Hawk's Nest: Picking apart Digest; picking a champ

By John HawkinsApril 7, 2014, 1:32 pm

So I’m at the 1995 Final Four in Seattle, covering college basketball for the Washington Times, with a flight to Georgia early the next morning to do the Masters. There’s a layover in Pittsburgh, however, and just as we’re about to touch down on the runway, the pilot suddenly veers the jet back into the sky.

We circle the airport for another 15 or 20 minutes. A few of the passengers are freaking out, but for the most part, the cabin is full of silent concern and bewilderment. When you’re flying a Boeing 757, you really shouldn’t need a breakfast ball, but we do land safely, at which point I head straight to a pay phone.

“I’m not going to Augusta,” I tell my editor.

“What do you mean?” he replies.

“I’m never flying again. I’ll walk home from Pittsburgh if I have to. I’m still in pretty good shape.”

“You can’t not go to the Masters,” Gary reasoned. “And besides, it’ll probably be another seven or eight years before something creepy happens again.”

Logic is kind of like ice cream – it comes in a bunch of different flavors, including Rocky Road. I boarded my connection and ultimately saw Ben Crenshaw claim one of the most emotionally stirring victories in tournament history, so the next time a man begins sobbing after successfully reaching his destination, don’t just write him off as some fragilely composed sissy.

You never know how difficult the journey might have been.

GOD BLESS THE LPGA. It is a league that earns respect in modest doses, going about its business while barely appearing on the mainstream-sports radar. This causes some uneasy tension when a local media power (such as Golf Digest) runs a picture of Wayne Gretzky’s daughter, who doesn’t play professionally, on its April cover.

We call it eye candy, a commercially driven art form popularized by Maxim and scores of other print publications. For decades, pretty girls have sold magazines, and that’s what this is all about. It has nothing to do with how many majors Inbee Park has won or how good Lydia Ko is going to be. It’s just business, man.

Few businesses have gotten tougher in recent years than the industry that relies on the printed word. The outcry of protest over Digest’s Paulina Gretzky cover feels more like a case of misdirected frustration than an argument built on sound reason – you go home and kick the dog because your boss gave the promotion to someone else.

“If a magazine called Golf Digest is interested in showcasing females in the game, yet consistently steers away from the true superstars who’ve made history over the last few years, something clearly is wrong,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement last Friday. “Growing the game means a need for more role models, and in these exciting times for women’s golf, the LPGA is overflowing with them.”

Actually, you could make a case that a hot blonde with a high handicap and 300,000 followers on both Twitter and Instagram is more valuable to the game’s growth than, say, Natalie Gulbis (188,000 on Twitter) or Paula Creamer (28,000 on Instagram). Still, that’s not the point. Growing the game is not Golf Digest’s primary mission. Selling copies of their product is.

As for the superstar factor, the LPGA doesn’t have one. The two best players of this generation (Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa) retired early, leaving a void that hasn’t been filled for any extended period of time. Besides, monthly magazines operate differently than a news-based weekly or a golfcentric website.

How to play, where to play, what to play. That’s what appeals to many recreational golfers, and that’s what Golf Digest sells. The competitive element among tour pros is not a high priority, although generating buzz is. As chagrined as the LPGA may be over the Paulina cover, its public disapproval will only help newsstand sales in the coming month.

IN CASE YOU haven’t noticed, I love the Masters. And if you’re Matt Kuchar, who has fumbled great chances to win on each of the past two Sundays, you should love it, too. Phil Mickelson is the only player in the last 50 years to claim a green jacket after winning the previous week – he pulled it off in 2006.

Tiger Woods arrived at Augusta National in 2001 having won his prior two starts (Bay Hill and The Players), but he’d skipped the BellSouth Classic, his customary week off before a major. Here’s a list of all Masters champs since 2000 and how they fared in their three tournaments leading in (results in reverse order).

