Punch Shot: How will Woods fare at the Masters?

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 8, 2015, 3:30 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods is making his first competitive start since February at the Masters. He's also a four-time winner at Augusta National. How will he fare this week? The on-site team offers up their thoughts:


There will be no green jacket waiting on Sunday afternoon, no fifth Masters title, no 15th major championship for Tiger Woods, but that doesn’t mean it will be a lost week.

Regardless of how he played on Monday and Tuesday –surprisingly well, actually – the field this week at Augusta National is simply too deep.

He may be able to beat the odd Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson, but he can’t outplay all of them, not with the game that’s been on public display lately.

That’s not to say Woods will serve a ceremonial role this week. In 2010, after a five-month hiatus from the game, he tied for fourth at Augusta National, and in 19 starts at the year’s first major he’s missed the cut just once.

If he stays healthy, and that’s a big “if,” he will play 72 holes. He may even find himself somewhere on the leaderboard late on Sunday afternoon, but it’s hard to imagine the guy who couldn’t break 80 on Friday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open can conjure enough Masters magic to add to his green jacket collection.

He is Tiger Woods, however, and that means things are always interesting.


Tiger Woods looks better in his practice at Augusta National, on the course and on the range, than he did at the Hero World Challenge, the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Farmers Insurance Open.

Hearing Woods talk about the commitment he made to improve, all the hard work he put into fixing his chipping problems, leads you to believe he won’t endure the depth of struggle to get the ball in the hole that he did in his last three starts.

Still, you can’t help wondering how recently the fix kicked in, given he skipped the Arnold Palmer Invitational three weeks ago. And you can’t help wondering how rusty he would be with all the time away from competition, even if he didn’t have the chipping issues. The nerves will be challenged Thursday a lot more than they were in practice rounds. Woods may be better, but it’s hard to fathom he’ll leap into contention with his fixes. Better may not even translate into making the cut. In fact, given the magnitude of his struggle and his time away, it will feel like a bonus if he simply gets to play the weekend of a PGA Tour event for the first time in nine months.


After Monday’s practice round I thought Tiger Woods could finish inside the top 25. After Tuesday’s practice round I thought he would miss the cut. Truth is, Woods only played 20 holes combined on those days and those performances won’t amount to a hill of beans once the first round starts.

That’s what makes this week so utterly fascinating – we have no clue what’s going to happen. But this is Tiger Woods, and this is the Masters, a place where he’s never missed the cut as a professional. Deep down my gut tells me he finds a way to hit enough good shots to play two more rounds on the weekend.

It seems silly to be excited about the prospect of Woods making the cut, or to think it’s an acceptable goal, but it’d be huge progress from where he was two months ago. Simply qualifying for the weekend wouldn’t make Woods happy one bit, but it would show the world that he did what he said he’d do, return only when he was tournament ready.


So, here’s the thing about Tiger Woods: I’m hoping he contends. I’m praying he contends. As a sportswriter and a fan of the sport, nothing would thrill me more than a rejuvenated Woods hitting breathtaking shots again and making Sunday at Augusta magical.

But … I can’t see it happening. In truth, I’d be surprised if Woods was even in the state of Georgia on Sunday. Yes, I know he looked good in a practice round. Yes, he seemed confident and revived in his news conference. Trouble is, professional golf – especially Masters golf – is still about putting a little white ball in a little hole under extreme duress.  You get no credit for history, no points for confidence, no referee looking the other way because you’re a legend who happened to travel.

Woods didn’t win four Masters because of his extraordinary mental toughness. He won four Masters because of his extraordinary mental toughness AND the fact that he hit the ball longer, higher and straighter than everyone else, and his touch was unmatched, and he never missed a putt that mattered. That Tiger Woods, I fear, is gone. He might reemerge for a day or two, here and there, he might pop up some week in Charlotte or Orlando. But the guy just spent two months trying to make his game good enough to be seen in public. I hope I’m the entirely wrong. But he’s not contending at the Masters.

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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."

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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.'"

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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."

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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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.