There is More Than Tiger

By John HawkinsMarch 23, 2010, 9:49 pm
When my wife asked what I’d be writing about this week, I gave her the standard, two-word reply (“dunno yet”), which isn’t to say she asks very often. This time, however, she had a suggestion. “You should do something on [Jim] Furyk,” she offered, an interesting proposal from someone who makes a beeline for the same way some of us dive at our morning coffee.
Jim Furyk
Jim Furyk's win in Tampa was overshadowed by Tiger Woods. (Getty Images)
It got me thinking. If someone who eats tabloid journalism for breakfast is getting tired of the Tiger Woods saga, what about the millions of folks who still think of him as a 14-time major champion? The last two PGA Tour events have been won by name-brand players (Ernie Els, Jim Furyk) who were in serious need of a victory to revitalize their careers. Tigergate dumped a giant pile of buzzkill on both Ws, first with the announcement that he’d return at the Masters, then by agreeing to a pair of five-minute interviews, one of which went to Golf Channel.

In the mainstream-sports universe, the triumphs of Els and Furyk basically vaporized before the trophy ceremonies were over. America’s infatuation with Woods’ adulterous dalliances isn’t the media’s fault, nor could one characterize it as all that bizarre. A lot of people will tell you they’re all Tigered out and have been for a while, but there they are at the water cooler, discussing the latest twist in a mysterious drama that has moved at a maddeningly slow pace, fueled outrageous levels of speculation and grown exponentially because it appeals to those who don’t care about golf.

It is a massive story whether you like it or not, the sheer size of it dwarfing everything that happens inside the ropes, which is both sad and unhealthy. Woods’ dominance as a golfer might have driven the game’s popularity, but it came with a dangerous downside – an alarming shortage of transcendent interest in the non-Tiger product. Golf is a niche sport to begin with. Without its best player, it becomes a struggling niche, and when that same guy is reeling in all the headlines without hitting a shot, you begin to realize the competitive element is doing very little to grab the public’s attention.

Woods will return for the Masters and TV ratings will go through the roof, and for five or six days, golf will thrive in the backdraft of Tiger’s comeback. It’s a sucker pin if one ever existed. Woods probably won’t be seen again until the Players, then perhaps six weeks later at the U.S. Open, and for lengthy periods between his appearances, the PGA Tour will fight to remain somewhat relevant.

There was a point earlier this season when Phil Mickelson was supposed to help us forget all about the fire hydrant and its intense reverberations. Philly Mick’s 2010 debut at Torrey Pines didn’t go as planned, however, and in five starts, his best finish is a tie for eighth. Nobody else moves the needle, not to the point where it will land a Honda Classic or even a World Golf Championship on SportsCenter before the first commercial break.

Els? Nice guy, 61 victories worldwide, including three major titles, and by virtue of his playing the best final round on the Tour this year to win at Doral, he became a really good story for the masses – the father of an autistic child who struggled after his return from knee surgery and has, more than anyone, had his career aspirations compromised by Woods’ greatness.

I wrote about Els the following day for this Web site, but a couple of hours before its schedule Tuesday posting, word of Woods’ plan to return at Augusta National surfaced. I immediately called my editor and asked him if he needed me to rewrite. He was good enough to let me make the call, and after a short deliberation, I told him I wanted the Els piece to run. It was about golf, about a deserved champion of a big tournament, and besides, there would be plenty of others who would weigh in on the Mother of all Comebacks.

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.

My guess is, the Els story didn’t get nearly as many hits as the latest on Tigergate. I’m cool with that, although I definitely wish that wasn’t the case.

Furyk? Another nice guy, 14 victories on Tour, one of the most down-to-earth, “normal” dudes out there. He’s also one of the most consistent players of his generation, but Furyk’s triumph at Innisbrook last Sunday was his first since the summer of 2007. Right around the same time he was tapping in for a bogey to defeat K.J. Choi by a stroke, Woods was being seen on two networks taking questions for the first time since he smashed up his life Thanksgiving night.

Since he’s clearly in a blame-me mode these days, I suppose we could find Tiger at fault for monopolizing golf’s spotlight for the last four months. Just as the world’s best golfer should have thought twice about his illicit behavior, there are a lot of Tour pros he made wealthy who should have started beating him a long time ago.
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Stock Watch: Park rises again, under the radar

By Ryan LavnerMarch 20, 2018, 12:48 pm

Each week on, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


Rory (+10%): The massive drives, the fist pumps, the unmistakable strut – McIlroy finally found the spark that he needed to play confident, aggressive golf. Bring on Augusta and his shot at history.

