Woods closes chapter on California childhood

By Doug FergusonDecember 3, 2013, 6:34 pm

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Of all the memories from Tiger Woods' roots in Southern California, it's easy to overlook the time he made an appearance in the Tournament of Roses parade.

OK, so he wasn't the grand marshal. And he had just turned 18.

Woods, coming off his first U.S. Amateur title, rode on the Chiropractic Centennial Foundation float that required seven tons of flowers to build. He wasn't the only celebrity on the float on Jan. 2, 1995. Also riding were singer Lee Greenwood, Hall of Fame baseball player Joe Morgan and Olympic champion speedskater Cathy Turner.

The majestic float was toward the end of the order, trailed only by the Icelandic Horse Adventure Society and the International House of Pancakes.

For sure, there were far greater moments with a golf club in his hand.

Woods was only a toddler when he first went head-to-head with Sam Snead. It was only two holes, and Woods made bogey on both of them. Now, he is only four victories from breaking Snead's record for career PGA Tour victories.

Woods made his PGA Tour debut at Riviera in the 1992 Nissan Open when he was a 16-year-old junior in high school. He might have made the cut if not for a growth spurt during the week that made the shaft in his driver too short. More on that later.

He never won what he often referred to as his ''hometown event'' at Riviera. He made up for it by winning five times at Sherwood Country Club, and that doesn't include his win over David Duval at the illustrious ''Showdown at Sherwood'' in what amounted to Monday Night Golf.

Woods returns to Sherwood this week, in effect closing a chapter on golf in the area he always called home.

The Tiger Woods Learning Center, a superb complex that recently received a Golden Bell Award for excellence in education, remains his tie to Southern California. And the Tiger Woods Foundation headquarters will stay in Irvine.

But he stopped playing Riviera in 2006 after he narrowly made the cut. The only regular event in California that Woods still plays is in Torrey Pines, a two-hour drive from his hometown of Cypress in Orange County. The only time Los Angeles area golf fans could see him play was the World Challenge, a holiday event that attracts an 18-man field of players from the top 50 in the world.

This is the last year at Sherwood. Woods is moving the event to Isleworth, his old home in Central Florida. Then, it could be headed to the Bahamas.

When he won the Canadian Open in 2000 with that 6-iron out of a bunker and over the water, his late father, Earl, said that day, ''In every tournament, he'll hit shots that people will be talking about for 30 years.''

One thing is certain - Woods leaves a trail of stories behind. Here are five from his time in Southern California.

TIGER VS. SLAMMIN' SAMMY

Woods was just starting kindergarten when he was invited to join Snead at Calabassas Country Club just north of LA. They played two holes, starting with a par 3. Woods hit into a creek fronting the green, and Snead suggested he just pick it up and drop it.

''That kind of ticked me off, so I decided to play it out of the water,'' Woods once recalled. ''I knocked it on the green and two-putted for my 4.''

THE DEBUT

Woods missed his first seven cuts on the PGA Tour, starting with the 1992 Nissan Open in his debut at age 16. He opened with a 72 and was in reasonable shape to make the cut until what his father said was a growth spurt. Woods shot 75 the next day and headed back to high school.

''I was hitting the ball good the first few days of the week, but then I suddenly outgrew my club shaft,'' Woods said a year later.

His father said they didn't figure out what happened until the tournament was over.

''He was in a growth cycle, and those teenage muscles just grew overnight,'' Earl Woods said.

THE END OF RIVIERA

A beautiful afternoon off Sunset Boulevard turned nasty without warning, and Woods was on his back nine at Riviera without rain gear in 2006. He bogeyed two of his last three holes for a 74 to presumably miss the cut - until three more players dropped shots coming in and Woods made the cut on the number.

He was to be paired Saturday with J.B. Holmes, a big-hitting rookie who had just smashed his way to victory in Phoenix. The next morning, Woods was a no-show. He withdrew because of the flu, and he has not been back to Riviera since.

THE POWER MOVE

It was baking hot in August for the ''Showdown at Sherwood'' in 1999, a nationally televised exhibition against David Duval, who had returned to No. 1 in the world. Because it was not an official PGA Tour event, the caddies wore shorts.

A PGA Tour rules official ordered them to change into pants. Duval's caddie complied. Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, did not. The rules officials made it clear to Williams that if he did not change into trousers, it would be the last time he caddied on the PGA Tour.

Woods, listening to this conversation, interrupted by saying, ''Guess I'll be playing in Europe next year.''

Williams wore shorts. Woods won the match. And it wasn't long before shorts were approved for caddies on the PGA Tour.

THE WIN

Of the five wins at his World Challenge, none was more meaningful than in 2011. One shot behind with two to play, Woods birdied his last two holes to beat Zach Johnson. It was his first win since his personal life came crashing down, a span of 26 official tournaments over 749 days.

''If he steadily progresses, keeps getting confidence and moving forward,'' Jim Furyk said that day, ''he's going to return and be one of the best players in the game again.''

Woods won three times the following year, five times this year. For his swan song at Sherwood, he is No. 1 in the world.

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After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

“I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

“I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”