Tiger a part of every conversation, but not for his golf

By Doug FergusonMarch 11, 2014, 11:45 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – One lesson Jack Nicklaus imparted on Tiger Woods a decade ago in South Africa was to always be part of the conversation.

They were talking that day about rivalries.

The problem now for Woods is it's hard to have any conversation about him without mentioning his health. The biggest rival for Woods at age 38 might be a body that by his own account appears to be breaking down.

Woods was a big part of the conversation in back-to-back weeks on the Florida swing, and it had little to do with this golf.

He withdrew from the Honda Classic after 13 holes in the final round with lower back pain and what he said were spasms. He showed up three days later at Doral to walk a practice round on the new Blue Monster with wedges and a putter. He shot 73 in the wind on Friday (a very good score), and he shot 66 on Saturday (a great score) to get within three shots of the lead. And then his back flared up and he had the worst Sunday score (78) of his professional career.

His year is starting to sound like one big soap opera.

Was he working out too much in the offseason? Was he playing too little? Should he have played Doral? Will he be at Bay Hill next week? Just how bad is his back? Is rest and treatment enough? What kind of shape will he be in when he gets to Augusta National?

And the question that has yet to be asked - should he even play the Masters?

No other player from his generation has spoken more to the media than Woods.

Few have given up so little.

Part of that - most of that - is his desire to keep what he considers private matters just that. And that includes his health.

Consider a sampling of Woods' injuries in recent years.

-At The Barclays in 2012, he said he felt a twinge in his lower back the morning of the second round and showed great discomfort around Bethpage Black. ''Must have slept funny on it. Soft beds at the hotel,'' he said.

-The next year at the same tournament, he played only nine holes of the pro-am at Liberty National, and then chipped and putted on the back nine. ''My neck and back are a little stiff ... after a soft bed,'' he said. ''And just one of those things, sleeping in hotels and I didn't want to push it.''

By the end of the week, he dropped to his knees after one shot on the back nine from what he said were back spasms. Woods said it was unrelated to the tightness he felt in his back two weeks earlier in the final round of the PGA Championship. He showed up at Boston the next week, thankful for the Friday start of the Deutsche Bank Championship.

-He played with a left elbow injury in the U.S. Open last summer at Merion. He said he injured it ''playing golf'' at The Players Championship during ''one of the rounds,'' and that he would still play even if it were not the U.S. Open. But he wound up missing the AT&T National two weeks later to rest up for the British Open.

-He stopped after his tee shot on the 12th hole of the final round at Doral in 2012 with what he said was tightness in his left Achilles' tendon. ''In the past, I may have tried to continue to play. But this time, I decided to do what I thought was necessary,'' he said. Woods won his next tournament two weeks later at Bay Hill.

It's painfully clear (no pun intended) that Woods does not want to divulge details when talking about injuries.

Asked Sunday at Doral if it could be something more than back spasms, Woods replied: ''Well, it is back spasms, so we've done all the protocols and it's just a matter of keeping everything aligned so I don't go into that.'' That was followed by a simple question: Have you had an MRI?

''As I've said, we've done all the protocols,'' he replied.

At times, it can be hard to ignore one part of Hank Haney's book, ''The Big Miss,'' when talking about Woods' fascination with injuries. Haney, his coach for six years, said Woods could have worsened the condition of his knee with heavy workouts and Navy SEAL activities.

''But Tiger preferred that people see his injuries related to his sport, so that he could wear them as an athletic badge of honor,'' Haney wrote. ''To him, injuries were a way of being accepted into the fraternity of superstars who played more physical sports than golf. For example, a couple of times when I knew he'd just gotten off the phone with Derek Jeter, I'd asked what they had talked about. Both times Tiger said the conversation was about injuries they were each dealing with.''

Tiger said plenty last Wednesday when he said of his most recent injury, ''A bad back is no joke.''

It's easy to connect dots with scores and injuries, especially when the bad back on the last two Sundays followed rounds of 65 and 66. But that would be ignoring the 2008 U.S. Open he won in 91 holes on a left leg so badly damaged that it required season-ending surgery two days later.

Even with eight wins over the last two years, his future remains muddled by recurring injuries. How bad are they? Does he need to take more time off? Can he afford to take more time off? How much longer will be stuck on 14 majors? Will he ever break the record 18 majors won by Nicklaus?

Woods is not playing this week. Consider it a commercial break.

Getty Images

Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

Getty Images

Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

Getty Images

Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

Getty Images

Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."