Tiger (+7%): It was another forgettable end to a final round, but let’s not lose sight of the big picture: Five events into his comeback, Woods has now carded 10 consecutive rounds of par or better – all on tough tracks – and can be viewed as a legitimate threat at the Masters. Remarkable, really.

Inbee Park (+5%): Fighting injuries and questioning whether she should retire, the Queen ‘Bee routed a top field in just her second start back. Stud.

Bryson (+3%): When The Machine operates properly, he’s one of the best ball-strikers in the world. Yes, he’s still painfully slow, but there’s no denying his talent – his runner-up against a star-studded field should help him tremendously.

Laura Davies (+2%): Fifty-four years old and nursing an Achilles injury, she turned back the clock with one of the coolest performances of the young season, on any tour. She’s still got tons of game.


Henrik Stenson (-1%): Maybe he’s just destined to go winless at Bay Hill. In the past four years, he’s had three excellent chances to win there and came away empty-handed each time.

Rickie (-2%): Hanging near the lead, Fowler closed his third round bogey-double, then shot 74 in the final round to drop out of the top 10. Sigh.  

P-Reed (-3%): His whiny protest to a rules official about a free drop – “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth” – got even juicier when the Ryder Cup partners were drawn in the same group at the Match Play. Get your popcorn ready.

Ted Potter Jr. (-5%): His impressive victory at Pebble Beach over DJ, Phil and J-Day is looking more and more like a fluke each week. He’s now missed four consecutive cuts.

Fan behavior (-7%): Another week, another player complaining about increasingly hostile spectators. The Tour has (frustratingly) remained quiet on the issue, but the tipping point will come when one of these dopes affects the outcome on the 72nd hole.

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Ranking the top 10 performers in this WGC-Dell Match Play

By John AntoniniMarch 20, 2018, 12:30 pm

It’s fitting that the PGA Tour’s version of March Madness is held at the same time as the world’s most famous win-and-advance, bracket-busting event. Like the NCAA’s Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, golf’s not-quite-one-and-done grind held this week at Austin (Texas) CC requires a similar formula for success. To advance at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play golfers, like hoopsters, must stay in the moment, read the opponent, and maintain the advantage. The Match Play also requires a steely resolve not necessary for the PGA Tour’s weekly 72-hole marathons. 

Although a rule change instituted in 2015, allowing for pool play during the first three days of the Match Play, took the luster away from the knock-out aspect of the tournament – Henrik Stenson says it’s why he skips the event – winning remains the key component. Since 2015, every player who reached the championship match was 3-0 in pool play. Winning, it seems, breeds winning.

So who are the tournament’s best match-play winners?

First, a few parameters: Although we take into consideration performances in other match-play tournaments, such as the Ryder Cup or the NCAA Championship, the focus of this exercise falls on the Dell Technologies Match Play. So to be considered for our top 10 a player must have a winning record in this tournament. That eliminates Justin Thomas, whose fine play in last year’s Presidents Cup can’t offset his 1-5-0 record in two Match Play appearances.

Second, we’re interested in recent history, giving priority to the last few years. Ian Poulter might be one of the greatest performers in tournament history, but he hasn’t played this event since 2015 or been on a Ryder Cup team since 2014. Thus, he’ll join Thomas on the sidelines.

Finally, to be on this list, you have to be playing this week. There’s no sense telling you how great a match-play performer Justin Rose or Rickie Fowler might be if you won’t see them play the format until the Ryder Cup.

Here’s our top 10 list of best match-play performers playing in this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

1. Rory McIlroy: Prior to last year’s Match Play, McIlroy identified ruthlessness, selfishness and pride as the key facets as to why he’s so good in this format. “I'm too proud to be beaten,” he said. “I won't let anyone get up on me. I think too much of myself to let anyone do that to me.” McIlroy has a career record of 23-9-2 in the Match Play and is 12-3-2 the last three years. He won in 2015 and lost in the semifinals in 2016, and he’s in pretty good form coming off his API triumph. Factor in his winning record in all three formats of play in the Ryder Cup and you should agree that match play is a perfect fit for McIlroy’s personality.

