Punch Shot: Where are we headed with Tiger?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 31, 2017, 3:15 pm

Tiger Woods announced on Monday that he plans to play the Hero World Challenge. Writers Ryan Lavner and Will Gray discuss what they'll key on while watching his first start since a fourth back surgery and if they think Woods can go a season uninjured.

Gray: OK, Lav, it's official. Tiger's coming back a month from now at the Hero World Challenge. Initial reaction?

Lavner: Stunned, but in hindsight the flurry of social-media posts – at least a flurry for Tiger – hinted that another comeback was imminent.

Gray: If nothing else, the last month vaulted him into contention for most improved Twitter account.

I agree that it's a bit jarring, especially when squared with his shudder-inducing comments at the Presidents Cup about his future. But we can't discount just how soft of a landing spot the Hero is: small field, low-key vibe, sparse crowds. Essentially as close to a controlled environment as he can get. Plus it's a course he knows well with, ahem, generous landing areas off the tee and no real rough. Perhaps we should have seen this coming.

Lavner: Agree. It was a similar situation last year, and he showed just enough glimpses of good play to really ratchet up the excitement for 2017. (Sigh.) Still, I can't shake the feeling that it's too much, too soon. He was only cleared for full golf activity a few weeks ago. A month later, he's ready to play four tournament rounds under the national spotlight?

Gray: It does seem a bit quick, but the calendar could also be a factor. If he skips Hero, where is his next likely option? Torrey Pines, eight weeks later? Last year showed there are no guarantees regardless of how slowly he ramps things up, so perhaps there's something to be said for giving it a crack now while the body is (theoretically) responding well.

I think we can both agree that expectations are at an all-time low. Will simply completing 72 holes upright be considered a win?

Lavner: Yep, 72 holes injury free is a win, just like last year. Unfortunately, his surprisingly good play a year ago led him to push himself during that break between the Hero and Torrey – and something clearly went awry, because he showed up at Torrey in terrible shape.

Gray: It's still hard to mesh the optimism I saw down at Albany last year with the despondent tone you encountered at Torrey the following month. Given the barrage of recent swing videos Tiger has sent out on social media, what's one aspect of his game that you'll be watching the most intently?

Lavner: Obviously in today's era the long game is the most important, and so we'll watch to see whether he's able to piece together a repeatable swing without pain. But I'm most interested in his short game. He's only a few years removed from the chip yips, and he's going to need to be sharp on and around the greens if he has any chance of contending in the future.

Gray: Right there on the same page with you. It was only three years ago, when this event was at Isleworth, that his short game first showed signs of collapse. His comeback won't be tied to any single variable, but to have even a prayer of working back into contention he has to at least be functional around the greens.

Tiger Timeline: A look at Woods' history of injuries and comebacks

Gray: Let the extrapolation begin. Augusta National, Shinnecock, Carnoustie, Bellerive – over/under: 1.5 major starts for Tiger in 2018?

Lavner: Not sure he'll play well in any of them, but I think he'll peg it in all four majors. For that to happen, Tiger must listen to his body and reduce his regular-season schedule. That's the only way this (final) comeback can work.

Gray: A full year of Tiger! There are kids in grade school who have never witnessed such a feat. I'll believe it when I see it, but I agree with you that less will be more. The ambitious early-season schedule that followed last year's Hero, including the ill-fated flight to Dubai, needs to be trimmed considerably.

Lavner: Talked to Trusted Tiger Friend Notah Begay III on Monday night, and even he admitted that he's anxious about this latest comeback attempt. He just hopes, like I think we all do, that Tiger can go out on his terms – whenever that is – with some respectable golf.

Gray: There are still some philosophical questions about what that last bit would even mean to Tiger. Will he be willing to lower his own lofty expectations for himself? Time will tell. In the interim, let's keep prognosticating. Are we talking about a fully healthy Tiger heading into the 2018 Hero?

Lavner: A fully healthy Tiger probably doesn't exist anymore, not after what he's put his body and mind through. But at this time next year it's not hard to imagine that Woods will still believe he can compete with the game's best, even if the results suggest otherwise.

Gray: Deep Thoughts with Lavner. Let's close this out with a couple more. Back to scheduling, what's one "typical" Tiger event you hope he cuts, and maybe one new event you hope he considers adding?

Lavner: Hope he cuts Torrey – it's one of the toughest non-major tracks of the year, and even two decades of good vibes there won't help him stay out of the thick, gnarly rough. And hope he adds Houston, an ideal warmup for Augusta.

Gray: Agreed on Torrey, as the South Course can take down top players any day of the week. Not sure he'd break with tradition and try playing the week before Augusta, but I wouldn't mind seeing him head back to the Wyndham, site of his most recent brush with contention. Stenson won this year without even putting driver in the bag!

