Hawk's Nest: Tiger's tourney not what it used to be

By John HawkinsJune 30, 2014, 2:45 pm

You think golf has some stupid rules? My brief dalliance with World Cup soccer has ended because of a lack of sufficient street cred. Why do teams dress 23 players and only 14 can play? Why do they call it a “hand ball” if it hits your shoulder? Why does every referee look like he just failed a lie-detector test and still lives in a guesthouse once owned by Ma Barker?

As each match begins, the participants emerge from the stadium tunnel while holding hands with the children. Very touching, and once the country’s national anthems have been sung, you’d swear the Righteous Brothers will be showing up any minute.

Then the clock starts. And never stops.

In soccer, sportsmanship is obviously a four-letter word, much like “dive” and “fake.” I’ve seen better acting over the last few weeks than in any Kevin Costner movie, but it’s the offsides thing that really itches my britches. In a game where two goals amounts to a big day at the office, why are there restrictions on where players can go?

Hey, I tried my best to catch the World Cup fever. All I got was the sniffles and a yellow card for failing to leap over high buildings in search of the drama.

DIFFERENT YEAR, SAME story. When the PGA Tour returned to Washington, D.C. in 2007, there were two big reasons to believe the tournament would quickly become one of the biggest non-majors on the schedule. Tiger Woods + Congressional seemed like a can’t miss in the early-summer slot previously held by the Western Open, which morphed into a FedEx Cup playoff event and continues to thrive.

That hasn’t been the case in the nation’s capital. Fields have gotten progressively weaker, which makes no sense, given the quality of the venue. Players say they want to compete on the best courses and will tell you it influences where they decide to play, leaving us to wonder if resentment of Woods has something to do with the poor attendance.

“Puzzling to me but true, players haven’t made it a priority to support a guy who bought all our primary and secondary homes, like they have with Arnie and Jack,” one veteran Tour pro told me.

As sure as I was that the product at Congressional has gotten weaker, I was still surprised by the results. The world ranking tabulates strength of field at every tournament to determine value for player performance. The U.S. Open, for instance, was worth 789 total points (Martin Kaymer received 100 for winning), about twice as many as were dispersed at Colonial.

The Quicken Loans National had just 305 – nine fewer than the week before in Hartford, which was an unhealthy event just a few years ago before Travelers stepped up as the title sponsor to salvage the its existence. Just five of the top 20 players in the world were at Congressional. The two highest ranked players in the field (Woods and Jason Day) missed the cut.

Here’s a look at how the D.C. Tour stop has fared in terms of point distribution during the tournament’s eight years:

2007 507
2008 298
2009 329
2010 308
2011 252
2012 289
2013 280
2014 305

And while we’re at it, let’s take a quick look at how a few other events have done in 2014:

Arnold Palmer Invitational   406
Shell Houston Open   461
RBC Heritage (Hilton Head)  332
Memorial      541

So the Tiger tourney started with a very strong cast – deeper than Bay Hill, comparable to Memorial – but immediately dropped off to a standard of a mid-level tournament. Very strange. How does that happen? I talked to several Tour pros and got a variety of answers.

“It’s a combination of run-up to the British Open and Tiger and Tim [commissioner Finchem’s] reluctance to make a phone call to the guys to support the event,” says one. “The D.C. market is a very critical one to us. Everybody should know that.”

Jim Furyk was a regular at the tournament until passing on it this year. “I’ve always played,” he said. “It’s a great course. I skipped to be with my family for the month – I needed to cut a couple of events this year and it fit best in my schedule not to play. It probably fits bad for a lot of guys between majors and summer vacations with families.”

When you look back at the old Western Opens, however, the fields were always outstanding, and it was almost always played over Fourth of July weekend. I think D.C. hasn’t lived up to its potential for a deeper reason: the game’s top-tier players can be choosier about where they compete because they’re not playing to pay the bills.

The FedEx Cup format, which also started in ’07, made the season much more back-weighted – there aren’t many weeks off for the big boys between mid-July and the end of September. You need to go into that stretch mentally refreshed and physically ready.

Tiger might have made them all rich, but he didn’t make them stupid.

POOR PATRICK REED. The guy gets ambushed for calling himself one of the top five players in the world, and then he starts playing like No. 105. Reed was on fire until telling everybody how good he was after winning at Doral, which I found kind of cool, although most golf fans didn’t.

Reed absolutely vanished after the victory in Miami, missing the cut in five of his next eight starts and managing no better than a T-35 in the three events where he did make it to the weekend. He also became a father for the first time.

Then came this past weekend, when his two-stroke lead after 54 holes turned into a tie for 11th.

It takes a lot of work to fall that far over the course of 18 holes, even on a Sunday, further proof that Reed obviously annoyed the golf gods with his strong sense of self-belief. Pragmatically speaking, however, there is a more adequate explanation for Reed’s slump – and the Congressional thump.

You can go back and look at the career trajectories of many ultra-talented young players. They light it up early and think they’ve got this game by the scruff of the neck, then falter. Woods certainly dealt with that scenario after his four-victory season in 1997, although he would blame his poor ’98 on swing changes. After the fact, of course.

Another factor to consider: Reed’s first two wins came against weak fields at the Wyndham Championship and Humana Challenge. I can’t state it often enough – it’s so much easier to win a Tour event when 80 percent of the game’s top players are home watching football.

His triumph at Doral was obviously a big deal, but that was a weird week that included numerous ill-advised pins during the second round, when the wind destroyed scorecards without any discretion. It was also the first trip to a venue that had undergone a substantial redesign. The veterans and top-tier guys lost a valuable advantage. Experience and local knowledge basically became worthless.

As for the backlash to his boastfulness, Reed played it very smart when asked about it last Saturday evening. He said there hasn’t been any. “I haven’t heard anything negative from the guys out here,” was his response. “They all believe in themselves, believe they’re one of the top players. You have to. You can’t play this game with a lack of confidence.”

Boy, if that’s not a commercial answer, I don’t know what is. Give the young man some credit. At least he finally made it back to the media center and and fielded the question.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.