Tiger reaches the point of no return

By Joe PosnanskiJuly 16, 2015, 5:32 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Thursday at St. Andrews was a day for supernatural phenomena, large and small. It was a day when 46-year-old Retief Goosen and 46-year-old Paul Lawrie, who have not been heard from in years, vaulted toward the lead. It was a day when 49-year-old 1990s icon John Daly, circus and pants and all, made birdies, and a 21-year-old kid from outside St. Louis, Jordan Niebrugge, shot the lowest-ever round for an amateur at the Open Championship. Phil Mickelson made a little run. Mark O’Meara and Bernhard Langer made little runs. Heck, even 65-year-old Tom Watson managed to get his score to 2 under before aging rapidly on the back nine.

And somehow, with all that magic dust blowing in the Scottish wind, Tiger Woods still looked positively hopeless.

In many ways, his 4-over-par 76 in the first round of the Open was the low point of this painful Tiger Woods crash. True, picking Woods’ low point in this nightmarish season is a bit like picking the worst part of the Adam Sandler movie “Jack and Jill.” When you think the hot dog proposal by Al Pacino has to be the worst part, you’re countered by Jill’s stupid jokes about her nephew who is Indian. And at some point you have to admit, as a friend of mine likes to say, that distinctions at that level are not worth making.

Still, I think the argument can be made that this was the worst because it was all there for him. As bad as Tiger’s 82 was at the Phoenix Open, well, he was kind of in between swing changes and he “couldn’t find the bottom” or whatever golf talk he came up with. As bad as his withdrawal the following week — the famous “glutes not activating” withdrawal — was, well, he was not healthy, and he was confused, and he took some time off. As awful as his 85 at the Memorial might have been, well, he did make the cut there and as he said, “We have moments where we go backward.” As dreadful as his 80 at the U.S. Open was, well, it was Chambers Bay, which was a quirky golf course that magnified his flaws.

But this … this was the ideal setup. Dreams don’t come in this clearly. Here was a healthy Tiger Woods coming off his best tournament in months. He was playing a golf course that has been his personal playground; twice he has won Open Championships on the Old Course, and the first time in 2000 he played golf about as well as it has ever been played.

And the conditions were so wonderfully benign as he teed off that every single player in the three groups in front of him and the one group behind him broke par on the front nine. Earlier, David Lingmerth set an Open nine-hole recor, starting with a 29. Later, an amateur named Paul Kinnear — who told the Daily Mail, “Four weeks ago my mum was looking for a job for me as a van driver” — shot 31 on the front. That front nine was downwind, the greens were pillow soft, and the fairways were as wide as Kansas. You could not miss.

And Tiger Woods went out and shot 40 on the front nine.

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Every hole was a nightmare. On the first, he chunked his second shot into the Swilcan Burn, a shot that looked like it was hit by a 10-handicapper. On the second, his second shot seemed like an optical illusion — he left it 40 yards short of the green, as if he was laying up. On the third, he spun his second shot back off the green. On the fifth, he pulled his drive into some junk, pulled his second shot into some kind of canyon, chunked his third shot nowhere close and three-putted from there. On the seventh, he missed a 4-foot putt for par.

On the back nine, he bogeyed the 10th, birdied the par-5 15th, made a couple of nice shots and a couple of terrible ones, and he finished with a 76, 11 shots behind Dustin Johnson and nine shots behind the man trying for a Grand Slam, Jordan Spieth. This year, in a statistic worked out by the Augusta Chronicle’s Scott Michaux, Woods and Spieth have played 18 competitive rounds in tournaments together. Spieth has outscored Woods by 108 shots.

This one was awful to watch. Yes, it has often felt awful watching Tiger Woods lately. It is agonizing to watch a legend grow old, but this was different. There seems no return from this one, no reason to believe tomorrow will be better, no rationale for hope.

Woods has been one of the most thrilling athletes of my lifetime, a magnificent force of nature who has made me gasp and scream and come alive. His duel with Bob May at the PGA Championship is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever seen. His hole-out on the 16th at Augusta in 2005 – where he chipped the ball toward a speck of sunshine and watched it roll back to the hole – still gives me chills. His play at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2000 was the greatest golf I’ve ever seen anyone play, and he followed that up with his virtuoso performance at St. Andrews at the 2000 Open Championship. No one – not Nicklaus, not Hogan, not Snead, not Jones – ever played golf like that.

And so, even though I did begin sensing and writing about Tiger’s decline five years ago, I never wanted to believe it. Even as I predicted Tiger would absolutely not break Jack Nicklaus’ record and the furious emails poured in – and boy did they pour in back in those early days of the Tiger drought – I found myself thinking: “I hope you’re right and I’m wrong.”

Even when he kept getting injured, even when he stopped winning, even when he decided to keep changing his swing and talking about weird golf adjustments that sounded like they were made up (baseline shift?), I wanted to believe. Even this year, as things have fallen apart, I have sat in news conferences with Tiger Woods and listened to him talk and thought, “Maybe, just maybe, he’s going to find something.”

There are no illusions left. Thursday was heaven-sent. Somewhere, at some golf course he was designing or at home on his tennis court, Jack Nicklaus himself probably heard about this day and wanted to pick up his clubs. And Tiger Woods was all but helpless. “Discouraging,” Woods said when it ended. “Yeah, I was a little – angered a little bit.”

He then tried to talk about how he played better on the back nine because his mind is magnetically pulled to positive thoughts; that’s part of what once made him so great. But even he couldn’t put his heart into it. There was nothing positive to grab. The end is here for one of the greatest golfers who ever lived. You never know when a magical week will happen, of course. Tom Watson had one at age 59 at Turnberry. Jack Nicklaus had several, including a Masters where he charged though he was 56. Greg Norman almost won the 2008 Open though he had not been a factor at a major in almost a decade. Fred Couples somehow manages to get on the leaderboard at the Masters in his 50s.

Tiger Woods could have those magical weeks still, but it’s becoming clear: That’s what it will take. Magic. And as Thursday proved, sometimes even magic isn’t enough.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

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It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.