Woods leaves Aussies eager for his return

By Doug FergusonNovember 18, 2009, 12:23 am
MELBOURNE, Australia – Still wearing his gold jacket from winning the Australian Masters, with his car waiting to take him to the airport, Tiger Woods had one more stop to make at Kingston Heath.

He stood atop a bench and looked out at some 250 volunteers who had gathered outside the tournament office to see him one last time. Woods thanked them for their support, saying his week would not have been as special without them.

In true Aussie fashion, one bloke wasn’t interested in a speech.

“What about those errant shots?” he interrupted as his fellow volunteers laughed along.

“You’re supposed to kick those back into the fairway,” Woods replied. “Make sure you learn that next time I’m here.”

That left everyone – volunteers in the parking lot, more than 100,000 fans who passed through the gates, tournament officials and anyone who caught a glimpse of the world’s No. 1 player – with a couple of nagging questions.

When exactly does Woods come back?

“I would love to,” he said on three occasions, without saying whether he would return to defend his title.

The only time Woods didn’t defend a title on the PGA Tour, except for being injured, was when the old BellSouth Classic changed its dates in 1999 to one week before the Masters. Woods never plays that week. International events, with their appearance money, are different. Woods twice did not return to defend a title, after the 1997 Asian Honda Classic and the 2000 Johnnie Walker Classic.

He received a $3 million appearance fee to play in Australia, half of that paid by the state government.

“I don’t think he’s expected to come back,” Ian Baker-Finch said. “But it would be great if he did to defend.”

The bigger question: What happens to golf in Australia when he doesn’t return?

For a country that produces more PGA Tour players than any other outside the United States, golf Down Under has been lagging over the last decade with a drop in sponsorship and interest. Not since Greg Norman was No. 1 in the world has there been the kind of buzz that took Kingston Heath hostage for a week.

“We had a massive spike,” said David Rollo, who runs tournament operations for IMG in Australia. “If we don’t have something that’s not 80 percent of this, we’ll have lost an opportunity.”

The appeal of Woods was alarming.

Yes, he attracts large crowds wherever he goes. The fans in China were the largest ever for when Woods played the HSBC Champions the previous week in Shanghai. Woods now has won in 13 countries, and he has captured a trophy on every continent that plays golf. Even so, Melbourne is one of the world’s great sporting cities, used to seeing some of the biggest stars in cricket, rugby, tennis, swimming.

Woods captivated them like few others.

A woman standing near the first green on Saturday looked down on a reporter who was inside the ropes. She wasn’t sure why he was there, only that he had an unobstructed view of Woods.

“This must be the greatest day of your life,” she said.

The walking scorer with Woods’ group on Sunday is a member at Kingston Heath who plays off a 1 handicap and has a career-best round of 69. She knows her golf. Yet as Woods was about to tee off in the final round, she looked at the teenager holding the scoreboard and said, “This is the holy grail in golf.”

Melbourne is the kind of place where sports fans don’t typically buy tickets in advance, rather they walk up to the gate on the day of the event. The PGA Tour found that out the hard way in 2001 for the Accenture Match Play Championship when the gallery was sparse until officials gave up on the weekly badges and went to daily tickets.

For the Australian Masters, tickets sold out the first week in October, and 35 percent of the sales were outside the state or country. That’s unheard of for this city.

“I think that because he’s the No. 1 athlete in the world, people appreciated the fact that he came,” said Baker-Finch, a former British Open champion who helped with TV coverage. “He’s held in high regard. Everyone built him up. It was a special week, not just for golf, but for Australia and sport. To me, he over-delivered.”

Rollo said when IMG decided to take over the Australian Masters, its goal was to attract top-ranked players outside of Australia. Victoria won the bidding war for Woods over New South Wales in Sydney, and it proved to be a boon. While the government paid half the appearance fee, it said the economic return in town was $20 million.

Not everyone was optimistic about Woods returning next year, especially since he is expected to be back in 2011 at Royal Melbourne for the Presidents Cup.

What happens in the meantime?

Woods’ appearance in the Quad City Classic as a 20-year-old in 1996 – he lost a 54-hole lead to Ed Fiori and tied for fifth – generated so much enthusiasm that the community rallied around its PGA Tour stop. Woods never returned, although what is now the John Deere Classic is attracting stronger fields than before, even in its spot on the calendar one week before the British Open.

Rollo said IMG is committed to bringing in three international players – in addition to the Australians – from the top 25 in the world. There was talk of making an offer to Phil Mickelson, along with a couple of other players who might move the needle.

“Hopefully, there were a lot of kids who were out there or watched on TV and said, ‘I want to be part of that,”’ Rollo said. “Hopefully, that will be Tiger’s legacy going forward.”

Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.