Punch Shot: Whens, wheres and whats for Tiger

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2017, 2:00 pm

Tiger Woods’ agent says the 14-time major winner is cleared to practice “with no restrictions.” GolfChannel.com senior writers Ryan Lavner and Rex Hoggard discuss what this news could mean for Tiger's future.

Lavner: Well, Rex, three weeks ago Tiger told us that he didn't know what the future held for him. Now we do: He has been cleared for full golf activity. What's your biggest takeaway from this week's news?

Hoggard: He's a quick healer. At least if I remember his tone at the Presidents Cup, which hovered between cautiously optimistic and wistful.

Lavner: This all seems a bit quick, though, no? He went from being able to only hit 60-yard wedge shots to pumping driver at Medalist, knowing full well that golf swing is going to get scrutinized by every armchair swing coach on the planet. That suggests he’s further along than he suggested.

Hoggard: That's probably a safe bet – an under-promise, over-deliver deal – but speaking with his manager last night he stressed that Tiger continues to take this most recent comeback slowly and will proceed with caution. All of which seems to mean we won't be seeing him teeing it up in December at his Hero World Challenge.

Lavner: Right, Steinberg's comment on Monday night: "[Tiger] has told me he’s going to take it very, very slowly.” This time, can we actually believe him? Tiger said the same thing at the start of the year, then clearly wasn't right at Torrey and hopped on a long flight to Dubai, where he promptly WD'd.

Hoggard: Yes? No? I don't know. One would think after going through this so many times he'd be inclined to err on the side of caution, but I've seen this show before and know how it turns out. It seems clear he should be ready to compete again by the beginning of next year, the key will be what his schedule looks like.

Lavner: And please, Tiger: Stop trying to return at Torrey! Yes, it's one of your old playgrounds, but it's always chilly in the morning and the South Course ranks annually as one of the most difficult on Tour. Perhaps I'm in the minority, thinking he doesn't need to play a full regular-season slate anymore in order to prepare for the majors, but Phoenix seems like a more safe starting point.

Hoggard: I don't think he ever played a "full" regular-season schedule, but I see where some would think less is more at this point. Phoenix is a solid option, as is the CareerBuilder Challenge. Nothing like Golf in a Dome to build confidence. It will be interesting to see if he ventures to the Middle East again. Nothing good will come from that.

Lavner: Except money, lots and lots of money.

Hoggard: No doubt, but I'm not sure there are enough zeros on those checks to justify jeopardizing another comeback. How many more of these does he have in the tank? Listening to him at the Presidents Cup, I would say not many.

Lavner: None of us are swing gurus, of course, but it was striking that Hank Haney, one of Woods' former coaches, replied to Tiger's swing video with "that's a swing he could win with." To me, that seems like a gross oversimplification. This isn't 2013: Today's Tour is insanely strong and deep, and Tiger had already begun to show issues with his mental and short game. In other words, a swing that won't wrench his back is only part of the problem.

Hoggard: That may be Haney being a tad overly optimistic. There is no scenario where he comes back and dominates like he once did, he simply doesn't have the firepower to compete against this generation. That said, Davis Love III won on Tour at 51 years old following a similar fusion surgery (beating Tiger, no less). If – and it’s a big if – he can stay healthy I do think he can win again.

Lavner: Forget winning again. Merely being a regular contender would be a Herculean feat, considering what he has been through.

Hoggard: So this is where our roads diverge? OK, I agree it's a long shot, but put him on the right golf course with a swing that's not going to send him back to the DL he can win again. You can't hide talent.

Lavner: Let's wrap this up with some rapid-fire questions. Where does Tiger come back?

Hoggard: Torrey Pines.

Lavner: I'll say Augusta.

Lavner: How many events does he play in 2018?

Hoggard: 12.

Lavner: I'll take half that – 6 – and call it a successful year.

Hoggard: How many majors does he play?

Lavner: Think he plays all of them, plus The Players and his event.

Hoggard: Three (he hasn't played all four majors in a year since 2013).

Hoggard: Best chance to win?

Lavner: Um ... I guess the Masters? His T-17 in 2015 while battling the chipping yips showed there's still some magic in there. I imagine Jordan Spieth will have other ideas, however.

Hoggard: Agree. Can he stay healthy for an entire year?

Lavner: As healthy as a (then-)42-year-old with a million surgeries can be – assuming he doesn't make any scheduling miscues, like rushing his return or a Dubai trip or too many back-to-back starts. Those are the types of avoidable mistakes that can derail his progress, perhaps for good.

Hoggard: Relative, indeed. If he's still upright and swinging the club in September it will have been a successful season, regardless of results.

Lavner: That should do it. I win, again.

Hoggard: This is a weird game. Pleasure. 

Simpson WDs from RSM, tweets his father is ill

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:45 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Following rounds of 67-68, Webb Simpson was in 12th place entering the weekend at the RSM Classic before he withdrew prior to Saturday’s third round.

On Saturday afternoon, Simpson tweeted that he withdrew due to an illness in his family.

