Hawk's Nest: Fired up over McIlroy, a playoff and a penalty

By John HawkinsSeptember 10, 2012, 1:20 pm

IF I HAD a dollar for every stupid shot I’ve hit this year, I’d quit my job and buy a big house in some fancy golf community, then hit more stupid shots. Physical limitations come with middle age. Mental mistakes get old in a hurry, however, and some of the stuff I do on the golf course has gotten absolutely disgusting.

My favorite is when I grab two clubs, say a 7- and 8-iron, then get to my ball and find out I really need the 6. Instead of returning to the cart, I turn into Lee Trevino. “Oh, I’ll just hook the 7 in there,” I tell myself, as if my ability to shape a shot is any more reliable than a babysitter with boyfriend issues.

But enough about my little problems. Let us proceed to the men and women with full-time caddies and far more command – exempt on the PGA Tour but not from the occasional cerebral lapses that plague us all – in this first edition of Hawk's Nest, a new Monday staple.


MUCH WILL BE made of the upcoming bye week, which brings the FedEx Cup playoffs to a halt after an awesome weekend leaderboard and McIlrunaway finish at the BMW Championship. In this case, second-guessing = undue consternation. I need a break just to recover from an overdose of early-round bubble projections – now a close second on my list of peeves behind the long-putter invasion.

Don’t get me wrong. The shuffle of players moving back and forth in the standings brings an added, relevant dimension to the Sunday action. On Thursday and Friday, however, it’s dizzying overkill. No one with more than a few ounces of common sense projects a guy to hit 70 homers if he hits three in the first week of the baseball season.

The PGA Tour’s ceaseless efforts to promote its playoff series have led to an abundance of computer-generated clutter; too much information translates to utter drivel. A vast majority of golf tournaments change dramatically over four days. When Bill Haas bogeys four of the last five holes to forfeit his spot in the top 30, his performance up to that point becomes largely insignificant.

When Vijay Singh goes from holding a share of the 54-hole lead to not even qualifying for the Tour Championship, it’s worth remembering that Dewey didn’t actually defeat Truman. That a 64 on Thursday can mean a lot of things – a T-51 at Crooked Stick if you’re Webb Simpson.

In an age of real-time data, a lot of instant info is real meaningless. Nobody ever won a FedEx Cup postseason tilt on a Friday. Heck, unless you’re a curly-haired lad from Northern Ireland, you probably shouldn’t ask your GPS for directions to Atlanta until Sunday afternoon.


GO AHEAD and wonder about the LPGA playing the same hole eight consecutive times in Sunday’s playoff between Paula Creamer and Jiyai Shin. It made total sense for three reasons. The ladies saved a considerable amount of daylight by returning to the 18th tee over and over. Fans who stuck it out didn’t have to move. And perhaps most importantly, neither player had an advantage in terms of shot shape.

At the 2008 U.S. Open, it was pre-determined that any tiebreaker needed beyond Monday’s 18-hole playoff would begin at Torrey Pines’ seventh, a pronounced, dogleg-right par 4. Rocco Mediate is almost exclusively a right-to-left player, leaving Tiger Woods with a clear edge as one of the most memorable major championships of the modern era drew to a close.

Of course, this was also back when Tiger didn’t spend much time in the fairway. He beat Mediate with a tap-in par.


AS OPPOSED TO, say, 2006, when the U.S. Ryder Cup squad included Brett Wetterich, J.J. Henry and no one under the age of 30, this year’s team is the strongest I’ve seen since 1993. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson are now major champions. Matt Kuchar won The Players. Tiger Woods is “back,” if not the player he once was, and while there are lingering questions regarding several U.S. veterans, this roster is balanced and accomplished.

Consider: Hunter Mahan was fourth in the world ranking going into the Masters and didn’t make the team. You could argue that Mahan deserved a captain’s pick ahead of Brandt Snedeker or Dustin Johnson, but when I asked readers for their thoughts on Davis Love III’s selections during a recent live chat, the response was abundantly positive.

None of this means much if the top players on either side don’t perform to a certain standard, which brings us to Phil Mickelson. No question, he is the biggest X-factor on the American side. And at each of the last four Ryder Cups, Mickelson’s success/failure has served as an apt barometer for the U.S. fortunes overall.

In 2004, Lefty’s infamous partnership with Tiger Woods resulted in a pair of first-day losses. Europe won big. Two years later, Philly Mick earned just a half-point over the first two days. Europe rolled again. In ’08, Mickelson carried Anthony Kim to a crucial victory in the Friday fourball session and halved two other partnered matches. The Yanks won going away.

In 2010, Mickelson went 0-3 prior to singles, helping the U.S. into a hole it couldn’t quite climb out of. Pinning all the blame on Phil for the cumulative shortcomings is silly, but his energy and bravado are key components to every U.S. team’s competitive disposition. Always a vocal leader, Mickelson is invaluable to his side when he leads by example.


NOT THAT ANYONE asked, but….

Mahan and Rickie Fowler, the two men generally perceived as having come up short in Love’s captain’s-pick sweepstakes, were a combined 16 over par on the weekend at Crooked Stick. Mahan went 80-77, two strokes higher than my own Saturday-Sunday combo. The four guys DL3 did choose were an aggregate 20 under.

Singh picked up 3.14 strokes on the field with his putting in the first round. On Sunday, he was 2.34 strokes worse than the final-round standard. Anyone looking to salvage the future of the anchored putter might consider submitting news of that 5 1/2-shot swing to the U.S. Golf Association. It’s a different game when the game’s on the line – no broomstick of any length will ever change that.


WHAT’S WITH GUYS brushing their club against a leaf while they attempt to strike a shot from a hazard? We saw it in the final round of the PGA Championship with Carl Pettersson, whose faint hopes of catching Rory McIlroy were damaged by the two-stroke penalty on the first hole.

Graeme McDowell was guilty of the same infraction in a bunker Thursday, grazing some unattached growth that had fallen into the sand on the ninth hole – his last of the day. After a half-hour of deadsville, my live-chat scroll suddenly lit up like an AC/DC concert. The rules freaks wanted clarification. The McDowell fans wanted retribution. And I just wanted to go shoot baskets with my daughter.

Here’s the deal: McDowell wasn’t sure of the rule. Which sounds crazy, but not half as insane as the penalty for committing such a misdemeanor. TWO strokes? What’s the matter with adding one shot to a guy’s score? Isn’t two shots about twice as harsh as is necessary, especially in situations (bunker play) where the R&A and USGA have become more lenient on the removal of loose impediments?

No need to stop now, fellas. While we’re tossing away those stones, let’s hurl that extra stroke into the garbage can. If the violation clearly is unintentional, there’s no reason why the penalty can’t fit the crime.


WHEN I RAN into my buddy Johnny Pet 3 ½ months ago in the first round of the member/member, he was a 13 handicap. When we teed it up a couple of weekends ago, he was down to 8. I’m no mathematician – and Johnny Pet is no sandbagger – but I will say, that is quite a drop.

I’m not flabbergasted by his five-stoke improvement. What amazes me is that Johnny Pet has broken seven clubs in that stretch, none of them by accident. He is a perfect gentleman, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever play with, but when J-Pet hits a really lousy shot, something snaps.

Doesn’t matter if it’s steel or graphite. I can’t wait until he breaks seven more. I’ll be getting one a side.

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Hot Seat: Honda fans bring noise and heat

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 1:34 pm

The Bear Trap awaits in South Florida.

With hot, sunny days forecast for all four rounds of the Honda Classic, the mercury’s rising, especially at the 17th hole, where the revelry at the Goslings Bear Trap party pavilion could turn the tee box into a sweat box.

It may be even steamier for women playing the Honda LPGA Thailand, with temperatures forecast in the 90s for the weekend.

Here’s our special heat index gauging the toastiest seats in golf this week:

Five-alarm salsa – PGA National’s 17th tee

PGA Tour pros almost universally don’t want to see the craziness promoted at the Phoenix Open’s party hole (No. 16) duplicated at other Tour events, but they will get a distant cousin this week at the Honda Classic.

The Goslings Bear Trap party pavilion sits over the 17th tee, where Graeme McDowell cracked that players can get “splashed with vodka cranberries” if the wind is right. The Cobra Puma Village surrounds the 17th green.

That pretty much means everyone playing through there late in the day, with the party fully percolating, is on the Hot Seat.

Tiger Woods is scheduled to go through there at about Happy Hour on Friday afternoon.

“I said to myself, ‘This isn’t Scottsdale, this is ridiculous,’” Billy Horschel said after playing through there a year ago.

Sergio Garcia was among players who got heckled there last year.

It’s one of the toughest holes on the PGA Tour, ranking as the 21st most difficult par 3 last year.



Hot-collar rub – Rickie Fowler

Fowler returns to the Honda Classic as its defending champ.

He also returns for his first start since losing the 54-hole lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he bogeyed three of the final four holes and fell all the way out of the top 10 at Sunday’s end.

Fowler is now one for his last six closing out 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour.


Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.


Spicy Tom Yum heat – Shanshan Feng

The Rolex world No. 1 in women’s golf is back in action with the strongest field of this young season ready to resume chasing her at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

World No. 2 Sung Hyun Park will be making her first start of the year. No. 3 So Yeon Ryu, No. 4 Lexi Thompson, No. 5 Anna Nordqvist and No. 6 In Gee Chun are all in the field.

Park and Ryu shared Rolex Player of the Year honors last season. Thompson was the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year.

Feng has ridden atop the world rankings for 15 consecutive weeks. She opened the year tying for third at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic last month.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 21, 2018, 1:00 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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Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

“If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

“I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”


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So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

Horschel told GolfChannel.com last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

“I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

“Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

“I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

“We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

“We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

“But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

“They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

And now?

Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

“Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

“Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

“I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

“That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

“It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.