Tigers Troubles - Number 4765

By George WhiteAugust 5, 2004, 4:00 pm
That word alone is enough to bring in a hundred irate e-mails from those who think ANY mention of him is just too much. Im so sick of you sportswriters writing about Woods, they always begin. Isnt there anyone else you can write about?
A hundred more will be violently opposed to anything that is considered the least bit negative. Why do you guys always feel you have to criticize everything Tiger does? they ask. Hes the greatest player ever, and all you writers do is cut him down!
So, now that Ive riled up 100 percent of you, Ill continue with todays sermon. And it is ' I dont really know what has caused the hiccup in Tiger Woods' performance the last couple of years.
Five wins a year is quite a dropoff from the 17 he posted in the combined years of 1999 and 2000. He won five in each of the last three years. But he wont reach five this year ' at the moment he has won just once, and no stroke play tournaments.
Its been two years since he last won a major, straddling the past nine events. Coincidentally, that is when he and his coach, Butch Harmon, parted company. Isnt that the reason he has slipped?
Well, maybe yes, maybe no. Woods vehemently denies any correlation, and I certainly give some credence to his opinion. Hes a smart guy, and I just cant believe that, if Harmons absence was the true reason for his backslide, that Woods would continue to stay away just to be spiteful. Obviously two years is long enough to see a disturbing trend developing, and Tiger is bright enough to see the writing on the wall.
On the other hand, would it be a problem to try Harmon again, just in case? The two worked together so brilliantly for so long, and youve just got to wonder But Woods says no, that wont happen. He says he knows enough now that he should be able to correct anything amiss. And he obviously believes it.
Lets just suppose that Woods is right. And if we presume so, then we have to find another critical juncture where his career took a downturn. That would be when Tiger had the knee injury. He experienced continual pain throughout the 2002 season, finally having arthroscopic surgery in December of that year.
As he continually favored the knee, his swing got more and more out of kilter. Then after the operation, he couldnt practice for a couple of months. And theres reason to believe that this is when his fall really began. After favoring the knee through the whole 2002 season, then being forced off it into 2003, he lost the beautiful, rhythmic motion. What youve seen is what happened last year and into 2004.
One possible flaw in the knee theory is that he played so well immediately upon returning. He won three tournaments in his first three months back ' his debut at the Buick Invitational, the WGC-Accenture Match Play and Bay Hill. If you dont like the injury excuse, heres where you can opt out.
By the way, forget the Elin Theory. Some people have tried to make a case that his involvement and cohabitation with Elin Nordegren is somehow the cause of his problems. It isnt, of course. Yes, she became a housemate in 2002, but that has meant nothing as far as his golf swing is concerned. It certainly didnt hinder Jack Nicklaus when Jack was married before he turned professional. It might have some effect when Tiger decides to have children. But now ' youve got to be kidding.
A lot of people have pointed to Nicklaus downturn from the ages of 27 to 29 as a mirror image of Tiger. Jack didnt win a major for those three years, and some theorize that it is just a natural progression that Tiger has reached an age when he is somewhat burned out.
Nicklaus lost a father who was ill during this time, however, a father to whom he was extremely close. He said himself that the tragedy took away much of his desire to practice, until he finally rededicated himself and once again began practicing with the zeal of old. So dont put much credence in this comparison with Tiger. There hasnt been a burnout or anything similar.
Woods, it must be noted, has performed his worst this year at the biggest tournaments. At two of the majors ' the Masters and the U.S. Open ' he finished tied for 22nd and tied for 17th, respectively. At the Players Championship, he slipped back to a tie for 16th. The other place where he didnt finish top 10 or better was at Bay Hill, where he was trying to win for the fifth straight time. He finished T46 in that one.
Of course, he has again made every single cut and finished 22nd or better except for Bay Hill. Hes already had a good season by normal standards. Its just that, by Tiger Woods standards, it has not been good.
One thing that has always been admirable about Tiger, though, is his refusal to make excuses. When he doesnt win ' which he hasnt done nearly as regularly these days ' he says it is merely because he didnt hit enough good shots. None of this luck factor or the dog ate my homework. He looks you squarely in the eye and tells you why he didnt finish in first place - that he didnt hit as many good shots as the winner.
He does, however, come to compete every single time he shows up. The proof is in the number of consecutive cuts that he has made.
It (the cut streak) is important to me because there's a lot of pride involved, Woods said. There's a lot of times when I hit it just God-awful and somehow got it around and made the cut. Other times, I've gotten very lucky and made the cut, too. The scores have come back.
So I think it goes to show you that I always try as hard as I can. I never give up. I never bag it. I play hard from the first time I put the peg in the ground to the last putt.
So the reason that he has not played as well certainly cant be attributed to lack of effort. But Butch? The knee? Some other factor? God only knows.
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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

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.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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.