2013: Adam Scott T-30, T-3, T-33
2012: Bubba Watson T-4, 2, T-17
2011: Charl Schwartzel T-30, T-47, T-24
2010: Phil Mickelson T-35, T-30, T-14
2009: Angel Cabrera MC, MC, T-32
2008: Trevor Immelman MC, T-40, T-48
2007: Zach Johnson T-9, T-42, T-14
2006: Phil Mickelson 1, T-14, T-12
2005: Tiger Woods T-53, T-23, 1
2004: Phil Mickelson 10, T-3, T-24
2003: Mike Weir MC, T-27, T-14
2002: Tiger Woods T-14, 1, 2
2001: Tiger Woods 1, 1, T-13
2000: Vijay Singh T-33, T-29, T-50

All this data means as much or little as you want it to mean, but the fact of the matter is, hot golfers don’t win many green jackets. Woods just won a lot, period, and Mickelson hasn’t done too badly himself, but Bubba is the only guy in recent years who came in playing really well, then culminated that stretch of outstanding play with a major title.

Kuchar should be in a great spot mentally. Yeah, that water ball on the 72nd hole in Houston wasn’t a great idea, but Matt Jones holed a ridiculous chip on the first playoff hole to beat him, and San Antonio (the week before) was kind of a mess for everybody. It’s stupid to think that failing to close the door will help him win a Masters, but you don’t want to sniff the azaleas with a brand-new winner’s check in your back pocket.

MY PICK? I’LL take the Irish Lad. A closing 65 in rainy Houston was the perfect uptick for Rory McIlroy, who has a history of not performing well in lousy weather. He’s too talented and too driven to not contend at some point, and he comes into the week a little under the radar, at least by the usual standards.

As Paul Azinger once told me, “The average golfer hits his long irons too low and his short irons too high. A tour pro wants to do the opposite. Long irons high, short irons low. Especially at Augusta National.” McIlroy might be the best in the game at the high-low thing, and his enormous length off the tee should earn him scoring opportunities that aren’t available to others.

I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that Sergio Garcia is my sleeper. You could look at the results in Houston and think I actually know what I’m talking about, but I don’t like how he finishes. He gets a lead and it looks like something’s bothering him. He leaves putts 6 feet short seven or eight holes into a rainy day – that’s more of a tentative (or nervous) trait than slow greens.

As much improvement as Garcia has shown us in recent months, he still looks agitated by, and therefore vulnerable to, the quirks of competitive golf. The game is hard enough when your blood pressure is steady. If it’s bouncing all over the place? You finish T-37.

TAKE A CLOSE look at the new Web.com commercial featuring Jim and Tabitha Furyk. The ad is shot from two different viewpoints, and when husband and wife are shown at the same time, Tabitha’s hair is parted on the left. On the close-up shots of Tabitha, her hair is parted on the right.

Back to the wider angle – left to right. Another tight shot – right to left. These are the types of very important things you notice when you’re an experienced golf writer, or when you have a next-door neighbor with one of the keenest eyes in the game.

As for Jim, who isn’t wearing a hat, there is no such problem. No hair, no part to worry about, but the guy can move it left to right, or right to left, virtually upon command.

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Watson back in top 40 after OWGR free fall

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Bubba Watson ended his free fall in the Official World Golf Ranking with a two-shot victory Sunday at the Genesis Open.

Watson, a fixture in the top 10 in the world as recently as 13 months ago, had dropped all the way to 117th after a 2017 season in which he struggled with poor form, illness and desire.

After his third career win at Riviera, he is up to 40th.

Kevin Na rose from 95th to 65th after tying for second in Los Angeles, while Tony Finau jumped from 41st to 33rd.

Tiger Woods actually improved in the world ranking, from No. 550 to No. 544, despite a missed cut at the Genesis Open.

On the European Tour, Joost Luiten surged from 90th to 68th after his victory in Oman.

The top 10 in the world remained unchanged as the PGA Tour heads into the Florida swing: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy.

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Bubba catapults, Phil creeps up in Ryder Cup standings

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 1:21 pm

Bubba Watson was an assistant on the 2016 Ryder Cup team. He doesn’t want to be driving a cart in Paris.

Watson, thanks to his victory in the Genesis Open, jumped from 60th to 10th in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings. The top eight after the PGA Championship qualify automatically for this year’s edition at Le Golf National in France.

Phil Mickelson moved up one spot to 11th after tying for sixth at Riviera Country Club.

