Tiger's famous Phoenix ace a very rare feat

By Jason SobelJanuary 28, 2015, 6:30 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When Tiger Woods recently tweeted his announcement that he’d be returning to the Waste Management Phoenix Open following a 14-year absence, he included a YouTube video. Those with a keen sense of history didn’t even need to click the link.

The enduring clip shows a scrawny 21-year-old with an oversized shirt and overwhelming swing. He launches the ball high into the desert sky, and then watches as it takes two hops and bounces into the cup. And then … anarchy. Woods high-fives his caddie and raises the roof. The surrounding fans raise their beverages and launch them nearly as high as the tee shot. All around the tee box, it rains barley and hops.

“Just smelling and hearing the beer hit behind me,” Woods recalled this week. “Turn around and see all this beer flying was crazy. … You see all these beer cups everywhere on the tee box.”

It’s a memorable piece of video because of the outlandish, unconventional, spontaneous reaction. But it’s also so indelible because it represents one of the very few times that two of the game’s most popular phenomena have been intertwined.

Video: Tiger's hole-in-one at the 1997 Phoenix Open

Try this little experiment: Ask your favorite non-golfer – your great-grandmother, your toddler, your friendly neighborhood space alien – to name someone who plays the game for a living. Chances are, the answer will be: ‘Tiger Woods.’ Now ask that same non-golfer to name one type of golf shot. Chances are, the answer will be: ‘hole-in-one.’ Those who can’t tell an albatross from a triple bogey still understand the concept of an ace. It transcends golf.

And yet, when it comes to Woods making holes-in-one, the list is strikingly barren.

Though he confirms that he’s made 19 total aces in his life – the last coming four years ago at Isleworth – Woods only has three in his PGA Tour career.

There was one at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open in his professional debut. And the one here at TPC Scottsdale the next year that elicited the beer shower. And one more the year after that, a slam dunk at the Sprint International that never found its way onto television.

(“TV crews here have to take a mandatory union break, and it was on No. 7 at Castle Pines,” Woods remembered. “I hooped it. They showed me on the sixth green, take the union break. I hoop it on 7. They catch me up on the eighth fairway, par-5 up the hill. So that was probably one of the more funny ones, because it went in the hole on the fly and tore up the cup.”)

Since then? Nothing. Nada. A big, fat hole-in-none.

If you think Woods’ major championship slump is lengthy, consider his hole-in-one drought. It’s been 17 years since his last one in competition.

That’s 3,733 par-3 holes in PGA Tour events without a 1 on his scorecard.

Not that he’s keeping track.

Video: Tiger's ace in the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open (scroll to :55 mark)

When Woods was questioned about his lack of aces in tournament rounds, he paused for a second before realizing, “I haven't had a hole-in-one, you're right, in competition in a long time.”

Overall, he’s posted his three aces in 4,583 par-3 holes on Tour, a percentage of.065 which sounds uncommonly low until we examine a few of his contemporaries.

Phil Mickelson owns five aces in 7,281 par-3s (.069 percent); Jim Furyk has five in 7,518 opportunities (.067); and Ernie Els, like Woods, has just three in 5,430 chances (.055). Want more? Rory McIlroy recently carded his first hole-in-one on the European Tour, but is still 0-for-1,192 in PGA Tour-sanctioned events.

And then there’s this: According to the National Hole-In-One Registry, the odds of a professional golfer making an ace are 2,500-to-1. Which means that Woods can play nearly 3,000 more par-3 holes in competition before falling off this pace.

That shouldn’t come as welcomed information for anyone anticipating a repeat of history this week, as Woods will revisit the famed 16th hole for the first time since 2001.

Neither should this: The tournament moved to this course more than a quarter-century ago, but there have been just eight holes-in-one at No. 16. Of course, the most famous remains that indelible moment produced by a 21-year-old Woods that has endured in a video clip ever since.

Even he knows, though, that an unlikely ace from the very same spot would produce a much different reaction this time around.

“Back in '97, they didn't have the bleachers like they did around the tee box,” he explained. “It was a hill and people were partying. I don't know if they still serve the alcohol like they used to. The guys who were playing behind me, they had some pretty wet lies. It was a different ballgame back then.”

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.