Recent strange stories lead to skepticism

By Jason SobelJanuary 21, 2015, 4:42 pm

Don’t believe everything you hear.

That isn’t just some old adage. It’s a general rule instilled in most of us as young children, one that permeates our subconscious as adults. It implores us to not see the world through rose-colored glasses and innocent naiveté, but to view it through a prism of skepticism.

It’s also a rule that doesn’t often apply in golf.

Hey, this is a game based on an honor system. Competitors don’t foot-wedge their ball out of a gnarly lie; they don’t write 6 on the scorecard when they’ve knowingly hit it seven times.

There are few occasions to not believe what you hear. If a golfer insists he hit the ball great but couldn’t putt it into the ocean, you tend to take him for his word.

Three separate golf-related stories in the past few days, however, have stretched the limits of what we can believe and stirred our collective sense of skepticism.

Robert Allenby said he was kidnapped, beaten and robbed on Friday night after missing the Sony Open cut. Tiger Woods said he was bumped by a cameraman at a ski race, knocking out his left front tooth. Dustin Johnson, while admitting to having personal “issues,” said that he’s never had problems with cocaine or alcoholism.

You’re allowed to believe every word of what these three players have said in regard to their specific stories. You can choose to believe none of it. Or you can think each instance is – like they say in the movies – “based on a true story,” some mixture of accuracy and embellishment and denial that has morphed into their public assertion.

Like trying to prove a false negative, none of these contentions can be deemed unsubstantiated until there exists confirmation to negate them.

In the curious case of Allenby, the investigation is still ongoing. Four days after he sustained facial contusions and a blow to his left eye that left it swollen shut, the Honolulu Police Department issued its first public statement, essentially verifying what we already knew – that no arrests have been made and detectives are still poring over surveillance tape.

Since the story went public Saturday, Allenby has been bewildered by social media postulations that there’s something implausible about the entire scenario. And he has a valid point: Unless you believe those contusions were self-inflicted – a near-impossible assertion even for the most cynical among us – there is proof that something happened to Allenby that night.

And yet, there is a sense of skepticism surrounding the case.

In the hours after the incident, Allenby’s memory was hazy; he insisted he couldn’t remember anything between leaving the Amuse Wine Bar and being rescued in a park by a homeless woman and a military veteran. In the days since, he maintained that he was driven six miles away (reported witnesses have said they found him in a park, around the corner from the wine bar) and suggested that the woman must have been paid off by the assailants to keep her silence (in fact, it was Allenby who later gave her a $1,000 gift card for being a good Samaritan).

Can he be forgiven for failing to know all the details after being beaten and bloodied? Absolutely. But he similarly shouldn’t fail to see how some faraway observers aren’t convinced all the details are true, simply based on those claims.

Woods surprised girlfriend Lindsey Vonn at the Olympia delle Tofane super-G event in Italy on Monday, watching in person as she claimed a record 63rd World Cup victory. The sweet gesture and historic title were quickly overshadowed, though, by another story. When Woods pulled his skeleton ski mask down from his mouth and smiled, photographers caught him without one of his front teeth.

“During a crush of photographers at the awards’ podium,” explained his agent, Mark Steinberg, “a media member with a shoulder-mounted video camera pushed and surged towards the stage, turned and hit Tiger Woods in the mouth. Woods’ tooth was knocked out by the incident.”

Vonn was there, and corroborated the story in a Facebook post.

Never mind the fact that photographs showed no blood and no other damage; never mind that race organizers and security personnel insist they were near Woods the entire time and never witnessed any such incident.

All of which leads to skepticism. Who’s telling the truth here? What really happened? None of it, however, answers this question: If the world’s most famous athlete wasn’t bumped by a photographer, why would he show up in public sans front tooth and just where, exactly, did that gap in his grill come from?

That tooth has always been yellower than his others, a fact which can be determined after examining old video and photos like the Zapruder film. When it comes to Camp Woods, where spin control is often the first line of defense, the normal reaction to such rhetoric is often skepticism – which is why so many are having trouble digesting this assertion.

Of course, it all underscores what this really means: Unlike the Allenby case, a criminal matter in which the authorities are searching for suspects, it was either an accident or some bizarre tale that has yet to be told. It’s a missing tooth that will soon be replaced. That’s all.

Johnson’s story is shrouded in similar mystery, though it holds greater importance to his ultimate well-being. When he first took a curious leave of absence from professional golf last August, it was amid speculation that he was suspended for recreational drug use. That speculation soon became reported as fact, when wrote that he’d been banned from the PGA Tour for six months for that very reason.

This week, Johnson broke his silence to Sports Illustrated, speaking in varying ambiguities about his personal struggles.

“I did not have a problem,” he said when asked explicitly about cocaine. “It’s just something I’m not going to get into. I have issues. But that’s not the issue.”

To summarize: Johnson took a leave of absence from competition to – in his words at the time – “seek professional help for personal challenges.” He conceded this week that he didn’t enter rehab and wasn’t addicted to drugs, but did “have issues.” Without directly addressing those issues, though, Johnson has left himself open to public skepticism.

All three of these cases – the assertions by Allenby, Woods and Johnson – have been opened to interpretation. Each allows us to understand what we’ve been told, then issue judgment based on the veracity of the story and the background.

Again, you can choose to believe every word. You can choose to believe none of it. Or you can choose to believe some combination thereof. 

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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.

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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.''

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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. 

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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.