Hawk's Nest: Wie's win, Tiger's return great for golf

By John HawkinsJune 23, 2014, 4:50 pm

This comeback is already different from the others. Gone are the days when Tiger Woods expected to hit the ground winning, a point he made clear when announcing his return to action this week at Congressional.

Second sucks? Not anymore, pal. When you’re 38 years old and coming off back surgery, when you failed to post a single top-10 finish in the seven months prior to your health issues, the world doesn’t look nearly as conquerable.

“I want to play myself back into competitive shape,” is how Woods put it last Friday. A sound premise – just not something we’d ever heard from golf’s ultimate warrior. Tiger used to bend reality. Sometimes, he would break it. Now he’s learning to live with it.

The grim reality? Our game continues to struggle at the box office without Woods around to fatten the mainstream audience. Coming off the lowest television ratings at a Masters since 1993, the U.S. Open produced its worst numbers in almost two decades. It was trounced by America’s World Cup victory over Ghana, which drew more than twice as many viewers – on a Monday evening.

Good thing Tiger didn’t decide to play soccer.

His mere presence has always had a dramatic impact on interest levels, but with a simple little notification on Facebook this past Friday, Woods altered the complexion of the season. Michelle Wie wins the U.S. Women’s Open two days later, and a week that began with a rotten lemon ended with a basket of fresh fruit.

Pro golf needs its needle-movers to perform. There are too many meaningless tournaments for the game to prosper when the big ones aren’t top-of-the-hour news. Woods may not be healthy enough to win right away. Is our game healthy enough to thrive without him?

IT WAS HOW she won, not necessarily what she won, that I found so impressive. The hybrid club from the fairway bunker on the par-4 16th was as silly as it gets, but Wie never lost her composure as a search party frantically combed the fescue. Her ball would be found, an unplayable lie would be taken – and Wie would be forced to hole one of those 5-footers that have haunted her for years – just to save bogey.

The 25-footer for birdie on the 17th, meanwhile, was a spectacular surprise, a seal-the-deal statement from a young lady whose career has been full of close calls and untimely falls. Women’s golf needed something that would alter its competitive landscape. Wie needed to do something that would reaffirm her importance to women’s golf.

Mission accomplished. Mission accomplished.

Even under the most intense competitive duress, the 24-year-old looked like a totally different person than the one I covered in the early- and mid-2000s. Having written for years that Wie needed to love the game before the game loved her back, she has done just that. Her emotional commitment is now obvious, perhaps best displayed during her post-round interview Saturday evening with NBC’s Mark Rolfing.

Her first major title came long overdue, and while I laugh at those who think “the floodgates will open” after Woods wins his next major, I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if Wie picks up two more majors in the next 12 months.

She used to bend reality, too, but mostly, she just ran from it. Now it looks like her best friend.

IF SPECULATION THAT Tiger had originally planned to return at the British Open was correct, that means he’s ahead of schedule physically. Or that he’s excited about playing again. Or both. All of which would amount to good news for something other than commercial purposes, although you’d expect a 38-year-old man coming off back surgery to feel giddy about being pain-free.

Two of my colleagues made excellent points regarding Woods over the weekend – one on the air, the other in a phone conversation. My editor, Jay Coffin, pointed out that if Woods spent much of the past six weeks relegated to chipping and putting, he might be exceptionally sharp on and around the greens.

As regular readers of this column might attest, I attribute Red Shirt’s inability to win majors in recent years to poor putting – a diminished short game in general caused by his growing infatuation with swing mechanics, which monopolized his practice time. In short, Woods became a range rat, obsessed with form over results.

Ten or 12 years ago, it wasn’t unusual for him to spend two hours on the practice green before the start of a tournament. By the mid-2000s, however, Tiger began behaving like a man imprisoned by perfection. In that sense, swing coach Hank Haney became the perfect accompaniment – a “method” instructor with unyielding patience and an uncanny eye for detail.

Which takes us to comments made Friday by Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee once news of Woods’ return broke. “Having a long golf swing is the secret to longevity,” Chamblee said. “What I saw [earlier this year with Tiger] was a shorter backswing, and the problems of a shorter backswing accumulate all the way through.

“You have less time to transfer your weight. You have less time to make up for problems. You have less time to build power.”

In recent years, Woods has said on numerous occasions that changes in his body have made it impossible for him to swing the way he did as a 22-year-old. He was obviously much skinnier and more flexible back then, and though I enjoy Chamblee’s opinions and consider him the game’s best on-air swing analyst, I don’t think the shorter swing had anything to do with his back.

The man needs to stop training with heavy weights. In his first start of 2014, back in January at the Dubai Desert Classic, Tiger could barely get the club to parallel. He looked like an old man compared to fellow competitor Rory McIlroy, and there was no evidence to suggest his back was giving him problems six months ago.

What matters now is that he’s healthy enough to play – and eager to get back. Clearly, Woods missed the competitive element during his three months away, and I would expect him to play much better golf with his mind refreshed and enthusiasm level high.

BEST PLAYER WITHOUT a major title. It’s one of those good-news, bad-news designations, highly subjective as a topic of conversation and virtually impossible to agree upon. With that in mind, I set out to identify an official BPWM by polling a bunch of my friends at GolfChannel.com, a couple of opinionated tour pros and a swing coach or two.

The winner, so to speak? Well, it’s rather fitting that the guy finished T-2 at the Travelers Championship. I asked everyone to list their top five in order, then assigned 10 points for first, 8 for second, etc. Here are the results:

1. Sergio Garcia 76

2. Lee Westwood 74

3. Dustin Johnson 46

4. Henrik Stenson 36

5. Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker 28

Others who received votes but didn’t come close to making the cut: Luke Donald, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth.

Obviously, this was a very tight battle that could easily have gone to extra holes. Garcia received four first-place votes but was left off one ballot altogether; Westwood had three 10-pointers but failed to register with two voters, which ultimately cost him the crown.

Frankly, I was surprised Kuchar didn’t fare better, seeing how he has won a Players Championship, a WGC and a FedEx Cup playoff tilt – and seems to be on the leaderboard every week. Donald, meanwhile, made just three ballots and earned 12 points.

Hey, at least Sergio finally beat a decent field. The T-2 in Hartford was his best finish since his last victory, the 2012 Wyndham Championship, which remains his only W on the PGA Tour since the 2008 Players. If you find it somewhat odd that a player could go that long without even factoring at a big event – and still earn the title of BPWM, you’re probably not alone.

He was my top choice, however, mainly because Garcia has always been held to a much higher standard than everyone else. As the first and most heralded of the post-Woods phenoms, he was supposed to win five or six majors, and for a while there in the early 2000s, he was a lock to win two or three.

No other BPWM candidate was chained to such exorbitant expectations.

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

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Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.