Hawk's Nest: Top 10 storylines of 2013

By John HawkinsOctober 21, 2013, 2:30 pm

With all due respect to November and December, the golf season is over. Ten months is two months too many – we need a World Golf Championship in China the way I need another chocolate-chip cookie. Not to sound gruff, but enough is enough.

On the main drag about a half-mile from my house, another giant financial institution is building another stadium-sized bank that looks rather snazzy, but nobody will actually come in and do business in it. A lot of people move their money on the Internet or through an ATM, so these Taj Mahals would seem to be an exercise in excess, although I’m sure some guy in a tie with a $2.7 million annual bonus would tell me otherwise.

Same thing goes for pro golf. Nothing can happen between now and the end of the year that will qualify for my Top 10 Storylines of 2013, so here it is. And if I’m wrong? No problem. I’ve got two months to redeem myself and a massive Citibank right up the street.

10. The fried-chicken fracas. It took forever, but the ill will between Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods finally ventured into full public view with a couple of messy incidents in May. Garcia blaming Woods for a bad shot he struck during the third round of The Players Championship was merely a childish reaction, almost comical in its absence of rationale.

His racially tinged comment regarding Woods two weeks later, however, was reckless and narrow-minded, rattling sensibilities in a game that can’t afford to strengthen its negative stereotypes. Neither Garcia’s intent, nor the proverbial apology, meant much here. You leave a loaded gun lying around long enough, somebody gets hurt.

9. Anchors away? More of a non-story than a headline hog, the anchored-putter ban drove countless conversations and fueled debates while not going anywhere at all. To be continued? You betcha, especially if talented young players keep winning major titles while employing a technique that will be illegal in two years.

The PGA Tour has insinuated that it will comply with the ban, but some very big questions remain open-ended. Lawsuits? Champions Tour survival? In a sense, this is a lengthy game of chicken in which everyone will hang their head out the window for a while.

8. Park Place. If Woods or any other male golfer won three consecutive majors, we’d be planning the ticker-tape parade. When Inbee Park did it in ’13, it was a case of the tree falling in the forest. Sadly, the women’s game has never fallen further from the mainstream radar, and if some have been quick to blame the Asian invasion for the LPGA’s lack of reach, perhaps the entire contingent of American players should hold a meeting. In front of a mirror.

7. Duf the Twitter Magnate. Or magnet, as golf’s social-media sensation-turned PGA champion proved to be after his inert pose in a Texas classroom launched a bizarre avalanche of attention. Personally, the whole Twitter thing turns my stomach, but my 10- and 13-year-old daughters know who Jason Dufner is, and it’s not because he hit 54 greens in regulation at Oak Hill.

Blame it on the stoner-like visage or his relative indifference to anything requiring emotion, but Dufner was as radar-friendly in ’13 as Park wasn’t. Nobody else gets famous for nearly falling asleep in front of a bunch of elementary-school kids. And if Duf wasn’t a really good player, it probably wouldn’t have lasted.

6. Antlergate. Vijay Singh’s admission of using a banned substance turned into a tangled pile of legal wires, then a lawsuit, forging an incredulous twist on a hall-of-fame career in which an unsavory past met up with a checkered present. Singh’s legacy has always formed an awkward partnership with public perception, and now, his accomplishments are framed in skepticism.

In the court of popularity, perhaps Singh had nothing to lose, but the PGA Tour did. Sometimes, the skeleton not only leaves the closet, it makes a spectacle of itself.

5. Majorless no more. Dufner was one of three top-tier players to win his first major title, but Adam Scott’s Masters victory was by far the most memorable. A sudden-death triumph over Angel Cabrera, with both guys performing so heroically down the stretch, instantly revised the style-vs.-substance quotient that had dogged Scott for years.

From handsome underachiever to first Masters champ from Australia, we’re talking about a pronounced career transformation in 2013. Scott proved consistently tough in golf’s biggest events and won again at The Barclays in late August. The sky was always the limit. There just aren’t as many dark clouds now.

4. Tiger rules. It’s easy to forget that his year began with a two-stroke penalty for an illegal drop in Abu Dhabi. Two strokes were added after the hard-luck carom off the 15th flagstick at the Masters and ensuing illegal drop, two more after his ball was deemed to have moved at the BMW. For everything said about Eldrick Almighty over the span of his brilliant career, no one had ever questioned Woods’ on-course integrity.

Now some are, perhaps as much for Tiger’s unwillingness to man up to the violations as the infractions themselves. Forever allergic to admitting guilt, Woods’ resistance was bound to leave a mark at some point. In 2013, those moments arrived as a trio. Megaphone included.

3. McIlrotten. Oh, the theories. They began arriving in bundles back in February and never let up, many of them borrowing from each other and blurring the basic difference between fact and opinion. One truth was clear: Rory McIlroy wasn’t close to as good a golfer in 2013 as he’d been the year before. Or the year before that. You take it from there. The new clubs. The girlfriend. The fame. The fortune. All of the above? Look out, below.

The Irish Lad’s failures remind us that good golf is hard – and great golf allows very little room for childish nonsense. In the broadest of terms, his inability to win a tournament in ’13 can be traced to a lack of maturity and sound guidance. Good kids still do a lot of dumb things, but it’s nothing two weeks on a deserted island with a fishing pole and a friendly dog can’t fix.

2. Total clarety. It’s not just that Phil Mickelson won the British Open. He won the British Open right after messing up another U.S. Open. He won it after finding a phone booth somewhere on Muirfield’s back nine and changing into his Superman costume. He won it with guts and guile – even if it took forever and a while.

A fifth major title and 42nd career win overall only secured Philly Mick’s standing as one of the 15 greatest golfers ever, but this was a landmark triumph, an exclamation point on a dossier defined by its abundance of punctuation. His closing 66 was the performance of the year, a doubt-killing display of greatness in the clutch. Any questions? Didn’t think so.

1. The five-year itch. Yes, he won that 2008 U.S. Open on a battered leg, but everything since has jarred his once-unflappable competitive psyche, leaving Eldrick T. Youknowwho stuck in neutral 73.7 percent into the climb to the top of Mount Nicklaus. In 2013, each of the majors produced a slightly varied set of flaws. As for the big picture, Woods’ ability to get it done on the weekend isn’t what it once was – he hasn’t broken 70 on a Saturday or Sunday since the 2011 Masters.

Fair or not, greatness comes with its own set of expectations, and as Tiger approaches his 38th birthday, those expectations come with a burden that can’t be measured or held accountable on a shot-by-shot basis. Only Woods knows if the pressure has gotten to him, and he’s not about to tell us if it is. When you win 14 majors in 11 years, you’re the ultimate gamer who can make it look so easy. When you go five-plus years without winning one, you’re just trying too damn hard.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x