Hawk's Nest: Woods, Stricker too friendly in competition

By John HawkinsMarch 11, 2013, 1:00 pm

Spring forward, fall back. It’s a splendid premise with far-reaching implications to many golfers, but with all the respect I can muster for George Vernon Hudson, the man who conceived of daylight saving time more than a century ago, I do have a couple of questions.

Couldn’t we use that extra hour of sunshine in the dead of winter, when it gets dark at like 4:30 in the afternoon?

Nothing beats those summer evenings when you can make double-bogeys until 9 p.m., but Hudson was from New Zealand, where a Kiwi summer is actually our winter. Did my man GVH get it all backwards?

Hey, no biggie. You know it’s a cool world when all you have to do is spin your clock ahead one hour – and an eight-month surplus of brightness immediately follows. Not that I’m afraid of the dark or anything. What you don’t see can’t hurt you, and there are days when my bunker play might be described as “lights out” in a very negative sense, but that big yellow ball in the sky is my friend.

I want him around for as long as he will stay. An empty golf course in the early evening translates into a spiritual experience one cannot define with mere words, so I won’t try. I do have one more question, however. Hudson was an astronomer who collected bugs in his spare time. Couldn’t he have just gathered a jar full of fireflies and called it a day?

AS MUCH AS I like and respect Steve Stricker, a guy I’ve had an excellent working relationship with since the mid-1990s, I’m not a big fan of one premier player helping another with something like a putting stroke, especially on-site during tournament week. Maybe Tiger Woods would have holed a bunch of putts at Doral without Stricker’s assistance, seeing how he’d won there three previous times.

Still, it seems like a pretty obvious conflict of interest to me. Having spent significant time on PGA Tour practice ranges and putting greens over the years, I’m fully aware that players help each other all the time. And I’ll admit that if some dude with 14 major titles walked up and asked me for help, I’d probably drop what I was doing.

So I suppose I’m contradicting myself, which makes this far more of a contemplation than a rant. And as soon as I finished typing that last sentence, Stricker addressed the issue in his post-round interview: “Sometimes, you kind of kick yourself,” he said jokingly before adding, “It’s the nature of the game. Everybody helps one another – the older players did it with me. You’re friends out here even though you’re competing against each other.”

Understood, but that doesn’t quell my wondering. Is it noble? Of course. Is it healthy in terms of its effect on the game’s competitive disposition? You tell me – I’m curious as to what readers think. Is pro golf too brotherly for its own good? By no means am I suggesting we pour sugar in the gas tanks of courtesy cars or sabotage a guy’s chances.

Golf’s habits, traditions and code of conduct all are steeped in the highest of honor – far more so than any other sport – but at the end of the week, you’re still playing to win the game. How high is too high? In final analysis, Woods is too driven not to ask for help, and Stricker is too nice a guy not to oblige. Perhaps that makes them the perfect team, so to speak.

GRAEME MCDOWELL IS growing on me, although not in the literal sense. In a league topped by bigger guys with better careers and smoother swings, G-Mac often hangs tough with T-Woo, P-Mick and S-Strick, which isn’t so much a compelling observation as it is an indictment of shortening a man’s handle and calling it a nickname.

As a writer who tries to make a living by being honest, even when it translates to others as sheer stupidity, I thought McDowell’s victory at the 2010 U.S. Open was much more of a loss by several others, including Woods and Mickelson. If nobody handed that major to McDowell, nobody put up much of a fight. And though I saw him make a bushel of putts at the Ryder Cup that fall, it happened in a team-match event in an individual-stroke world.

I haven’t seen the man win since, but McDowell keeps showing up on the game’s most important leaderboards. His tenacity is quite admirable, his savvy at finding the hole better than most. Is his inability to finish predicated by one of the speediest swings in golf – a hyper-kinetic lash that might avail itself to tempo issues under intense pressure?

When you look back on the modern era’s top performers, very few looked like they were in a hurry to the ball. Nick Price was a fast swinger – and an awesome ball-striker – but his rise to No. 1 came about during a two- or three-year stretch when his putting reached unprecedented levels of efficiency. Jose Maria Olazabal swung the club at an accelerated pace and always had an enviable short game, but his inconsistency on his way to the green prevented him from winning more often.

