As the Golf World Turns

By Mercer BaggsMarch 7, 2010, 10:43 pm

Tiger Woods
WOODS, PART I:  Tiger Woods returned home from a week-long stint at an Arizona rehabilitation center, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. The AP said he was in Arizona for marriage and family counseling with his wife, Elin. It is still not known when Woods will return to the PGA Tour; though, he has started practicing again, the story said.

Backspin The focus now shifts from Woods' personal life to his professional one – at least until he encounters an open media forum. That likely won't happen until he plays again, which begs the big question: When will he play again? The Masters Tournament is one month away. A week ago that didn't seem like a target, but now it's a definite possibility. If Woods has taught us one thing it's: never be surprised by anything he does [on or off the course].

Steve Williams and Tiger Woods
WOODS, PART II:  Jack Nicklaus said he believes Tiger Woods will play the Masters Tournament. Meanwhile, a return was made more imminent when Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, appeared on New Zealand's version of '60 Minutes.' In the interview Williams reiterated that he had no clue as to Woods' infidelities and was mad at his boss, but would stick by his side.

Backspin Whether you believe him or not, Williams is saying what he needs to in order to keep his job. Though it sounds like he's being critical of his employer, if he says he knew even the slightest detail he would be viewed as implicit and abiding. And he'd likely have to go. But Williams might have taken it a bit too far with the, 'I would have blown the whistle on him' rhetoric. Karen Silkwood wouldn't have blown the whistle on Tiger Woods.
John Daly
DALY, PART I: A Jacksonville, Fla., newspaper revealed John Daly's PGA Tour transgressions in a 456-page report obtained by court order. Daly's offenses over an 18-year period, through the fall of 2008, included: Being ordered to undergo counseling or alcohol rehabilitation seven times; being placed on probation six times; being cited for 'conduct unbecoming a professional' 11 times; being flagged for 'failure to give best effort' 21 times, and accruing over $100,000 in fines.

BackspinGetting a personnel file from the Tour is tougher than prying away a dead wildebeest from the jaws of a hyena. But when Daly lost a libel suit over a column he didn't like, the disciplinary file became evidence. Ironic, huh? As for the numbers, they are staggering, if not surprising. Still, Daly remains a popular figure in today's game because fans view him as Everyman. He's a regular guy, just like me and you. Isn't this how you would behave given Daly's talent and opportunities?

John Daly
DALY, PART II: John Daly responded Tuesday night to the revealing of his PGA Tour personnel file in FloridaTimes-Union writer Garry Smits' article by asking his Twitter followers to 'CALL & FLOOD his line & let’s tell him how WE feel.' Smits said he received nearly 100 calls by the following afternoon from Daly's angry fans. The Golf Writers Association of America has asked the PGA Tour to suspend Daly.

BackspinOf course, we wouldn't know if he did get suspended thanks to the Tour's hush-hush policy – a procedure which is disingenuous to its supporters. Fans don't need to know that Daly was ordered to go to some form of counseling or rehabilitation on seven occasions [that's personal], but they do have the right to know when a player is put on probation, fined for conduct unbecoming or flagged repeatedly for giving up [that's professional].

Camilo Villegas

Camilo Villegas earned his first PGA Tour win since the 2008 FedEx Cup playoffs with a dominating performance at the Honda Classic. Villegas played the Bear Trap [the final three holes at PGA National] in 3 under for the week, without a bogey. That helped lead the 28-year-old Colombian to a five-stroke triumph and his third career Tour title.

It's only March, but Villegas has been the most impressive player on Tour in 2010, with three top-10s in three starts. Meanwhile, Honda runner-up Anthony Kim ranks among the most disappointing players thus far this season. He closed in 78 to fall from T-8 to T-52 at Riviera. In Phoenix, he was one back after two rounds but shot 5-over 76 Saturday and finished T-24. And this past week, he was tied for the 36-hole lead with Villegas, but shot 3-over 73 to Villegas' 67 to fall six back, a deficit he couldn't overcome Sunday.
Sam Saunders

SAM I AM: Sam Saunders tied for 17th at the Honda Classic. The 22-year-old carded three consecutive rounds of 1-under-par 69 before finishing with a 3-over 73 to complete the event at even-par 280.

BackspinIf you don't know who Sam Saunders is, this blurb might feel as non-sequitor as Tiger Woods' PED comments a few weeks ago. But if you do know that he's Arnold Palmer's grandson, then it makes a little more sense. Saunders is accepting of the perks that come with his lineage – including sponsor's exemptions above players more qualified. But he also wants to make a name for himself. The best way to do that, is do what he did this week: take advantage of those offered opportunities.

Jack Nicklaus and Drew Brees

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees played in the Honda Classic pro-am alongside Jack Nicklaus, Dan Marino and Kenny G. ... Fred Couples earned his second Champions Tour victory of the season at the Toshiba Classic. ... Karrie Webb closed in a course-record 11-under 61 to win the Australian Ladies Masters by six shots. ... Ernie Els, whose last PGA Tour win came at the 2008 Honda Classic, tied for 67th ... Steve Pate won the Nationwide Tour's Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open. ... South Korean teenager Noh Seung-yul birdied the final hole to win the Malaysian Open.
Wonder how Marino feels when he has to spend time around people who have won Super Bowls? ... The Champions Tour couldn't have scripted a better start to 2010. ... It's her seventh Australian Ladies Masters title. ... Els shot 6-over 41 on the back nine Sunday, and had three double bogeys and one triple bogey for the week. ... The 48-year-old won a Tour-sanctioned event for the first time since 1998. ... The 18-year-old finished one shot clear of countryman K.J. Choi.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”