Tiger's on-course reputation takes a hit in 2013

By Jason SobelSeptember 24, 2013, 12:32 pm

What a great season it was for Tiger Woods. He won five times and … umm … and … did I mention he won five times?

Hey, that’s good enough for me. Sure, the numbers would be more impressive with a major or two thrown in there, but he still claimed two-and-a-half times more titles than any other player. I've always been a 'show me the money' kind of guy – and Woods earned $8,553,439 of it this year. No one else was in the same tax bracket.

If he doesn’t win the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year award, someone should launch an investigation.

And yet, you can’t stumble into a 19th hole without hearing the topic, “What’s wrong with Tiger?” Consider it golf’s version of a trick question, the correct answer ranging from everything to nothing at all.

After the third of those five victories this season, Nike released a print advertisement with the tagline, “Winning Takes Care of Everything.” It echoed a familiar refrain from Woods himself, the point being that finishing atop a leaderboard erases any doubts about swing changes or putting inconsistencies or mental fortitude.

That may be true, but as Woods can attest, so too is the opposite. There is no ad campaign featuring the slogan, “Losing Takes Care of Nothing,” but there easily could be.

In the court of public opinion, Woods’ 2013 season still left plenty to be desired. 

Let’s start with the majors. It’s not just that he didn’t win one for the fifth consecutive calendar year; it’s that each major seemed like his own personal Groundhog Day. Get into contention early, then fade on the weekend. The man who used to play major weekends like Louis Armstrong played a trumpet failed to post a single Saturday or Sunday round in the 60s.

And afterward, he sounded like a broken record.

• At the Masters: “I had a hard time getting the speed and being committed to hitting the putts that hard.”

• At the U.S. Open: “I struggled with the speed, especially right around the hole; putts were breaking a lot more.”

• At the Open Championship: “You know what? I had a hard time adjusting to the speeds.”

• At the PGA Championship: “It's really tough and the greens are starting to pick up a little bit of speed.”

Woods would consider these explanations, simple answers to the questions he’s asked after the rounds. Other observers, though, would categorize them as excuses.

There’s a fine line between the two – and like so many other lines, he may have misread this one.

But the hand-wringing over Woods’ rationale for flailing at majors was nothing compared with the outright consternation from his rules snafus. After a career of rarely committing any violations, he found himself adding strokes to the scorecard on three separate occasions.

The first, in Abu Dhabi, Woods took relief from an embedded ball in the sand when that wasn't an option. The result: A two-stroke penalty that caused him to miss the cut.

The second – and most famous – occurred at the Masters. After hitting a flagstick and seeing his ball carom back into a creek, Woods was found in violation when a former rules official called in a suspect drop. The result: Because tournament officials knew about the potential violation, but didn’t question him before the scorecard was signed, he was given a two-stroke penalty the next day.

The third took place two weeks ago at the BMW Championship – and this is the one that had fans and, yes, even fellow players up in arms. Not because Woods failed to assess a penalty when he didn’t see his ball move after clearing loose impediments from behind it, but because after he was shown the video he still disagreed despite the evidence, displaying a serious case of righteous indignation. The result: Another two-stroke penalty.

And these three violations don’t even include the one for which many people feel Woods was most in the wrong, a suspicious drop on the 14th hole at TPC Sawgrass after hitting his tee shot into a lateral hazard. One PGA Tour pro whom I spoke with recently called this easily the most distressing of his rules situations this year.

We should probably forgive a guy whose season was filled with so much drama for being exhausted by the end of it.

Then again, this isn’t just any guy. This is the guy who has forged a Hall of Fame career from outworking and out-training and out-everything everyone else. The guy who wakes up at ungodly hours to run and lift weights. The guy who has trained with Navy SEALs. The guy who caused all the other guys to start hitting the fitness trailer every day.

There he was, though, at this past week’s Tour Championship, saying he was – get this – tired. Didn't just let it slip out, either. He used the word five times in a short interview after Friday's second round.

Compare that with Adam Scott, who has now stolen Woods’ swing and his caddie and his green jacket: “If I tell you I'm feeling tired this year, you can slap me across the face.” It should be noted that Scott played the exact same number of PGA Tour events as Woods this season.

All of these issues – from the consistent explanations about major championship green speeds to the rules snafus to the late-season exhaustion – have done some damage to his reputation in the court of public opinion.

Not that he’ll admit worry or feign concern.

When asked after his final round of the season, a 3-under 67 that left him in a share of 22nd place, to assess his body of work, Woods maintained contentment.

“[I’m] very satisfied. I had a number of chances to win some tournaments. I won five, which is, I think, a pretty good year,” he said. “I wish I would have been a little more consistent in some of the events, but overall, at the end of the day, you know, to add to the win total for the year, it's always a good thing.”

In other words: Winning takes care of everything.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.