Woods' WD invites only more doubt about his future

By Jason SobelAugust 3, 2014, 7:40 pm

AKRON, Ohio – Like so many times on so many Sunday afternoons before, a security-driven golf cart pulled up to the parking spot in the player lot closest to the Firestone South Course, the one with “TIGER WOODS” etched on a placard attached to a fence. 

Unlike those other occasions, this was not the culmination of a victory tour, the champion being whisked away with a toothy smile across his face.

No, the look on Woods’ face this time was a mixture of pain and worry. He gingerly stepped from the cart and reluctantly placed his left foot on the back bumper of his Cadillac Escalade courtesy car. Noticeably blanching throughout, he untied one shoe, then the other. He carefully slipped into a pair of sneakers and gave a brief interview to a PGA Tour official.

“It happened on the second hole,” he explained.

Anyone who knows his recent history and witnessed Woods attempting to play eight-and-a-half holes before withdrawing from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational understands exactly what “it” is.

Woods underwent microdiscectomy surgery on his lower back just over four months ago. This was his third tournament appearance since, following what was essentially a rehab start at the Quicken Loans National and a 69th-place finish at the Open Championship that was disappointing yet still provided reason for optimism.

“Most of the people I talked to who have had the procedure have no idea how I'm even back here playing,” he proudly stated earlier this week. “They just can't understand that.”

That self-satisfaction was washed away on Sunday.

Timeline: Tiger's injuries throughout the years

Photo gallery: Woods rides off course, out of Firestone

With a mighty lash at his ball buried in the rough just on top of a fairway bunker on the second hole, Woods turned an awkward swing into a painful result. He spun out of the shot, his left foot flailing into the air, then slid back into the bunker, his momentum carrying him out the other side.

Somewhere in this sequence, that surgically repaired back became wrenched once again.

“I just jarred it,” he told the official, “and it's been spasming ever since.”

It’s no secret that the 79-time PGA Tour winner and 14-time major champion is on the back nine of his professional career, but he figuratively moved to the next tee with this latest withdrawal.

Along with the pain comes criticism: Did he come back too soon? Along with the worry comes doubt: Will he ever regain the form that made him such a polarizing star?

Those questions will be batted around long after the next time we watch Woods return to competition, which might not be anytime soon.

Even in the unlikely scenario that he receives a quick fix for the injury and decides to tee it up at Valhalla Golf Club, it’s inconceivable to believe that he could contend for a 15th major title.

Well before the back issue resurfaced, Woods’ opening scores were an ascending 68-71-72 that left him far off the first page of the leaderboard. Following the injury recurrence, his play resembled that of an 18-handicap.

His tee shot on the par-3 fifth hole came up 65 yards short. His recovery shot on the sixth landed next to a beer tent. His greenside bunker shot on the seventh was bladed back into the fairway.

Prior to this round, most discussions about Woods’ game were centered around his push to make the FedEx Cup playoffs and whether he’d be added to the Ryder Cup roster. All of those thoughts are fleeting now, all of that short-term doubt unraveling into big-picture skepticism.

There exist cogent arguments for each side of the debate.

Those who wish to write him off should recall last year’s Barclays, when he suffered back spasms so debilitating that they brought him to his knees. Still, he finished in second place and competed in five more tournaments before the end of the year.

Conversely, those who wish to proclaim this just a minor setback in his road to resurrected dominance should recognize that the 38-year-old hasn’t played an injury-free season since his last major championship victory six years ago.

The only thing for certain is that a career which was once the closest we’ve seen to supremacy in the game’s history is now drowning in ambiguity.

After the injury and the withdrawal and painful untying of his shoes, Woods was asked whether he would still compete in this week’s upcoming PGA Championship.

“I don't know,” he solemnly offered. “Just trying to get out of here.”

He then shuffled into the Escalade’s passenger seat, removed his hat and put on a pair of sunglasses. His caddie, Joe LaCava, backed up, then sped out of the parking lot and toward the nearest airport.

They took with them pain and worry and, most of all, continuing doubt about what comes next.

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.