Major goal of 20 gives Tiger more drive

By Jason SobelApril 5, 2013, 12:51 pm

Stumble into any professional sports news conference or interview scrum and you’re bound to hear the words “one day at a time” uttered before too long.

Crash Davis famously schooled Nuke LaLoosh in the art of this phrase in “Bull Durham.” Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden claimed that we had to seek small improvement in these increments. The words even transcend sports; Abraham Lincoln used the saying to explain that the best thing about the future is that it comes this way.

Call it a cliché – because, well, that’s exactly what it is – but taking things “one day at a time” is a rite of passage in professional athletics, the spoken ability to focus on the present akin to acing a sports psychologist’s pop quiz.

Tiger WoodsTiger Woods is no stranger to clichés, employing the “one day at a time” defense on his fair share of occasions. It isn’t often, though, that he outwardly lists specific goals. And he didn’t this time, either – but the 14-time major champion has told longtime friend and NBC/Golf Channel analyst Notah Begay that he has his sights set on a certain number of major titles before his career is over.

'He is focused on 20,” Begay said in a Sports Illustrated cover story that will hit newsstands during Masters week. “That may be a little hard to believe, considering what's transpired in the last three years, but that's where his focus is. He thinks he is capable of winning 20 majors.'

Public objection can be a funny thing. While the usual “one day at a time” athletes are often chastised for being too bland in their perspective, Woods’ comment – even one spoken only privately to a friend and not boasted publicly – will likewise be viewed as too obtuse. His bravado in basically saying, “I need five more major victories to pass Jack Nicklaus, so I’m going to win six,” will be unnecessarily characterized in a negative light, just like the recent slogan, “Winning takes care of everything,” in his Nike ad.

Quite frankly, if this is Woods’ mindset, it’s a refreshing one. Too often professional golfers address questions about long-term goals with such intangible rhetoric as, “I want to become more consistent” or “I just want to keep improving.”

Even secondhand, Woods is quashing the notion that vague goals are somehow more favorable. Whether he ever gets to 20 or not, simply stating that endgame can provide extra motivation and inspiration for a golfer who has often thrived on those emotions. From facing Stephen Ames in match play to proving wrong his doubters post-scandal, Woods may be the game’s all-time leader when it comes to dangling carrots in front of his nose, then racing out and catching them.

Photos: Tiger's career PGA Tour victories

In a way, it recalls his usual refrain about peaking four times per year, a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the major championships. Woods maintains that he wants – and plans – to have his best stuff when these tournaments are contested. It makes for noteworthy headlines, but think about it for a minute and the entire strategy sounds more than a bit flawed.

“I don’t really know how to totally do it for golf,” Woods’ instructor Sean Foley told me recently. “But I know in other sports, for example, Michael Phelps isn’t swimming fast two weeks before the Olympics. Sprinters don’t want to set world records two weeks beforehand. But I don’t know how you do that in golf.”

With three victories already this year, Woods certainly hasn’t paced himself prior to the majors, which sort of negates his own theory. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. If Woods just thinks he can peak four times per year, that’s as good as doing so physically. Mind over matter, those sports psychologists might say.

Same goes for his stated goal of 20 career major championship titles. There are those who may call him arrogant for culminating a four-year drought by putting designs on a master plan to exceed Nicklaus by two. But it’s just another carrot that he’s dangled in front of his own nose, providing additional reason to continue working just as hard both on and off the course as he always has.

If Woods is focused on 20 and thinks he’s capable of winning 20 – as Begay maintains he has said – again, that’s half the battle. Mind over matter. He has an uncanny ability to set goals for himself and either reach or surpass them. It is a mindset we should applaud rather than denigrate, one we should celebrate and hope is contagious among his peers.

Just consider the alternatives. Even behind closed doors, Woods could have whispered to his longtime friend comments such as “I want to become more consistent” or “I just want to keep improving” or the ever-inconclusive “I’m just taking things one day at a time.” Instead, he chose a tangible goal, one which has never before been accomplished. It’s exactly what we should expect from a golfer who has thrived with similar mindsets throughout his career. 

Getty Images

Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

Getty Images

Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

Getty Images

13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.