Hawk's Nest: Will Tiger make a Texas pit stop?

By John HawkinsMarch 17, 2014, 1:30 pm

Call me a dunce, or at the very least, call this a silly hunch, but if Tiger Woods doesn’t regain his once-customary form this week at Arnie’s Place, where he’s won only eight times, I suspect he might play in the Shell Houston Open – the week before the Masters.

My God, Hawkins, you’ve finally lost whatever mind you had left. Tiger Woods doesn’t play the week before a major championship. He hasn’t played a PGA Tour event in Texas since 2005 – a year before his old man passed away! Do us a favor…. lay off the hallucinogens next time before you sit down to write.

Hmmm, funny you mention 2005. It’s the last time Woods won the Masters, but the Lone Star State has nothing to do with it. The man needs another start, and besides, the long-prescribed, pre-major routine hasn’t exactly shortened his climb up Mount Nicklaus in recent years.

Time to mix things up, folks. Even Eldrick Almighty can see that.

What about those back spasms? Couldn’t an extra event do more harm than good?

Of course, but there are several things to take into consideration here. One, Tiger wasn’t exactly burning it up before he withdrew at the Honda – his last top-10 was at The Barclays almost seven months ago. Healthy or hurt, he hasn’t come close to performing at his highest level, so the possibility of four competitive rounds in Houston is well worth whatever risk might exist.

Two, he made it through 72 holes at Doral without needing a wheelchair. Back spasms, like college girlfriends, have a tendency to come and go without reason or notification.

Three, you can aggravate an injury practicing or lifting weights as easily as you can while playing in a real event. In this context, the back is a non-issue.

Dude, I hear you, but I just counted the number of cards in your deck and I came up with 49. Tiger Woods is the most stubborn man on earth. He has never played in the Houston Tour stop and he never changes his schedule. Hydrant or high water, the man sticks with what got him to Superior City.

Au contraire, gophaire. Red Shirt has made two significant scheduling adjustments in the last three years. Who can forget that he participated in the 2011 Frys.com Open, finishing T-30 in his lone career appearance in the Fall Series? And as much as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am has annoyed him over the years, Tiger’s very next Tour start occurred four months later in the hit-and-giggle at Pebble Beach.

Big deal. That was two years ago.

True, but there was also this easy-to-miss breadcrumb from Woods’ pre-tournament news conference at the Honda. Asked if he might do anything different in his preparation for the Masters, Tiger responded: “Still looking into that, yeah. Still looking to possibly make some changes going in there.”

Well, it doesn’t exactly sound like he’s engraved it into his daytimer.

Agreed. If Tiger wins at Bay Hill for the ninth time, I can see him chilling out in Jupiter and gassing up his confidence, not his jet. But if he slops together another out-of-it-by-Sunday-afternoon performance like he’s been doing for a while, Houston becomes a possibility. A very real possibility.

NO SUBJECT IN pro golf is more aggravating or persistent than the slow-play issue. At the recreational level, pace is a problem for different reasons: poorly spaced tee times, 15 handicaps looking for balls, a lack of awareness, etc. None of those scourges, however, exist on the PGA Tour. Every professional tortoise knows he’s slow.

So when Kevin Na says things like, “[Given] what we’re playing for and what’s on the line, how much more can you really expect,” I know a cop-out when I smell one. Talk about faulty rationalization – slow play is as much a violation of golf’s etiquette as stepping in someone’s putting line or hitting out of turn.

Never mind that it’s a rule the Tour simply doesn’t enforce. Na is slow because he’s allowed to be, enabled by the lack of a sufficient deterrent, and he takes advantage of that situation to the detriment of his fellow competitors.

When he’s playing in the final group, as was the case Saturday at Innisbrook, Na doesn’t hold up the groups behind him because there are none, but it’s fair to think he knocked Robert Garrigus out of his rhythm during their 36 holes together over the weekend. Garrigus took the high road, claiming Na has gotten quicker since the fiasco at the 2012 Players Championship.

The fact of the matter is, Na and Garrigus were on the clock for most of the third round’s back nine, and Garrigus is no snail. Besides, that high road becomes the path of least resistance when you hold the 54-hole lead – and you’re paired with the same guy the following afternoon. No need to compound the Sunday pressure with a little personal friction.

“I even had a little talk with him on the range,” Na said, referring to an exchange with Garrigus before the final round. “I’m like, ‘Thanks for backing me up,’ and he said, ‘No problem, bud.’ He felt like it wasn’t an issue. For as much criticism as I got, I hope people talk about how we were waiting on every hole [Sunday].

“Robert was 5 over on the front and I was 3 over, and we were waiting on every shot. If people don’t talk about that, I don’t know what to tell you.”

Slow Tour pros tend to be refreshingly honest but blithely unapologetic. They have a habit of justifying their poor pace by saying they’re trying to get faster – or citing instances when others are guilty of the same crime. Seeing how his lone Tour victory occurred during the 2011 Fall Series, perhaps Na remains winless in 240 regular-season starts because of the mental burden that comes with being a renowned tortoise.

The hare doesn’t always finish first, but he doesn’t step all over anybody else’s chances, either. Na has become his own worst enemy – a talented player whose greatest liability is loitering between his ears.

ONCE UPON A time, Bay Hill was as close to a must-play as there was on the Florida swing. A couple of questionable course setups in the mid-2000s led to some defections, however, and this week, eight of the top 17 players in the world ranking will be absent.

Apparently, thanking Mr. Palmer for all he did isn’t as important as it used to be.

I’m half-kidding, sort of, but what I don’t understand is the weak field last week. In terms of visuals off the tee, shot-making demands and overall difficulty, Innisbrook bears a stronger resemblance to Augusta National than anywhere else on the March docket. I’m not saying it’s a dead ringer, but if you’re looking to win the year’s first major, you can do worse than to take a test drive at Palm Harbor.

What we ended up with was a classic case of Sunday afternoon hot potato – a bunch of guys who rarely win (or haven’t won at all) passing the lead back and forth, almost everyone sliding backwards, reviving the hopes of infrequent winners (Na, Garrigus) who’d disappeared from contention an hour earlier.

You can call it a fascinating mess and say John Senden earned the victory a lot more than anyone gave it to him – and you’d be right. You can also wonder why more top-tier guys didn’t show up. Either way, Innisbrook proved itself once again as the most underrated venue on the PGA Tour.

FOR THOSE WHO might have missed it or have simply forgotten, the points system used to compose the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team remains basically the same as that used by victorious 2008 skipper Paul Azinger. Of utmost importance is that players receive no credit for anything they did during the 2013 season – other than their performances in the four majors.

Tiger and those five victories? Meaningless. Woods was 35th in last week’s standings, and I must admit, it looks a bit funny to see him 18 spots behind Brian Stuard. There are five major champions in the U.S. top nine: Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson and Webb Simpson. Jordan Spieth, meanwhile, for all he has done since last summer, ranks 13th.

Because the ’08 and ’10 teams were very strong representations of America’s best, I never had a reason to question the current system, although it’s definitely on my keep-an-eye-on list now. Yes, it’s still very early in the process, but to give zero points for last year’s World Golf Championships and FedEx Cup playoff events – that doesn’t make sense.

For instance, Tiger’s eight-stroke victory last August at Firestone should be worth something if Ryan Moore (currently 10th) earned more than half of his 2,161 points for beating a mediocre field 2 ½ months later at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur. Big picture? This is another reason not to love the Tour’s wraparound season – turning a bunch of Fall Series events into official tournaments that the top-tier guys generally ignore.

Hmmm … maybe I just came up with another reason why Tiger should play Houston.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.) 

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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.