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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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders
PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.
She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.
Her confidence is high.
“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”
Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.
Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.
“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”
Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.
“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”
Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.
“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”
That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.
Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead
PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.
While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.
But then . . .
“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”
In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.
She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.
With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.
At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).
Park’s back with a hot putter.
That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.
“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.
“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.
Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.
“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.
Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.
Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.
They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.
Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.
“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.
“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”
Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.
“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”
Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.
“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”
Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers
PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.
It came on St. Patrick’s Day.
“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”
Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).
One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.
“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.
Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year. Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.
Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF
PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”
She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.
That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.
With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.
Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.
Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.
Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?
“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”
Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.
“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”
Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.
“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”
About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.
“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.
Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.
While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.
Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.
“You never know,” she said.