Golf's new Golden Age

By Jason SobelDecember 5, 2011, 6:00 pm

A seismic shift occurred under the tectonic plates of the golf world on Sunday. Tiger Woods winning his first tournament in more than two years? Well, that’s part of it, but hardly the entire story.

No, this had more to do with a major alteration of the space-time continuum.

The season-long ebbs and flows of professional golf have always been determined by the annual calendar. The game blooms along with the azaleas in Augusta every April; it heats up again at the U.S. Open in June; it blows onto the radar at the Open Championship in July; it oozes one last shot of glory at the PGA Championship in August.

The major championships remain the standard bearers for which all other tournaments are measured – and rest assured, the other ones pale in comparison. That doesn’t mean, though, that other parts of the calendar are absolved of any potential drama. 

And therein lies the seismic shift.

Hoggard: Tiger emotional in victory

The end of the year was for so long golf’s opportunity to lounge in front of the cozy fireplace and hibernate until the next season. Sure, the good-natured hit-and-giggle fests comprised a Silly Season that kept elite players’ wallets fattened and diehard fans amused, but the heart of the scheduled lineup had long since taken its cuts, riding the bench until their numbers were called again.

The shift to late-season events becoming important was less swift than gradual, but there were a few key moments in its arrival. First was the Nedbank Golf Challenge, comprised of a 12-player field in South Africa, receiving Official World Golf Ranking points for its participants in 2006, followed three years later by a similar arrangement for the 18-man Chevron World Challenge, which coincided with the inaugural Race to Dubai, garnering greater importance for the end of the European Tour schedule.

Like a perfect offseason storm, all three converged to make Dec. 4 one of the most important dates of this year’s golf calendar, as unlikely as that sounds. In succession, three of the game’s biggest stars catapulted themselves into the headlines during a time previously reserved for pursuits other than popular pros purloining headlines. Rory McIlroy won the Euro Tour’s penultimate event in Hong Kong. Lee Westwood triumphed at the Nedbank. Woods prevailed at the Chevron.

If it wasn’t before, it’s official now: The Silly Season isn’t very silly any longer.

The 49th week of the year – and the 49th week in which multiple major tours hosted events – wasn’t only meaningful because of its trio of champions. Its relevancy will extend into the 2012 campaign as one of the most anticipated golf seasons in recent memory.

We have to go back to 2001, when Woods owned three major championship trophies and was pursuing the so-called “Tiger Slam,” to find a time when golf had created such a palpable buzz entering the year. The timeliness of such reverberations is magnified by the fact that the outgoing season was one known more for parity than anything else. Three different players staked a claim to the No. 1 ranking, four different players won the major championships and no player claimed more than two PGA Tour titles.

If there’s one man who can create a buzz, it’s Woods. His one-stroke victory over Zach Johnson turned a traditional NFL Sunday in this country into a Golf Sunday, with fanatic and casual observers alike glued to their television sets throughout his journey toward the long-lost winner’s circle.

For the first 14 years of his professional career, Woods was always the prohibitive favorite anytime he teed it up. So dominant was the 14-time major winner that legitimate queries about “Tiger or the field?” permeated conversations prior to many of those tournaments.

During the 749-day period between Woods’ victories, though, the game’s landscape changed. Rather than one preeminent figure reigning over the opponents, others have stepped in to fill that void, cultivating a culture of excitement and even greater anticipation.

As we witnessed on Sunday, McIlroy and Westwood – the world’s second- and third-ranked players, respectively – are competing at an elite level. Luke Donald is the game’s most consistent performer. Twenty-something major winners Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer and Keegan Bradley own star potential, as do fellow twenty-somethings Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.

The list of players who can challenge Tiger – and will be challenged by Tiger – for supremacy on a weekly basis stretches much further than the aforementioned names, all of which breeds plenty of promise for the upcoming campaign.

In fact, speculation can extend well beyond 2012. For so many years, Woods single-handedly brought golf to the masses. If he can return to his former level – and yes, that remains an “if,” even after his recent win – and others continue on their apparent paths toward success, the next half-decade could be ripe for a golden age within the game’s highest level.

