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.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry