Was Tiger talking more about Rory, or himself?

By Joe PosnanskiJuly 23, 2014, 12:05 am

Yes, I was surprised when Tiger Woods made his “Very similar to what Phil does,” comments about Rory McIlroy over the weekend at the British Open. I was not at all surprised that Woods feels that McIlroy’s game so far might resemble Phil Mickelson’s more than his own. That’s a fair observation. I was not surprised by the points he made about McIlroy’s inconsistency – the points seemed pretty sensible.

No, the shocking part was this: Tiger Woods said it.

In case you missed it, Woods was asked a little bit about Rory McIlroy as he blitzed the field and won the British Open. McIlroy became the third-youngest player to win three out of the four grand slam events behind Jack Nicklaus and, of course, Woods. There was a lot of history in the air.

The actual question to Woods was: “What is it like to see Rory dominate in a way that only you have in a major like this?” The question was, as we say in the business, a bit loaded. I suspect it was just a kinder way of asking, “How does it feel to see, as the old king of golf, the new king?”

Woods, I suspect, knew exactly what was being asked.

And his answer was plain: “Well, as you can see, the way he plays is pretty aggressively. When he gets it going, he gets it going. When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad. It’s one or the other. If you look at his results, he’s kind of that way. Very similar to what Phil does. He has his hot weeks, and he has his weeks where he's off. And that’s just the nature of how he plays the game – it’s no right way or wrong way.”

The answer was, as we say in the business, a bit loaded. It sure seems like what Woods was saying was: Look, Rory can get hot. Good for him. But don’t go comparing him to me now. My game at its best was pure consistency. I won four major championships in a row. I won nine majors out of 30. His game is like Mickelson’s – brilliant some weeks, dreadful other weeks. That’s all well and good for him. But that’s NOT how I played golf.

Like I say, it was a perfectly fair point. And it was refreshingly honest from a guy who doesn’t often say what’s on his mind. And it was also stunning because Tiger Woods in his prime NEVER talked honestly about other golfers. Not in public. It seems to me this answer says a little bit about Rory McIlroy. And it says a lot about Tiger Woods.

Before we get into all that, let’s break down Rory and Tiger a little bit.

When Woods was 21 years old, he won the Masters with a record score.

When McIlroy was 22 years old, he won the U.S. Open with a record score.

OK, similar. What happened next? Woods made the cut at his next 10 major championships but he did not win any of them. He was in the process of rebuilding his swing so that it could take him to the next level, which is one of the more remarkable decisions in sports history. At a time when almost every golfer would have just let it ride – after all, Woods was hitting it longer than anyone, higher than anyone, and he putted better than anyone – he decided that he needed to be more consistent if he wanted to achieve his huge goals. Woods did not intend to win three major championships or five or even eight like Tom Watson did. No, he wanted 19. He wanted Jack.

In his 11th grand slam after the record-setting Masters, Woods finally won the PGA Championship. After that he contended at Augusta, then pulled off one of the most extraordinary feats in golf history by winning four grand slams in a row.



Now, what about McIlroy? After the U.S. Open, he was basically dreadful in his next five grand slams. He missed one cut and did not finish better than 25th in any of them. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, he ran away with the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island by eight shots. He followed that up with six more rather forgettable major tournaments (two back-ended top 10 finishes and one missed cut included) and then this past week he routed the field wire-to-wire to win the British Open.

So, on the one hand, Woods is right: McIlroy has been all over the place.

On the other hand, McIlroy has played 13 major championship since his breakthrough at the U.S. Open, and he won two of them. Woods, in the 13 major championships after his Masters breakthrough, won, yes, two of them. So, in the end, didn’t they really accomplish the same thing?

Well, not exactly the same. What’s different is those tournaments they did not win. Woods was so much more present – he had six Top 10 finishes aside from his victories and McIlroy had two. Woods did not come close to missing a cut, and McIlroy missed two. This is the consistency piece that Woods is talking about. Even before he raised his game to previously unseen heights, Woods proved that he was going to be there time and again, that was the defining essence of his golf. He did not HAVE bad weeks.

McIlroy’s game, like Woods said, is so much mercurial. There’s absolutely no way to know what will happen at the PGA Championship coming up. McIlroy might win by six shots. And he might miss the cut. Woods, not surprisingly, does not have much use for that kind of game.