Players will receive one point per dollar earned in regular events this year, with 1.5 points per dollar in majors and two points per dollar for winning a major. Here's a look at the current U.S. standings:

1. Dustin Johnson

2. Brooks Koepka

3. Justin Thomas

4. Jordan Spieth

5. Matt Kuchar

6. Brian Harman

7. Gary Woodland

8. Rickie Fowler


9. Chez Reavie

10. Bubba Watson

11. Phil Mickelson

12. Patrick Reed

On the European side, the top four players from the Ryder Cup points list will be joined by the top four qualifiers from the world points list, with captain Thomas Bjorn making four additional selections. Here's a look at the current top names:

Ryder Cup Points

1. Justin Rose

2. Tyrrell Hatton

3. Ross Fisher

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Tommy Fleetwood

3. Sergio Garcia

4. Rory McIlroy

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Genesis Open purse payout: Bubba makes bank

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 1:03 pm

Bubba Watson won the Genesis Open for a third time on Sunday, moving his career PGA Tour win total to 10. Here's a look at how the purse paid out at Riviera Country Club.

1 Bubba Watson -12 $1,296,000
T2 Kevin Na -10 $633,600
T2 Tony Finau -10 $633,600
T4 Scott Stallings -9 $316,800
T4 Patrick Cantlay -9 $316,800
T6 Adam Hadwin -8 $241,200
T6 Phil Mickelson -8 $241,200
T6 Cameron Smith -8 $241,200
T9 Jordan Spieth -7 $180,000
T9 Martin Laird -7 $180,000
T9 Xander Schauffele -7 $180,000
T9 Ryan Moore -7 $180,000
T9 Justin Thomas -7 $180,000
T14 James Hahn -6 $133,200
T14 Aaron Baddeley -6 $133,200
T16 Alex Noren -4 $111,600
T16 Sung-hoon Kang -4 $111,600
T16 Dustin Johnson -4 $111,600
T16 Derek Fathauer -4 $111,600
T20 Rory McIlroy -3 $78,000
T20 Bud Cauley -3 $78,000
T20 Kevin Chappell -3 $78,000
T20 Talor Gooch -3 $78,000
T20 Jason Kokrak -3 $78,000
T20 Vaughn Taylor -3 $78,000
T26 John Huh -2 $46,996
T26 Peter Uihlein -2 $46,996
T26 Luke List -2 $46,996
T26 Rafael Cabrera Bello -2 $46,996
T26 Patrick Rodgers -2 $46,996
T26 Jamie Lovemark -2 $46,996
T26 Dominic Bozzelli -2 $46,996
T26 Matt Kuchar -2 $46,996
T26 Anirban Lahiri -2 $46,996
T26 Sam Saunders -2 $46,996
T26 Graeme McDowell -2 $46,996
T37 Branden Grace -1 $33,120
T37 Tommy Fleetwood -1 $33,120
T37 Charles Howell III -1 $33,120
T37 Luke Donald -1 $33,120
T41 Bryson DeChambeau E $24,516
T41 Troy Merritt E $24,516
T41 Kevin Streelman E $24,516
T41 Pat Perez E $24,516
T41 Charley Hoffman E $24,516
T41 Brandon Harkins E $24,516
T41 Jonas Blixt E $24,516
T41 Nick Taylor E $24,516
T49 Austin Cook 1 $17,964
T49 Brendan Steele 1 $17,964
T49 Paul Casey 1 $17,964
T49 Chad Campbell 1 $17,964
T53 Tom Hoge 2 $16,437
T53 Benjamin Silverman 2 $16,437
T53 Li HaoTong 2 $16,437
T53 Retief Goosen 2 $16,437
T53 Martin Kaymer 2 $16,437
T53 Adam Schenk 2 $16,437
T53 Adam Scott 2 $16,437
T60 Ryan Blaum 3 $15,696
T60 J.B. Holmes 3 $15,696
T60 Harold Varner, III 3 $15,696
63 Kelly Kraft 4 $15,408
T64 Padraig Harrington 5 $15,120
T64 Ryan Armour 5 $15,120
T64 Sean O'Hair 5 $15,120
67 Martin Piller 6 $14,832
T68 Thomas Pieters 7 $14,400
T68 Greg Chalmers 7 $14,400
T68 Abraham Ancer 7 $14,400
T68 Tyrone van Aswegen 7 $14,400
T68 Charl Schwartzel 7 $14,400
T73 Vijay Singh 8 $13,896
T73 Chez Reavie 8 $13,896
T75 Sang-Moon Bae 10 $13,608
T75 David Lingmerth 10 $13,608
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After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner

On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray

On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard

On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there.

The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell