An unscientific look at Tiger and his desire

By Joe PosnanskiFebruary 6, 2014, 4:28 pm

SOCHI, Russia – So one of the fun things I’m doing while here: I’m asking random Russian people to name the first active American athlete who comes to mind. It’s just an offbeat little exercise. A couple have asked me to name Russian athletes I’m familiar with, and I come armed with Alexander Ovechkin, Maria Sharapova, Andrei Kirilenko, Yevgeny Malkin, Drago …

I don’t really say Drago.

But I’d love it if just one person would say Rocky Balboa.

Here’s the point: So far, the names I’ve heard are more or less who you would expect – LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps. One guy, wearing a New York Giants ski cap, said Eli Manning. I love that. In all, I’ve probably asked 11 or 12 people, so it’s hardly worth mentioning. But there is one semi-interesting thing.

Nobody yet has named Tiger Woods.

Now, this is only semi-interesting because golf is all but nonexistent in Russia. For years there was only one 18-hole golf course in the entire country; even now there are fewer than a half dozen. Almost nobody plays golf. And professional golf is simply a non-starter here. So, logically, there’s no reason that anyone here should know Woods or care.

Still, I do keep waiting for someone to mention him. I have long believed that Woods – like Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Pele before him – was bigger than his sport. At his peak he transcended golf, transcended America, had become something iconic and symbolic and titanic.

He still might be that. And then, well, he might not.

You might think this is all just an excuse to write about Woods’ slow start – and you would not be entirely wrong. Woods has played in two tournaments so far in 2014, both at places he has fared well. He started the year at the Famers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. He has won the tournament seven times (four in a row from 2005-08) and Torrey is the site of his greatest victory, the 2008 U.S. Open he won on one leg over Rocco Mediate in a playoff. This time he shot a mesmerizing 79 on the third day and missed the 54-hole cut. It was kind of mind-blowing.

Then he went to Dubai, a tournament he has won twice and has always impressed. He finished 41st despite making three straight birdies to finish. Sky Sports analyst and swing coach Ewen Murray put it bluntly: “I think this is the worst I have ever seen Woods technically.”

There have been a million analyses of Woods’ rough start – and his decision to take a little time off to rest and work on his game – which might mean something and, just as easily, might not. It’s just two tournaments. It is a month or two before the golf season really gets going. The temptation with Woods is always to put too much emphasis on the moment – to shout, “He’s back!” when he wins something; to lament “He’s finished!” when he does not. If he wins his next tournament (like at the Honda), he will become the odds-on favorite at the Masters all over again.

Still, the sluggish start is a reminder that Tiger Woods – even if he plays great golf like he did often last year – is not Tiger Woods. He’s still the biggest golfer, often the best, certainly the most interesting and the one who can move the needle. But he’s a golfer. The Tiger Woods who stretched our imagination, who broke through the constraints of his own sport, who represented not just golf brilliance but all brilliance – that guy is gone. Well, he’s not gone. He’s 38, tired, working with another swing coach; his body has been stitched up several times and you sometimes wonder why he even bothers to play at Farmers Insurance Opens.

A few years ago, even before the tabloid scandal, a prominent golfer told me that he did not think Woods would be a great old golfer like Jack Nicklaus or Ben Hogan had been. When I asked why, he said: “Because great success breeds great boredom.” His point was that the laser focus and the desperate hunger that fueled Woods to play golf at a previously unachieved level, that stuff grows old just like the body. He doubted Woods would stay that interested into his 40s.

“You don’t just need talent and work ethic to be great,” he told me. “You need a reason.”

Tiger is rich. He’s endured turbulent fame. He played his sport better than anyone who ever lived. Does he have that reason? That motivation, week in and week out – not just at the majors? My guess is that, like most of us, some days he will, some days he won’t. Nobody stays forever young. Even Bob Dylan is doing car commercials.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.