Press Pass Rating Tiger and the FedExCup

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 19, 2007, 4:00 pm
Press PassEach week, GOLF CHANNEL experts and analysts offer their thoughts and opinions on hot topics in the world of golf with the Press Pass.
Hot Topic
Tiger Woods won seven PGA TOUR events, including one major, and the inaugural FedExCup Playoffs. Where does this season rank on his all-time list?
Brian Hewitt Brian Hewitt - Columnist,
No. 2. Clearly. The only reason 2000 beats 2007 is because he won three major championships that year. I actually think Woods is a better player now than he was then. And when I asked him at the PGA this year, he agreed that hes a better player now than he was in 2000. He also said he expected to be better still in 2008. Scary.
Steve Sands Steve Sands - Reporter, GOLF CHANNEL:
It's not in Tiger's top-3. And that's saying something considering he earned seven wins. But it's about majors to Tiger. 1997 was better because that was his first major. And the years when he won multiple majors are better. When you've reached the height Tiger has reached, it is, and he's admitted this, all about the majors.
Mercer Baggs Mercer Baggs - Senior Producer,
Well, we all know that 2000 was his best year -- even though he may technically be a better player today. I'd also argue that 2005 and 2006 were better years, as he won multiple majors during both seasons. I'd rank it in the top 5, but no higher than fourth.
Ian Hutchinson Ian Hutchinson - Contrib. Writer,
Until he wins a single season Grand Slam, and that's a very distinct possibility with Tiger, everything falls short of his 2000 season. I'm not even sure if this season was better than last year when he won eight TOUR events, including a couple of majors, despite the loss of his dad. What this year and last does prove is that Tiger is getting scarier. Whatever happened to the theory that married life was going to distract him? Now, he's a husband and a father and looking more dangerous than ever.
Hot Topic
How would you grade the FedExCup now that its in the books, and what one major tweak would you make for 2008?
Id give it a B, mostly because it gave us Tiger vs. Phil with the same tee time three days out of four at the Deutsche Bank Championship. My major tweak would be subtract significant points for players who miss the cut in the Playoffs. And also subtract significant points for players who dont show up in an event with the exception of players who finished the season (prior to the Playoffs) in the top 10. They should get one bye without penalty. They earned it.
I would give the Playoffs and the FedExCup a C. The competition was excellent. But I think you should have to play all the Playoff events to be eligible for the FedExCup. To do that, I think they should shorten the Playoffs to three events; four is too much to ask - especially with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship so close before the Playoffs and the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup so close behind.
I think a B is a fair grade. It easily could have been a failure had it not been for Tiger winning twice, Phil winning once (over Tiger), and Steve Stricker putting up a great fight. It also could have been a resounding success had it not been for a mountain of complaining and controversy. If I could change just one thing (among many) about the FedExCup, it would be the schedule. There should be two weeks between the PGA Championship and the start of the Playoffs. That's plenty of time to rest up and would leave no one with an excuse to skip out.
I would give it a C. What saved the FedExCup was some outstanding golf, like Tiger's performance to finish it off, the Mickelson-Woods showdown and Steve Stricker's longshot excellence. Having said that, I think people are still looking at all of the Playoff tournaments as individual events instead of being part of an overall package. That's the nature of golf. The first thing the PGA TOUR should do is stop calling them playoffs -- the majors are still what counts most. Another suggestion is to base a player's FedExCup winnings on how many tournaments he played. For example, Tiger would win 75 percent of what he could have won after missing The Barclays. Not that it means that much to Tiger, but it may encourage other players to participate in all four events.
Hot Topic
Is the Solheim Cup the premiere event in womens golf?
The Solheim Cup to me is a close third behind the No. 2 Kraft Nabisco Championship. No. 1, by far, is the U.S. Womens Open. And if you dont agree with me, ask Nancy Lopez what she thinks. By the way, its still making me a little crazy that theres not a meaningful Cup in womens golf that allows the Internationals to get in on the action. Lorena Ochoa, Karrie Webb and the Koreans deserve a chance.
No. The U.S. Women's Open is. Ask any woman which event she'd prefer to win. Winning a major changes your life, career and legacy. Being part of a Solheim Cup team is fantastic, but nothing in golf is bigger than winning a major championship.
I'm sure any of the 24 women on both sides would rather win a major than the Solheim Cup. But in terms of the viewer, I'd rank it right behind the U.S. Women's Open. I think that is the premiere women's event.
It could be as long as Dottie Pepper is involved and keeps throwing gas on the fire at the Solheim Cup. But seriously, I think the Solheim Cup is just one of several top-tier events. The LPGA Tour doesn't have the same emphasis on its majors as the PGA TOUR, but they are still important. What distinguishes the Solheim Cup is that it's a special thing every other year as opposed to the men's side where either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup is played each year.
Hot Topic
Give the readers something or someone to follow during the Fall Series.
Keep an eye on the top 30 on the money list. Those, not already qualified, will get invites to Augusta National. Several players, secure in the top 125, already have told me that the top 30 is their goal in the Fall Series. Also, players love qualifying for the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Kapalua. Fall Series winners will be going to Maui for that one.
I think the thing to follow during the Fall Series is to see how good the players are on the grandest stage in golf who are not the 'so-called superstars.' The PGA TOUR is the deepest tour in the world and the golf/competition will be exciting.
Nick Flanagan. He won three times on the Nationwide Tour to earn a promotion to the PGA TOUR. He's had to sit in idle while the FedExCup Playoffs were taking place, but hopefully he will be able to pick up where he left off and make a name for himself with the big boys.
There is something intriguing about watching hungry guys scrap for their careers. Another interesting thing will be how many top-tier players show up just to keep their games in shape. Will Vijay play every one of the fall tournaments?
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    Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

    By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

    Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

    ''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

    Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

    Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

    ''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

    It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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    Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

    Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

    The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

    ''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

    PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

    Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

    ''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

    It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

    He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

    ''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

    Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

    Later, he laughed about the moment.

    ''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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    Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

    Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

    Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

    The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

    “They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

    The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

    “Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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    Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

    “As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

    Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

    “Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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    McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

    McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

    “It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

    He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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    Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

    The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

    The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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    Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

    It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

    Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

    He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

    It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

    And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

    Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

    The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

    “I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

    “I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

    The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

    But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

    The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

    So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

    “That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

    "I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

    To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

    They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

    A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

    “He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

    Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

    But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

    Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”