“Thanks to [Davis Love III] for being such a great tournament host. I [withdrew] due to my dad being sick and living his last days,” Simpson posted on Twitter on Saturday afternoon.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Simpson’s father, Sam, caddied for his son during amateur events, and Webb Simpson started playing golf after following his father to the course on family vacations to North Carolina.

“My dad is probably the kindest man I know. He’s always been the guy who knew everyone, everyone knew him, everyone wanted to be around him,” Simpson said in a 2015 interview with David Feherty. “He taught me the game. He’s always been one of those dads who loved to be active with their kids.”

Before play began on Thursday, Luke Donald withdrew after being hospitalized with chest pain. Tests indicated the Englishman’s heart was fine and he returned home to undergo more tests.

New old putter helps Kirk (64) jump into contention

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:43 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Chris Kirk’s ball-striking has been nearly flawless this fall. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for his putting.

In four events this season, Kirk ranks 143rd in strokes gained: putting, but his fortunes have changed this week, thanks at least in part to a return to something familiar.

Kirk switched to an older style of putter similar to the one he used on the Web.com Tour in 2010 to earn his PGA Tour card.

“It's nice to be back in contention again,” said Kirk, who is alone in second place, three strokes behind front-runner Austin Cook. “It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow.”


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Kirk is 25th in strokes gained: putting this week and has converted several crucial putts, including a 30-footer for birdie at the 17th hole on his way to a third-round 64.

His putting is similar to 2013 when he won the RSM Classic, and his improved play on the greens has given the 32-year-old confidence going into Sunday’s final round.

“I'll probably be relatively comfortable in that situation, and thankfully I've been there before,” Kirk said. “It's still not easy by any means, but hopefully I'll be able to group together a bunch of good shots and see what it gives me.”

Rookie Cook (66) handling RSM like a pro

By Rex HoggardNovember 18, 2017, 10:24 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Of all the impressive statistics Austin Cook has put up this week at the RSM Classic – he is first in strokes gained: tee to green, strokes gained: approach to the green and scrambling – the one number that stands out is 49.

That’s how many holes Cook went this week without a bogey or worse, a moment that prompted his caddie, Kip Henley, to joke, “The dream is over.”

That loss of momentum at the 14th hole didn’t last long, with the PGA Tour rookie making birdie at the next hole on his way to a third-round 66 and a three-stroke lead.

“Bouncing back from any bogey with a birdie is nice and helps get the number right back. Being my only bogey of the week so far, it was really nice to be able to get that back on the next hole,” said Cook, who leads Chris Kirk at 18 under par. “Going into tomorrow with a three-shot lead instead of a two-shot lead I think is crucial.”


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Although this is the first time Cook has held a 54-hole lead on the Tour, in fact it’s just his fourth start as a Tour member, he has experienced Sunday pressure before. In 2015, he began the final round at the Shell Houston Open one stroke off the lead held by Jordan Spieth.

“Back then my game was good as well, but mentally I've grown a lot and matured a lot and been able to kind of just let small things on the golf course roll off my shoulder instead of getting tied up in one little small mistake,” said Cook, who closed with a 75 at the ’15 Shell Houston Open to tie for 11th.

Park collapses; leaderboard chaos at CME

By Nick MentaNovember 18, 2017, 8:47 pm

Sung-Hyun Park started the day with a three-shot lead and slowly gave it all back over the course of a 3-over 75, leaving the CME Group Tour Championship and a host of season-long prizes up for grabs in Naples. Here’s where things stand through 54 holes at the LPGA finale, where Michelle Wie, Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Kim Kaufman share the lead.

Leaderboard: Kaufman (-10), Wie (-10), Jutanugarn (-10), Pettersen (-10), Stacy Lewis (-9), Karine Icher (-9), Austin Ernst (-9), Lexi Thompson (-9), Jessica Korda (-9), Pernilla Lindberg (-9)

What it means: It wasn’t the Saturday she wanted, but Park, who already wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, is still in position for the sweep of all sweeps. With a victory Sunday, she would claim the CME Group Tour Championship, the Race to CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and the money title, as she ascends to No. 1 in the Rolex world ranking. Meanwhile, Thompson, too, could take the $1 million and Player of the Year. As those two battle for season-long prizes, a host of other notable names – Wie, Jutanugarn, Pettersen, Korda, Lewis and Charley Hull (-8) – will fight for the Tour Championship.

Round of the day: Kaufman made four birdies on each side in a bogey-free 8 under-par 64. A lesser-known name on a stacked leaderboard, she seeks her first LPGA victory.

Best of the rest: Amy Yang will start the final round two behind after a 7-under 65. The three-time LPGA Tour winner could pick up her second title of the season after taking the Honda LPGA Thailand in February.

Biggest disappointment: On a day that featured plenty of low scores from plenty of big names, Lydia Ko dropped 11 spots down the leaderboard into a tie for 23rd with a Saturday 72. The former world No. 1 needed two birdies in her last five holes to fight her way back to even par. Winless this season, she’ll start Sunday four back, at 6 under.

Shot of the day: I.K. Kim aced the par-3 12th from 171 yards when her ball landed on the front of the green and tracked all the way to the hole.

Kim, oddly enough, signed her name to a scorecard that featured a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. It was all part of a 1-under 71.