Tiger's intangibles prove he is 'back'

By Jason SobelMarch 23, 2013, 11:31 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – I don’t consider myself a hateful person. But I despise the following question. Can’t stand it. Would rather five-putt from inside the leather than ever have to hear it and think about it and analyze it again.

“Is Tiger Woods back?”

Ugh. Gag me with a 1-iron.

After a third-round 6-under 66, Woods currently leads by two strokes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, searching for his 77th career PGA Tour victory and eighth at this event. So when it comes to queries about his game, collectively we can do better.

Look, I’m all for an intriguing 19th hole debate in which both parties can state their case and make a cogent point in hopes of convincing the other to change their mind. This question, though, doesn’t do any of that, because it isn’t clearly defined. What is “back” to one person may not be “back” for another. It’s like arguing over the color gray.

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Even Woods himself, when confronted with the question earlier this week, maintained, “I think that's based on opinion.”

Me? I'll continue beating the same drum I've been hacking away at for a while now. He has five PGA Tour wins since the beginning of last year. If he's not back, then nobody else is, either.

I get it, though. Whatever “back” means to you, it’s about turning the corner, gaining confidence, getting better. That may or may not be defined in victory totals alone. For those who don’t believe Woods' two wins already this season prove that he has reached that place yet, let’s debunk that myth even further.

Here are four other ways in which Woods is “back”:

He can win without playing his best golf

Don’t believe it? Just check the numbers. At Torrey Pines, he led by four entering the final round, shot 72 and won by four. At Doral, he again led by four, shot 71 and won by two.

Some may examine these stats and contend that Woods no longer has what it takes to press down the gas pedal on Sunday afternoon and pull away from the pack. The more correct way of looking at it is that he’s put himself into positions where he doesn’t need to dominate in the final round. It takes a learned skill to understand how to play a prevent defense and still win easily. He has mastered that skill.

And if Woods goes on to win this week, too, it will only mean he played better than the other 131 players in the field, not that he played his best golf. Though he is admittedly putting extremely well, Woods ranks 75th of the 77 players to make the cut in driving accuracy (52.5 percent) and 64th in ball striking. Following a third round that saw him turn a four-shot deficit into a two-shot advantage, he described his play as “solid” and “halfway decent.”

He can turn it around in a hurry

When Woods flailed and failed in tournaments over the past few years, it was often because one missed putt led to another, or one poor swing multiplied into many.

Perhaps he hasn’t completely corrected this fault, as Friday’s round of 70 ended with three consecutive bogeys, leaving him “hot for a very long time” afterward. Anyone who witnessed the third round, however, understands that his mojo can turn as quickly as ever.

Woods showed signs of getting a little loose on the par-4 13th hole, when he hit an iron tee shot into a left fairway bunker, then a wedge into a back greenside bunker, then chunked a pitch that was slightly plugged and made bogey. Two holes later, though, he rolled in a 17-foot birdie putt with a major-winning type of fist pump, then backed it up with an eagle on the next hole.

He is hardly the only elite golfer who can bounce back from bogey with a few perfectly played holes, but it’s still a strong sign that he’s turned a corner.

He is talking the talk

As someone who has sat through a few hundred Woods news conferences over the years, I’ve played enough Buzzword Bingo to know his go-to comments when things aren’t going his way.

Following the third round, there was no explaining, “It’s a process.” He didn’t contend that he “needs more reps” or is “working on my traj.” He didn’t even implore, “It is what it is.”

What should that tell us? Call ‘em excuses or just explanations, but Woods doesn’t need to offer them up anymore. Maybe his mind is in a better place, so he’s playing better golf. Maybe he’s playing better golf, so his mind is in a better place.

Whatever the case, players on top of their game don’t preach patience about working through the process. The fact that he isn’t anymore should speak volumes.

He is turning Saturday leads into Sunday coronations

Those wins I mentioned at Torrey Pines and Doral? Go ahead and say it. It’s OK. No one will think any worse of you.

Let’s face it. They were … boring.

As much as Woods enjoys holing a 20-footer for birdie on the final green to win by a single stroke, he’s turned winning in boring fashion into an art form. With three players – Rickie Fowler, John Huh and Justin Rose – trailing by a pair entering Sunday, he may need to post another strong number to clinch the title.

But if those players falter, if they wilt in the final-round sun, Woods will again understand that steady golf will give him another W. As he knows better than anyone, there’s no reason to fire at flagsticks when mistake-free golf means more hardware.

So… is he back?

Well, five wins in the past 52 weeks – and a sixth one possibly impending – should be enough to answer that. If you need something less tangible, though, all of the signs are there. Everything Woods is doing this week – heck, this entire year – shows that he’s reverting to his former form on the course.

Please, I’m begging you: Let’s stop asking that question. I hate it. Even more than five-putting from inside the leather.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.