Tiger's back may affect everything going forward

By Jason SobelMarch 5, 2014, 8:25 pm

DORAL, Fla. – When he wants to, when he’s frustrated by a question or feels like he’s answered it already, or he’s tired or hungry or just plain feels like it, Tiger Woods can stare a hole through a reporter. It is the closest any hack will ever come to competing against him and witnessing that familiar on-course, steely-eyed demeanor which has led to so many theories about his intimidation factor in a non-contact sport.

There was a classic case six months ago. This was just days after Woods shuffled off the course at The Barclays, the product of lower back spasms that had dropped him to his knees during the final round. He was inquired about whether the injury left him worrying about the long-term effects over the remainder of his career.

“No,” he offered coolly, pausing before rhetorically asking, “Do you want me to elaborate?”

Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon at the newly renovated Trump National Doral, where Woods was singing a different tune. Fresh off a similar attack of back spasms that forced him to withdraw from the Honda Classic three days earlier, he was asked the exact same question about the long-term effects on the rest of his career. This time his tone was neither definitive nor dismissive.

“Well, I think we have to take a more global look at it, yeah, absolutely, because it comes and goes,” he explained. “We've got to make sure that we do preventative things to make sure that it doesn't happen and adjust certain things. Whether it's swing, lifting, whatever it may be, you have to make certain adjustments. We've done that throughout my entire career and this is no different.”

No cold stare. No insistence that this was merely an isolated incident.



It is abundantly apparent that the lingering aftereffects of his latest back flare-up will influence his performance in the short-term. Woods only hit 60-yard shots in the days following his withdrawal and planned to just chip and putt his way around the Blue Monster less than 24 hours before his first-round tee time. For a guy whose swing didn’t exactly look grooved before, this likely doesn’t portend great things for the defending champion at this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Even if that isn’t the case, though, even if Woods appears 100 percent healthy and the treatments he’s been receiving work wonders on his current ailment and he follows the withdrawal with an unforeseen title, that’s not the story here.

The story here is about the big picture. It’s about the long-term.

It’s about the man chasing the most prestigious record in golf finally acknowledging that he could be vulnerable to impending back pain for the remainder of his career.

Unlike past knee injuries which healed after surgery and Achilles trauma which healed after rest, there is often no magic elixir to prevent or cure back spasms. At 38, Woods still ostensibly has plenty of time remaining in the competitive arena, but when the epitaph on his career is finally written, it might contend that this issue – not swing changes or putting woes or any technical faults – is what prevents him from passing Jack Nicklaus on the all-time major championship victory list, the one record we constantly debate because it’s the one he’s forever placed on the highest pedestal.

“I've had [a] knee injury, wrist injury, elbows, you name it,” he said. “Now I've had back, neck. It is what it is. It's the nature of repetitive sport. … You have repetitive injuries and most of my injuries are that. So that's the nature of why we lift, why we work out is to try to prevent a lot of these things and keep us healthy and keep us out here.

“As we get older – and I've learned it as I've aged – I don't quite heal as fast as I used to. I just don't bounce back like I used to. That's just part of aging. There's times that, watching my kids run around, I wish I could do that again. They just bounce right up, bruises, and they are gone in a day. It's just not that way anymore.”

It never will be, either. As the old saying goes, we’re not getting any younger. Being the world’s No. 1 golfer doesn’t prevent a guy from this inevitability.

In his 19th year as a professional – and yes, take a minute to process that –Woods is clearly on the back nine of what has been a brilliant career. It remains to be seen whether that means he’s on the figurative 11th hole right now or the 16th, but there’s no question that a lingering back issue can speed up that process.

Just six months ago, Woods wasn’t ready to make such an admission. He wanted to believe that the pain would cease and desist with treatment like so many of his previous injuries.

Now, though, he sounds like he’s come to grips with the fact that this could be an opponent fiercer than anyone named Mickelson or Singh or Els.

We’ve been searching for a rival to Woods for close to two decades. As it turns out, the rival might have been right in back of him – literally – the entire time.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.