If nothing else, it leaves the golf world on the collective edge of its seat going into next season. These are the types of things we now learn on a day like Dec. 4, that seismic shift proving that anticipation and drama can’t be contained within the walls of the traditional calendar.

Rose (62) sets blistering pace in Indonesia

By Associated PressDecember 14, 2017, 3:06 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Justin Rose shot a 10-under 62 Thursday to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, starting on the back nine at Royale Jakarta Golf Club, had five birdies to go out in 31, then birdied four of five holes midway through his final nine and another birdie on his last hole in the $750,000 tournament.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Gunn Charoenkul (64) was in second place and Kim Giwhan and Phachara Khongwatmai (both 65) were tied for third.

Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Ranked 51st in the world, the American is aiming for a strong finish in Jakarta to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

Getty Images

LaCava: Woods wouldn't talk after H.O.R.S.E. match

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 2:27 pm

The competitive streak within Tiger Woods knows no bounds - even on the basketball court, according to caddie Joe LaCava.

LaCava has been on Woods' bag since 2011, and he recently shared a story on "Inside the Ropes" on Sirius/XM PGA Tour Radio about a clash between the two men over a seemingly friendly game of H.O.R.S.E. Actually, it turned into nine straight games (and nine straight wins) for LaCava, who exploited a weakness in Woods' on-court strategy while leaning on a mid-length jumper of his own:

"The thing with him was if I missed a shot, which I missed plenty of shots, but if I missed the shot he'd go back down to the 3 (point line) because he liked to make the 3," LaCava said. "But it's harder obviously to make a 3, and I'd go right back to the baseline 12-footer, and he couldn't make it."

It's a short list of people who have beaten Woods nine times in any athletic pursuit, let alone in a row. But for LaCava, the fallout from his afternoon of on-court dominance was less than subtle.

"He did not talk to me the rest of the day," LaCava explained. "I didn't even get the old text, 'Dinner is ready,' because I stay across at the beach house. I didn't even get that text that night. I had to get take-out. He didn't announce he wasn't (talking), he just did it. I'm telling you, nine games in a row. Like I said, he's so competitive, even at something like that."

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 3, Tiger Woods

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:45 pm

After returning to competition at the Hero World Challenge in December 2016, Woods started the new year with an ambitious slate of tournament starts as he eyed his first full season since 2013. But he made it only three rounds, looking rusty en route to a missed cut at Torrey Pines before withdrawing abruptly in Dubai.

The “spasms” that led to that withdrawal turned out to be something far more serious, as Woods underwent his fourth and most invasive back surgery in April, a lumbar fusion. It brought with it an extensive rehabilitation, and at the Presidents Cup in September Woods humored the prospect that he might never again play competitive golf.

At Liberty National he also faced some scrutiny for an off-course incident from months prior. In May he was arrested for suspicion of DUI, an incident that produced a startling roadside video of an intoxicated Woods struggling to follow instructions from the arresting officer after driving erratically.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

While he was not drinking at the time, Woods was found to have a mix of several prescription medications in his system, including multiple painkillers. He checked himself into a private drug treatment program in July to address his dependency issues, and in October he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.

But the incident was barely a memory when Woods again made a return to competition in the Bahamas at the tournament he hosts. This time around he exceeded nearly every expectation, twice shooting 4-under 68 while tying for ninth among the 18-man field. Having re-tooled his swing following fusion surgery, Woods appeared relaxed, happy and healthy while briefly taking the lead during the tournament’s second round.

What lies ahead for Woods in 2018 remains uncertain, as the stop-and-start nature of this past season serves as a cautionary tale. But after a harrowing arrest and another serious surgery, he seems once again focused on his game, intent on chasing down a new crop of elite talent, some of whom are barely more than half his age.

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Woods arrested for DUI, enters diversion program after getting "professional help"

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Photos: Tiger Woods' car during DUI arrest

Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Photos: Tiger Woods in court for DUI hearing

Article: Tiger gets 'professional help' for prescription meds

Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Article: Woods pleads in court guilty to reckless driving

Woods goes from unsure of his pro golf future to resuming full golf activities

Article: Doctor clears Woods for full golf activity six months after back surgery

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Article: Hero comeback a success for healthy Woods

Article: Woods discusses his back: 'No issues at all, none'

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Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:30 pm