Arnie Timeless Ageless In This Age
If there ever were a 'Mr. Golf,' this is it. He plays strictly because he loves it. Oh, how he loves it. He's 71 and he's still playing three tournaments a year on the regular tour - the Bob Hope, Bay Hill, the Masters - and five or six on the Senior Tour. At an age when everyone else has put it to bed, he continues to get out and knock it around.
He does it because he wants to. No other person who hit the little white ball for a living has such a love for driving it down the fairway and hitting it up on the green.
Arnold did it last week at the Hope, and in the interview room somebody mentioned that not since Snead 22 years ago had anybody shot their age. 'I wondered why in the hell you wanted me in here. I couldn't figure it out,' he snorted in mock indignation.
'But you know, it's fun,' he said. 'That's why I'm still playing. I enjoy the competition. I enjoy the feeling I get when I'm out there.
'You know, you get nervous, and want to play well. Of course, I'm not fortunate enough to do that as much as I would like. But I don't give up, and I don't think that I will give up. As long as I can compete and be a part of the game, I'm going to try to be. If I'm making some contributions to it, that's my goal.'
Yeah, he's making contributions. He's making lots of them, still, at age 71. He realizes he has to be careful about where he plays on the regular tour now. Even though it would be immensely popular if he were to tee it up more often on the regular tour - and he could readily get a sponsor's exemption for any one of them - he has to be mindful that he is taking up a slot which could be spent on a young player. The only tournament he does this at is the Bob Hope. Bay Hill and the Masters are invitationals and not locked in to a certain number of entrants.
Rounds such as this one, when he shot 71 at age 71, make him consider ever so briefly changing the schedule. 'I'd have to play a lot more good rounds,' he explains, and you have to appreciate his sincerity because you know how badly he wants to be out there.
'But once you feel like you're making some progress, that could change my opinion and maybe have me play a few more events. But as I say, it's going to have to be more consistent that it has been. You know, I started with 81, and then I shot 79, and then I shot 75, and then I shot 71.
'If I could have shot 71 and gone down the same way, I would be sure to play a few more events.'
Of course, the Hope is relatively easy. I say 'relatively,' because there is no way most of us could shoot 71 on those courses, and I don't mean when we are 71. Most of us couldn't shoot 71 if we just played 15 holes and toted them up. But the winner, Joe Durant, shot 36-under for five days of play. The point is, if Arnold was going to do it, this is the place. The pins were relatively accessible for Arnie and partner Troy Aikman, the better to get the amateurs around. The courses were in immaculate condition - 'Goodness, you could eat your lunch on anything out there,' said Palmer. And they were fairly short.
But even when it's a day for the 81s to come creeping in, he still has a wonderful time. He has grudgingly made his peace with it. He can look in the mirror and realize, difficult as it is, that it is going to happen some days out here.
And when it does, he can roll with the punch. He knows he isn't here to win. He's here to play fairly decent golf and to have a good time. An 81 isn't any fun, even at age 71 when most of the world would die for such a score, but it's so much fun just being Arnold Palmer on days like that.
'Rather than aggravate myself with the game, I talked to all my friends,' he said.
'All his friends,' incidentally, is anybody who has ever played golf. His list of friends isn't too exclusive. Eighteen tees, 18 flags and three other Joes to keep him company is all Mr. Golf needs to have a nice day.
Read more of what Arnie had to say after shooting his age!
TT postscript: Tiger (E) survives difficult day
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Here are some observations after watching Tiger Woods’ even-par 70 in the first round of the Honda Classic:
• Whew, that was tough. Like, by far the most difficult conditions Woods has faced this year. The wind blew about 20 mph all day, from different directions, and that affected every part of the game, especially putting.
• And though the stats aren’t necessarily pretty – half the fairways hit, just 10 greens – this was BY FAR his best ball-striking round of the new year. He even said so himself. When he walked off the course, he was just four off the lead.
• Woods had only one bad hole Thursday. It came on the par-5 third hole, his 12th of the day. He blew his driver into the right bunker. He had to lay way back, to clear the lip of the bunker. And then he tugged his third shot just barely in the greenside trap. And then his bunker shot didn’t get onto the green. Then he chipped on and missed a 4-footer. A truly ugly double bogey.
• The driver is still a concern – he found the fairway only once in five attempts. But only one of those misses was way off-line. That came on the 12th, when he double-crossed one way left.
• Though the driver is uncooperative, he has showed a lot of improvement with his 3-wood. The four times he used it, he controlled the ball flight beautifully and hit it 300-plus. His 2-iron is making a comeback, too, in a big way.
• After this round, he should have a little wiggle room Friday to make the cut, barring a blowup round. It’s playing tough, and the 36-hole cut should be over par. Tiger needs four rounds of competitive reps. If he plays like this Friday, he’ll get them.
Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic
Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
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Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar
DOHA, Qatar – Eddie Pepperell, Gregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.
Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.
One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.
Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.
Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.
Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.
He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.
''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.
''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.
''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.
''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”
Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.
''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.
''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''
Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.
Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats
The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.
How to watch:
Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET
Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET
Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)
Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)
Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.
Notables in the field:
• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.
• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.
• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.
• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.
• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.
• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green.
• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.
• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.
• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).