Golf World Has Finally Caught Up
Tiger winning the U.S. Open by 15 at the U.S. Open Tiger coming from seven down with seven to go and still winning at Pebble Beach Tiger winning four times in succession at Bay Hill, three times in succession at Memorial and WGC-NEC Tiger hitting the impossible shot from the bunker, over the lake and onto the green to win the Bell Canadian. You undoubtedly have your own memories of the man, the shots, and the victories, 41 on the PGA Tour alone.
Those days are not over, of course. But it seems extremely unlikely that Tiger Woods will ever be in the winners circle nine times in one year, such as he was in 2000. Phil Mickelson made that point loud and clear last week at the AT&T, and he didnt have to say a word. It was just one more explanation point, screaming that Tiger could again reach that lofty level of play and still not approach that victory total.
Im not going to be so foolish as to say he cant win nine times anymore. We all tried that, and he made us into so many liars. People who know golf are skittish about making Tiger predictions. But as he gets ready to tee it up at Riviera this week, Ill just say it like this ' it seems impossible. Notice I said, it seems. Not, it is. But it seems impossible.
It is totally believable that the nine-win season can be pulled off again ' after all, didnt Vijay do it just last year? But Woods only play 18-19 times a year. In 2000 when he won nine, he played only 20. Singh played 28 last year, and that is only a little above average for the PGA Tour. But its a stone-cold fact ' you cant win if you dont enter, and Singh entered eight more times than Woods did in 2000. Its extremely difficult to win nine, but the mathematics of it being done when you play 28 are so much better than when you only enter 20 ' or 18, as Woods did last year. And you can double that when you look at the schedule Woods has chosen to play.
But that is only part of the reason. The other part is - there are so many more excellent golfers out there than there were in 2000.
Right now all the buzz is about Mickelson. Mickelson won the last two weeks ' didnt just win, but totally dominated. The fields at both werent great fields, but neither was exactly cream cheese, either ' Tiger has played at both before. Mickelson won Phoenix by five shots and Pebble Beach by four, shooting a 60 at the FBR and a 62 at Pebble. Unless somebody can stop this runaway train, hes going to win a few more this year. And the wins might very well come at some Tiger tournaments.
The point here isnt to criticize Tiger. The point is to simply inject some reality into some peoples thinking. Tiger may be every bit as good as he was three or four years ago, and still not light it up like he regularly did. The competition has just gotten so much better.
Theres a very real possibility that neither one will be the top player in golf at years end. Remember, if you will, the end of last season remember when everyone was talking about Vijay Singh? Oh yeah ' him. He only won the Sony Championship this year against a pretty decent field. He missed the cut at Pebble, but that likely was an aberration. Singh is still a very good player.
Youve got to save room for a couple of Mike Weir wins this year. Weir was second in the AT&T, and now comes the Nissan, where he has an excellent record, winning the last two.
We havent even mentioned a fella named Ernie Els. We havent even mentioned a fella named Reteif Goosen. And we havent mentioned the two IIIs - Davis Love, who looks like he may have it back again after a finish of T9 last week, or Charles Howell, who has a couple of top threes and, last week, a T11.
Theres the Irishman, Darren Clarke, and his two Brit buds, Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie. Theyre going to be around in the States through the Masters, playing regularly on the PGA Tour, giving Woods competition. Stuart Appleby won against the best the PGA Tour has to offer in the Mercedes, then went down south to play in his native Australia for a month.
The sum of it all? Tiger could be a better player this year, better than hes been since 2000, and still not beat the victory drum as often. Mickelson, Singh, et al are going to have to be accommodated in the win department. And it doesnt look like anyone is going to win eight or nine times, especially one who plays only the most difficult tournaments such as Woods does.
I still wonder what would have happened if Woods hadnt had the knee problem that he finally had surgically repaired at the end of 2002. I wonder what would have happened had he not felt the necessity of fixing the swing the last couple of years. I wonder what heights he might have already scaled had not he and swing coach Butch Harmon had their differences since 2002. And I wonder what effect his fathers health problems had on Tiger last year.
Would he have won three or four more tournaments? Five? Seven?
Maybe so. But I suspect that the rest of the tour would have found some way to narrow the gap. Look at Singh, look at Mickelson, look at Els. Tiger has a whole lot of competition now. Time was when he used to enter every tournament as the overwhelming favorite. Now hes just one of four or five people you expect will do well.
The reason? Others have pulled themselves up. And this isnt even touching on the tremendous advances in equipment, which has made such a difference in so many players.
No, it is practically impossible to get that kind of separation among players any longer. Even Tiger Woods knows the kind of dominance he enjoyed in 1999 and 2000 is probably ended. The world is simply too full of world-class golfers.
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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field
Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.
Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.
Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.
After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth.
Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.
Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.
“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”
After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).
Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129.
The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.
Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder
LA QUINTA, Calif. –
Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.
Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.
''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''
Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.
''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''
Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.
Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.
''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''
Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.
''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''
The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.
''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''
Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.
''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.
The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.
''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.
He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.
Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.
''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''
Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.
''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''
Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.
Mickelson 'displeased' with iron play; 10 back
All of Phil Mickelson’s offseason work on his driver has paid off through two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
His iron play? Not as sharp, and it’s the reason why he heads into the weekend 10 shots off the lead.
“I’ve been pretty pleased, overall, with the way I’ve been driving the ball, and very displeased with the way my iron game has been,” said Mickelson, who shot 68 Friday on PGA West’s Nicklaus course. He has hit only 21 of 36 greens so far this week. “Usually my iron play is a lot better than what it’s been. So I’ll go work on it and hopefully improve each round in this tournament and build a solid foundation for the upcoming West Coast events.
“I feel like if I continue to drive the ball the way I am, and if I got my iron play back to my normal standard, I should have the results that I’ve been expecting.”
Mickelson, of course, is always bullish this time of year, but he has been able to find 10 of 14 fairways each of the past two rounds, including at narrower La Quinta Country Club, which doesn’t always fit his eye.
“This is actually the best I’ve driven it in a lot of years,” he said.
Currently in a tie for 67th, Mickelson will need a solid round on the more difficult Stadium course Saturday to ensure that he makes the 54-hole cut. He hasn’t missed a cut in his first West Coast event of the new year since 2009.