Woods answering critics' questions

By Jason SobelJuly 2, 2012, 4:00 pm

When it comes to the biggest question surrounding Tiger Woods, it seems like everyone has the answer.

Most of us who follow the game – and even plenty who don’t – arrive to the debate armed with an arsenal of opinions.

They range from the philosophical ...

“Can’t get his game right until he gets his mind right!”

… to the physical …

“I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who says his knee is still killing him!”

... to the technical ...

“He’s got to get Butch Harmon on the phone – and then he’ll start dominating again!”

… to the irrationally statistical…

“You know, his proximity to the hole from 119-123 yards is below the median for a PGA Tour veteran of eight or more years!”

At varying degrees of plausibility, they are all responses to the most pressing recent question at 19th holes worldwide: “What's wrong with Tiger Woods?”

After winning the AT&T National on Sunday for his third victory of the year, we may finally have our decisive answer.

Absolutely nothing at all.

Hoggard: Woods storms to victory at AT&T

AT&T National photo gallery

Sure, it may have been a valid query during each of the past two seasons, when Woods accounted for a grand total of zero wins, but just as it took the collective masses too long to realize and understand that he wasn’t the same player in those seasons, it has similarly taken awhile for observers to adapt to this latest version of Tiger.

So far this season, he has faltered at each of the first two major championships, but does own a trio of titles in 11 starts on the PGA Tour. He leads the money list, the FedEx Cup points list and is No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking – up from 52nd just seven months ago.

The truth is, if there’s a notion that something is wrong with Woods, it may be more of an 'us' problem than a 'him' problem.

The public tends to remember the 12-stroke win at Augusta National in 1997, the 15-shot differential at Pebble Beach in 2000 and the eight-shot triumph at St. Andrews one month later. What's forgotten, though, are the legions of backdoor top-10 finishes and final rounds marred by burned edges and weeks where he simply wasn't as good as the guy who won.

And there were plenty of 'em. From 1996-2009, Woods prevailed in 'only' 29.7 percent of his starts – easily good enough for the best percentage over that time span in a career, but hardly the revisionist history that would have us believing that number was somewhere closer to 99 percent.

Even when he was at the top of his game, Tiger was never a slam-dunk, no-doubt-about-it lock to take home the hardware. In some of his best seasons, he still lost more than he won. In 1999, his percentage was 38.1; the next year it jumped to 45.0; and in 2007, it was 43.8.

In fact, only twice has Woods triumphed in more than half of his PGA Tour starts in a season – when he won eight titles in 15 tries in 2006 and when he went 4-for-6 in his injury-shortened 2008 campaign.

All of which means “what’s wrong with Tiger Woods” is less about him reaching his previous levels or trying to surpass the bar that he personally raised increasingly higher, and more about him failing to live up to the unreasonable expectations based on foggy memories.

As the aforementioned question dissipates, it will lead to the other major proposal that inquiring minds have also been asking: “Is he back?”

Quite frankly, it’s a query for which every eyewitness can proffer a different answer. For some, he was “back” when he literally returned at the 2010 Masters; for others, he was “back” when he won again; for others still, he isn’t “back” until he wins his 15th major championship; and then there’s a faction who believes he can’t be “back” since he never technically left.

Woods often claims he doesn’t read the editorials or watch the talk shows, but he remains acutely aware of public sentiment when it comes to the state of his game.

Following his two-stroke win at Congressional Country Club, he said, “I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again. That was, I think, what? Six months ago? Here we are.”

Here we are, indeed, watching a new version of the player which is starting to look eerily similar to the former edition.

What’s wrong with Tiger Woods? Those still asking that question clearly own a skewed sense of history. Forget the perceived philosophical, physical, technical and statistical issues with his game. Really, there’s a different question which is much more valid.

We should be asking what’s right with him instead.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

Getty Images

DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

Getty Images

Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

Getty Images

Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.