Woods remains noticeably absent from HSBC

By Doug FergusonOctober 29, 2013, 7:55 pm

SHANGHAI – Three years ago at Sheshan International, hundreds of fans wanting an autograph stood outside the clubhouse where Tiger Woods was signing his scorecard at the HSBC Champions. They excitedly began chanting in Chinese, ''We want Tiger! We want Tiger!''

Their hopes faded and the chanting stopped when they realized he had left, and then a lone voice pierced the late afternoon air with a wistful plea in broken English.

''Tiger, where are you?''

That question resonates even louder this year.

The HSBC Champions embarks on a new era as a World Golf Championship that finally is treated the same as the other three – an official PGA Tour event.

But there's one big difference. Woods is a no-show.

He has been a huge supporter – and financial benefactor – of the WGCs since they began in 1999 by playing in 41 of 44 events. The three he missed were the Match Play in Australia when it was held just after the holidays in 2001, and two in early 2010 when Woods was recovering from the scandal in his personal life.

That he is not playing in Shanghai after a year that featured five wins and two injuries is not the issue. Eight other top players are not playing, either. The golf season never ends. Players can and should take breaks when it best suits their schedules. Adam Scott also is missing, though he faces a month of celebration in Australia, his first time home since winning the Masters.

What makes Woods' absence so unsettling to tournament organizers is that he's already in China.

He was in Hainan Island on Monday for an exhibition match (and a reported $2 million fee) against Rory McIlroy. He has at least one more outing, maybe more, scheduled this week in Asia. Woods and McIlroy played in China last year and both skipped the HSBC at Mission Hills. Two years ago, Woods was in Australia for outings during the HSBC, regarded as ''Asia's major.''

''I do think that's something, from the Tour's point of view, that does need to be looked at,'' Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship and events for HSBC, said Tuesday. ''I'm not here to knock Tiger at all, because I feel that he's been absolutely instrumental in the growth. But we've reached a point where it's not about individuals. It's about growing the game of golf globally.

''I really hope that Tiger will want to come back in following years,'' he said. ''China is a vast country, so him playing a meaningless match yesterday doesn't really affect us. But yeah, we're disappointed.''

Morgan said he was told a few months ago by Woods' agent that this was not going to work with his schedule. After a week of corporate work, Woods is playing (for another big appearance fee) in the Turkish Open, a European Tour event.

Like other overseas events, HSBC once paid to get the best players. But now that it's a full-fledged WGC, big appearance fees have been replaced by an $8.5 million purse.

''What I can't do is pay him,'' Morgan said. ''And I feel enormously strong about that. This is a World Golf Championship. This is the flagship event of Asia. This is going to be the beacon to carry the game into this continent for many years to come. We could do the wrong thing by golf and drop the prize money right down and just pay one or two players huge fees. From a publicity standpoint, that would give us a certain amount of kudos because we'd get the top player in the world. And I'm absolutely not going down that route.

''We have an opportunity to be a genuine top-10 event in the world,'' he said. ''That requires a massive investment, which we're pleased to do. And that means we want to be an authentic sponsor in the world of golf.''

Morgan looked out across the range at Sheshan International at one of his strongest fields ever – 40 of the top 50 in the world, a group that includes McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and PGA champion Jason Dufner. There are nearly two dozen Americans in the field. He believes it will get even stronger as more players realize the economic potential of playing in China.

Woods was instrumental in getting the HSBC Champions launched. He was runner-up in 2005 and 2006, attracting huge crowds. He returned in 2009 when it was a WGC (though not official on the PGA Tour) and was upstaged by Mickelson in the final round. And the London-based financial company has been involved with Woods as a founding partner of the Tiger Woods Learning Center.

''He's genuinely a friend of the company,'' Morgan said.

Woods hasn't been back since 2010.

These outings could signal a change in his economic model, for Woods no longer has the blue-chip corporate support he enjoyed for so many years. Since his personal life crumbled after he was exposed for serial adultery at the end of 2009, he no longer has endorsement deals with Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade, Gillette and Tag Heuer.

EA Sports is the most recent corporate relationship to end, after 15 years.

Woods signed a deal with Rolex in October 2011, and five weeks later announced a deal with Florida-based Fuse Science to display its logo on his bag. For the last two years, however, he hasn't added another sponsor. What remains unknown is whether companies aren't interested or the price tag is too high.

Meanwhile, HSBC staged a photo call Tuesday afternoon in the riverfront Bund district to celebrate the start of the tournament. It wasn't long ago that Woods and Mickelson shared the stage by playing Chinese checkers. This time, defending champion Ian Poulter was joined by Mickelson, McIlroy, Dufner and Rose. They dressed in ceremonial cloaks with traditional weapons and performed with the Shanghai Jingju Company on a rooftop overlooking the Bund.

The theme was ''returning heroes.''

Just not all of them.

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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. 

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.