2. Jason Day: Day is a two-time winner of the Match Play (2014, 2016) and his career record of 21-9-0 is better than it looks, because he was given three losses when he withdrew during the first round of last year’s tournament to be with his ailing mother. In the last six Match Plays, Day is 5-0 against players in our top 10, including a 1-up win over McIlroy in the semifinals in 2016. Day ranks second because Rory has played better in all recent match-play competitions, and ultimately we can’t forgive Day’s underwhelming play in the last two Presidents Cups (1-7-2 record).

3. Dustin Johnson: The defending champion deserves kudos for his 12-3-0 record in the last three Match Plays. Johnson was so overwhelming a year ago, that he never trailed at any point during the week. His raw power and self-confidence are an intimidating combination. “It's amazing how he's able to keep cool the entire round,” said Jon Rahm after losing to Johnson in the 2017 final. “It amazes me. He's just a perfect, complete player."

4. Louis Oosthuizen: It’s hard to believe someone with the nickname Shrek could have a killer instinct, but you can’t argue with the results. Oosthuizen is 15-4-0 in the Match Play since 2014, losing in the championship match to Day in 2016, and reaching the quarterfinals two other times. He also has been the International team’s best player in the last two Presidents Cups, with a combined record of 6-2-2, including a 1-0-1 mark against Patrick Reed in singles.

5. Patrick Reed: Perhaps golf’s best current team performer, Reed’s fist-pumping, finger-waving singles victory over McIlroy in the 2016 Ryder Cup is what legends are made of. Reed is 10-4-4 in Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup play, and was 6-0 in match-play competition for Augusta University during the NCAA Championship. But although he excels in team formats, his performance in this week’s event leaves us wanting. Reed has advanced out of pool play just once in three years, and ultimately his 6-5-1 record keeps him out of our top four.

6. Jon Rahm: The latest in a long line of great Spanish match-play performers, Rahm appears to be a worthy successor to Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia. He’s such a young pro that there’s not much to go on other than his 6-1 record in 2017, where he took Johnson to the 18th hole before losing in the finals. He won two matches in the 2014 U.S. Amateur and reached the quarterfinals in 2015.

7. Rafael Cabrera-Bello: If Rahm is not Spain’s next match-play hero, perhaps it’s this 33-year-old star. A latecomer to the world golf scene compared to his Spanish compatriots, who all blossomed in their early 20s, the Canary Islands native is a worthy performer. He was unbeaten (2-0-1) in his first Ryder Cup in 2016, and has an 8-4-1 record in four Match Plays, including a 3-and-2 victory over McIlroy in the 2016 consolation match. He also reached the semifinals of the 2012 Volvo World Match Play.

8. Phil Mickelson: After a four-year absence from the Match Play, Mickelson barely missed advancing out of pool play in 2016 and reached the quarterfinals in 2017. A perennial member of U.S. Cup teams, he has an incredible 10-2-3 combined Presidents and Ryder Cup record since 2014 with a 3-0-1 mark in singles.

9. Jordan Spieth: He’s here because of his 9-4-1 record in the Match Play, his two U.S. Junior Amateur victories and because he beat Thomas in the 2012 NCAA Championship. So we’ll conveniently forget that he’s 0-5-0 in singles play in the Presidents and Ryder Cups.

10. Paul Casey: A two-time runner-up in the Match Play (2009, 2010), Casey is 7-4-1 (including a conceded loss) since pool play began. 

Others of note: Matt Kuchar’s career record is even better than Casey’s (21-8-2), but he’s just a pedestrian 4-4-2 since 2015. … Thomas Pieters doesn’t qualify for the top 10 because he’s just 2-2-2 in the Match Play, but he was 4-1 as a Ryder Cup rookie in 2016 and beat Spieth in 2012 and Thomas in 2013 during the NCAA Championship. … Like Pieters, keep an eye on Kiradech Aphibarnrat. He’s only 2-2-0 in the Match Play, but two of his four European Tour victories are of the match-play variety (2015 Paul Lawrie, 2018 World Super 6 Perth).

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First Look: WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play groups

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 2:20 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Although professional golf’s version of March Madness is considered just plain maddening in some circles following the switch to round-robin play three years ago, it’s still one of the game’s most compelling weeks after a steady diet of stroke play.