Tempo adjustment is an extremely tricky business, regardless of how well you play, and McDowell has accomplished more than many tour pros with the swing he has. You dance with whom you brought, or so they say, but some dances are bigger than others, and where I came from, you couldn’t get anywhere until it was time for the slow dance.

I’m sure there’s a double mixed metaphor in there somewhere.

FOR ALL THE crying I’ve done about slow play this winter, Doral’s star-studded leaderboard got to the scoring trailer about 10 minutes before the end of NBC’s allotted TV window. My point? A majority of the game’s very best players don’t horse around. They generally don’t engage in 2 ½-minute conversations with their caddie when it’s time to hit a shot.

They are decisive alpha males with a lifetime full of success and a finger glued to the focus button. Thus, they do what they can not to over-complicate things. Greatness trusts instinct. Instinct breeds emotional freedom. Emotional freedom may not lead you straight to the trophy ceremony, but it points you in the right direction.

At the 2005 Masters, which evolved into a thrilling, flaw-filled duel between Woods and Chris DiMarco, I could have sworn Tiger took his sweet time doing everything on Sunday. Woods had wiped out a four-hole deficit during the completion of the third round that morning, leaving the two men paired together that afternoon, and certainly, Tiger was aware of DiMarco’s jumpy, almost impatient disposition.

So the Dude in the Red Shirt was in no rush to claim his fourth green jacket – even his ball took forever to tumble into the hole at the 16th, punctuating one of the greatest chips in golf history. Did Tiger’s slowdown tactics, however intentional, amount to dirty pool, or was it simply more strategic genius from an ultra-decorated champion?

All I know is, if Stricker showed Woods how to make putts, shouldn't Woods show Stricker how to win a major?

Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.

Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.

Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Updated at 11:14 a.m. ET

An Instagram user known as hwalks posted photos to her account that included images of Tiger Woods, President Trump and Dustin Johnson Friday at Trump National, as well as video of Woods' swing.

Here are some other social media posts that have surfaced:

Original story:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''

Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open

Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''

Day (68) just one back at Australian Open

By Nick MentaNovember 24, 2017, 6:40 am

Jason Day posted a second-round 68 to move himself just one off the lead held by Lucas Herbert through two rounds at the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand after 36 holes in Sydney.

Leaderboard: Herbert (-9), Day (-8), Cameron Davis (-7), Anthony Quayle (-6), Matt Jones (-4), Cameron Smith (-4), Nick Cullen (-4), Richard Green (-4)

What it means: Day is in search of his first worldwide victory of 2017. The former world No. 1 last visited the winner’s circle in May 2016, when he won The Players at TPC Sawgrass. A win this week would close out a difficult year for the Aussie who struggled with his game while also helping his mother in her battle with cancer. Day’s last victory on his native soil came in 2013, when he partnered with Adam Scott to win the World Cup of Golf for Australia at Royal Melbourne.

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Round of the day: Herbert followed an opening 67 with a round of 66 to vault himself into the lead at The Australian Golf Club. He made six birdies, including four on his second nine, against a lone bogey to take the outright lead. The 22-year-old, who held the lead at this event last year and captured low-amateur honors in 2014, is coming off a runner-up finish at the NSW Open Championship, which boosted him from 714th to 429th in the Official World Golf Ranking. His 5-under score was matched by Dale Brandt-Richards and Josh Cabban.

Best of the rest: Matt Jones, who won this event over Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott two years ago, turned in 4-under 67. Jones is best known to American audiences for his playoff victory at the 2014 Shell Houston Open and for holding the 36-hole lead at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which was eventually won by Day. Jones will start the weekend five shots off the lead, at 4 under par.

Biggest disappointment: Spieth has a lot of work to do this weekend if he expects to be in the title picture for the fourth year in a row. Rounds of 70-71 have him eight shots behind the lead held by Herbert. Spieth made a birdie and a bogey on each side Friday to turn in level par. The reigning champion golfer of the year has finished first, second and first at this event over the last three years.

Storyline to watch this weekend: The Australian Open is the first event of the 2018 Open Qualifying Series. The leading three players who finish in the top 10 and who are not otherwise exempt will receive invites into next summer’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.