The Bears Take on Tiger

By Golf Channel NewsroomAugust 20, 2003, 4:00 pm
AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- Tiger Woods bristles at the notion he's in a slump just because he has gone six major championships without winning.
 
Jack Nicklaus saw things differently.
 
Just as he was reaching the prime of his career after winning the 1967 U.S. Open, Nicklaus didn't win another major until the 1970 British Open. That's a dozen majors of no titles, but plenty of second-guessing about what was wrong with his game.
 
'In my opinion, I was in a slump, even though I won 10 tournaments in that period,' Nicklaus said Wednesday at Firestone Country Club.
 
'Everybody goes through lax periods,' he said. 'We all go through periods where we don't seem to work as hard or we're not as excited about the course we're playing. It takes something to wake you up.'
 
Woods did not seem overly concerned Wednesday at Firestone Country Club, where he will try to win his second World Golf Championship of the year.
 
He was asked whether his expectations were higher than those around him.
 
'Mine are awfully high,' he said. 'But mine are realistic.'
 
Woods points out that he has won four times this year in just 13 starts, and that his scoring average of 68.38 is his second-lowest in the seven years he has been on tour.
 
'And I've been labeled into a slump for some reason,' he said.
 
That likely is because Woods won majors with regularity, only this year he will be without for the first time since 1998.
 
Not since 1969 had the majors been swept by guys who had never won one. And the last two majors went to players -- Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel -- who had never won on tour.
 
'Two things have happened,' Nicklaus said. 'I don't think Tiger played very well, and that gave an opportunity for some other guys to come on. Tiger has played so well for the last three to four years, you just expect him to be there no matter what.
 
'And when he's not,' Nicklaus said, 'you're astonished.'
 
The results were not surprising. The final-round television ratings for the PGA Championship were down 41 percent, following suit with the other three majors.
 
Is it good for golf when other players besides Woods win majors?
 
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem looked at the upside.
 
'If you go back 30 or 40 years, there might have been eight or 10 players that really dominated every other week,' he said.
 
'Now, we have 50 or 60, 70, 80 very recognizable players. That's very much in the long-term interest in the game.'
 
Woods looked at it only from a television perspective.
 
'I think it's good for the game, but obviously bad for the network,' he said. 'It's very similar to what happened at the NBA championships this year without Shaq and Kobe or Iverson in the finals. It's just different ratings.'
 
And Nicklaus? He's seen it all before.
 
'Probably 80 percent of the telecast is where Tiger is,' Nicklaus said. 'If Tiger's not playing well, they don't know what to televise. Is it good? It was the same with Nicklaus and Palmer. Ratings were down. That's just the nature of the beast.'
 
Ratings tend to double whenever Woods gets in contention, and there's a good chance of that happening at the NEC Invitational.
 
He has won the last three times at Firestone in a variety of fashions -- holding off Phil Mickelson to win by one shot, lapping the field by 11 shots in the dark, beating Jim Furyk in a seven-hole playoff.
 
Woods returns to Firestone, but not as the defending champion.
 
The PGA Tour took the NEC Invitational to Sahalee last year, where Craig Parry of Australia won for the first time in the United States.
 
Still, one look at the tree-lined fairways of Firestone should make him feel at home.
 
'The courses you've played well in the past, you always feel that way,' Woods said. 'This is one of those golf courses where there's no tricks, there's no hidden agendas. It's right in front of you. And it's very challenging.'
 
The 86-man field includes players from the most current Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, the top 50 in the world ranking and players who won certain events on six tours around the world.
 
The only player missing was David Duval, who withdrew to take care of an ailing back.
 
Micheel will be introduced on the first tee Thursday as the PGA champion. Nerves won't kick in for Curtis, the British Open champion, until the end of the week -- he's getting married Saturday as soon as he finishes the third round.
 
For Woods, Masters champion Mike Weir, U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk and four-time winner Davis Love III, this could go a long way in shaping the Player of the Year race.
 
By winning the Match Play Championship in February, Woods is the only player who can win the Triple Crown of World Golf Championships.
 
They're not majors, but this year, they're all he has left.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - WGC-NEC Invitational
     
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    Rahm (62) fires career low round

    By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

    The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

    Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

    What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

    Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

    Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

    Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

    Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

    Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

    Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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    Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

    Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

    "Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

    Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

    "That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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    Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

    By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

    There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

    Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

    Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

    Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

    @tommyfleetwood_1

    A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

    The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

    It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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    Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

    Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

    The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

    It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

    "It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

    Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

    "This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."