With this week’s lineup having been set Monday night via a blind draw, we take a deep dive into WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play bracketology (current world golf rankings in parentheses):

Pool play will begin Wednesday, with the winner from each of the 16 groups advancing to knockout play beginning Saturday:

Group 1: (1) Dustin Johnson, (32) Kevin Kisner, (38) Adam Hadwin, (52) Bernd Wiesberger

Teeing off: This sounds like the beginning of a joke that’s made the rounds at the United Nations, but what do you get when a pair of South Carolinians, a Canadian and an Austrian walk onto the first tee? Group 1 and what, on paper, looks like it could be the week’s most lopsided pod with the world No. 1, who never trailed on his way to victory last year, poised to pick up where he left off.

Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas, (21) Francesco Molinari, (48) Patton Kizzire, (60) Luke List

Teeing off: This isn’t exactly an Iron Bowl rematch, but having Thomas (Alabama) and Kizzire (Auburn) in the same group seems to be pandering to the Southeastern Conference crowd.

Group 3: (3) Jon Rahm, (28) Kiradech Aphibarnrat, (43) Chez Reavie, (63) Keegan Bradley

Teeing off: The Asian John Daly (aka Aphibarnrat) will have his hands full with Rahm, who lost the championship match to Johnson last year; while Bradley may be this group’s Cinderella after making a late push to qualify for the Match Play.

Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth, (19) Patrick Reed, (34) Haotong Li, (49) Charl Schwartzel

Teeing off: This may be the week’s most awkward pairing, with Spieth and Reed turning what has been one of the United States' most successful tandems (they are 7-2-2 as partners in Presidents and Ryder Cup play) into an early-week highlight. It will be “shhh” vs. “Go Get that.”

Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama, (30) Patrick Cantlay, (46) Cameron Smith, (53) Yusaku Miyazato

Teeing off: Cantlay could be the Tour’s most reserved player, Smith isn’t much more outspoken and Matsuyama and Miyazato speak limited English. This will be the quietest pod, and it’ll have nothing to do with gamesmanship.

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Group 6: (6) Rory McIlroy, (18) Brian Harman, (44) Jhonattan Vegas, (51) Peter Uihlein

Teeing off: We're going to declare this the “group of death,” with McIlroy coming off a commanding victory last week at Bay Hill and Harman being one of the Tour’s most gritty competitors.

Group 7: (7) Sergio Garcia, (20) Xander Schauffele, (41) Dylan Frittelli, (62) Shubankhar Sharma

Teeing off: Three weeks ago, Phil Mickelson confused Sharma for a member of the media when he tried to introduce himself at the WGC-Mexico Championship. As a public service announcement: it’s SHAR-ma. You may be hearing it a lot this week.

Group 8: (8) Jason Day, (25) Louis Oosthuizen, (42) Jason Dufner, (56) James Hahn

Teeing off: This pod has a Presidents Cup flair to it, but Day and Oosthuizen should hope for a better outcome considering the International side’s awful record in the biennial bout.

Group 9: (9) Tommy Fleetwood, (26) Daniel Berger, (33) Kevin Chappell, (58) Ian Poulter

Teeing off: We showed up in Austin and a Ryder Cup broke out. Fleetwood is all but a lock to make this year’s European team, and fellow Englishman Poulter (23-14) has forged a career on his match-play prowess. For Berger and Chappell, who both played last year’s Presidents Cup, it’s a chance to impress U.S. captain Jim Furyk.

Group 10: (10) Paul Casey, (31) Matthew Fitzpatrick, (45) Kyle Stanley, (51) Russell Henley

Teeing off: Casey has a stellar record at the Match Play (23-13-1) and having finally ended his victory drought two weeks ago at the Valspar Championship the Englishman could likely seal his Ryder Cup fate with a solid week at Austin Country Club.

Group 11: (11) Marc Leishman, (23) Branden Grace, (35) Bubba Watson, (64) Suri

Teeing off: The best part of March Madness is the potential upsets, and while Suri, the last man in the field, isn’t exactly UMBC over Virginia, don’t be surprised if the little-known player from St. Augustine, Fla., stuns some big names this week.

Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton, (22) Charley Hoffman, (36) Brendan Steele, (55) Alexander Levy

Teeing off: If Levy hopes to make the European Ryder Cup team he should consider this his audition. That is if captain Thomas Bjorn is watching.

Group 13: (13) Alex Noren, (29) Tony Finau, (39) Thomas Pieters, (61) Kevin Na

Teeing off:  Finau and Pieters have the firepower to play with anyone in the field and Noren’s record the last few months has been impressive, but Na looks like one of those Princeton teams who can wear down anyone.

