Opinions of Woods fickle in the age of the hot take

By Jason SobelFebruary 6, 2015, 9:20 pm

Here in the Age of the Hot Take – which is sort of like the Age of Enlightenment, only the opposite – everyone has an opinion. Not always a well-researched, highly contemplative opinion, mind you, but at the very least, a knee-jerk, need-it-now theory that gets thumbed out on social media accounts with the immediacy of a 911 call.

By its very nature, golf isn’t much of a knee-jerk, need-it-now type of game. You can’t rush to judgment in an arena where some players don’t peak until their mid-30s – or, hell, where some don’t stop contending for major championships until they’re 59. And so in many respects, opinions on the world’s best golfers represent the peculiar intersection of old-world eventuality and new-world urgency, an intersection with green lights in every direction, prompting massive wrecks before anyone bothers to look both ways.

Enter Tiger Woods.

Even in today’s society, golf still has some of those old-world charms. Rookies aren’t as heavily scrutinized as their counterparts in other sports; those who fail to reach predicted lofty heights aren’t dealt such severe blows of criticism. Then there’s Tiger, whose every movement – from agile and clinical to stiff and dispirited – gets treated with the importance of such grave topics as global politics and SEC football recruiting.

Woods withdraws | Back again | Injury timeline | Photo gallery

During the 11-and-a-half holes that he played at Torrey Pines’ North Course on Thursday afternoon, he was treated to the same reflex discourse that’s been following his performances for the past half-decade. He skulled a chip and the masses cried, “He’s done!” He holed a chip shot and they declared, “He’s back!” He left the course grimacing in pain and they about-faced, “He’s done!” Not that he knows – or even cares. Why should he? Leave the rhetoric to those who for years haven’t even tried to activate their glutes.

That’s not to impugn just the public, either. The media is just as at fault for the snap decisions regarding Tiger’s swing and his health and his mental state and just about every other aspect of his game that we think could be affecting him. Our guesses might be more educated, but they’re still merely guesses. And the law of supply and demand – the public keeps demanding more coverage, so we keep supplying it – requires the never-ending critical analysis of Tiger to be treated with not only importance but immediacy.

I’m as guilty as anyone. Last week, I watched Tiger compress a bunch of practice-round drives into the desert sky, saw a relaxed smile plastered across his face, watched him move easily and effortlessly, listened to him insist, “This is going to be a fun year,” and came to the conclusion that he was right. It was going to be a fun year. Instead of another 12 months spent dissecting his injuries and deconstructing his swing, this was going to be a year where we sat back and enjoyed the ride, watching one of the all-time masters perform his craft at a delightfully high rate. This was going to be a year where he was compelling for all the right reasons again, fascinating and captivating for his successes rather than his shortcomings.

Then he shot an opening-round 73 during which he looked completely lost around the greens and followed with a second-round 82 that made the 73 seem brilliant by comparison. He then followed that by withdrawing from Torrey after a cluster of cringe-inducing shots – both for him and for those watching – and it felt like last week’s glass half-full had not only tipped over and spilled, but smashed into a thousand tiny pieces on a linoleum floor.

Yeah, that’s right – scalding hot-take alert – after watching the attempted start to his year these last two weeks, I’ve now quietly tiptoed away from the “He’s back!” camp and set up shop in the “He’s done!” quarters, with the caveat that I can return to the original spot at a moment’s notice. There are those who steadfastly planted roots on one side of the fence long ago, never shifting hypotheses – and they are to be commended, if not for their persistence, then at least for their stubbornness. But not me. I’m a vacillator of epic proportions.

But isn’t that alright? Isn’t that why we watch? Isn’t that why we passionately yell at our television screens, only to keep coming back for more? If we knew the end results, that would take all the fun out of it. That would deprive us of the ceaseless debates that can envelop any 19th hole in a hurry. It would strip us of the edge-of-our-seat excitement of a Sunday afternoon heading down the back stretch. It would rob us of any reason to care.

And so we watch and, for some of us, we maintain an open mind – and we change our open mind based on the current temperature of the situation.

When it comes to Tiger – when he’s relaxed and smiling and hitting fairways and confident – it’s perfectly acceptable to remember the glory days and imagine he’s on the verge of returning to the dominant force who once roamed atop leaderboards. And then there are times like his first two starts – when he’s confused and injured and looks like an expeditiously aging version of his former self – when it’s impossible to envision any such return.

He’s 39 now, which is clearly the back-nine of any golfer’s career, but especially one who’s been diligently digging secrets out of the dirt since he could walk. Couple that with a body that can no longer withstand an hour-long fog delay, let alone the rigors of 72 holes, plus a metamorphic swing that is undergoing its fourth or fifth mutation, and it’s easy to foresee a future where he never regains status as one of the world’s best golfers. Forget about passing Jack Nicklaus on the all-time major championship list, he might not get the four PGA Tour wins needed to eclipse Sam Snead’s record.

At least, that’s how it looks today, right on the heels of that third withdrawal in his last eight starts. But at some point, perhaps at Augusta National, nestled amongst the loblolly pines and blooming azaleas, he’ll hit a towering approach shot into one of the course’s contoured greens that takes a slight 3-yard cut and softly lands just a few feet from the hole. And we’ll start to think, maybe this guy isn’t done after all. Maybe there’s still time to relive some of those old glory days.

That’s alright. We’re not supposed to know what the future holds. That’s what makes all of this – the debates, the conjecture, the never-ending critical analysis – such a passionate pursuit. That’s what makes us care.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”