Torrey Pines and Dubai. He missed the 54-hole cut at Torrey Pines with his worst score in America (79), and he tied for 41st in the Dubai Desert Classic.

Woods said he spent most of the offseason ''trying to get my body organized,'' and he said his game was slow to come around. But he's playing three of the next four weeks, including title defenses at Doral and Bay Hill.

Even with 14 tournaments already in the books, there is a sense the PGA Tour season is just started.

Besides, at this stage in his career, it's all about being ready for the majors for Woods.

He is not unlike Jack Nicklaus at age 38. Nicklaus played only five times before the Masters in 1978, and he played two events a month in the heart of the season (February through August). Then again, Nicklaus didn't have to worry about a FedEx Cup at the end of the year in which most players will be asked to compete seven times in nine weeks, all big tournaments. It would not be surprising for Woods to consider skipping a playoff event.

Woods rarely goes to a tournament without hearing some mention of being stuck on 14 majors - four short of the Nicklaus standard - since 2008. Expect to start hearing even more of that speculation with Augusta National around the corner.

Miller said last month that how Woods fared in the Masters would be a precursor to the rest of his year in the majors. During a conference call Monday, the two-time major champion made it sound as though the task were tougher than ever.

''Before it was like if he had his A-game, you could just kiss it off,'' Miller said. ''It wasn't going to happen. He was just so much better than everybody and so much better under pressure and so much better on Sundays and so much better in the majors. It was not a fair fight, as Roger Maltbie would say.''

That was Maltbie's famous line from the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach after Woods hit 7-iron out of the rough on the par-5 sixth hole to 15 feet. He won by 15 shots.

''Now, it's a fair fight, wouldn't you say?'' Miller said.

He asked that of Notah Begay, a close friend of Woods who also works as an analyst for NBC. Begay agreed, saying ''his game has come back down to Earth a little bit.''

''Prior to everything that's happened away from golf, if you were to pace your game according to Tiger Woods, you knew you were going to be around the top 10 and probably most likely near the lead,'' Begay said. ''And I don't think that's the case right now.''

That would be good news for those trying to challenge Woods – and bad news for Ogilvie.

''I just hope Tiger can pass me,'' Ogilvie said.

The sarcasm was heavy and the message was clear. No matter what the schedule says, it's early. Golf is just getting started.

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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.

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

“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 four 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. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."