Hawk's Nest: Big numbers killing McIlroy in 2013

By John HawkinsAugust 26, 2013, 2:50 pm

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – A lot of people think PGA Tour pros are spoiled rotten. It’s a fair perception, given the amount of money they play for, the endless perks that come with being a terrific golfer and the adoring-public factor that never lets up. The game’s best are held in high esteem, so when they complain about lousy greens or an impractical course setup, golf fans tend to respond with their own voice of displeasure.

Would the baby like a pacifier?

How much is this week’s purse again?

Isn’t it the same for everyone?

Every once in a while, however, player griping leads to growth. The substandard becomes superb, doggones become bygones, and in the case of the 2013 FedEx Cup playoff opener, a venue previously defined by its various faults emerges as the greatest thing since roll-on deodorant.

In my 18 years covering the PGA Tour full-time, no course has overhauled its reputation as quickly and dramatically as Liberty National did last week. Not even close. For all the spectacular beauty shots of the Manhattan skyline and America’s most precious statue, this tournament’s success would be determined on the ground, the site’s future dependent largely on the feedback of those with their names on the bags.

“We should be playing here every year,” said Charles Howell III, a sentiment echoed by several of his Tour brethren.

“A lot of subtle changes that add up to a big difference,” said John Senden. “I don’t remember a whole lot about how it was in 2009, but this was clearly a lot better.”

True, four years had passed since the last visit to Jersey City, about four decades earlier than some might have hoped. Liberty National owner Paul Fireman was stung by the negative reviews. “He took the criticism personally, and he’s in a position financially to do something about it,” according to one club employee.

Fifteen holes were altered in some form. Many of the putting surfaces were expanded and recontoured, which is a nice way of saying they dug up the elephants, but the problem in ’09 had more to do with all the humps in the original Tom Kite/Bob Cupp design.

Phil Mickelson has perfected the art of signing autographs, delivering the money quote and talking to drooling fans, all at the same time. “Imagine Augusta National with 24-yard-wide fairways and [heavy] rough,” he assessed. “The setup was fine once they turned the rough into a first cut. That brought out the strength of the golf course, which was the greens. You could play shots into them.”

All I know is, we saw a really interesting golf tournament. Three of the year’s four major champions were at or near the top of the Sunday leaderboard, all burning the place up while third-round leaders (Matt Kuchar, Kevin Chappell) struggled mightily. Quality rewarded, poor play penalized amid a wide range of scoring – that’s what a big event should feature on the weekend.

RORY McILROY’S SEASON is an interesting study, a much-publicized bust for which many causes have been cited. A veteran golf writer can usually find numbers to make any valid point, but in the curious case of the Irish Lad Gone Bad, I thought I’d let the numbers talk to me.

It all starts with the blowup holes – McIlroy’s inability to go any significant stretch without a double bogey or worse. At the game’s highest level, 6s kill rounds. Over the course of an entire tournament, you can recover from those mistakes if you don’t make them again. As this data suggests, that hasn’t been the case for Rors in 2013.

• Starts: 14
• Holes played: 873
• Doubles: 20
• Triples: 3
• Quadruples: 1
• Average number of holes between disasters: 36.4

You don’t have to look very hard to find a relevant comparison. Tiger Woods has played in almost the same number of events and in many of the same tournaments as McIlroy. His data:

• Starts: 13
• Holes played: 882
• Doubles: 11
• Triples: 4
• Holes between disasters: 58.8

One of Tiger’s triples came on the shot off the flagstick in the second round at the Masters, which turned into an 8 after the two-stroke penalty. Five of his disasters occurred during that dreadful performance at the Memorial, all in a 36-hole span. There’s never a good time to play like a chop, but if you’re gonna stink, you might as well do it on a single weekend.

McIlroy, meanwhile, has made a double or worse in 11 of his 14 starts. He managed four laps around Quail Hollow without a disaster, then did the same a week later at The Players – imagine that. In every tournament since, his week has been derailed by poor judgment or risks that shouldn’t have been taken.

That’s not Nike’s fault.

The Barclays was a perfect example. McIlroy made three doubles in the first round, and then rallied with a 65 to make the cut. All three happened on par 4s. Turn those 6s into 5s, and McIlruin reaches Saturday at 9 under – squarely in the hunt.

One point made here a while back bears repeating: the kid remains one of the longest drivers in the game and is actually hitting more fairways than he did a year ago, when he was using Titleist equipment. He’s hitting a slightly higher percentage of GIR and has cut his putting deficit by about 60 percent.

The difference? In 1,072 competitive holes on the PGA Tour last year, McIlroy made 15 doubles and not a single triple. He went 71.5 holes between disasters. If that doesn’t tell you something, nothing will.

GREAT PLAYERS DO great things in every sport. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Johnny Unitas’s 47 straight games with a touchdown pass, a record that stood for more than a half-century before Drew Brees broke it last fall. Which of Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring records is more unfathomable, the 100 points in a single game or the 50.4 scoring average for an entire season?

Last Saturday’s telecast included mention of Woods’ consecutive-cut streak, which I would rank second on his list of greatest career accomplishments (behind four straight major titles). To go more than seven years without having a bad week at the game’s highest level is utterly mind-boggling – the longer you think about it, the more astonishing it becomes.

 That said, Woods did not make 142 consecutive cuts, the number commonly acknowledged to define the length of the stretch. He did play in 142 consecutive events without missing a cut, but 31 of those tournaments didn’t have a cut. I’m no genius, but you can’t make a cut if there isn’t one to miss.

 At 111, Woods still breaks the record held by Byron Nelson, whose recognized number (113) also included no-cut events. On the list of things that keep me awake at night, this one doesn’t make the cut, but I do find it annoying that such a phenomenal accomplishment is misrepresented from a numerical standpoint.

 Not that anyone cares, but the PGA Tour media guide does identify Woods’ streak correctly as consecutive events without a missed cut. Here’s the list:

• Woods: 142 (Feb. 1998 to May 2005)

• Nelson: 113 (Jan. 1941 to May 1948)

• Jack Nicklaus: 105 (Nov. 1970 to September 1976)

• Hale Irwin: 88 (Jan. 1975 to Feb. 1979)

• Dow Finsterwald: 72 (Sept. 1955 to Feb. 1958)

• Tom Kite: 53 (July 1980 to June 1982)

 You might also notice that Tiger averaged about 20 events per season during the streak – about four more than Nelson and two or three more than Nicklaus. I wonder if people used to complain about Byron and Jack not playing enough.

NOT FOR NOTHING, I asked two players, two caddies and a swing coach who U.S. Presidents Cup skipper Fred Couples should add to the team with his captain’s picks. All five said rookie Jordan Spieth should be on the team. Four named him first, and the fifth didn’t need a ton of prodding.

“Never seen the kid play, but I’d still pick him,” said one of the sources. Couples will announce his selections next Tuesday, and if I had to throw a dollar on it, I’d bet on Spieth making the squad. Nobody occupying the spots immediately behind the automatic qualifiers has done enough recently to warrant inclusion, and besides, you can’t find two Americans who have played better than Spieth this summer.

If this were the Ryder Cup, where the pressure is far more intense, Couples would have a reason to lean on experience, but as Hunter Mahan told me at the PGA Championship, “for 27 weeks each year, it’s just you and your wife and your caddie. You get to the Presidents Cup and you’ve got 12 guys and 12 caddies, and everybody’s pulling for you. The golf becomes so simple at that point.”

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.