No Place Like Home

By John HawkinsMarch 9, 2010, 11:01 pm
Maybe it’s big news, maybe it isn’t, but if the past has any bearing on the near future, Tiger Woods will return to competitive golf this month. His sessions with swing coach Hank Haney at Isleworth last weekend are a very clear indication that Woods is getting down to serious business, commonly known as tournament preparation.
Tiger Woods and Hank Haney at Hazeltine
Tiger Woods and Hank Haney at last year's PGA Championship. (Getty Images)
No question, Tiger has his eye on the Masters, and with a couple of home games (Tavistock Cup, Arnold Palmer Invitational) just a couple of weeks away, I would be surprised if Woods didn’t play in both events.

The guy has never been overly reliant on Haney, or Butch Harmon, for that matter. Both men have served primarily as an extra set of eyes – to call them “instructors” in this context is somewhat humorous. Tiger knows his swing better than anyone, but when it comes to fine-tuning, he is keenly aware of Haney’s value and maintains a high level of trust in the Texan’s ability to incorporate his own swing theories with what works best for Woods.

Put it this way: Sir Eldrick wouldn’t have hunkered down with Hank to get ready for the Isleworth member-guest.

On last week’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole,” I expressed doubt that Tiger would play at all in 2010. My opinion, like the 20 or 30 million others related to this saga, was little more than guesswork, although it did have some form of basis – a member of the Woods camp had told a friend of mine that he wasn’t expecting a return this year. Not that it matters, but it’s entirely possible Tiger woke up one recent morning and decided the world’s best golfer was ready to become the World’s Best Golfer once again.

There has been no announcement, and in all likelihood, Woods won’t say anything until the Friday afternoon deadline prior to the tournament he enters. At some point, however, reality has to step forward. Tiger Woods is a golfer. For all the domestic problems he has brought upon himself, there comes a time when his efforts to salvage his marriage might be aided by his returning to work. Perhaps his wife, Elin, who has been seen hitting balls with her husband, has encouraged Tiger to begin focusing on his return to the competitive arena.

The massive distraction isn’t going to disappear whether he returns in two weeks, in June, or next January. And if the theory that people will start to forgive him once he resumes winning seems a bit farfetched, it stands to reason that a couple of victories will remind everyone, dare I say, why Woods is famous in the first place.

When I spoke to Charles Howell III last week, he reiterated what he’d told others a day or two earlier – that Tiger struck the ball remarkably well during their half-hour together and could not have looked much sharper at any time, much less after a 3 ½-month layoff. Here’s another guess: Woods started hitting balls and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of rust. He probably had fun hitting so many good shots so quickly, which surely would have helped him realize how much he loved and missed the game.

John Hawkins appears on Golf Central every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and on the Grey Goose 19th Hole every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

That certainly might convince him to accelerate the process of returning. He calls Haney, who tells Ray Romano he’ll see him in a couple of days, and the guy who sounded so uncertain three weeks ago about playing anytime soon begins plotting his comeback in earnest. It’s worth repeating: Hank didn’t fly to Florida to help the man prepare for a tournament three months down the road.

Lots of people have considered the Tavistock Cup the perfect place for Woods to resurface. An unofficial event played on his home course – in a gated community, no less – with ticket sales limited to 5,000. It’s the type of controlled environment Tiger craves, and for that matter, so is the Masters, although the good ol’ boys in the green jackets aren’t about to let Woods dictate the terms of his participation.

Still, the galleries at Augusta National are the friendliest and most respectful in golf. From the splendid isolation of the Tavistock to an official start 15 minutes from his home, then a major championship with little or no taunting from the gallery, maybe Tiger simply came to the conclusion that he won’t find a better stretch to resume his career. He won’t do that until he’s ready, obviously, but it’s also becoming obvious that he’s a lot closer than many people thought.
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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.