Tiger's slow start no reason - for anyone - to worry

By Jason SobelFebruary 5, 2014, 4:45 pm

Because he is equal parts the most polarizing and most popular golfer of this or maybe any other generation, Tiger Woods' successes are celebrated too vigorously, his failures criticized too lustily. Hey, that's life in the spotlight.

This latest game of Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't, though, feels more subjective than most theories – even for Woods.

Following his first two starts of this year – missing the Farmers Insurance Open secondary cut and a share of 41st place at the Dubai Desert Classic -- the familiar narrative has been one of worry bordering on panic. Not from him, mind you, but from those eliciting opinions on his early-season results.

The common refrain is that Woods didn't properly prepare for these first two events. That he didn't grind during the offseason to ensure his best stuff was readily available in January and bleeding into February. That he came into the year rusty and even unmotivated.

What this invective fails to recognize is that Woods isn't setting up his year to peak at the beginning. As he's been impatiently telling us for most of his career, his goal is to have his game peak during each of the four major championships.

How quickly we forget, huh? During each of the last two seasons, Woods won multiple titles directly before majors, and then failed to win the more desirables. The criticism then was often that he'd peaked too soon, that he failed to save his best stuff for the biggest events.

Now he's trapped in the proverbial Catch-22: If he wins these early-season events, he's peaked too soon; if he plays poorly, he's unprepared. Clearly, he can't win – even when he wins. Again, chalk it up to life in the spotlight, another sign that the bar he raised for himself is more difficult than ever to clear.

The takeaway from his first two starts shouldn't be worry and panic. Rather it should focus on how he hasn't peaked too early, which is sort of the point.

In the past Woods has blurred these lines by simultaneously contending that he won't tee it up at an event with any goal besides winning the trophy. It's an admirable stance, but perhaps a bit misguided. If you don't believe he'd live with a pair of mediocre finishes at Torrey Pines and Dubai if they're followed by a fifth green jacket come April, then you've clearly lost the plot.

Though he can't say so – certainly not at one course where he's enjoyed so much success and another where he's getting paid big bucks to smile and wave – these events are the equivalent of preseason football for Woods. 

And as any football coach with a Ph.D in Cliché will scream during a halftime speech, "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."

Following that T-41 finish on Sunday, Woods was asked how he can turn things around. How he can rebound and return as the dominating player we've come to expect.

His answer wasn't panic-stricken. In fact, it hardly showed concern at all.

"I'm probably going to work on my lag putting," he confided. "My lag putting needs to be a little bit better than it has been."

Those aren't the words of a player worried about his long-term performance. They're the words of one still clearing out the cobwebs of a sleepy offseason.

And if he's not worried, maybe the rest of us should chill out, too.

That doesn't mean Woods will turn it all around and dominate soon enough. These uninspired performances might linger into the meaty part of the year, producing more middling results.

If that happens, consider him ripe for criticism. Let the narrative then run wild that he's unprepared and unmotivated and un-whatever else fits the profile.

Let him get there, though. To rip a guy for failing to peak before the tournaments where he wants to peak is counterproductive and produces a game for Woods much more unsettling than the one he brought to Torrey and Dubai: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't. 

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."