Hawk's Nest: McIlroy should have been forthcoming

By John HawkinsMarch 4, 2013, 2:40 pm

It pleases me to no end when I turn on the Florida swing and see everyone in the gallery wearing a jacket. The players are dressed in sweaters, the wind is howling like my seventh-grade science teacher, and all of a sudden, Connecticut in early March doesn’t seem like torture.

If you’re a cold-blooded type sentenced to life in an arctic climate, 2013 has gotten off to a great start. The season began with a Hawaiian hurricane. We snickered when 3 inches of snow fell in Tucson, and when the PGA Tour fled to West Palm Beach for last week’s Honda Classic, it found November in Nebraska instead.

They call Florida the Sunshine State, but after flying to Orlando every week for four years, walking out of the airport and feeling Mother Nature’s gnarliest breath hit me in the face, I know it’s just a tourist lure. Nicknames such as “Hell’s Real Kitchen” or “Perspiration Nation” probably wouldn’t sit well with the chamber of commerce.

So they came up with something a bit more positive. Oh sure, the sun does shine in the Sunshine State, usually after three hours of mean-spirited clouds and a biblical thunderstorm. Ninety degrees isn’t a golf-cart mandate – it’s a thermometer reading at 7:45 a.m. And when it gets chilly? Sorry, but you are unworthy of sharing my pain.

The temperature here climbed all the way to 38 today. Fahrenheit, not Celsius.

IT HAPPENS ALMOST every week in the auspiciously entitled world of professional golf. A player gets off to a lousy start, misses a 5-footer for bogey on the seventh green, then feels a tweak in his back or a twitch in his knee. Six players failed to complete 36 holes at last month’s Northern Trust Open, including Sean O’Hair, who fired an opening-round 83.

Dustin Johnson quit after 27 holes in Honolulu. Four guys withdrew before the cut at Torrey Pines. What Rory McIlroy did last Friday at PGA National was hardly uncommon, but when you’re 23 years old and you’ve won a pair of major championships by eight strokes apiece, you are never invisible.

You can’t walk off a golf course after eight holes and not expect everyone to notice. You certainly can’t figure that people will buy into your story that you WD’d because of a toothache, a dog-ate-the-homework explanation that ranks with the best in golf history. It’s not that McIlroy is held to a higher standard because he’s the world’s top-ranked player.

It’s just that nobody cares when Alistair Presnell walks off after nine holes, which was the case the day before.

The toothache isn’t really the issue. Pain is a purely subjective matter – it’s not something that can be measured, or in most instances, even questioned. That said, imagine this scenario: McIlroy shakes hands with Ernie Els and Mark Wilson, withdraws from the tournament, then admits:

“You know what? I was playing horribly, embarrassing myself and destroying my confidence with every swing. I was doing myself a lot more harm than good out there. If the PGA Tour wants to fine me or spank me on the buttocks for quitting in the middle of the round, I have no problem with that, but I’m not going to remain out there and play like a 7 handicap when I’ve got some things I need to work on, including my competitive disposition.”

Would you, the serious golf fan, find those comments honestly refreshing or outrageously unacceptable? Charles Barkley has turned candor into a pop-art form. At the end of the day, a lot of people would still call McIlroy a quitter. More, however, would view him as a realist.

WHAT YOU DON’T see every week is a first-round leader who misses the cut, which is what happened to Camilo Villegas at the Honda Classic. A 64-77 combo added up to Villegas’ third consecutive MC, but his substandard play dates back to the start of 2011, when he was disqualified from the season-opener at Kapalua for removing loose impediments.

At this point, Villegas’ decline has evolved into a full-blown tailspin. His best finish in 29 starts since the beginning of 2012 is a T-18 in New Orleans. He saved his Tour card with some decent golf during last year’s Fall Finish, but any confidence or momentum he gained amid that stretch appears to be lost.

While emerging as one of the game’s best young players from 2006-08, Villegas’ success surprised some of his fellow Tour pros. They saw a homemade swing with moving parts and a putting stroke that wasn’t always reliable inside 5 feet, but the kid from Colombia kept getting better and better.

