Press Pass Debating Tiger Annika

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2007, 5:00 pm
Press PassEach week, Golf Channel experts and analysts will offer their thoughts and opinions on hot topics in the world of golf. This week, the Press Pass debates Tiger Woods' win streak, Annika Sorenstam's chances at a record, potential Hall of Fame inductees, and the worst playing conditions.
Hot Topic
How long can Tiger Woods continue his winning streak and when do you think it come to an end?
Brian Hewitt Brian Hewitt - Senior Writer,
What? Do I look like Nostradamus? I will not predict he will break it and I will not predict he wont. But what I will do is hope for a Masters playoff between Phil and Tiger with Tiger looking to break Byron Nelsons consecutive win streak with a victory. Think a few people would be watching that baby?
Rich Lerner Rich Lerner - Reporter, Golf Channel:
Eleven is possible, with the toughest hurdle being Riviera, where he's never won (He has played the Nissan Open nine times as a professional and twice as an amateur without winning).
Kraig Kann Kraig Kann - Host, Golf Channel:
As long as he stays hot. I actually think he cares more about this than we might think. Kapalua was no lock, but contention in the Buick Invitational has been as close to a guarentee as you could get. I say he wins this week, but the next few opportunities will be tough. Match-Play and Nissan haven't been so special. So good luck to Tiger... he'll need some.
Mercer Baggs Mercer Baggs - Senior Producer,
Having won three of the last four Buick Invitational events, he's got a good chance at reaching eight straight PGA TOUR wins. But I don't see him winning the following event, the Nissan Open.
Hot Topic
Annika Sorenstam has dispelled rumors of her retirement. Will she break Kathy Whitworths record of 88 LPGA Tour wins (she currently has 69)?
I think it all depends on how soon she starts having a family. That may be sooner than we think. If and when it happens, it will all depend on how children affect her outlook on golf. That being said, if the Whitworth record is something Sorenstam wants, its something she will get.
Annika would need four wins a year for five years and that seems within reach so, yes, she'll break the record.
Annika's run at Kathy Whitworth requires 20 wins. Four a year for five years? Sure. But if Annika says she wants a family ( I know she's dispelling retirement rumors) then she might not make it. This is a tough question because it's all about what she decides to do with her life. Bottom line... if she wants the record, she'll get it. If not, she'll leave us knowing it was hers if she wanted it.
I think a lot of that will depend on this year. Annika was quoted in a Swedish newspaper as saying that she didn't work as hard in 2006 as she had in previous seasons -- and she only won three times (her lowest total since '99). It's getting tougher and tougher to win on the LPGA Tour. If she can rekindle a competitive fire this season, she can put a serious dent in her 19-victory deficit to Whitworth. If she's lost that drive, however, she may never catch her.
Hot Topic
Of the current players on the Hall of Fame ballot, who would you vote in and why?
I not only would, but already have voted for Lanny Wadkins, Curtis Strange, Hubert Green and Craig Wood. I could have voted for as many as six. These were the four I chose this time around. Wadkins (21 wins and one major) was fearless. Strange (17 wins and two majors) was tough as nails in his prime. Green (19 Tour wins and two majors) is still underrated. And Wood (21 wins and two majors) has been, sadly, forgotten.
Curtis Strange for back-to-back U.S. Opens, Lanny Wadkins and Hubert Green because others with comparable numbers like Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw are in, and perhaps even Tony Lema, because his numbers, had he not died tragically in a plane crash, project to being worthy of consideration. Further, Lee Trevino told me Lema was as good as he'd seen and should be in the Hall.
Asking me to vote on Henry Picard or Denny Shute isn't something I feel confident about. Just as asking me to vote on Warren Spahn in baseball or Deacon Jones in football. Sure they have great numbers, but when it comes to players I never saw play, I bow out. Among the names that strike me, I'd lean on Curtis Strange. The back-to-back U.S. Opens is amazing - and he was dominant during that time. His career win totals are very strong in an era of many greats. Didn't Ben Crenshaw find his way in with two majors? I'd give Curtis a nod. And Hubert Green deserves some serious consideration, in my book.
Of the guys on the list who played primarily in the '80s and '90s (the Era which I'm most familiar), I would cast my vote for only one: Curtis Strange, who won 17 times on TOUR including back-to-back U.S. Open titles. Guys like Fred Couples and Davis Love III are still one major away from serious consideration.
Hot Topic
The final round of the Bob Hope was played in intense winds. What is the toughest condition under which to play: intense wind; steady rain; freezing cold; oppressive heat?
Intense wind. It affects putting more than most people realize. And nothing will break a players swing down more quickly than a swirling wind that makes it so much harder to commit to every shot. No swing. No confidence. Steady rain is the second worst. Caddies need to be octopi.
High winds make putting brutally difficult and considering they blew Tiger to an 81 in the '02 British at Muirfield, the ferocious winds would seem to be hardest with which to deal.
To me, heat's not that bad. Heck, me and my college buddies head to the desert each August and play 36 or 45 a day in 110-degree weather, and I'd play 36 a day in the summer in Orlando if my children were in school. Freezing cold doesn't affect me ... because I won't go out of my house to test it! Steady rain, I've played in ... and I think players are able to handle it better than brutal wind. One shot that goes 30 yards off line in a stiff wind and your confidence tags along for the ride. To me, the wind is the toughest. Not just ball striking but putting. If you don't take my word for it, take Lucas Glover's.
For tour players, it's probably the intense wind. For me, it's the freezing cold. I'm just as poor a player under perfect conditions as I am in the wind and rain. And having grown up in the South, heat is no problem. But I can't stand the cold. And anything below 60 is cold to me.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Buick Invitational
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.