Nelson Says It - Woods the Greatest
Surprising, because Woods is only 26 years old, been a pro just five-plus seasons. Surprising, because Nelson has seen most of the great players of the 20th century ' Hagen, Sarazen, Jones, Snead, Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Trevino and Watson. Surprising, because some people would consider Nelson and his 11 straight wins in 1945 and his all-time string of 113 times in the money the greatest of all time.
I have seen Tiger play every year since he was 14, said Nelson. And Ive never seen a player at the age of Tiger ' when he was 14 or 16 or 20 or 22 or 26 ' who was as good as Tiger the age he was. Whether or not he is going to beat Nicklaus major record, I dont know and Im sure he doesnt know. But Ill tell you this ' hes working on it. He has a great desire to accomplish things, and I think hes doing a remarkable job of that.
Every era of players has been better than the last one. That doesnt mean that Nelson doesnt believe he couldnt play today ' I dont think Id go broke, he says. But a greater knowledge of golf, of basic anatomy, of the basics of kinetics, and of the increased size of todays players all play a part. And dont tell Byron its all in todays equipment, which Nelson concedes is a big improvement over the equipment he used. The players are simply better today, he says.
There isnt an era in history where the players who came later werent better than the players who came before, he says flatly. He cant see how anyone will be better than Tiger, but he concedes that the generation which follow might produce someone who might be.
Oldtimers will undoubtedly get their dander up when they read this, but Nelson says there isnt any question that Tiger is better than anyone in history. In fact, a man by the name of Davis Love III might be better than him.
I dont think theres been enough said about todays players having learned to hit the ball hard, he said. They hit the ball so much harder than we did. When I played, it was pretty widely acknowledged that a long hitter couldnt play golf. They couldnt chip and putt and hit the finesse shots. You try to tell that to the big hitters today.
I saw a story comparing my swing to Davis Loves. They discovered Davis backswing covered 17 more inches than mine did. That gives him more time to gather clubhead speed and hit the ball hard. Look at (Jeff) Sluman ' hes worked on his swing and hes picked up 18 yards. I realize the equipment has improved some, but it hasnt improved THAT much.
Actually, Nelson wasnt that far behind todays players. Woods finally broke his scoring record by just 0.13. But over the course of a year, Woods would come out on the plus side of anyone in history, Byron believes.
He does the best job (in history) of course management, of knowing what to do and in which circumstance, as anybody I ever saw, Nelson said. And there has never been enough said about his putting skills. He has days when he doesnt putt as well as others, of course. But he has gone 157 holes without three-putting a green at Augusta.
So that tells you theres a lot more involved than just the stroke. That means hes thinking. Hes reading the green right. If you arent reading the green right, you can have the greatest stroke in the world, but you are going to miss.
And another thing about Tiger ' he gets upset sometimes about a shot, but that is over with by the time he hits his next shot. You never see him thinking about the last shot when it comes time for him to play his next one.
The words were spoken from the mouth of one who has seen every great one, who is himself a great one - and yet there wasnt the slightest hesitation. Tiger Woods is the all time greatest.
McIlroy gets back on track
There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:
He is well ahead of schedule.
Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.
“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”
To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”
And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.
After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out.
Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.
“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”
The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.
The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)
But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.
Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.
Everything in his life is lined up.
Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.