Hawk's Nest: With Watson, Tour dropped the ball

By John HawkinsFebruary 3, 2014, 4:30 pm

Dog is man’s best friend. Diamonds are a woman’s best friend. And once the texts/emails began flying during third-round action from TPC at Scottsdale, my sense of reason grabbed hold of the situation. 

Burrowing animals are a golfer’s best friend. When wedging out won’t work, when a crooked drive leaves you barely alive, you do what Bubba Watson did on the 13th hole last Saturday. You blame it on the iguanas. You find a friendly face and search for playable space. 

I was both amused and outraged by the free drop given to Watson by tournament official Jon Brendle, who is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, as are most of the lawmen who work for the PGA Tour. Bubba had blasted his ball into a desert bush, took a few minutes to assess the damage, then called on Brendle to decide if he could take unpenalized relief. 

Permission granted. However slanted. “Being that he is left-handed and could advance the ball, the club path was going to strike the burrowing animal hole [at impact],” Brendle would explain. “Therefore, he was entitled to a drop.” 

Now I’m confused. Hadn’t Phil Mickelson, another lefty, cost himself a victory in Qatar a week earlier by trying to hit a shot right-handed from a very similar lie? If the ground is affected at the point of contact, what difference does it make whether you’re left- or right-handed? Can’t every golfer just walk to the other side of the ball and ask for relief on the same basis? 

Maybe they don’t have lizards in Qatar. I’ll be honest: I haven’t been there lately. 

Because the Tour’s rules officials are such fine people, they tend to lean in favor of the Tour pro on such matters. Men such as Brendle, Mark Russell and Slugger White seem a lot more forgiving than say, European Tour chief referee John Paramor, whose interpretation of the law isn’t quite as loose. 

We’re talking about a guy who penalized 14-year-old Guan Tianlang two strokes for slow play at last year’s Masters. Brendle would have walked the kid over to a concession stand and bought him a sandwich. 

With that in mind, I present my five favorite questionable verdicts in recent years (hot sauce not included): 

Ernie Els, 2004 Masters. After driving his ball deep into the left woods on the 11th hole in the third round, Els was denied relief from a pile of fallen tree limbs by two rules officials. Tournament committee chairman Will Nicholson reversed the decision, however, which helped lead to one of the greatest finishes in Masters history. Who says golf would be better off without lenient zebras? 

Vijay Singh, 2000 Masters. Same hole, four years earlier. Singh’s second shot found the pond left of the green, but instead of hitting his fourth from a designated drop area behind the water, as the yellow line would have indicated, he played it from a much easier spot - adjacent to the lake, just a few steps off the putting surface. A par chip, in essence, led to a routine bogey and Singh’s second major title. 

David Duval, 2001 U.S. Open. A week the USGA would like to forget, as the ninth and 18th greens were intentionally played at slower speeds in response to agricultural issues, but it was a spectator crosswalk at the ninth that felled Duval in the third round. His perfect drive came to rest on the muddy path, which was trampled in footprints, but the official working his twosome denied him relief.

It was by far the angriest I’ve ever seen Duval, who proceeded to chunk a wedge, then kick the soggy divot and slam his club into the muck. He would bogey the hole and fade from contention. 

Bubba Watson, 2014 Phoenix Open. I’m pondering the idea of dumping my gap wedge and carrying a burrowing animal as a 14th club. Maybe Bubba was just getting a head start on his observance of Groundhog Day. 

Tiger Woods, 2006 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The man was given free relief after hitting his ball on the Firestone clubhouse roof! Other than winning four consecutive major titles and making 17,000,000 consecutive cuts, I would consider this among Woods’ greatest accomplishments. Paramor? He might’ve had him arrested for breaking and entering. 

NOT TO HARP on a theme, but the West Coast swing continues to leak oil. In all likelihood, it appears Woods, Mickelson and Adam Scott will skip the WGC-Accenture Match Play gathering later this month. We’re talking about three of the top four players in the world ranking, and though the PGA Tour would never admit it, I’m sure a few doors are being slammed in Camp Ponte Vedra. 

This is Accenture’s final year as the tournament’s corporate host, and it’s a significant loss - the management-consulting firm was the only original title sponsor to remain since the WGC series began in 1999. The bright side? This event can finally get fixed. It needs new dates and a far more compatible venue than Dove Mountain, which simply hasn’t worked for a number of reasons. 

