Woods returns to Augusta as just another player

By Doug FergusonApril 2, 2011, 9:17 pm

Tiger Woods at the Masters is every bit the mystery he was a year ago.

No one knew what to expect when Woods showed up at Augusta National last year without having played in five months, more vulnerable than invincible from the public humiliation of a sex scandal.

No one is quite sure what to expect from him now.

His wife divorced him. He changed coaches and decided, at age 35, to rebuild his golf swing for the fourth time.

He lost his No. 1 ranking to Lee Westwood, then Martin Kaymer. When he goes to this year’s Masters, which starts Thursday, it will be the first time since 1997 that Woods is outside the top five in the world ranking. Off the golf course, he has not replaced any of the corporate sponsors that left him.

And most glaring of all, Woods is not winning.

Not even close.

“It’s strange,” Stewart Cink said. “We got so used to seeing him win.”

He tied for fourth last year at Augusta, remarkable by any standard but his own. It raised false hopes that he could put his game back together quickly and resume his pursuit of history. But with each tournament, he resembles the guys he once routinely beat.

In 69 rounds since the Masters, Woods has broken par only 31 times. In 14 out of 18 tournaments, he has finished at least seven shots out of the lead. In the 18 tournaments before his downfall, that happened only three times.

At Firestone, where Woods had won seven times and had never finished out of the top five, he shot the highest 72-hole score of his career (298) and finished 30 shots behind the winner. In his first start this year at Torrey Pines, where his seven victories include the U.S. Open on a shattered leg, he finished 15 shots out of the lead.

That gap between his 14 majors and the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus now looks like a gulf.

“I’m surprised that he has not bounced back by now,” Nicklaus said. “He’s got such a great work ethic. He’s so determined to do what he wants to do. I’m very surprised that he has not popped back. I still think he’ll break my record. We’ll see. You probably can ask me that same question at the end of this year and we’ll see what the answer is. My guess is as good as yours.”

That’s about all anyone can do when it comes to Woods – guess.

The divorce in August provided for shared parenting. Woods is about to move into a new home he is building in south Florida, not far from where his ex-wife will live. There have been tales of his 2-year-old son, Charlie, already swinging away with a golf club and wandering onto the range to watch Dad at work.

Woods keeps these details to himself, along with when and where he spends time with the toddler and big sister Sam, who turns 4 in June. Asked at Doral why he wasn’t playing more tournaments to get his game into shape, his blunt reply surprised even his handlers:

“Because I have a family. I’m divorced,” Woods said, staring at the reporter without a trace of emotion. “If you’ve been divorced with kids, then you would understand.”

Rumors and gossip continue to dog him – Who is he dating? When is he moving? Is he selling his boat? And it probably won’t abate. Woods entered the celebrity realm with the scandal, and remains firmly planted there, fodder for tabloids.

The question of far greater substance is his health, and Woods has been coy about addressing it.

His agent confirmed in December that Woods had a cortisone shot in his right ankle to relieve lingering soreness. Woods surprised the media at the Masters last year when he revealed he injured his right Achilles’ tendon while recovering from knee surgery.

Woods ended last season with his best golf until Graeme McDowell beat him on the final day. He played so well that even his caddie said, “The tide is turning.” But it hasn’t. He looked ordinary two months later for the start of the 2011 season.

There was a time when few dared to criticize Woods. Not anymore.

Masters chairman Billy Payne wagged his finger at Woods last year – “It is simply not the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here. It is the fact that he disappointed all of us,” Payne said. And 21-year-old Rory McIlroy wrote in an essay for Sports Illustrated magazine: “I’m not sure we are going to see him dominate again the way he did.”

Woods used to answer such critics with the kind of golf that left no doubt who was the best in the game. Now, he talks about “the process” of getting better and how this swing change is the most comprehensive one yet.

“It’s finally starting to come around,” he said last week at Bay Hill.

It was his final tournament before the Masters. He tied for 24th.

Woods, of course, is only part of the picture at the 75th Masters.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson had high hopes when he left town in a green jacket, wearing it in the drive-thru lane of a doughnut shop with his kids. His wife, diagnosed with breast cancer 11 months earlier, was there to greet him on the 18th green in one of the more emotional moments on a golf course where there have been many.

For the next six months, Mickelson had more than a dozen chances to become No. 1 in the world for the first time. Then came another health setback – his own – when he discovered he had psoriatic arthritis. He didn’t win the rest of the year. He has contended only once this year. Ever the optimist, Mickelson believes that will change when he drives down Magnolia Lane.

“I feel like the year kind of starts now,” he said.

Westwood, the runner-up by three shots a year ago, has taken over the label as the best player without a major, and there’s no argument. Not only was he No. 1 in the world for 17 weeks, he has finished among the top three in all but one of his last five majors.

Even so, the 37-year-old Englishman has only four wins around the world during that stretch.

He is off to a slow start this year, and he has company.

Jim Furyk, whose three wins last year allowed him to capture the FedEx Cup and PGA Tour player of year honors, has barely made a peep the opening three months of the season. Ditto for Ernie Els, who craves a green jacket the way Greg Norman did before him.

Looking for a favorite?

The road to the Masters hasn’t offered many clues.

Seven of the 12 winners on the PGA Tour this year who will be at Augusta were outside the top 100 in the world when they won, a list that ranges from D.A. Points to Gary Woodland to Mark Wilson. All will be making their Masters debut.

“It’s an open Masters,” three-time major winner Padraig Harrington told RTE Radio in Ireland. “The best players in the world at the moment have not won majors, and guys who have won majors are not in the best form in their lives. I’m not sure if the new guard is coming through at the Masters, or the old guard is taking control again. It’s a great Masters for the public to watch.”

The Masters has the smallest field of any major – at least 99, the most since 1966 – and with so many subtleties on the greens, the same cast of characters seem to contend each year. Perhaps it’s little wonder that Woods and Mickelson have won six of the last 10, similar to generations ago when Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were swapping green jackets.

Now, however, it appears to be anyone’s game – especially with so much uncertainty surrounding Woods.

Woods at least would figure to have a better chance than a year ago.

No, he hasn’t shown he is close to winning, but at least he’s playing. His caddie, Steve Williams, said Woods is so comfortable and experienced at Augusta that he played last year in large part on memory, recalling what kind of swing was required and hitting it.

Woods closed with a 66 at Doral for his only top 10 this year. He played a good round in tough conditions at Bay Hill until finishing with a double bogey. He says he is making progress. He has proved his skeptics wrong before.

“This year, it’s nice to have some tournaments under my belt,” he said. “Last year I went into it just like I did the ’08 U.S. Open. I didn’t really practice before the ’08 U.S. Open because my leg was broken. Just go out there, show up and play. Those two venues, I knew the golf course and that helps a lot.”

“It’s nice to be actually in more tournament shape going in.”

How will that translate? Who knows?

Having gone nearly 17 months without winning, Woods no longer appears to be as imposing as he once was. The intimidation factor is gone. The guy in a red shirt on Sunday is teeing off too early for any of the players to notice.

About the only thing in his favor is the tournament itself.

“There are certain golf courses where … I feel pretty good and comfortable, no matter how my form is going into it,” Woods said. “And Augusta is one of them.”

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Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.

Amen.

The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.



Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”