Woods helps golf world regain normalcy again

By Jason SobelDecember 2, 2014, 8:24 pm

WINDERMERE, Fla. – Rebranded with its fifth title sponsor since the turn of the century – not including the year it went without one – Tiger Woods’ own late-season money-grab event might as well be called the Irony Invitational these days. That’s because, in truth, it’s now the Hero World Challenge, a nod to new Woods endorser Hero MotoCorp, but even the most cynical among us can spot the unintentional double-entendre in its name.

In the four months since Woods last teed it up in competition – just like the month he missed last year and the three months he missed two years earlier and the three months the year before that – we may not have learned anything new, but a few of our collective opinions were certainly reinforced.

One, the game at its most elite level isn’t spiraling down the rabbit hole of insignificance without him; and two, it’s a whole lot more interesting with him.

On Monday, a six-second Vine video of Woods hitting a tee shot on a driving range went viral on social media, its existence alone enough to inspire the long-slumbering golf community into sleuthing for clues about the future. Is he standing more upright? Does his swing speed look a bit faster? Has he lost some weight?

Hey, maybe the tournament wasn’t the only one holding out for a Hero.

Now that Woods is returning to action once again, it feels like the golf world is getting back to some normalcy. That world doesn’t revolve around him, but he at least helps place it back on the proper axis.

Of course, the words “Tiger” and “back” are a double-entendre themselves these days, the half-decade-old intonation that he’s still trying to regain prior form mixed with a reminder of the injury that led to his most recent absence in the first place – a recurring back injury which ended his previous season after the PGA Championship.

Don’t expect those two to come together in perfect harmony at this week’s 18-player tournament here at posh Isleworth Golf and Country Club, either. Woods admitted during a news conference before a packed house that while the injury is no longer a concern, the time missed because of it could keep him at a decided disadvantage against the field.

“Am I game-ready? Probably not quite as I would like to be,” he conceded. “It will be interesting to go out there on Thursday and [see] how long does it take for me to get my feel back for game shots; feel for my numbers; feel for my yardages; hitting the ball a certain trajectory; what's the wind doing; all the little things, hearing things; and making adjustments on my downswing.

“How long does it take me to get back into the flow of a round – sometimes it takes me a shot, sometimes it takes me three or four holes after a long layoff. I don't know. We'll see on Thursday.”

As if there weren’t already enough variables at play, Woods is also introducing a new swing “consultant” to his game, sparking debate as to whether he’ll endure another long journey toward multiple changes in his move through the ball.

It’s been widely pointed out that Chris Como’s other clients – Aaron Baddeley, Richard Lee, Trevor Immelman and Jamie Lovemark – aren’t exactly the most accurate ball-strikers around, leading to a theory that Woods could fall in line with such erraticism.

Conversely, though, it should be noted that he’s fresh off a relationship with Sean Foley that didn’t yield terribly accurate results, despite the instructor’s client list including a pair of world-class ball-strikers in Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan.

When asked whether his work with Como was a return to an old swing or the introduction of a new one, Woods spoke in riddles. “Well,” he sighed, “it is new, but it’s old.”

Translation: It’s too complex to try and explain it to you. Other translation: Even if I could, I don’t really want to.

And so instead we’ll be left to our own observational devices this week, watching Woods’ return with a keen eye toward not only the current tournament, but how this progress will affect him going forward.

This tournament needed a hero to swoop in and save it with a title sponsorship – and it got one in Hero. As for that double-entendre this week, Woods might not be playing the role of hero, but one thing remains powerfully true throughout the early days of his latest return.

The golf world is a whole lot more interesting when he’s playing.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.