But that’s the easy part of all this – we know that McIlroy has not figured out how to harness his great talent tournament after tournament. Maybe he will become like Mickelson – not that’s there’s anything wrong with having a Hall of Fame career like Phil’s. But that’s also not a fair comparison, and Woods knows it. Mickelson did not win his first major championship until he was 34, and that age is still almost a decade away for McIlroy. Mickelson did not win the third leg of the grand slam until he was 43. McIlroy has more major championships at 25 than Tom Watson did, than Arnold Palmer did, more than Gary Player and Ben Hogan and Sam Snead combined. His inconsistency may be a lasting part of his game. Then again, it might not. He might just be figuring things out. I’d bet on his future.

Meanwhile, there’s Tiger Woods, closing fast on his 39th birthday, coming off his worst weekend finish ever at a major. He barely made the cut and then played dreadfully over the weekend; 64-year-old Tom Watson not only beat him but beat him by five shots. Of course, this was just Woods’ second tournament back after a three-month layoff to recover from a pretty serious back injury. There were a few promising signs (like his solid first round) and so there are reasons to not put too much stock into the performance. Still, in golf, the scoreboard does not equivocate: Woods: 69th place.

And his subtle jab at McIlroy (and his longtime nemesis Mickelson) does say something. According to those who have found themselves close to Woods, his disdain for Mickelson’s sporadic game and boisterous personality has always been there. But he would never have said anything about it publicly … because to say something publicly would be acknowledge that he actually THOUGHT about Phil Mickelson. And this was something Tiger Woods could not acknowledge.

See, Tiger Woods at his peak was unreachable. He was untouchable. His only rival was himself. Whatever he did in the first or second round of a major, he always said: “I feel like I’m in good position.” No matter how many shots back he was, he always just wanted to “play my game.” The only thing that mattered to Woods about other golfers was that if you put enough pressure on them, they would eventually crack.

Of course, he did not say that. He did not have to say that or anything else. He knew. They knew. And, as the old line goes, he knew they knew. And they knew he knew they knew.

I’m convinced the young Tiger Woods would have brushed off the Rory McIlroy question. He would have said something like, “He’s a great young player and he’s having a great week,” and left it at that. He would not have wanted to make any points about McIlroy’s inconsistency. He certainly would not have felt it necessary to drudge up Phil Mickelson’s inconsistency.

So why did he do it? Two thoughts come to mine. One thought is simply that Woods, at age 38, is beginning to embrace his role as the face of golf. Arnold Palmer … Gary Player … Jack Nicklaus … Tom Watson … Nick Faldo … these guys were asked a million questions about every golf thing you could imagine. These included questions about the promise of every young player who came along and questions about every rival who was trying to take their place at the top of the world. Woods never cared much for those questions. More than that, he never seemed they were appropriate.

This time, though, he answered the question. He gave an honest assessment of McIlroy’s erratic game. He was careful to say he wasn’t judging (“it’s no right way or wrong way”) but he was willing to say what he thought needed to be said: When McIlroy’s good, he’s good; but that’s not everything.

The second thought is that Woods is beginning to understand what has become impossible to ignore: He’s not going to ever dominate the golf world again. He will win again, he will probably win a major again, but the Tiger Woods who separated himself from the world, who played in his own stratosphere, that golfer is not coming back. The injuries, the scars, the years will not let him come back.

Rory McIlroy is a better golfer than Tiger Woods now. He hits the ball longer, he hits it higher, he hits it straighter. Woods has more experience and a magical short game, but the experience gap shrinks and the best pressure putting stroke since Nicklaus begins to shake slightly. Woods’ used to intimidate golfers who believed him to be unwavering … but they’ve seen waver. Woods used to take leads into Sundays and slam the door … but the Sunday leads are tougher to build.

And all these things, I imagine, are difficult for a one-of-a-kind athlete to process. It has been more than six years since Tiger Woods won a major championship. Rory McIlroy was not there in 2008 when Woods won the U.S. Open on one leg. McIlroy was a 19-year-old kid just starting as a professional. He has lived a lot of life in those six years. And when someone asked Woods about Rory McIlroy dominating the way he dominated, Woods offered a stunningly personal response. Hey, Rory’s inconsistent. Hey Rory’s like Phil. I wasn’t like that.

Here’s what I think he was saying: Don’t write me off yet.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.


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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”


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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.


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Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”