Can Tiger Slam

By Mercer BaggsDecember 30, 2006, 5:00 pm
2007 Big Questions Editor's Note: is counting down its top 5 stories from the world of golf in 2006 and looking ahead to the five 'Big Questions' on the PGA TOUR in 2007. This is our No. 2 question for the upcoming season.
Tiger Woods gets questioned in ways in which no other player does. For someone who has shown time and time again that most every move he makes is the right one for his career, we cant help but question why he does the things he does. Or, how he does the things he does. Or, can he do things that no one has ever done.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' swing produced another remarkable season in 2006.
A few years ago, questions were raised as to why Woods would alter his swing. It was the second time in his career that he had done such, and both times came on the heels of phenomenal success ' and both times were met immediately with benign results.
Things managed to work out fairly well on both occasions. The first time, he went on to win eight PGA TOUR events in 1999, nine more in 2000, and five times each in 2001-03. He also managed to capture seven major titles in an 11-event span during that stretch.
And then he made another change, this time under the tutelage of Hank Haney. The two of them were criticized mercilessly by many as Woods won only once in 2004 and didnt win a major in 10 starts.
And then, just as it had done before under Butch Harmon, everything gelled.
Woods won six times on TOUR in 2005, eight more in 06. Both years he topped the money list. Both years he won two majors.
As Woods heads into 2007, there are still plenty of questions which we ask in relation to him. But instead of wondering why he is doing what he is doing; we must wonder if he can do things we once thought were impossible.
I think 07 is going to be scary, said Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo. As usual, well expect the unexpected from Tiger. Well want a Grand Slam ' at least two majors, nothing less. But the expectations will be so high; I dont even think Tiger Woods will be able to obtain them.
The first question we ask in regards to Tiger is: Will he match or break Byron Nelsons record of 11 consecutive PGA TOUR victories?
Despite having lost a few times overseas during the off-season, Woods still has a six-event winning streak intact on TOUR. His first chance to add to that run, since he opted out of the Mercedes-Benz Championship, will likely be at the Buick Invitational, which he has won three times in the last four years.
And, judging by his history of events played, he could have a chance to tie Nelson at the Masters Tournament, which he has won four times.
However it works out ' if it is to work out, he will most likely have to win the Nissan Open, which he has never done in his career, and win the unpredictable Match Play Championship on a new course in Arizona.
The next question we ask in regards to Tiger is: Will he duplicate his Tiger Slam?
Upon getting a firm grasp on his new swing back in 2000, Woods proceeded to win the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship. He then won the Masters in 2001 for four-in-a-row.
Since it wasnt four straight major victories in a calendar season, some didnt view it as a true Grand Slam triumph. Rather, it was dubbed the Tiger Slam.
Having won the Open Championship and PGA Championship in 2006, Woods enters 07 with a chance at matching that incredible accomplishment.
As long as hes in good health, he should be the overwhelming favorite to earn the third leg at Augusta. Then its on to Oakmont Country Club for the U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods
A fifth Masters title would keep alive Tiger's slam hopes.
Oakmont last hosted a U.S. Open in 1994, when Ernie Els defeated Colin Montgomerie and Loren Roberts in a playoff. Woods, still an amateur, didnt play that year.
Oakmont is also the site of Larry Nelsons 83 Open triumph; Johnny Millers closing 63 to win in 73; Jack Nicklaus over home favorite Arnold Palmer in 62; Ben Hogans victory in 53, a year in which he won three majors. Sam Parks, Jr. won in 35; Tommy Armour in 27.
Its not difficult to notice that nearly all of these victors are Hall of Fame members or an eventual inductee. Woods might fit well on that list of champions.
Question No. 3: If Tiger can complete the Tiger Slam, can he convert the traditional version?
The final two majors of the year are at Carnoustie and Southern Hills. These two could be big roadblocks in Tigers possible run at history.
Woods tied for seventh in the 1999 Open Championship, the last time Carnoustie played host. He tied for 12th when Southern Hills hosted the 2001 U.S. Open.
Carnoustie may be the biggest question mark, because it may well depend on how the course is set up and the weather conditions more so than how well Woods is playing at the time. In 99, the layout was considered to be among the most tricked-up in major championship history, complete with tall grass, narrow fairways and wicked weather. It was, of course, the one where Jean Van de Velde triple-bogeyed the final hole to blow a three-shot lead and then lost ' along with Justin Leonard ' in a play off to Paul Lawrie.
Southern Hills was where Retief Goosen three-putted from 12 feet on the final hole to fall into a Monday playoff, which he won over Mark Brooks. The looming question here may be if Woods can stand the heat ' the pressure of completing a seasonal Grand Slam and the temperatures of Tulsa, Okla., in August.
I wouldnt bet again him (winning all four majors in 2007), said Golf Channel and CBS analyst Peter Oosterhuis. Hes already proven that he can do it. With Tiger, it wouldnt be surprising at all to see him continue (to dominate) the way he has.
Said Nobilo: The scary thing is he didnt drive it as well in 06 as he did in 2000, so he can get even better.
There are other things we ponder in regards to Tiger: When, if ever, will anyone overtake him as No. 1 in the world? Who, whether individual or group, will challenge his dominance? Just what is Tiger capable of accomplishing? And is there anything beyond his abilities?
And just what does Tiger think about all of this?
I will say this: My overall game is stronger heading into 2007 than it was in 2000, just because I have a lot more knowledge and know how to get more out of my rounds, he said on his Web site. Ive won many times since 2000 and Ive done it different ways. Like Jack Nicklaus said, Winning breeds winning.
Overall, my swing is getting closer to where I want it. It might sound old, but I just need more repetitions and consistency. The game is fluid and always changing. Am I more consistent? Yes. In my opinion, only two players have ever owned their swings: Moe Norman and Ben Hogan. Will I ever own my swing? Well see. Im still somewhat young in my career. Hogan wasnt great until his late 30s.
Is Tiger intimating that he isnt yet great? If not, then it should be quite a show when he does achieve greatness.
Related Links:
  • Previewing 2006; Reviewing 2007
  • Woods Repeats at Open Championship
  • Woods Wins Going Away at PGA
  • Tiger Woods' Bio
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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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.