Trust Em Woods Drives the Bus

By Kraig KannJuly 8, 2005, 4:00 pm
Heres what Shaun Micheel said last week at the Cialis Western Open. We cant all be Tiger Woods and contend each week.
 
Thats Shuan MicheelPGA Tour winner and major champion all wrapped up into one big week two years ago at the PGA Championship held at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.
 
How did the quote come about? Simple. Micheel and Ben Curtis were in contention at Cog Hill Golf Club and the questions were coming rapid fire regarding their success, or lack of, since their major championships.
 
Neither Micheel nor Curtis (who won the Open Championship at Royal St. Georges in 2003) has had a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since winning the major.
 
To some, drilling either man with the what in the name of Cinderella is wrong with your game is an unfair question. Another critic might look at such finger pointing as a compliment in the truest sense.
 
Actually, I think questioning the likes of a Micheel or Curtis, or Todd Hamilton about their lack of contention since winning one of golfs ultimate and precious prizes is nothing more than a great compliment.
 
We want and expect great things out of them ' which ought to tell them that they can play at the highest level.
 
On the Sprint Post Game last week my cohort Brian Hewitt asked Curtis (who was a co-leader heading into Sunday) whether a win at the Cialis Western Open might actually be a bigger win for his career than the improbable, yet spectacular, accomplishment among the games best at Royal St. Georges.
 
Curtis actually paused before giving his answer. Which tells me hes thought about the importance of validation. Curtis said, No. And he should have. The British Open is the biggest win he could have dreamed of as a PGA Tour rookie in 2003. The Cialis Western Open would have been huge, but it shouldnt be bigger than the British.
 
To me, though, Hewitts question was a darned good one. People have and might never stop thinking of Bens win asdare I saya fluke.
 
Expecting Curtis or Micheel to play with the consistency of a Woods or a Singh or a Mickelson is absurd for either. Micheel put the notion of it in great perspective and put Woods in his proper place among the PGA Tour members. Theres only one Tiger, according to Micheel.
 
Just like in basketball, every team has a franchise player, Shaun said. The people around them make em great.
 
True. Very true.
 
If I finish 20th every week, I wont be in any World Golf Hall of Fame, Micheel added. But I will make a good living. Isnt that what Im supposed to do?
 
Amen, Shaun.
 
Professional golf is a business. And the Tiger Woods of the world or the Vijay Singhs or the Phil Mickelsons have to beat somebody. A 20th place Shaun Micheel or a 20th place Ben Curtis makes them quite competitive in todays PGA Tour landscape. It also makes them a whole lot of money at years end. Figure about $80,000 a week at perhaps 30 events if they made every cut. That would equal $2.4 million at years end, which would have a whole lot of people ultimately talking about them and their games.
 
Following up a major championship isnt easy. But winning one isnt easy either. Go ahead and say Ben Curtis backed into his if you want. But he got some help and he played his way into contention to have the chance to get that help.
 
Shaun Micheels 7-iron was one of the greatest clutch shots in major championship history. Rich Beem had his great fairway wood, and Todd Hamilton had the great hybrid chip/putt around the green last year at the British Open.
 
So Micheels message isnt meant to garner support. He and Curtis both told us on the Sprint Post Game that they feel they owe no apologies.
 
For both, I wish them a victory in the near future. I wish them a week like Bart Bryant had at the Memorial.
 
If you dont want to give the accolades or the support to the likes of Curtis or Micheel, then pass it toward Tiger Woods.
 
Woods might not win each week these days. But a win at the Masters, a third at Memorial, a second at the U.S. Open and a second to Jim Furyk at the Cialis Western Open after an opening round of 2-over 73 proves just how great he is.
 
Woods and Singh, Mickelson and Els are as consistent as they come. Not everybody can be like them. Thats why they are dubbed 'superstars.'
 
Woods is the best of the best. Seemingly always in it, and hardly ever believed out of it. Applaud the greatness that is. Were lucky to see it.
 
Micheel counts himself lucky to be a part of a PGA Tour with the likes of Woods, and seems just fine with a career goal of consistent contention, a few wins here and there andby gosha major championship if hes fortunate to somehow find one or two.
 
Think about it. Golf is a business. Tiger Woods is big business. Thats just the way it is.
 
Role players are a way of life in sports. And if all goes well, sometimes theyll play a bigger role than others. All that the likes of Micheel and Curtis are looking for is a stage from which to play a role.
 
Go for it guys, and dont worry about the critics.
 
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.