One Time With Tiger: Grant Waite

By Rex HoggardNovember 29, 2016, 11:00 am

Tiger Woods was trying to make history, pure and simple.

In the summer of 2000, Woods won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots and The Open at St. Andrews by eight strokes.

He also won the PGA Championship, which made the last item on his historic to-do list a September stop at the Canadian Open, where he could join Lee Trevino as the only players to win the game’s three biggest opens in a single year.

Woods accomplished his mission thanks to what some consider one of the greatest shots he ever hit, not that Tiger gets caught up in such esoteric accomplishments.

“That one shot I hit in Canada was pretty good, but you know what? I keep telling everybody I didn’t hit the green,” Woods has said of his 6-iron at Glen Abbey’s 72nd hole, his tongue firmly planted in cheek. “I hit it over the green. So it wasn’t really that good.”

Grant Waite had a slightly different perspective that day. Sharing the 54-hole lead with Woods earned Waite his first - and only - professional pairing with the longtime world No. 1.

“I was playing really well and I was excited to play with him,” Waite said. “During that period of time he was winning every tournament he’d played. I thought it was an opportunity to see if I could compete.”

Waite was 36 at the time, in his ninth season on the PGA Tour and in awe of Woods’ accomplishments. But playing with Tiger was an entirely different experience that started at the first tee.

“What Tiger tended to do back then is he’d let you go on the first tee first,” Waite recalled. “He’d let you go first so you could hear the ovation for him. It was something he could use for intimidation.”

But if the New Zealander was intimidated he certainly didn’t show it, with birdies at Nos. 2 and 3 to take a one stroke-lead over Woods. Eventually they went to the par-5 18th hole with Woods one shot ahead.

After finding a fairway bunker down the right side, Woods launched a towering 6-iron from 218 yards over a lake. The ball sailed just over the flag and settled in the back fringe about 18 feet from the hole.

Waite, who had hit his 5-iron second shot to 25 feet, watched from a few yards away.

“I’ve been in that bunker when it was downwind and you can’t see where he was going,” Waite said. “I knew the shot he had. I was anticipating the ball coming out towards the middle of the green, which was shorter to carry, plus he had to go over some trees to go at the pin.”

Woods, however, wasn’t interested in the safe shot.

“The difficulty of that shot is it’s the last hole,” Waite said. “The genius of Tiger at the time was he was willing to take on any shot and the consequences didn’t matter. It’s what separated him from everyone else.”

Waite two-putted for birdie, finishing one stroke behind Woods, go got up and down. Waite says he’s told the story countless times.

“I sometimes think about it, and I joke, ‘All I needed was one grain of sand between the clubface and the ball," he said with a laugh, "and my life would have changed forever."

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."