Woods trying to tie PGA record of Nicklaus, Hagen

By Martin DavisAugust 6, 2012, 6:35 pm

One of the enduring verities in golf – an ultimate truth, if you will – is that greatness is defined by wins in major championships. And the corollary is perhaps even more valid – true greatness is defined by multiple wins in majors.

Once again Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship this week at Kiawah Island has a chance to take the next giant step in his quest to equal and eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories.

But first and foremost, Woods has an opportunity to achieve another significant milestone – matching the record of five wins in the PGA Championship jointly held by Nicklaus and Walter Hagen. He can thus take two giant steps this week – moving within three wins of the overall Nicklaus record for majors and simultaneously joining Hagen and Nicklaus as the only five-time winners of the Wanamaker Trophy, truly a major accomplishment.

Uniquely, the PGA Championship is a story of polar-opposite formats, the only one of the four majors to be conducted under different conditions of play. From 1916-1957, the PGA was match play, a grueling head-to-head format because of the number of holes that must be played in a single day; from 1958 on, it’s been played in the stroke-play format.

Hagen was the world’s first full-time tournament professional. He won so often and in such flamboyant style that he singlehandedly ushered in the era of the playing pro, elevating the status of playing professionals from little more than second-class citizens. In doing so, he became known as “Sir Walter” for his regal demeanor and lavish antics. When pros were not allowed in the clubhouse for the 1922 British Open at Royal St. George’s he ordered a limo to be parked in front of the clubhouse, changing his clothes in the car and having his chauffeur serve him his meals on a silver tray. He played often with his friend the Duke of Windsor, the future King of England, calling him Eddie and instructing him to hold the flagstick while he putted. Needless to say, Hagen was golf’s first great showman, perhaps the greatest. He was a larger-than-life figure who played with flair and panache, thus capturing the imagination and adulation of the public.

“The Haig” was not a picture-book swinger of the club, as he had a pronounced sway with his longer clubs, but with a deadly short game, especially on the greens, he could really play. He was known to say of his sometimes-loose play on par 4s – “three of these and one of those, still makes four.” He could break your spirit with his putter.

Hagen won his first PGA Championship in 1921 against “Long Jim” Barnes, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole final. In 1923 he lost to rival and good friend Gene Sarazen in a heartbreaker after 38 holes.

But then Hagen went on an incredible tear, capturing the Wanamaker Trophy in each of the next four years (1924-27) against elite players, all but one a current Hall of Famer. (The other, Jim Turnesa, won 14 times on Tour.)

Such was Hagen’s dominance that in the 15 years he played in the PGA, he won 80 percent of his matches, eclipsed only by a few percentage points by Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, and little-known Walter Burkemo. Deservedly, Hagen is considered the greatest match player of all time. He was, as Charlie Price wrote, “… like Hamlet, golf’s sweet prince.”

To this day, Hagen’s four straight wins in the PGA is the longest consecutive win streak in a major in the modern era. 

In 1958 the PGA Championship switched to stroke play, just in time for a big-hitter with a deft putting stroke to join the pro ranks in 1962.

And it didn’t take Nicklaus much time to indelibly make his mark at the PGA, winning the first of his five championships in 1963, joining Hogan, Nelson and Sarazen as the only men to ever win the PGA, the U.S. Open and the Masters. Nicklaus won again in 1971, this time over Billy Casper; in 1973 he won his third, thus eclipsing Bobby Jones’ 43-year-old record of 13 majors; and again in 1975, this time at Firestone. In 1980 he won his record-tying fifth PGA by seven strokes, the largest margin since the championship changed to stroke play. And, to round out his PGA Championship resume, he added four runner-up finishes to firmly establish himself as the top PGA champion of all time.

With this backdrop, can Woods win a fifth PGA to add to his titles from 1999, 2000, 2006 and 2007?

If he can keep his tee shots down, out of the wind and in the fairway and also putt reasonably well, he has a solid shot. In the past, Woods has exhibited what the great sports writers call “strength of mind” – the ability to clearly set a well-conceived strategy, stick with it and think around the course. All of the great golfers have had it – Hagen, Jones, Nelson, Hogan, Nicklaus. Nicklaus did it over a tough Muirfield setup in heavy winds in his British Open victory in 1966, hitting driver only 17 times over four days. Hogan did it at Carnoustie in 1953, Nelson in his streak of 11 straight wins in 1945 and Jones at St. Andrews in 1930.

Call it mental toughness. Call it patience. Kiawah will require both.

Let’s see if Woods can vault into this rarefied air by equaling Hagen and Nicklaus’ record of five wins in the PGA Championship.

Martin Davis is the golf historian for Golf Channel and has written or edited more than 25 books on golf.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

5/2: Rory McIlroy

7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

9/2: Justin Rose

5/1: Brooks Koepka

15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

10/1: Adam Scott

12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes