When it comes to Tiger: Is it ever OK to quit?

By Jason SobelMarch 3, 2014, 10:40 pm

Have you ever sat through a job interview where the questioner maintains, “There is no right or wrong answer,” then grills you on your viewpoint, furiously taking notes the entire time? That’s how I feel about a persisting issue in golf that reared its ugly head once again this weekend.

As you know by now, Tiger Woods withdrew from the Honda Classic with five holes remaining in his final round because of lower back spasms. It was the sixth withdrawal of his 19-year professional career and fourth in the last five years.

On three of those occasions, he bowed out during the final round. These were final rounds which saw him out of contention and in pain, on the way to an uninspired T-37 finish or whatever, something invariably un-Tiger-like.

That’s hardly a pattern, but it can be considered a recurring theme.

His message, each time, was transparent: If I can’t win, then I’m not going to risk further injury by continuing to languish out here on the course.

Sounds like thoughtful, reasonable rationale. After all, there are really two things about the man that we know to be true: He only cares about winning and wants to peak four times each year for the major championships. Everything else is gravy. The justification that if he can’t win then he’s better off protecting himself for the majors is hardly misguided.

Then again, withdrawing early from a competition – in any sport, at any level – is expressly frowned upon. For a 14-time major champion who owes it to the tournament and his fans and his position as a role model, he should feel the responsibility to soldier on in the face of adversity, to grit it out until the bitter end.

And so this is the question that remains: Is it fair to withdraw when you’re hurting and have no chance of winning?

There’s no right or wrong answer – but don’t get it wrong anyway, just in case.

Immediately after Woods’ latest withdrawal, I searched what I’d written about Rory McIlroy exactly one year earlier after he’d left the Honda due to what he’d termed an impacted wisdom tooth.

“This is beyond poor form. This is quitting,” I wrote at the time. “This is the absolute opposite of what we expect and demand from our superstars. … The golf course may not be a rugged gridiron or a blood-spattered boxing ring, but we still want our best players to be tough. We want them to suck it up during the lean times. Take their lumps, get through it and move on.”

Shouldn’t the same logic be applied to Woods? Yes, I think, but with a bullet: You can’t exacerbate a toothache by continuing to play golf. A back injury, though, can indeed worsen.

Make no mistake, if Woods had been closer to the lead on Sunday afternoon we would have witnessed five more holes of stretching and wincing as he tried to capture a title. Sure, it was a half-dozen years ago, but the 2008 U.S. Open is still fresh in our minds, the image of an oft-doubled-over Tiger forging ahead on a torn ACL and multiple leg fractures to win a Monday playoff. It was the kind of performance they’ll make a movie about someday. It might not have been Ben Hogan returning from a near-fatal collision with a Greyhound bus, but it was pretty special in its own right.

More recently, we can look back to last year’s Barclays tournament. In contention, Woods fell to his knees after hitting an ugly pull-hook on the 13th hole, the result of a back spasm. He not only persevered, he carded two birdies down the stretch, then missed a putt on the final green that would have forced a playoff before shuffling off the course, barely able to lift his feet off the ground.

What that tells us is that he’s capable of competing through pain – and competing at a high level – but doesn’t feel the need when he’s not in contention.

We can also learn from Sunday’s withdrawal. The takeaway, once again, is that Tiger doesn’t care what the rest of us think. He doesn’t care if he gets castigated for packing it in, doesn’t care if he gets censured for not persevering as he’s done when in contention.

What he cares about – not necessarily in this order – is winning and remaining healthy for the major championships. The first wasn’t going to happen this time, so he left the course before the second was any more in doubt.

Was it the right move? Well, it depends if we’re speaking physically, technically, mentally, emotionally, morally or ethically. No matter what, though, there’s really no right or wrong answer.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.