Woods on 2013: 'Not a laundry list' of changes

By Doug FergusonDecember 4, 2012, 9:45 pm

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Ian Poulter finished his final round at the World Challenge and was chatting next to the clubhouse at Sherwood, when he stopped in the middle of a sentence and changed his tone to one of grave concern.

''What is Tiger doing in a buggy?'' he said.

His eyes were fixed on a large video board down the hill and across the 18th fairway that showed Tiger Woods being driven away from the green in the back of a golf cart. The scene was eerily reminiscent to the start of the season at Doral, when Woods withdrew in the middle of the final round because of swelling to his left Achilles tendon.

Moments later, Poulter realized this merely was the shuttle that took players to the 14th tee at the top of a steep hill.

Exhale.

''I was like, 'Hang on a minute.' I thought he might have slipped down a bank and done himself in,'' Poulter said.

All things considered, it was a reasonable rush to judgment.

Woods has endured some strange seasons during the last few years, and this would qualify as one of them.

Go back to that Sunday afternoon at Doral when Woods was taken off the course in a cart and the TV shot from a helicopter that showed him driving away in what might as well have been a white Bronco. It raised questions about whether he could ever be the dominant player he once had been.

And then he won his very next tournament at Bay Hill, his first PGA Tour title in more than two years.

Woods' mystique looked as if it might be returning when, at one tournament (Memorial), he faced an impossible shot and chipped in for birdie that carried him to victory. In another, he was on the ropes late in the final round until his challenger threw away a chance to beat him (Bo Van Pelt at the AT&T National).

Then there were the majors.

Woods had at least a share of the 36-hole lead in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Not only did he fail to win, he didn't even finish in the top 10.

For years, Woods said it could not be a great year without winning a major, and he still believes that. Throw in some extenuating circumstances, such as his physical health, and he considers 2012 to be a ''pretty good accomplishment.''

He won three times, which would have been considered a down year against his old standard.

So where is he now?

In about the same spot he was in this time a year ago, only for different reasons.

Going into 2012, what appeared to be holding him back from being the dominant player was his own game. Going into 2013, he doesn't look like the dominant player because of someone else – Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year Tuesday, presumably by the kind of margin that routinely once belonged to Woods. McIlroy won a tour-high four tournaments, including a major, the money list and the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average. That's a dominant year.

There have been 11 changes among four players at No. 1 in the world since Woods abandoned the spot toward the end of the 2010 season, and it has looked like a game of musical chairs. That's no longer the case. McIlroy found another gear in August, and he now has the largest margin in the ranking since the glory days of Woods.

The player Woods is trying to beat has that beautiful blend of balance and power, and he can putt. That's tough to beat. Plus, McIlroy is still only 23 and doesn't have four knee surgeries behind him.

Then again, there has never been another player like Woods in the modern game, so he can't be ruled out.

Jack Nicklaus set the standard with 18 majors, the record Woods is trying to catch. Not even Nicklaus won as prolifically as Woods at this stage in their careers, however, which is why it's foolish to write off Woods – not only in his pursuit of Nicklaus in the record book, but of McIlroy on the golf course.

Woods still points to his health, and he is quick to note that this was his first full season since 2009 (even that one didn't start until the Match Play in late February because he was coming off major knee surgery).

''I still feel I have some of my best golf to play, and in order to do that, I had to be healthy, and this year is headed in the right direction,'' Woods said. ''I'm very excited about next year. Rory is ranked No.1. He deserves it. He's won tournaments all around the world. He's had high finishes on top of that, and that's how you do it. ... He should be very proud of the season he's had, and I'm sure he's excited about what next year holds for him, as well.''

Woods finished his season with five straight finishes in the top 10, his longest streak since the spring of 2009, though he didn't win. He planned to put the golf clubs away until after Christmas, except for messing around with his son, Charlie.

The list of improvements is a lot shorter than it was at this time a year ago.

''It's not a laundry list like it was the last couple years,'' Woods said. ''I've already made the big changes. They're already in. It's the little tweaks here and there.''

But the question remains:

If Woods and McIlroy face each other down the stretch, where is your money? That used to be easy to answer no matter who was challenging Woods.

It's a question U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson wasn't willing to tackle.

''I'm not going to pick because obviously you've got the greatest player of all time versus the guy who's playing better than anybody in our sport,'' Simpson said. ''What Rory has done this year is remarkable. ... But again, to choose a player over Tiger would be tough given what he's done.''

Perhaps a clearer answer will be revealed in 2013. Woods and McIlroy both start the new season Jan. 17 in Abu Dhabi.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.