Tigers Mantel Empty - For Now
'He's won eight majors and he's 27 years old,' Ernie Els said. 'If I had his record, I would not be out here. I would be out of here. It's ridiculous. I cannot take it serious.'
Woods certainly doused talk of a career downturn with his dominating victory at the Western Open last week. Of course, this guy is held to a different standard than everyone else, which is why his mantel looks so empty.
For the first time since 1999, Woods doesn't have possession of any Grand Slam trophy. It's a glaring circumstance, one he hopes to rectify at the British Open.
As usual, Woods is the overwhelming favorite. But, as Els (British), Rich Beem (PGA Championship), Mike Weir (Masters) and Jim Furyk (U.S. Open) demonstrated at the last four majors, the Tiger can be tamed.
If Woods doesn't win at Royal St. George's, he'll go to the PGA Championship needing a victory to avoid his first season without a major since 1998.
That is no small motivation. As a kid, Woods already was chasing Jack Nicklaus, who won a record 18 major titles. Ten away from catching his idol, Woods wants to get his pursuit back on course.
He's always tried to taper his routine to ensure his best play at the Big Four. As he is wont to say, 'If you win one major, you've had a great year.'
Woods wasn't much of a factor in the first half of the Grand Slam, tying for 15th at the Masters and 20th at the U.S. Open. But he made an emphatic statement at the Western Open, blowing away a strong field on the way to a five-stroke victory.
'He's one of the only guys I would sit and watch hit balls all day long,' said Beem, the distant runner-up. 'When you get into a groove, golf seems really easy and fun. For him, it's even easier than it is for everyone else. Obviously, he's got unbelievable amounts of game.'
Woods took great satisfaction from silencing those who wanted to turn his 3 1/2 month winless streak into something more. After all, he played only four official events in that span -- and never finished out of the top 20.
A slump? Hardly. All the while, Woods was working on his game, fine-tuning his swing and settling his putting stroke for a run at major No. 9.
'As I'm walking around, people are asking that question all the time. 'When are you going to start playing good again?'' he said. 'Golf is very, very difficult. And to be honest with you, I'm pleased with the way I've been playing.'
Actually, Woods has only himself to blame for raising the bar so high. Coming off knee surgery, he won three of the first four times he teed it up this year. When he didn't win, it was an upset.
'I'm sure that's going to be how it is my entire career,' he said. 'If I don't win for a few weeks, then all of a sudden I'm back in it again. One of the things I've learned about being out here is not to get trapped in this up-and-down roller coaster of the press. Sensationalism. That's what sells.'
Then again, Woods helped turn up the attention-meter with his campaign against 'hot' drivers. Heading into the Western, he went so far as to say he knew of one player who was using illegal equipment to increase the length of his shots.
'I'm not the only one that feels that way,' he said. 'We're trying to protect the integrity of the game.'
Coincidentally -- or maybe not -- the one glaring flaw in Woods' game is his performance off the tee. Normally one of the PGA Tour's longest hitters, he ranks 21st in driving distance (293.4 yards) and 116th in driving accuracy (hitting the fairway only 64.5 percent of the time).
But that's nitpicking. With his victory at the Western, Woods has won at least four tournaments in five straight years. No one -- not even Nicklaus -- had accomplished that feat.
'I've been able to not only be consistent, but close the deal, too,' Woods said. 'That's where you ultimately want to be. It's also one of the reasons why I changed my game back in '97, '98, the beginning of '99, to be more consistent, put myself there more often and give myself a chance to win. It's paid off.'
A victory at Sandwich would propel Woods into another exclusive club. Nicklaus is the only other golfer to claim a double career Grand Slam -- winning each of the majors at least twice -- and he was three years older when he reached the milestone in 1970.
Woods' first British Open victory came three years ago at St. Andrews, where he romped to an eight-stroke win. He would like to erase the memory of last year's trip across the pond, when a third-round 81 -- his worst score as a pro -- knocked him out of contention.
While overhauling his swing in the 1990s, Woods played in 10 majors without winning. He was hardly ordinary in that period, finishing in the top 10 five times, and he emerged from the transformation as a more complete player.
Woods no longer has to rely on pure power. He can get away with a flaw in his timing. His shot repertoire is much deeper.
'I'm just like you. I'm a golfer,' he said. 'It's the eternal thing. You're always going to try and get better.'
Woods has won seven of the last 15 majors, a streak that began at the 1999 PGA Championship and included the 'Tiger Slam,' when he became the first player to hold all four majors at the same time.
In that context, does the past year qualify as a slump? C'mon, get real.
'We laugh at it,' Els said. 'I think Tiger should laugh at it, because it's crazy.'
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.