Back-to-back victories in the 2008 FedEx Cup playoffs signified that Villegas had arrived. His slight build was stacked with muscle, and very few players were longer off the tee – Villegas averaged a career-best 302.1 yards per drive in ’06.

Nowadays, he looks smaller, and his drives are more than 10 yards shorter. Here’s a stat for you: In 2011, Villegas ranked 163rd in greens in regulation and finished 109th in the FedEx Cup standings. In 2012, he jumped all the way to fourth in GIR but fell to 148th in the FedEx derby, leaving him out of the playoffs.

The moral to this story? If you can’t putt, it doesn’t matter where you hit it.

GOD BLESS DAVID Duval. More than 10 years have passed since perhaps the greatest career collapse in golf history, but Duval keeps searching, entering tournaments while missing cuts at a prolific rate – 30 times in 37 starts over the last two years.

I got a nice text from him last Saturday night, just to say hello and ask how I’ve been. We had a brief exchange, but when I asked if we could speak briefly on the phone, the conversation went cold. I’m pretty sure the guy is tired of talking about his long-lost game, even to someone he’s known and trusted for 16 years, and I can’t say I blame him.

On the same day the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer quit in mid-round because of a toothache, a former No. 1 showed up for his Friday tee time after opening with a 78. For all the good and bad that has occurred in Duval’s life over the last decade, I have just one question as a journalist:

Why do you keep trying?

There isn’t an ounce of condescension or sarcasm in my inquiry. In fact, I find Duval’s continued efforts to regain his form exceedingly admirable. Other superb players have fallen on hard times over the years, but none fell further or faster – and none tried for so long to figure it out.

Just as pain cannot be measured, neither can mental toughness. Are you feeling me, Mr. McIlwithdraw?

Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.

Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.

Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Updated at 11:14 a.m. ET

An Instagram user known as hwalks posted photos to her account that included images of Tiger Woods, President Trump and Dustin Johnson Friday at Trump National, as well as video of Woods' swing.

Here are some other social media posts that have surfaced:

Original story:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''

Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open

Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''

Day (68) just one back at Australian Open

By Nick MentaNovember 24, 2017, 6:40 am

Jason Day posted a second-round 68 to move himself just one off the lead held by Lucas Herbert through two rounds at the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand after 36 holes in Sydney.

Leaderboard: Herbert (-9), Day (-8), Cameron Davis (-7), Anthony Quayle (-6), Matt Jones (-4), Cameron Smith (-4), Nick Cullen (-4), Richard Green (-4)

What it means: Day is in search of his first worldwide victory of 2017. The former world No. 1 last visited the winner’s circle in May 2016, when he won The Players at TPC Sawgrass. A win this week would close out a difficult year for the Aussie who struggled with his game while also helping his mother in her battle with cancer. Day’s last victory on his native soil came in 2013, when he partnered with Adam Scott to win the World Cup of Golf for Australia at Royal Melbourne.

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Round of the day: Herbert followed an opening 67 with a round of 66 to vault himself into the lead at The Australian Golf Club. He made six birdies, including four on his second nine, against a lone bogey to take the outright lead. The 22-year-old, who held the lead at this event last year and captured low-amateur honors in 2014, is coming off a runner-up finish at the NSW Open Championship, which boosted him from 714th to 429th in the Official World Golf Ranking. His 5-under score was matched by Dale Brandt-Richards and Josh Cabban.

Best of the rest: Matt Jones, who won this event over Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott two years ago, turned in 4-under 67. Jones is best known to American audiences for his playoff victory at the 2014 Shell Houston Open and for holding the 36-hole lead at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which was eventually won by Day. Jones will start the weekend five shots off the lead, at 4 under par.

Biggest disappointment: Spieth has a lot of work to do this weekend if he expects to be in the title picture for the fourth year in a row. Rounds of 70-71 have him eight shots behind the lead held by Herbert. Spieth made a birdie and a bogey on each side Friday to turn in level par. The reigning champion golfer of the year has finished first, second and first at this event over the last three years.

Storyline to watch this weekend: The Australian Open is the first event of the 2018 Open Qualifying Series. The leading three players who finish in the top 10 and who are not otherwise exempt will receive invites into next summer’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.