Hawk's Nest: Wear and tear of age affecting Tiger

By John HawkinsAugust 4, 2014, 3:10 pm

You certainly can’t evaluate his health by examining the state of his golf game. Tiger Woods used to win three or four tournaments a year from the right trees. Before the back spasms, the knee issues and the hydrant, Woods’ inability to drive the ball straight only made his dominance more astounding.

Time waits for no one, however, and when Woods returned to action earlier than expected at the end of June – Graham DeLaet needed almost twice as long to recover from the same surgery – the reaction was generally gung-ho. Rust removal? Makes sense. The next two majors at venues he once conquered? Gotta get ready for those.

You’re chasing history and you’re losing ground, so you proclaim yourself fit as a fiddle and gas up the jet. “Obviously, I’m going to get stronger and faster as time goes on, but the risk is minimal, just like every round we play,” Woods said at Congressional in his first start back.

He would repeat the stronger-and-faster thing several times, no doubt believing it, as people who will themselves to so much accomplishment tend to believe everything they say. There’s a reason most premier athletes retire in their mid- to late-30s, however. Their physical skills erode. Not only do their bodies betray them, they begin breaking down on a regular basis.

Woods broke down again Sunday at Firestone. Another funky shot from trouble after missing right, another mid-round departure, another poor performance punctuated by injury. There is a lot not to like about the situation, although one shouldn’t get the sense this latest setback occurred because Tiger came back too soon.

The man played nine full rounds of competitive golf before his back acted up. He put himself in more treacherous situations than a cat burglar over those 5 ½ weeks and emerged without a hitch. This isn’t about a premature return. It’s about the wear and tear of age and a guy who insists on going after the ball like someone half as old.

Speaking of which, the future of golf is tugging on our shirt like a restless child – and Tiger’s status will swipe much of the attention worthy of better causes: Rory McIlroy’s ride to greatness, Rickie Fowler’s vast improvement, Sergio Garcia’s re-emergence.

America’s Red Shirt infatuation wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if he was still performing at a high level, but that hasn’t been the case for a while. You blame the media? I can’t swing a 7-iron without hitting a pile of data that tells us Woods is the only golfer many, many people care about. It’s sad in a way, but I was saying five years ago that the Tiger Hangover would have a far-reaching effect on the game’s sensibilities.

Seriously, I hate it when I’m right about stuff like that.

DUSTIN JOHNSON’S LEAVE of absence from pro golf hit some folks like a locomotive. I was about halfway into a live chat last Thursday when the news broke, leading to a rash of insensitive reaction and unwitting ignorance to the situation overall.

Was I surprised by Johnson’s announcement? Not even a little bit. Whispers about his off-course behavior have been circulating on the PGA Tour for years – the tipping point occurred when he missed almost three months of the 2012 season with what was described as a back injury.

There was some chuckling that spring among those who knew better, and when I broached the subject of Johnson’s physical status with a member of his camp at Quail Hollow, I was shooed away like a rabid dog. Given the wonderful disposition of the person I approached, let’s just say it was a highly unusual response to a fairly standard inquiry.

So when Golf.com reported last Friday that Johnson was suspended by the PGA Tour after a positive test for cocaine, his third failed test since 2009, the whispers became a roar. The Tour would release a statement claiming Johnson is not serving a suspension, which is basically a moot point – a cross between damage control and semantics:

“This is to clarify that Mr. Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour.”

In other words, Johnson chose not to file an appeal and took the initiative of enrolling in some type of substance-abuse program. That basically takes precedent over any form of disciplinary action, at least for the time being, by Camp Ponte Vedra.

Why mention all this? Because the Tour’s policy of not releasing information regarding fines and suspensions is a joke. No other professional sports league dabbles in such obtuse paranoia. Out of respect for its fan base and the acknowledgement that it does business in the United States of America, every organization but the PGA Tour is forthright in its obligation to release pertinent information.

Our circuit carries on with its head in the sand. Why? Because the Tour cherishes its “sanitized reputation” perhaps more than any of its other qualities. The squeaky-clean factor goes a long way toward selling title sponsorships and driving corporate interest in general.

Someone such as John Daly isn’t necessarily tolerated, but commissioner Tim Finchem can look a CEO in the eye and tell him that such cases are very, very rare. Why feed the media something that can only smear the image, scare away primary investors and potentially jeopardize the revenue stream?

Nobody ever said pro golf lives in the real world. And if they did, they might want to consider a breakfast ball.

MY NEXT-DOOR neighbor is an outstanding human being. Nicest guy in town, a little tight with a buck, but he’ll drop what he’s doing on a moment’s notice if someone needs help. Oh, and he can’t stand Sergio Garcia.

Many of you get it, and a fair number of you surely agree with Tom. Garcia has done some stupid stuff over the years, pretty much running the table on everything from poor sportsmanship (spitting into a hole at Doral) and whining about bad breaks (2007 British Open) to his embarrassing comments about the color of Woods’ skin.

He’s on the short list of the greatest antagonists in Ryder Cup history, but of all the roles Garcia has played over the years, he’s probably best known as Woods’ pigeon – or Tweety Bird, as the case may be. Sergio would have been a superstar if Red Shirt hadn’t thumped him so often in the good old days.

Instead, he’s become the handsome villain, and pro golf has always been more interesting when someone wears the black hat. Jack Nicklaus as the young predator to Arnie in the early 1960s. Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, who piloted the evil empire’s migration from Europe in the 1980s …

What makes Garcia such an ideal bad guy is the Wile E. Coyote factor. The anvil always seems to land on his head come Sunday afternoon. We saw it happen again at Firestone. The putts stopped falling, and though Garcia didn’t miss any short ones, he did little enough to let McIlroy wipe out the three-stroke deficit almost immediately.

For all the anti-Sergios, it was another reason to rejoice, but I have a funny feeling about this week, and it’s telling me Garcia will finally win his first major title. We’re talking about a guy who has always played his best golf in binges, and he’s certainly playing well this summer. The greens at Valhalla are not severe, although Sergio has proven he can miss them just about anywhere. Still, it should be a ball-striker’s PGA.

Valhalla isn’t a long course by today’s standards. All three tournaments I covered there were notable for the great atmosphere. “It may not be a great golf course, but it’s a great place to play golf,” said Paul Azinger, who captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team to victory at Valhalla in 2008.

It should be an interesting week. With or without Woods.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.