Even with a lead, Woods no longer intimidates

By John HawkinsJanuary 29, 2012, 10:18 pm

When the cameraman moved in close for the obligatory post-round interview, you could really see the age. Tiger Woods looks five years older than he did two years ago, as if his complicated life has forced Father Time to pick up the pace. Fire hydrants and failed marriages can shorten a man’s youth and rob him of his smile, but so can losing, which takes us back to the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Sticks and stones can break your bones, but Robert Rock? The Englishman’s victory while playing in the final group with Woods provided additional evidence: the Dude in the Red Shirt isn’t the same intimidating beast he once was on any given Sunday. As invincible as Tiger looked in firing a third-round 66, there were several others who had moved to the top of the leaderboard with similar scores. A day later, with the game on the line, Woods looked a lot like any other tour pro.

I have downplayed the theory that Eldrick Almighty no longer scares his opponents into competitive submission, but Abu Dhabi has me second-guessing myself. Rock looked utterly unfazed during his battle with the 14-time major champion. If his body language wasn’t quite as aggressive as that of Y.E. Yang, who knocked off Woods at the 2009 PGA, the final result and how it came about were very much the same.

Neither was a bloodbath and neither was a shootout – Rock and Yang both shot 70 to claim their crown. Tiger helped Yang more with a closing 75, but he failed to make a birdie on the final nine against Rock and trailed the rest of the way after bogeys at the third and fourth. Woods had three hours to catch a guy who would shoot even par on the back. Not only did he come up short, he wound up T-3.

My anti-intimidation philosophy prior to Sunday was based on mathematics and probability. Woods’ success at holding 54-hole leads over the years was astonishing, but sooner or later, he’d be beaten – roughly half of all third-rounder leaders on the PGA Tour go on to win. Tiger had done it 14 consecutive times at the majors, meaning he’d demolished the odds, so one could see how Yang’s triumph was bound to happen.

What couldn’t be seen (or measured) was the effect. Heath Slocum outlasted Woods and Steve Stricker in Tiger’s very next start, the Barclays. Although none of the three led after 54 holes and Slocum was paired with Stricker in the group behind Woods, Slocum’s composure down the stretch left some thinking Eldrick’s vest was no longer bulletproof.

Enter the hydrant and more than two years out of the real Sunday heat. Woods did perform nicely to beat K.J. Choi last month at the Chevron, but unofficial events with 18-man fields are what they are. As Rock proved, the Chevron wasn’t an omen, but that doesn’t make it an aberration, either. At least not yet.

Overall, Tiger made significant progress in Abu Dhabi. He swung the club wonderfully for most of the week and claimed a share of the lead with another superb Saturday. The fact that Rock beat him was just as much a product of Rock’s coping with the pressure as it was Woods’ inability to hit greens or make putts. Yes, Woods parked his final two drives in the left rough and hit a rather squirmy fairway wood from an awkward lie on the 18th, but most of the doubts about his return to form focused on his swing, not his skill and mental toughness down the stretch.

Greatness breeds the highest of standards, and to many who consider Woods the greatest they’ve ever seen, their perspective is forever rooted in his decade-plus of dominance. So guys like Robert Rock no longer lie awake on Saturday night suffering from a severe case of Red Shirt Insomnia. Abu Dhabi was a step forward, but Woods still hasn’t done anything to leave them tossing and turning, either.

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Watch: Tiger's Saturday birdies at Honda

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 8:07 pm

Tiger Woods looks in complete control of his iron play at PGA National.

Four back to start the day, Woods parred his first seven holes before pouring in his first Saturday birdie with via this flagged iron from 139 at the par-4 eighth:

Woods' hit three more quality approaches at 9, 10 and 11 but couldn't get a putt to drop.

The lid finally came off the hole at No. 12 when he holed a key 17-footer for par to keep his scorecard clean.

One hole later, Woods would added a second circle to that card, converting this 14-footer for a birdie-3 that moved him back into red figures at 1 under par for the week.

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O. Fisher, Pepperell share lead at Qatar Masters

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 5:13 pm

DOHA, Qatar - Oliver Fisher birdied his last four holes in the Qatar Masters third round to share the lead at Doha Golf Club on Saturday.

