Curiosity Wont Kill This Cat
It came as no surprise when David Leadbetter, in town for a corporate outing with Callaway, was asked if he took Tiger or the field in the upcoming Masters. The answer was a no-brainer for the renowned swing guru.
You have to take Tiger. Theres no two ways about it, he said. The guys playing great. His belief system is so strong. The fickleness of the game is such that, hey, something could happen. You never know and somebody could get hot. If hes in the mix or thereabouts, then youve got to take Tiger.
Look, the guys a freak. Hes super human. Hes got a power that nobody else has, the ability he has to call upon that inner strength, said Leadbetter.
Of course, Tiger being a favorite in the Masters comes as no surprise whether its Leadbetter or Joe in the coffee shop making the prediction. TW is always the center of attention, but he gets tongues wagging even more when he busts out as he did on his just-concluded streak of victories that ended at Doral.
While that and anything he accomplishes at Augusta this year are relatively short bursts of greatness, they are chapters in the encyclopedia that Woods continues to write and Leadbetter is enjoying the ride, marveling at the evolution that continues with the No. 1 players in the world.
Theres always going to be little changes, said Leadbetter of the swing changes Woods has made over the years.
You look at Hank Haney working with Tiger. It was a new challenge that Tiger wanted. Obviously, he was very successful with Butch Harmon. Im sure its probably not the last changes Tiger is going to make in his career because he feels theres something to challenge his imagination.
Thats what he needs. Sometimes, the mind gets bored, said Leadbetter.
Of course, people wait for giants to fall. Remember the predictions that Tiger would lose his edge when he got married and when he became a father? How about the time Vijay Singh took over the No. 1 ranking?
Then, there was all that talk about the Big Four or Big Five challenging him, but that never happened, at least not consistently. Now, the theory is that he will lose his edge when he inevitably beats Jack Nicklaus record of 18 major victories.
Sometimes, you wonder if the doubters have trouble dealing with the fact that Woods is great or whether he is that great, which has been the case with many phenoms in other sports. As long as Woods remains curious, his mind stays active and the Tiger evolution continues, his longevity is timeless at this point.
As successful as he was over the first decade-plus in his career, he is a different golfers than in his rookie year. You dont have to look any farther than his play on the greens to illustrate that point, according to Leadbetter.
Tiger was not as great a putter as he is now, he said. People fail to realize ' sure, you talk about how far he hits it, the shots he hits ' but ultimately, it all boils down to the putts that he holes at the right time.
Hes just unbelievable, the way hes able to read greens, to translate that into feel, be able to hit the putt.
Just think of all the putts ' the one he holed at Bay Hill, or the one he holed in Dubai.
Hes got that sixth sense. Hes got that intangible, whatever you want to call it. Hes just an amazing specimen. Hes got it physically, mentally, technically, said Leadbetter, adding the changes since his rookie year dont stop on the greens.
I think the biggest thing is that hes got much more versatility. Hes got a lot more shots, he said, adding that Woods now swings softer, with less of an athletic move on the ball, yet still gets incredible results.
Hes getting old now. Hes in his early 30s, joked Leadbetter about Tiger now compared to Tiger 10 years ago.
The scary part is that he is just entering his prime. Its impossible to speculate that far into the future, but as long as the evolution continues, curiosity wont kill this cat and we will be talking about Tiger the same way 10 years from now as we are today.
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Editor's Note: Ian Hutchinson is golf columnist for the Toronto Sun. He is also a frequent contributor to Golf Scene and Golf Canada Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
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
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
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.
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."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
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.
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.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
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."
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."