Tiger nostalgia fuels hope for Tiger's future

By Joe PosnanskiFebruary 24, 2016, 2:49 pm

Most people will tell you that Tiger Woods played his best golf – and the best golf ever played – during that crazy stretch in 2000-01 when he won four major championships in a row. It's a strong argument. Woods was 25 then, and he was at the peak of his powers. In 2000, he led the PGA Tour in total driving, in ball striking, in birdies, in eagles, in greens hit in regulation and, of course, in scoring. He was the best at everything. His unadjusted scoring average of 68.17* is the lowest in golf history.

*The PGA Tour prefers to adjust scoring average so that it takes into account the scoring in the fields where they played. Tiger's 67.79 adjusted scoring average is tied for the lowest ever – tied, that is, with himself in 2007.

But his dominance goes beyond numbers. There was Tiger's mind-blowing performance at the 2000 U.S. Open. The USGA set up Pebble Beach to play impossibly hard; nobody in the world could break par on that course. I mean that literally – Ernie Els, perhaps the second-best player on earth at the time, played his guts out and shot 3 over par, good enough for second place.

Tiger Woods, of course, shot 12 under par.

That was probably the best golf ever played. Then again, three weeks later Woods went to St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, and shot 19 under par, eight shots better than anyone else. So that was pretty good, too. Then he went to Louisville and won one of the great duels in golf history against the unknown but irrepressible Bob May. Then he won a few more tournaments, including The Players Championship, showed up in Augusta with the weight of history on his back, and simply won the Masters without too much tension. It was staggering.

But I would make the argument that the reason why Woods still hovers over the game – why people refuse to give up on him, why updates about his condition still make news, why Phil Mickelson celebrated him – does not have much to do with how the young Tiger played. There have been many incredible young athletes. Think Dwight Gooden in 1985. Think Herschel Walker as a freshman at Georgia or Pistol Pete Maravich at LSU. Think Monica Seles in the early 1990s when she was hitting every line. Think Johnny Miller when he was knocking down flagsticks in 1973 and '74.

It's not all that hard to let go of brilliant young athletes.

See, it isn't THAT Tiger Woods we miss. The Tiger Woods we miss, the one who still preys on our imagination, emerged 10 years ago, in 2006. I'm not sure Woods played better golf in 2006, but he was different. He was indomitable. He made us believe it could last forever. 

I often think of the Paul Newman movie "The Hustler," because it is the closest Hollywood ever came to capturing the powerful, mysterious and, yes, dark motivations that can separate winning and losing. Newman, as Fast Eddie Felson, had lost an epic, 48-hour, alcohol-fueled pool match with Minnesota Fats, and the loss sent him spiraling. The movie is about the painful and tragic journey that brought him back to the pool table as a different man – sadder, less idealistic and invincible.

"I quit, Eddie," Fats says in the climactic moment. "I can't beat you."

Well, Tiger's 2006 season reminded me of that movie. That was the year when Earl Woods died. Everyone knows that Earl shaped the life of his son both on the golf course and off. Earl had utterly convinced Tiger that he was destined for a spectacular life, big and grand and awe-inspiring. You could see it in the young Tiger: He was unshakeable. He had no doubts. Tiger KNEW he was going to kill the drive. He knew he was going to hit it close. He knew he was going to make the putt. He knew it absolutely. Earl had told him so.

When the father died in 2006, the son obviously was shaken. Tiger took nine weeks off and would admit, in a rare moment of disclosure, that he did not want to go back on the golf course. Everything there reminded him of Earl. He returned in time to play the U.S. Open and, for the first time in memory, he was not there. Tiger Woods' genius on the golf course, I think, came down to his ability to be absolutely and unconditionally present in the moment. When he hit a shot – at least from an outsider's point of view – he did not seem to dedicate even one or two percent of his brain to other things such as doubts or memories or a joke he'd heard or a song from the radio or where he'd go out for dinner. No, he seemed all in, 100 percent of mind and body and spirit, all dedicated to that precise shot and that exact instant.

But at that Open, he looked lost. Woods would not even take practice swings. He shot a couple of 76s that could have been even worse and for the first time in his professional career, he missed the cut at a major championship. In that moment, there was some concern: How well would Tiger play with his hero and best friend and father to guide him? What would the 30-something version of Tiger Woods look like?

He took another three weeks to get his head straight and his game together. And then Tiger returned. He went to the Western Open, had a sketchy opening round, worked a bit on the range with Hank Haney, and shot 12 under par the final three rounds to finish a close second.

Then, he went to Royal Liverpool, shot 18 under par, and breezed to victory for his second consecutive Open Championship title. That was his 11th major championship victory. 

Off to the Buick Open in Michigan, Woods shot four consecutive 66s to win easily.

He went to Medinah for the PGA Championship and matched the course record with a 65 on Saturday to give him a share of the lead with Luke Donald. Then, on Sunday, he ran away from the field, beating Donald by six shots and winning the tournament by five. That was his 12th major. He was three years ahead of Nicklaus' pace.

At the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Woods shot a final-round 68 to force a playoff with third-round leader Stewart Cink. Woods won the playoff on the fourth hole. That made his career playoff record 15-2. It was also his fourth victory in a row.

The next week, at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, he came from way behind on Sunday by shooting a 63, and he beat Vijay Singh by two shots. That was his fifth victory in a row.

After a poor American Ryder Cup – though Woods had a winning record and rolled in his singles match – he went right to the World Golf Championships and led wire-to-wire, opening with a 63 and closing with an eight-shot victory over Ian Poulter and Adam Scott. That was his sixth victory in a row, each one more dominant.

Then he obviously won his own tournament which doesn't count in the streak but is worth mentioning. And in January, at his next tournament, at the Buick Invitational, well, he won again, his seventh straight stroke-play victory.

That, I think, is when Woods convinced the rest of us that he would never stop. He was no longer the inspired young man overpowering golf courses and running away from the field. He was, instead, the master. Kids had come along who could hit the ball farther than he did. A few of them were better ball strikers than him. A handful could even match his putting. The golf courses were longer and tougher – "Tiger-proofed" was the description – and the aura that the young Tiger Woods had radiated was a bit faded.

But it didn't matter: He won anyway. He won every week.

"I mean how can I lose?" Fast Eddie Felson rapped as he won the final pool game. "Because you were right ... it's not enough that you just have talent. You gotta have character, too."

"Shoot pool, Fast Eddie," Minnesota Fats pleaded.

"I'm shooting pool, Fats," Eddie said. "When I miss, you can shoot."

That was Tiger Woods in 2006 ... and into 2007 ... and then in 2008 when he won that U.S. Open on one leg. Yes, of course, we thought it would last forever. Of course, we thought he would shatter Nicklaus' record for major championship victories. Of course, we did.

Then it ended, suddenly, maddeningly, with a scandal and a series of injuries and swing changes and more injuries. Now Woods is 40, he's hurt, he hasn't played golf in six months, and there's no word when he will play again. Wednesday came a semi-update, in the form of a relaxed 9-iron shot in a simulator.

Phil Mickelson talks about how no one today is "remotely close to the level of performance Tiger was in his prime," which, let's be honest, is the sort of thing you say about some long-gone legend who ain't coming back.

We as golf fans don't want to accept any of it. That year, 2006, doesn't seem that long ago.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.