So Close So Far Away

By Jay CoffinJuly 19, 2010, 1:40 am

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Tiger Woods passing Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record used to be a foregone conclusion. We knew he would pass the Golden Bear just like we knew that sneaky Lucy Van Pelt was going to pull the football away from Charlie Brown at the last possible moment.

Five years ago, after Woods won the Masters and British Open to get the major tally to 10, people were looking forward to 2010 as the Year of the Tiger. Granted, there have been many of said years but this was supposed to be different. Augusta National, Pebble Beach and the Old Course were built with Tiger Woods in mind. At one time or another, all three have been turned into his own personal chew toys.

Being so close has never seemed so far.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods failed to break par in his final three rounds at the Open Championship. (Getty Images)
Woods, 34, entered St. Andrews no closer to Nicklaus’ 18 majors than he was 25 months ago, still four away from a push and five away from immortality. Still, after coming off consecutive fourth-place ties in majors this year, Woods was the prohibitive favorite at local betting parlors.

It’s not a huge surprise that he didn’t win, but he was a dead lock to cash in the each-way bet, meaning he needed to finish in the top-five for bettors to collect. Woods was five shots from that, finishing at 3-under-par 285, good for a 23rd-place tie. Throw away missed cuts at the 2006 U.S. Open and the 2009 British Open and this was Woods’ worst finish at a major since the 2004 PGA Championship.

“If Tiger is going to pass my record, this is a big year for him in that regard,” Nicklaus said earlier this year. The Golden Bear has proved to be a wise man. He knows a thing or two about missed opportunities, having finished second in majors (19) more times than he won (18).

To Tiger, this week in the Auld Grey Toon was just another step in the process of getting back to the top of the heap. He never expected to shake the personal problems off like gnats and dominate right away. But he never expected to be this inconsistent and not contend at any tournament that means something to him. This was Woods’ seventh start of the year. The only time he’s gone winless longer to start a season was in 1998 when it took him nine starts to capture victory. WGC-Bridgestone and the PGA Championship are his next two tilts.

A putter change at the beginning of the week was a move that made people scratch their collective heads. While the British press was hammering Woods about his personal life, the U.S. press couldn’t believe that Woods would send a putter to ride the pine that had won 72 times around the world, including 13 major championships. After taking 99 putts the first three rounds with the Nike Method, he changed back to his trusty Scotty Cameron Newport 2 and took 27 blows on Sunday, his best of the week. When do you recall ever seeing a Doubting Tiger?

“It was atypical Tiger,” said Lucas Glover, Woods playing partner for the final round when Woods shot 72. “I’m sure he wasn’t happy. He still hit a lot of good golf shots. It wasn’t him, but he’ll be back.”

Woods’ take: “Driving-wise, better than it’s been in years. Iron play, not quite as sharp as I need to have it, and my putting is way off. Short game is good.”

Problem is that Woods Kryptonite for the first six events of the year was with the driver, battling the dreaded two-way miss off the tee. Here at the Old Course it was the opposite as he was finding fairways – which here at the Old Course are bigger than airport runways – but missing putts he used to make with his eyes closed.

“Maybe I should go back to spraying it all over the lot and make everything,” Woods quipped.

As is usually the case with Woods, it’s difficult to tell if he truly means what he says or if he just doesn’t want to give the mental edge to the competition by saying he’s not playing well. He keeps saying that he’s close, that it’s only a matter of time before everything clicks, but it seems like one step forward, two steps back.

Woods shot a third-round 66 at the U.S. Open, but struggled to a final-round 75. Here he opened with a brilliant 67 that made his fellow competitors break out in a rash. The second-round 73 was another masterpiece in terrible conditions, but 73, 72 on the weekend were mediocre. In all he made 17 birdies, 10 bogeys, two double bogeys and took 126 putts. That same recipe around Whistling Straits next month for the PGA Championship is more likely to lead to a missed cut than it is the Wanamaker Trophy.

 If you think men on the PGA Tour aren’t paying attention to Woods’ every move, think again. Phil Mickelson admitted that if he’s ever going to ascend to the No. 1 World Ranking he needs to do it soon because once Woods finds his groove it could be history for his hopes. Others have been outspoken by saying that they believe they may be grinding too much right now, trying to make something happen before Woods becomes himself again.

“He’s this close to Tiger 2000,” said one major champion, holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart, referring to Woods’ most dominant year ever. “When he gets it, we’re all screwed.”

This is merely a Humpty Dumpty case. Woods sat on the wall for more than a decade, reigning over all of golf. The sex scandal last November was his great fall. Now comes the part where we find out if all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can put Woods back together again. In the nursery rhyme, they couldn’t. With Woods, if it’s going to happen, it needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Reality is that players don’t win majors much past 40. Tom Watson didn’t win another big one after 33. For Arnold Palmer it was 34. Nick Faldo and Greg Norman both stopped winning majors after 38. Most thought Nicklaus was done at 40 but he made a little magic at Augusta National one more time in 1986 and won at 46.

Woods is certainly fitter than the aforementioned group during their prime, but he has had knee issues in the past and his frame has taken a beating over the past decade. If he’s going to catch the Golden Bear he’ll need to be firing on all cylinders over the next five years. If history holds, there are 20-24 majors where Woods will need to pick up five victories.

“I don’t know,” Mickelson said earlier in the week. “I still think the chances are better that he will do it than he won’t.”

Agreed. But chances now are greater that Lucy will pull the football away from Charlie Brown.


Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

Getty Images

Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.