Tiger: Emotional Sunday coming at W. Challenge

By Jason SobelDecember 5, 2013, 1:46 am

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – In his opening statement to a Wednesday news conference, Tiger Woods waxed poetic about his World Challenge, now in its 15th year here in this wealthy enclave on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

“This is going to be an incredible week … we've got an amazing field over here … we've got the golf course in probably the best shape it's ever been in … it's been just an amazing, amazing 15 years … it means a lot to us …”

The buried lede, of course, is that these words were less a love song than a polite break-up. One of those “it’s not you, it’s me” kind of break-ups.

At this time next year, the world’s elite players will instead converge on the posh estate of Isleworth, former home to Woods, former home to the Tavistock Cup and new home to this tournament.

If Woods and his old stomping grounds sound like strange bedfellows after the infamous incident on Thanksgiving night of 2009 and the resulting shrapnel – metaphorically speaking – there’s good reason. But there’s even better reason to move it there.

That reason is what makes the world go ‘round, what doesn’t grow on trees, what can’t buy me love and what is the root of all evil, depending on your preferred cliché.

That’s right, it’s money – and for a tournament which has seen its total purse decrease from $5 million in 2011 to $4 million a year ago to $3.5 this week, and which had its host underwrite the entire sum last year, and continues a mission to raise charity funding, it’s a very real concern.

Northwestern Mutual World Challenge: Articles, videos and photos

“It's harder to get good players to play, quite frankly,” Woods explained of an increasingly busy late-season schedule. “And sponsorship dollars are certainly not exactly easy to come by in these economic times.”

Northwestern Mutual has attached its name to the tournament this year as part of a one-year title sponsorship. Last year, there was no title sponsor. In the past, that role has been filled by Chevron, Target and Williams.

All of which feels like a major head-scratcher.

The event not only features the game’s golden goose every year; it banks on him as a willing and amiable host. That would figure to be enough to get corporations to throw large sums of money at the tournament. Throw in the fact that, despite Woods’ claim that it’s getting harder to get good players, there are 18 of the world’s top 30 in the field this week, and the promise of a guaranteed star-studded Sunday leaderboard should serve as plenty of bait.

“It was just a lot of factors, but certainly title sponsorship is a key part of it,” explained Greg McLaughlin, president and CEO of the Tiger Woods Foundation. “So definitively, if we had someone who said, ‘You have to stay here,’ then we’d stay here. But that wasn’t the case.”

The truth is, this move was a long time in the making.

“Had there not been a partnership with Tavistock, we were considering a separate parallel path in the area where he lives,”McLaughlin continued. “Not Medalist or anything like that, but in that region. We’ve been talking about this since last year. So the Tavistock thing just evolved from a bunch of conversations.”

“It was certainly not an easy decision,” Woods said. “Certainly wasn't an easy decision, but there are a lot of players that are based there in Florida. It will be a little easier for the guys to make a trek out instead of coming all the way out here, to stay right there in Florida.”

That will actually be a major selling point in keeping the field as high-profile as it is this year. McLaughlin pointed to the likes of Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, each of whom have homes in Florida and each of whom have played in this event in the past then skipped it before returning this week, as his target audience for this move.

“Now you make it really easy for them,” explained McLaughlin, who also serves as tournament director. “Now they can sleep in their own bed, drive over, have their own car and family and friends. I think that’s what we’re hoping to be able to do.”

He’s also hoping to avoid conventional wisdom.

There’s an old adage that states, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but McLaughlin believes the opposite actually applies in this situation.

“You never want to rebuild it when you have to. You want to rebuild when it’s going well. And then you can look at how to make it better versus reacting and doing something,” he said. “In order to stay competitive long-term, that was the view we needed to take.”

In other words: It’s not you, California. It’s us.

The tournament will say goodbye to its longtime home this week before parting ways. In the most polite way possible, of course.

“For us to have a 15‑year run is a very long run as you know,” Woods said. “Most golf tournaments don't stay at one golf course for that long. For us to be here for 15 great years, I foresee certainly an emotional Sunday for sure.”

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''