Quitting is for Quitters

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 8, 2010, 1:14 am

John Daly

I'M BACK ... BUT WAS I EVER REALLY GONE?: John Daly announced that he would be competing in this week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and that his amateur partner would be Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Due to his status as a major champion, Daly did not need a sponsor's exemption to get into the field.

 
BackspinDennis Hopper stayed dry in 'Hoosiers' longer than Daly stayed away from golf. Granted he's not using a sponsor's exemption at Pebble, but he's still taking up a spot. Unfortunately, Daly's dramatic performance in the Torrey Pines parking lot was not recognized by the Academy Award nominating committee as it was deemed less believable than Matt Damon as a South African rugby player.

Tom Watson
 
TOM THE TALKER:  One week after saying Tiger Woods needed to be more humble upon his return, Tom Watson took another shot at Woods during a press conference at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Watson, who reiterated that Woods needed to display humility, said Woods lacked the character of past golfing greats like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson.

BackspinWatson has seemingly been more vocal of Woods' temperament on the golf course than his behavior off it. Maybe that's because Watson wasn't exactly a model citizen during his hey day. But the real issue is: Where was all this public criticism prior to the events of last Thanksgiving? Fans and even a few writers took Woods to task over his use of blue language and penchant for throwing clubs, but I don't recall many, if any, players speaking up. But now that the man is down, it's finally time to get your kicks in? Maybe Watson is still bitter that he lost the Big Brother battle to Mark O'Meara when Woods turned pro.

Tom Watson
 

TOM THE PLAYER:
Tom Watson closed in 4-under 68 Sunday at the Emirates Golf Club to finish in a tie for eighth at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The 60-year-old finished at 6 under par and beat the likes of Paul Casey, Ross Fisher, Charl Schwartzel and Robert Karlsson.
 
Backspin
Playing, rather than lecturing, is what Watson does best. And he seems to do it better than anywhere on the European Tour. It's implausible to imagine Watson barnstorming the globe on the European circuit for an entire year, but it would be interesting to see how he would fare. This latest performance only makes fans more excited to see the old man tackle the Old Course in July.
Steve Stricker

TRUST ME ON THIS: A year after losing a heart-breaker at Riviera Country Club, Steve Stricker held on for victory at the Northern Trust Open. Stricker had a six-shot lead through 54 holes, but saw that advantage dwindle to just two through five holes of the final round. He composed himself, however, and defeated Luke Donald by that same two-stroke margin.

 

BackspinStricker almost became the sixth player in Tour history to blow at least a six-shot, final-round lead. Instead, he's a champion for the fourth time in less than a year and the new No. 2 on the Official World Golf Ranking. It's a spot well earned, for a well liked and well respect guy, but Stricker still feels more like a No. 3 than a No. 2. Phil Mickelson may have started 2010 a little shaky, but given his finish to '09, the fact that he's taken down Tiger Woods head-to-head recently, and the feeling that he is more of a threat in the majors, makes Mickelson No. 2 in theory, if not reality.
Tim Fichem

SEE THE FUTURE: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem met with Tour players Tuesday night at Riviera Country Club, where conversation centered on the Ping Eye 2 wedge. After the meeting Finchem said there were three options available relating to the controversial club: 1) Do nothing and monitor how many players use the wedge. 2) Work out an agreement with Ping chairman and CEO John Solheim. 3) Create a local rule that would disallow its use at Tour events.


BackspinNothing, however, is likely to happen anytime soon. It's amazing that Finchem, a man who reportedly makes well in excess of $5 million a year, didn't have the foresight to see this problem, despite being warned of such a possibility by John Solheim. Maybe Finchem needs a psychic on his staff. Or, maybe he needs to stop believing his own rhetoric, that life is perfect on the PGA Tour, and be more aware of surrounding dangers.

Miguel Angel Jimenez

PONYTAIL POWER: Miguel Angel Jimenez made a 4-foot par putt to defeat Lee Westwood on the third hole of sudden death and capture the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Westwood missed a putt to win in regulation and then missed a 5-foot putt for par just prior to Jimenez sealing victory.

BackspinThis has to make European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie happy. Monty is in need of some veteran leadership on his team and Jimenez, who has played in three prior Cups – two winners – provides just that. Unfortunately, he also brings with him a career 2-7-3 record, including a mark of 0-3-0 in singles. But we're sure Monty, someone with such a positive outlook on everything, is not focused on the negative.

Jim Thorpe

DOUBLE STANDARD?: Jim Thorpe was suspended by the PGA Tour via e-mail Friday. Thorpe is slated to start a one-year jail sentence April 1 for failing to pay nearly $2 million in taxes. He had hoped to play in Champions Tour events prior to his sentence, including this week's Ace Group Classic.

BackspinIs there a double standard here? Certainly, Thorpe's case is unique to others in which players have been suspended by the Tour because his involves jail time. But if players can be suspended for conduct detrimental to the Tour or conduct unbecoming a professional, why didn't Tiger Woods face sanctions? The answer is rather obvious, but worth discussing.
Ty Votaw and Sophie Gustafson

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Former LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw and LPGA player Sophie Gustafson have officially divorced. ... Standout Australian amateur Daniel Nisbet was given an 18-month ban for possession of an anabolic steroid. ... Anthony Kim gave Jessica Alba putting tips on the 'Jay Leno Show.' ... Paul Goydos, Davis Love III, Tom Lehman and Jeff Sluman were announced as Corey Pavin's assistant captains for this year's U.S. Ryder Cup team. ... Steve Williams denied reports that his boss, Tiger Woods, would be returning to competition at the World Match Play in two weeks.
 
Backspin
Plenty of smart-ass comments could be made here, but divorce is never funny. ... What is funny is the notion that golf is a 100-percent clean sport. ... If I wasn't concentrating so hard on Alba, I would have recognized how monotoned Kim is. ... Love the selection of Goydos; wish he could make the team as a player. ... The Match Play is sponsored by Accenture, who dropped Woods like a leper late last year. No chance he was ever playing that tournament – at least for this year.
Getty Images

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.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


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.

Getty Images

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.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


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.”