Woods has successful back surgery, to miss Masters

By Doug FergusonApril 1, 2014, 8:41 pm

Tiger Woods chose surgery to heal his ailing back over a quest for another green jacket, announcing Tuesday that he will miss the Masters for the first time in his career.

Woods said on his website that he had surgery Monday in Utah for a pinched nerve that had been hurting him for several months, knowing the surgery would keep him from Augusta National next week for the first time since he was a senior in high school.

The No. 1 player in the world is a four-time Masters champion.

''After attempting to get ready for the Masters, and failing to make the necessary progress, I decided in consultation with my doctors to have this procedure done, Woods said. ''I'd like to express my disappointment to the Augusta National membership, staff, volunteers and patrons that I will not be at the Masters.

''It's a week that's very special to me,'' he said. ''It also looks like I'll be forced to miss several upcoming tournaments to focus on my rehabilitation and getting healthy.''

The Masters gets the highest television ratings of any golf tournament, and Woods commands most of the attention, even though he last won a green jacket in 2005. He won his first Masters in 1997 when he set 20 records, from youngest Masters champion at 21 to his 12-shot margin of victory.

''I know Tiger has been working very hard to return to form, and as I have said many times, Tiger has a lot of years of good golf ahead of him,'' Jack Nicklaus said. ''I hate to see him robbed of some of that time by injury. But we all know he is doing what is in the best interest of his health and future. I wish him well on a speedy recovery.''

Nicklaus played 154 straight majors for which he was eligible until he missed the 1998 British Open because of an ailing left hip that he had replaced a year later. Nicklaus rarely had injury problems in compiling 18 professional majors, the record that Woods wants. Woods has been stuck on 14 majors for six years.

Woods has had four surgeries on his left knee, and now his biggest concern is his back.

He has been coping with back issues since last summer: a twinge in the final round of the PGA Championship and spasms in the final round of The Barclays that caused him to fall to his knees. Then, they returned with alarming regularity recently in Florida.

He withdrew after 13 holes in the final round of the Honda Classic with what he described as lower back pain and spasms. Woods shot the highest final round of his career at Doral a week later when he said his back flared up again in the final round. He skipped the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he was the two-time defending champion, to rest his back and do everything possible to be at Augusta National next week.

''Tiger was gracious in keeping us updated of his condition and making us aware of his decision,'' Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said. ''We wholeheartedly offered our best wishes for his immediate and long-term recovery.''

Woods said he had a microdiscectomy for the pinched nerve, performed by neurosurgeon Charles Rich.

A microdiscectomy is a type of minimally invasive spine surgery to relieve pressure and pain caused by a herniated disc. Operating through a small incision in the lower back, surgeons remove small disc fragments that are pressing against spinal nerves.

Recovery can take several weeks and doctors typically advise against bending and twisting the back until patients are completely healed

''This is frustrating,'' Woods said. ''But it's something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health.''

His website said repeating the motion of a golf swing can cause problems with a pinched nerve, and that the injury could have become worse if he had continued to play. Woods said he hopes to return to golf this summer, though he could not say when. It's possible he could at least start chipping and putting in three weeks.

He will have to wait until the U.S. Open – maybe longer – to resume his quest to match Nicklaus in the majors. Woods won his 14th major at the 2008 U.S. Open on a badly injured left leg that required season-ending surgery two days after his playoff win at Torrey Pines.

He has not won another major since then.

This would have been the 20th straight Masters for Woods, dating to 1995 when he tied for 41st as the U.S. Amateur champion. He missed the British Open and PGA Championship in 2008 after knee surgery, and the U.S. Open and British Open in 2011 to heal more injuries in his left leg.

But he never missed the Masters, even after the scandal in his personal life at the end of 2009. Woods had been out of golf for nearly five months dealing with a car crash into a fire hydrant, revelations of multiple extramarital affairs and 45 days in a Mississippi clinic when he returned to Augusta National under intense scrutiny. He tied for fourth.

Even though he hasn't won the Masters in nine years, he had only finished out of the top 10 one time, in 2012.

Woods has 79 career wins on the PGA Tour, three short of the record held by Sam Snead. He already was off to the worst start of his career.

''It's tough right now, but I'm absolutely optimistic about the future,'' Woods said. ''There are a couple (of) records by two outstanding individuals and players that I hope one day to break. As I've said many times, Sam and Jack reached their milestones over an entire career. I plan to have a lot of years left in mine.''

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.