Tiger ready to resume ascension up Mount Nicklaus

By John HawkinsJanuary 29, 2013, 12:59 pm

NOT THAT HE wouldn’t have won by four or five, anyway, but after launching his drive toward a maintenance shed, then receiving 20 yards of free relief because someone had the nerve to erect a fence in front of his golf ball, Tiger Woods was preparing for his second shot on Torrey Pines’ ninth hole Monday when Peter Kostis, of all people, captured the essence of lunacy in 21 words.

“He just drove it 50 yards offline, and these folks wanna stand 5 feet away from him on the next shot?” the CBS on-course analyst wondered aloud.

We see it almost every week: the rush of spectators to an errant tee ball, followed by 30 to 45 seconds of security-supervised chaos, which results in the formation of an alley of yahoos no wider than a Volkswagen Beetle. These people are in need of a mental examination. Have they any idea what would happen if Woods were to miss his line by 3 or 4 feet?

The good news is that Tiger would offer you a handshake and a glove. The bad news is that you probably wouldn’t be around to receive either, as the human skull was not designed to withstand hard objects traveling 140 miles per hour. No wonder the PGA Tour decided to let fans bring their cellphones to tournaments. Now anyone can call the hospital to address the guy lying motionless in the grass right of the seventh fairway.

Seriously, someone’s gonna get hurt out there, at which point the backlash will grow to become as sickening as the sight of the fallen fan. It’s a tough way to make the 11 o’clock news, but again, you may not be around to see it.

AS FOR THE shots he did hit straight, Woods’ 75th Tour triumph served as a pretty fair representation of what I’d call the high-end, post-Haney Tiger. His ball-striking throughout Sunday’s third round was extraordinary. Perfect tempo, an unbeatable rendition of controlled power, which earned him a lead so large that he could hit it shabbily over the final 18 holes and still win with room to spare.

What made this performance memorable was Woods’ short game. It was exemplary from start to finish – not the reason he won, but reason to believe he’ll start winning majors again. At Doral last spring, the guy with 14 big titles could not hit a decent bunker shot. At Torrey Pines, Red Shirt’s bunker play was nearly flawless. He also holed out twice from off the green – shots that carried him through potentially rough patches, and allowed him to coast against a decent field.

When the stakes get higher, the courses get tougher and the competition gets stronger – we commonly refer to these gatherings as major championships – Woods’ ability to salvage pars and economize strokes around the greens is what will keep him in the Sunday hunt. At that point, his competitive tenacity and composure under immense pressure will earn him valuable ground on what has been a dormant climb up Mount Nicklaus.

You’re not going to win a Masters from the wrong fairway. You’re not going to win a U.S. Open playing army golf, no matter how patriotic you feel. Sure, Woods still has terrific ball-striking days on occasion, but this isn’t 2000, when he went weeks without missing a shot. This isn’t 2006, when he won a British Open by ditching his driver, and subsequently, hit more fairways than anyone else.

Times have changed, as has the man himself. The Tiger we saw in the final round at Bay Hill last March was airtight from Tee to Green, which led to a five-stroke victory, but Woods couldn’t sustain that level of precision for any length of time. The Tiger we just saw at Torrey Pines wasn’t as pretty, but they don’t hold majors in beauty parlors, either. In the long run, this Tiger is far more likely to scale the mountain.

HERE IS WHAT I remember about the 2007 Presidents Cup: it took forever for Avis to get me a rental car, and then I got lost in a blur of French signage while trying to find the golf course. By the time I found the place, the U.S. was already crushing the Internationals, and the event was basically over before the end of the first day.

Near the end of play Saturday evening, I was confronted by Charles Howell III, who had a very stern look on his face and was upset about a column I’d written in Golf World listing the 10 players under age 30 most likely to win a major. Howell was seventh or eighth, and that didn’t sit well with one of the nicest guys in pro golf.

At the two big team-match gatherings, it is rare for a player to even acknowledge someone in the media while play is still going on. The pros and their wives walk in a cluster as the last matches reach completion. The veteran writers know there is a certain cache to participating in the event, so you leave them alone, which is another reason Howell’s approach caught me completely off-guard.

Time eventually heals most wounds, however, and CH3 remains one of my favorite people on the Tour. I mention all this because Howell has begun 2013 with three consecutive top-10s – another fast start for a guy whose best golf over the years has been played on the West Coast, whose only victory in the last 10 years came at Riviera in ’07.

Maybe this is the year Howell keeps things going, picks up a victory or two and becomes the player so many thought he would be. Looking at his numbers over time, it’s difficult to understand why it hasn’t already happened. In 2011, for instance, Howell ranked among the tour’s top 25 percent in a majority of key stats: driving distance, greens in regulation, sand saves, scrambling, putting and scoring.

Back when his career was still taking shape, Howell’s inability to win was blamed on his putter. Since 2009, however, those numbers have improved considerably. For someone who appears allergic to fairways, CH3 hits a ton of greens. And when he doesn’t? Howell ranked seventh in up-and-down frequency in 2010, fifth in 2011 and is third in 2013.

Every statistical profile on the PGA Tour tells a story, but this one is the mystery of mysteries. Given that Howell is coming off his worst year on the Tour (a career-low 73rd on the money list), I suspect he’s playing with a greater competitive fire in 2013 – and that he’ll finally begin to redefine himself as a legitimate top-tier performer.

We saw it last year with Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner. Hard though it may be to believe, Howell is still only 33, two years younger than Dufner and just 18 months younger than Snedeker. If my man Charles only seems like he’s been around forever, it hasn’t always been easy to notice.

SO THIS GUY whom I’ve done some writing for over the years called last summer and asked if he could bring a couple of his readers to Connecticut and play a round of golf with me. Sure, I told him, and the two cats, both of whom were from Philadelphia, could not have been nicer. Neither was a very good golfer, however, and on Brooklawn CC’s par-4 13th, I was nailed in the calf by a line drive off a 3-wood from about 30 yards away.

I just bent down to feel what is probably a permanent knot in my lower left leg. The dimple pattern on the skin stuck around for about a month, and there were some fairly abnormal shades of blue for a stretch, but I’ve always taken the bright-side approach to the incident. If that ball had been struck 5 feet higher, I wouldn’t be writing this.

Do yourself a favor: if you happen to be following Tiger Woods at a tournament and he hits one in the right trees, which happens just about everywhere he plays, stand behind him. He’s not going to notice you, anyway.

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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.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.