By moving the Match Play to a warm-weather month, the Tour would find itself with a much greater range of potential sites and sponsors. Besides, having two WGCs (Match Play and Doral) in a three-week stretch really doesn’t make sense. Not that the Tour really cares about enforcing the brand from a competitive standpoint, but if you’re gonna ask some company for $10 million to put its name on the shingle, you must deliver a top-level product. 

What makes sense? You approach a golf-friendly partner such as RBC, which currently sponsors the Canadian Open, the Hilton Head stop and eight high-profile Tour pros, and you work something out with priority given to the long-term picture. Both of those events are played the week after a major, meaning they have lousy dates, so you’d have to do some schedule juggling. No big deal there.

A better scenario would involve turning the Match Play into the regular-season finale - the fifth and final FedEx Cup playoff event - with a field of 12 and Pebble Beach as the locale, which would lead to a prime-time TV window. It’s a plea I’ve been making for years, but since Accenture held exclusive rights to the match-play format, it wasn’t something that could be done without a ton of hand-wringing. 

Maybe it’s still ridiculous, but Accenture’s departure makes the possibility a lot less far-fetched. Now more than ever, the Tour must face the fact that it competes with the European Tour (and indirectly, the four majors) for star-power presence. As Dove Mountain has proven, the overall product needs to consistently evolve. 

ORIGINAL IDEAS IN golf journalism are hard to come by, but my friends at Golf World certainly came up with one when they ranked the game’s 100 best players since 1980. This wasn’t some Rolling Stone-like list compiled off expert opinions, but a ranking based on oodles of data, and the results packed more than enough punch to pique plenty of opinion: 

1. Tiger Woods

2. Greg Norman

3. Phil Mickelson

4. Jack Nicklaus

5. Vijay Singh

6. Ernie Els

7. Tom Watson

8. David Duval

9. Rory McIlroy

10. Nick Faldo

Norman is the obvious surprise here. It’s easy to forget how long he reigned as one of the game’s best players despite winning just two majors; Duval is the only member of the top 10 with fewer. No question, the Shark benefited greatly by launching his career right around the starting point of Golf World’s data window, meaning all of his best golf was included in the process. 

Nicklaus and Watson were victimized by the opposite factor. That both ranked comfortably inside the top 10 speaks volumes about their greatness. Woods had nine of the 11 best single-season performances during the 34-year stretch. Watson (1980) and Singh (2004) had the other two. 

“Our goal was to create a ranking based on more than just a player’s record in major championships, which we feel ignores too much relevant golf,” says Golf World editor Jaime Diaz. “More than anything, we wanted to determine week-to-week performance over a player’s best years and reward accordingly.” 

Why start with 1980? That’s when the Tour greatly expanded its statistical database. Nicklaus loses about 75 percent of his premium golf, which is a shame, but every such project must have a chronological beginning without regard to a particular player’s career parameters. 

I don’t think Jack would have caught Tiger if the Tour statisticians had gotten busy 20 years earlier. If this article doesn’t convince you Woods is the best golfer of all time, nothing will. “Our metrics specifically defined his greatness and gave it even greater dimension,” Diaz adds. “Basically, the closer you look at Tiger’s performance, the better it gets.” 

THAT SAID, HE looked so inferior in Dubai. Playing with McIlroy (and eventual winner Stephen Gallacher) in the first two rounds, Woods struggled to hit fairways while setting up significantly left of the target. His big-cut drives often left him 20 to 30 yards behind McIlroy, whose enormous power belies the fact that he stands 5-10 and weighs 160 pounds after a huge dinner. 

Tiger spent most of those two rounds hitting after the Irish Lad. McIlrip’s body coil and lag would produce frightening club speed; Tiger would stick his peg in the ground and move his driver to the ball at nowhere near the same pace. 

After seeing this repeatedly, I began thinking of comments made last week by Woods’ former swing coach, Hank Haney. Has Red Shirt gotten too musclebound? Hank and I revisited the subject a few days later. 

“He said his doctor told him in 2008 [during knee surgery] that, with his bone structure, he needed to weigh 165 pounds to take the pressure off his knee and his body, Haney said. “He has to weigh 200 now.” 

Maybe he’s trying to hit more balls on the clubhouse roof. Those free drops won’t hurt you one bit.

Getty Images

After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 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 current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

Getty Images

Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

Getty Images

Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

Getty Images

Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry