Punch Shot: Aside from health, why won't Tiger catch Jack?

On Monday at the Quicken Loans National media day, Tiger Woods told us he still doesn't have a timetable for his return to competitive golf. He's endured knee, neck, Achilles, elbow and back injuries throughout the years, and it seems his health is his biggest obstacle to catching Jack Nicklaus' all-time record of 18 majors. Aside from that, our writers debate what else might keep Woods from catching Nicklaus.

By JASON SOBEL

These guys are good.

That's not just a slogan; it also explains why this year's slate of winners have been so unpredictable. This is hardly a new idea, but it seems like fields are getting deeper by the week.

All of which leads us to Tiger Woods. Even if he returns unscathed from injury, even if he regains his world No. 1 status, the fact remains that if fields don't have more quality than over the first two decades of career, there's certainly more quality at the highest level.

Woods not only has to deal with familiar foes like Phil, Adam and Rory; youngsters such as Jordan Spieth are proving themselves major-ready in an astonishing hurry these days.

Give Woods the benefit of the doubt - he comes back at 100 percent; his game follows suit; he picks up where he left off last year - and still the greatest variable toward his future success is the deeper competition that doesn't show any signs of letting up. 


By RANDALL MELL

If Tiger Woods comes back truly healthy and rejuvenated, his biggest obstacle to catching Nicklaus will be his own shadow. It will be his ability to keep mustering the determination to find his best again. It will be motivation, because at his best, nobody stops him. If Tiger’s really healthy, it’s a question of whether he can keep doing the tireless work required to put all the pieces in his game back together again. Beating the talent he’s up against this year isn’t the exhausting task he faces. It’s beating his shadow. It’s continuing to find the drive and energy it takes to be Tiger Woods. At 38, he still has the time, assuming good health, which is a huge assumption. The question then is: How long can anyone be great in a sport? How long can a mortal push the limits required for sporting immortality? Woods is going on two decades.


By REX HOGGARD

When the story is finally written, it won’t be the assorted injuries that have sidelined Tiger Woods throughout his career or the increased level of competition or even his inability to convert 5-footers like he once did that will keep him from catching Jack Nicklaus in the Grand Slam sprint.

It will be time.

At 38, the inevitable march of the calendar is Woods’ greatest opponent. It will be time, and the toll and tear of decades of perfecting his swing, that will be his ultimate opponent.

More than five years have lapsed since his last major victory and it seems likely that back surgery on March 31 will keep him on the bench for at least one more Grand Slam turn.

Nicklaus won four major championships after turning 38 on his way to his total of 18, so it would seem Woods is officially on the clock and there can be no more “lost seasons.”

There is no more room for trial and error, be it via another swing change or injury, if Woods is going to stake his claim to the title best player ever.

If Tiger doesn’t reach Jack, and after a five-win season in 2013 that betting line is now at even money, it will be time that kept him from that summit.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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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, and Hideto Tanihara.

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


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“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 more than three 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.