Group 14: (14) Phil Mickelson, (17) Rafael Cabrera-Bello, (40) Sotashi Kodaira, (59) Charles Howell III

Teeing off: Mickelson has been rejuvenated by his victory at the last World Golf Championship, Cabrera Bello is poised to earn a spot on this year’s European Ryder Cup team and Howell is playing some of the best golf of his career. Note to Kodaira, don’t try to introduce yourself to Lefty before your match. 

Group 15: (15) Pat Perez, (24) Gary Woodland, (37) Webb Simpson, (50) Si Woo Kim

Teeing off: Perez explained that during a practice round on Monday he was talking trash with Branden Grace. Not sure Kim will be down for some trash talking, but it would certainly be entertaining and probably a little confusing for him.

Group 16: (16) Matt Kuchar, (27) Ross Fisher, (47) Yuta Ikeda, (54) Zach Johnson

Teeing off: If any of these matches comes down to a tie, may we suggest officials go to a sudden-death ping-pong match. No one can compete with Kuchar on a table, but it would be must-see TV nonetheless.

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Randall's Rant: Hey, loudmouth, you're not funny

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 10:30 pm

Dear misguided soul:

You know who you are.

You’re “that guy.”

You’re that guy following around Rory McIloy and yelling “Erica” at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

There was something creepy in the nature of your bid to get in McIlroy’s head, in the way you hid in the shadows all day. Bringing a guy’s wife into the fray that way, it’s as funny as heavy breathing on the other end of a phone call.

You’re that guy telling Justin Thomas you hope he hits it in the water at the Honda Classic.

There are a million folks invested in seeing if Thomas can muster all the skills he has honed devoting himself to being the best in the world, and you’re wanting to dictate the tournament’s outcome. Yeah, that’s what we all came out to see, if the angry guy living in his mother’s basement can make a difference in the world. Can’t-miss TV.

You’re that guy who is still screaming “Mashed Potatoes” at the crack of a tee shot or “Get in the Hole” with the stroke of a putt.

Amusing to you, maybe, but as funny as a fart in an elevator to the rest of us.

As a growing fraternity of golf fans, you “guys” need a shirt. It could say, “I’m that guy” on one side and “Phi Kappa Baba Booey” on the other.

I know, from outside of golf, this sounds like a stodgy old geezer screaming “Get off my lawn.” That’s not right, though. It’s more like “Stop puking on my lawn.”

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Because McIlroy is right, in the growing number of incidents players seem to be dealing with now, it’s probably the liquor talking.

The Phoenix Open is golf’s drunken uncle, but he isn’t just visiting on the holiday now. He’s moving in.

What’s a sport to do?

McIlroy suggested limiting liquor sales at tournaments, restricting alcohol consumption to beer.

I don’t know, when the beer’s talking, it sounds a lot like the liquor talking to me, just a different dialect.

From the outside, this push-back from players makes them sound like spoiled country club kids who can’t handle the rough-and-tumble playgrounds outside their prim little bailiwick. This isn’t really about social traditions, though. It’s about competition.

It’s been said here before, and it’s worth repeating, golf isn’t like baseball, basketball or football. Screaming in a player’s backswing isn’t like screaming at a pitcher, free-throw shooter or field-goal kicker. A singular comment breaking the silence in golf is more like a football fan sneaking onto the sidelines and tripping a receiver racing toward the end zone.

Imagine the outrage if that happened in an NFL game.

So, really, what is golf to do?

Equip marshals with tasers? Muzzle folks leaving the beer tent? Prohibit alcohol sales at tournaments?

While the first proposition would make for good TV, it probably wouldn’t be good for growing the sport.

So, it’s a tough question, but golf’s governing bodies should know by now that drunken fans can’t read those “Quiet Please!” signs that marshals wave. There will have to be better enforcement (short of tasers and muzzles).

There’s another thing about all of this, too. Tiger Woods is bringing such a broader fan base to the game again, with his resurgence. Some of today’s younger players, they didn’t experience all that came with his ascendance his first time around. Or they didn’t get the full dose of Tigermania when they were coming up.

This is no knock on Tigermania. It’s great for the game, but there are challenges bringing new fans into the sport and keeping them in the sport.

So if you’re “that guy,” welcome to our lawn, just don’t leave your lunch on it, please.