Woods avoiding embarrassment with latest break

By Jason SobelFebruary 12, 2015, 8:15 pm

For nearly two decades, Tiger Woods was the closest thing golf ever had to a superhero.

He looked like one, single-handedly ushering out the era of bloated guts hanging over pleated khakis by molding himself into the form of a linebacker on the links. He acted like one, rescuing the game from the vise grip of the elite and bringing it to the masses – as much of a “steal from the rich, give to the poor” scenario as golf has experienced. And he was exalted like one, hailed as a savior in a pursuit too steeped in tradition, his mere presence intimidating fellow competitors.

Like any superhero, though, he’s also had his kryptonite. Injuries? Everyone’s dealt with ‘em. Swing changes? Those, too.

No, Tiger’s kryptonite isn’t anything physical or technical.

His kryptonite is embarrassment.

Think about it: This is a player who for so long thrived on invincibility. He relished being The Man, the game’s ultimate alpha male. He reveled in pre-tournament debates centered around picking him or the rest of the field. Call it an ego or just an advanced stage of confidence, but his comfort level always existed within an atmosphere of awe.

Through his first 47 1/2 holes of this season, however, Woods hasn’t just failed to look invincible. He’s been embarrassed. Humiliated. He’s left the masses – the same masses to whom he once brought this purported elitist pursuit – snickering and pointing at his inability to find a fairway and incompetence around the greens.

All of which might help to explain his quizzical Wednesday announcement that he’s temporarily leaving competition to work on his game away from the spotlight.

Maybe he’ll be gone for two weeks, maybe much longer, but Woods insisted that he won’t return until his game is “tournament ready.” It was a message both cryptic and curious, as if he wanted to make some major declaration regarding a leave of absence, only to throw in a last-minute caveat that he might soon return.

If there was inherent doubt in his statement – and there certainly was – it's only because Woods himself put it there. It’s another layer of uncertainty to already rampant speculation about his impending future.

Woods taking break, will return when 'ready'

All of which leads to this question: How will he know his game is tournament ready prior to playing in another tournament?

One easy answer, of course, was conceived during those two decades of dominance: He just will.

Consider this sort of logic a not-so-subtle insinuation that Tiger understands his game better than the rest of us and he'll understand when he's ready to get back to the grind of competition and he deserves to be given the benefit of our numerous doubts.

Or does he?

Let's present Exhibit A as evidence for the prosecution: His Q&A session prior to his first start of the year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Eight weeks removed from chunking and stubbing a cringe-worthy nine chip or pitch shots during four rounds at Isleworth, he insisted that he'd practiced to the tune of "thousands" of these attempts during his winter break.

There may have been varying layers of truth in that statement, but there's no denying this: When his approach shot on the very first hole Thursday morning landed 11 yards short of the green, he used a 4-iron – not a wedge – to try and bump his ball close to the hole. It didn't work. Nor did, apparently, his prolonged chipping sessions, based on his subsequent efforts.

We'd like to think a guy with 79 career PGA Tour wins should be taken at his word when making a decision on when to return, but those decisions have proven ill-fated in the past.

So now we're left with this: When Tiger comes back – whether it's in two weeks, two months or (gulp) much longer – and once again insists that he's tournament ready, his glutes activated, his short game fixed, what happens if he posts another unbecoming 82? Or injures himself again? Then what?

Maybe this is the beginning of an unending cycle during which he preps to become tournament ready, plays a few tournaments, finds he isn't tournament ready, steps away from tournaments and preps to become tournament ready again. Maybe it’s the beginning of the end for a player who’s spent so much of his career appearing invincible. Or maybe it’s exactly as he stated – just a temporary interlude to get his game and mind right, eventually culminating in a return to form.

What we do know is that the man, who for years was golf’s closest thing to a superhero, won’t reappear until he knows he can avoid the embarrassment. He won’t come back until he can avoid the kryptonite.

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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.  

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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.” 

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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.”

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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.