Last one: Are you more or less optimistic about this comeback attempt than you were a year ago?

Lavner: More optimistic, because there have been plenty of examples of players who continued to perform at a high level, pain free, after fusion surgery. If he can clear his mind and put in the work – that's been the biggest unknown over the past few years – then there's a chance this can work.

Gray: There's a chance, sure. But I'm a little skittish after last year's debacle. That was the return where he had finally taken his time and hadn't rushed back, and it was supposed to be the one that stuck. Instead, it just showed us how quickly it can all fall apart. He's another year older, another year removed from both the grind and his last good season of 2013. Let's put it this way: I'd love to be proven wrong.

Lavner: Nice. That's a good spot to end it on.

Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Updated at 11:14 a.m. ET

An Instagram user known as hwalks posted photos to her account that included images of Tiger Woods, President Trump and Dustin Johnson Friday at Trump National, as well as video of Woods' swing.

Original story:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''

Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open

Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''

Day (68) just one back at Australian Open

By Nick MentaNovember 24, 2017, 6:40 am

Jason Day posted a second-round 68 to move himself just one off the lead held by Lucas Herbert through two rounds at the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand after 36 holes in Sydney.

Leaderboard: Herbert (-9), Day (-8), Cameron Davis (-7), Anthony Quayle (-6), Matt Jones (-4), Cameron Smith (-4), Nick Cullen (-4), Richard Green (-4)

What it means: Day is in search of his first worldwide victory of 2017. The former world No. 1 last visited the winner’s circle in May 2016, when he won The Players at TPC Sawgrass. A win this week would close out a difficult year for the Aussie who struggled with his game while also helping his mother in her battle with cancer. Day’s last victory on his native soil came in 2013, when he partnered with Adam Scott to win the World Cup of Golf for Australia at Royal Melbourne.

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Round of the day: Herbert followed an opening 67 with a round of 66 to vault himself into the lead at The Australian Golf Club. He made six birdies, including four on his second nine, against a lone bogey to take the outright lead. The 22-year-old, who held the lead at this event last year and captured low-amateur honors in 2014, is coming off a runner-up finish at the NSW Open Championship, which boosted him from 714th to 429th in the Official World Golf Ranking. His 5-under score was matched by Dale Brandt-Richards and Josh Cabban.

Best of the rest: Matt Jones, who won this event over Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott two years ago, turned in 4-under 67. Jones is best known to American audiences for his playoff victory at the 2014 Shell Houston Open and for holding the 36-hole lead at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which was eventually won by Day. Jones will start the weekend five shots off the lead, at 4 under par.

Biggest disappointment: Spieth has a lot of work to do this weekend if he expects to be in the title picture for the fourth year in a row. Rounds of 70-71 have him eight shots behind the lead held by Herbert. Spieth made a birdie and a bogey on each side Friday to turn in level par. The reigning champion golfer of the year has finished first, second and first at this event over the last three years.

Storyline to watch this weekend: The Australian Open is the first event of the 2018 Open Qualifying Series. The leading three players who finish in the top 10 and who are not otherwise exempt will receive invites into next summer’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Ogilvy urges distance rollback of ball

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 8:49 pm

Add Geoff Ogilvy to the chorus of voices calling for a distance rollback of the golf ball.

In an interview before the start of the Emirates Australian Open, Ogilvy said a "time-out" is needed for governing bodies to deal with the issue.

"It's complete nonsense," he said, according to an Australian website. "In my career, it’s gone from 300 yards was a massive hit to you’re a shorter hitter on tour now, legitimately short. It’s changed the way we play great golf courses and that is the crime. It isn’t that the ball goes 400, that’s neither here nor there. It’s the fact the ball going 400 doesn’t makes Augusta work properly, it functions completely wrong.’’

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Ogilvy used an example from American baseball to help get his point across to an Australian audience.

“Major League Baseball in America, they use wooden bats, and everywhere else in baseball they use aluminium bats,’’ he said. “And when the major leaguers use aluminium bats they don’t even have to touch it and it completely destroys their stadiums. It’s just comedy.

“That’s kind of what’s happened to us at least with the drivers of these big hitters; We’ve completely outgrown the stadiums. So do you rebuild every stadium in the world? That’s expensive. Or make the ball go shorter? It seems relatively simple from that perspective.’’

Ogilvy, an Australian who won the 2006 U.S. Open, said he believes there will be a rollback, but admitted it would be a "challenge" for manufacturers to produce a ball that flies shorter for pros but does not lose distance when struck by recreational players.