The 29-year-old Englishman shot a 7-under 65 for an overall 16-under 200. Eddie Pepperell (66) picked up shots on the 16th and 18th to catch his compatriot and the pair enjoy a two-shot lead over American Sean Crocker (67) in third.

David Horsey (65) was the biggest mover of the day with the Englishman improving 31 places for a share of fourth place at 12 under with, among others, Frenchman Gregory Havret and Italian Andrea Pavan.

Fisher, winner of the 2011 Czech Open, made some stunning putts on his way in. After an eight-footer on the par-4 15th, he then drove the green on the short par-4 16th for an easy birdie, before making a 12-footer on the 17th and a 15-footer on the 18th.

Like Pepperell, Fisher also had just one bogey to show on his card, also on the 12th hole.

Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

''I gave myself some chances coming in and thankfully I made them,'' said Fisher, who has dropped to 369th in the world rankings.

''You can quite easily make a few bogeys without doing that much wrong here, so it's important to be patient and keep giving yourself chances.''

Pepperell, ranked 154th in the world after a strong finish to his 2017 season, has been a picture of consistency in the tournament. He was once again rock-solid throughout the day, except one bad hole - the par-4 12th. His approach shot came up short and landed in the rocks, the third ricocheted back off the rocks, and he duffed his fourth shot to stay in the waste area.

But just when a double bogey or worse looked imminent, Pepperell holed his fifth shot for what was a remarkable bogey. And he celebrated that escape with a 40-feet birdie putt on the 13th.

''I maybe lost a little feeling through the turn, but I bounced back nicely and I didn't let it bother me,'' said the 27-year-old Pepperell, who hit his third shot to within four feet on the par-5 18th to join Fisher on top.

The long-hitting Crocker is playing on invites on the European Tour. He made a third eagle in three days - on the par-4 16th for the second successive round.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 24, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Uihlein fires back at Jack in ongoing distance debate

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 4:32 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Wally Uihlein challenged Jack Nicklaus’ assault this week on the golf ball.

Uihlein, an industry force as president and CEO of Titleist and FootJoy parent company Acushnet for almost 20 years, retired at year’s start but remains an adviser.

In an interview with ScoreGolf on Friday, Uihlein reacted to Nicklaus’ assertions that the ball is responsible for contributing to a lot of the troubles the game faces today, from slow play and sagging participation to the soaring cost to play.

Uihlein also took the USGA and The R&A to task.

The ball became a topic when Nicklaus met with reporters Tuesday at the Honda Classic and was asked about slow play. Nicklaus said the ball was “the biggest culprit” of that.

“It appears from the press conference that Mr. Nicklaus was blaming slow play on technology and the golf ball in particular,” Uihlein said. “I don’t think anyone in the world believes that the golf ball has contributed to the game’s pace of play issues.”

Nicklaus told reporters that USGA executive director Mike Davis pledged over dinner with him to address the distance the golf ball is flying and the problems Nicklaus believes the distance explosion is creating in the game.

“Mike Davis has not told us that he is close, and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there,” Uihlein said.

ScoreGolf pointed out that the Vancouver Protocol of 2011 was created after a closed-door meeting among the USGA, The R&A and equipment manufacturers, with the intent to make any proposed changes to equipment rules or testing procedures more transparent and to allow participation in the process.

“There are no golf courses being closed due to the advent of evolving technology,” Uihlein said. “There is no talk from the PGA Tour and its players about technology making their commercial product less attractive. Quite the opposite, the PGA Tour revenues are at record levels. The PGA of America is not asking for a roll back of technology. The game’s everyday player is not advocating a roll back of technology.”

ScoreGolf said Uihlein questioned why the USGA and The R&A choose courses that “supposedly” can no longer challenge the game’s best players as preferred venues for the U.S. Open, The Open and other high-profile events.

“It seems to me at some point in time that the media should be asking about the conflict of interest between the ruling bodies while at the same time conducting major championships on venues that maybe both the athletes and the technology have outgrown,” he said. “Because it is the potential obsolescence of some of these championship venues which is really at the core of this discussion.”