The great unknown

By Jason SobelJuly 29, 2011, 3:36 am

I’m going to take up playing high-stakes three-card Monte games with street hustlers. Maybe figure out Stonehenge. Solve the debt ceiling while I’m at it.

Hey, anything is easier than predicting the future of Tiger Woods these days.

Once thought to be the heir apparent to Jack Nicklaus’ throne atop golf’s storied food chain, Woods has instead taken over “Most Enigmatic” honors from the likes of Sergio Garcia, David Duval and John Daly.

On Thursday, Woods announced that he will return to competitive golf after a three-month hiatus at next week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which means we should expect the unexpected. That’s a cliché, sure, but what isn’t a cliché in Tiger’s life these days? His story is that of the quintessential star athlete. He had everything – fame, popularity, money, bikini-model wife, 2.3 kids and a golf game that even at its most mediocre was better than 98 percent of his peers.

And now? Post-scandal, Woods has become a caricature of his former self. A recent novel attempted to exaggerate the unraveling of a Tiger-like professional golfer, but Tiger’s dissolution has already been the ultimate exaggeration – no fiction necessary.

Then again, those are topics for another time, because we’re here to talk about the one thing Woods first became known for and the one thing he’s rarely done these past two years – and even more rarely done well. He is about to play golf in public for the first time since posting a front-nine 6-over 42 at The Players Championship prior to withdrawing due to an injured left leg and, undoubtedly, a little hurt pride, too.

This is hardly the first time he’s returned from a lengthy absence with few expectations for success from the masses. Three years ago, Woods didn’t play a single tournament between the Masters and the U.S. Open, instead recuperating from minor knee surgery, only to return at Torrey Pines and win his 14th career major title. Last year, after a self-imposed hiatus following his scandal, he made his initial start of the season at Augusta National, finishing in a share of fourth place.

Callow jokes aside, there’s nothing Tiger enjoys more than proving everyone wrong inside the ropes.

It could happen again at Firestone, a course on which Woods has prevailed an eye-popping seven times in 11 career appearances. Though his swing coach Sean Foley has in recent days said he hasn’t worked with his pupil, Tiger previously maintained that he wouldn’t return until he owned a clean bill of health and received the go-ahead from his doctors.

There’s more motivation than simply playing well and earning money and climbing the FedEx Cup standings, though. It’s well within reason to believe that – injured or not – Woods was thoroughly embarrassed by his nine-hole performance at TPC Sawgrass. That’s a feeling he may have endured off the course since Thanksgiving night of 2009, but one which largely escaped him for much of his professional life.

Throw in the fact that in his last full start this season, while he was competing with knee and Achilles injuries that occurred on the 17th hole during Round 3 of the Masters, he still finished T-4 at that event, and suddenly optimism begins to pervade next week’s scenario.

Maybe he’s not as far from success as most people seem to think. Maybe his recent injuries – not emotional issues, personal problems or even technical faults with his swing – have been the only thing holding him back.

Then again, maybe he’ll repeat last year’s performance at Firestone.

Forget those seven titles in Akron. The most recent memory of Woods at this event is the four-day total of 18 over par that left him in a share of 78th place in the 80-man field. He couldn’t hit a fairway, couldn’t find a green and couldn’t hole a putt outside the leather. Coming off this recent absence, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to expect a repeat of such futility next week. 

And therein lies the current most intriguing subplot to the long-running Tiger Woods saga. Whereas we used to ask questions such as, “Are you picking Tiger or the field?” and “By how many strokes do you think Woods will win this week?” he has transformed from the World’s Greatest to the Great Unknown.

You could gaze into your crystal golf ball and tell me that Woods will open with a 62 next week en route to an easy victory and I’d believe you. You could read some “tee” leaves and contend that last year’s debacle was triumphant compared to what will occur this time and I’d believe that, too.

It’s because of this unsolved mystery that even those who swear they’re sick of the 24/7 coverage on Tiger will continue to watch his every move. He may be on the verge of returning to glory or he could be continuing a downward spiral toward mediocrity.

I don’t have the answer and I’m done trying to guess. But hey, at least I’m one heck of a three-card Monte player.

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.