The keys to Tiger's stretch of dominance

By John HawkinsFebruary 6, 2012, 9:13 pm

Back when he ruled the earth with a steel shaft (in his driver) and a putter that usually listened, Tiger Woods was a frequent participant on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing. He played in five of the year’s first eight events in 2000, kicking off his miracle season with ultra-dramatic victories at Kapalua and Pebble Beach. By 2006, however, both events had been removed from Woods’ schedule, as had the Tour stops in Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Looking at the exodus from a distance, it’s justifiable to wonder why a guy who was born and raised in southern California would drop all those tournaments, but there were extenuating circumstances. The Tour schedule itself changed to make room for the FedEx Cup playoffs in late summer – Woods began playing more in August and September. He also added events in Charlotte and Washington, D.C.

Injuries and personal issues have affected Tiger’s competitive frequency in recent years, but from a career high of 21 starts in 1999, he hasn’t played in more than 17 when fully healthy since the FedEx Cup structure was implemented in 2007. Among the tournaments he dumped, Pebble always seemed the most puzzling, which makes Woods’ return to this week’s AT&T National Pro-Am somewhat significant.

If his 15-stroke triumph at the ’00 U.S. Open was the greatest single-week performance in golf history, Tiger’s victory on the same famed links five months earlier was equally remarkable, if not nearly as historic. Woods trailed Matt Gogel by seven strokes with seven holes to play, finished eagle-birdie-par-birdie and won by two. Run that last sentence through your department of logic a couple of times and tell me what you think.

That final round was completed on Monday because of weather – I was covering the event for Golf World, a weekly magazine that went to press later that afternoon. The usual Sunday finish was no big deal: you write 1,500 words, send your article at maybe 2 a.m. and move on after five or six hours of sleep. If the tournament leaked into the next day, however, you were dealing with a newspaper-like deadline.

They would need your piece as quickly as possible, meaning an hour or so after the final putt, so if you had any common sense, you would have 75 percent of your story written, then top it off with a few hundred words and hope you didn’t make any factual errors. I basically had my homage to Gogel entirely written before Woods went on his rampage. Not only was most of that stuff useless, I had about 90 minutes to chronicle one of the greatest comebacks ever. In any sport.

It also happened to be Woods’ sixth consecutive Tour victory, a streak that had begun the previous August. The fifth of those wins had occurred four weeks earlier in Hawaii – an unforgettable regulation-to-playoff duel with Ernie Els – so there wasn’t much concern about overstating the otherworldly nature of Tiger’s accomplishments. His ability to succeed under immense competitive duress was extraordinary, but then, we’d seen that years earlier when he’d won three consecutive U.S. Amateurs.

The fact that he did it over and over again still blows my mind, not so much as a sports fan, but as a semi-trained journalist. Twelve years after Maui and the incredible Pebble rally, I look at Woods’ stretch from the ’99 PGA Championship to his defending the PGA title in overtime against Bob May as the finest 12-month performance ever produced by a sportsman.

Greatness arrives, usually for a reason. Having been given a front-row seat to view Tiger’s invincibility at the turn of the century, I see five clear points that triggered his dominance, listed here in chronological order:

Butch and Stevie – It took Woods more than a year to tighten his swing under the tutelage of former coach Butch Harmon, but once he was able to synchronize his arms and body without any excess at the top, he consistently drove the ball in the fairway and rarely dealt with the killer miss. Harmon also was responsible for Woods’ hiring caddie Steve Williams to replace Fluff Cowan in March 1999. Six months into the partnership, Woods liked and trusted Williams to the point where every decision made on the golf course was a comfortable one.

Here comes Sergio – No question, the swift emergence of 19-year-old Garcia, who took Tiger to the wire at the ’99 PGA, forced Woods to realize that as good as he was, he had to keep working to realize any visions of superiority. David Duval had resided atop the World Ranking for five months until Woods reclaimed the top spot at Medinah, but Garcia was four years younger, every bit as marketable and perhaps just as gifted.

Brookline and Payne – A bit of a philosophical tangent here. The amazing U.S. rally at the ’99 Ryder Cup reminded Tiger that everyone loves a winner, that losers are bums, and heightened his comfort level in the team dynamic. Payne Stewart’s death a month later reminded Woods, at least subconsciously, that life can be way too short, that there are no guarantees. You make hay when there is hay to make.

The Pebble comeback – The miraculous Monday surge vaulted Woods’ confidence to an unprecedented level. No deficit was too large if you wipe out all margin for error, and for the balance of 2000, Tiger was as close to error-free as a golfer has ever gotten. This guy didn’t need a phone booth to change into his Superman outfit.

Singh’s Masters victory – The only major title Woods didn’t win in the 22-month stretch from August ’99 to June 2001 turned into the ultimate motivational factor for a guy who could find incentive in a pile of bread crumbs. Neither Tiger nor Williams was fond of Singh, whose claim to the green jacket in 2000 sent Woods to the U.S. Open with smoke pouring from his ears.

At Pebble, Williams recalls Tiger working on his putting until dark that Wednesday night. “During the practice rounds, he couldn’t find a stroke he was comfortable with,” the caddie told me in 2010. “So he went to the practice green and stayed there for hours. He was making a lot of putts, but he didn’t like the way they were going in.”

Such a level of devotion is almost impossible to maintain, but at the age of  24, unmarried and uncommonly focused, armed with a competitive drive that seemed to fuel his skill and willpower, Tiger Woods did things no other golfer has ever done. He has returned to Pebble Beach several times since, most notably at the 2010 U.S. Open, where his attempt to win a 15th major succumbed to a lackluster Sunday, but there is no dismissing the notion that two milestones in his illustrious career were achieved on American golf’s most hallowed seaside turf.

It’s nice that he’s back. We’ll see if it’s just a one-shot deal.

Getty Images

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

Getty Images

Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.