One Time With Tiger

By Mercer BaggsNovember 28, 2016, 11:00 am

We all have our Tiger moments.

We all have stored some specific Tiger Woods memories that emerge from a crowd of Tiger Woods memories.

Like that time during the 2015 PGA Championship, Woods cutting a reflective figure against a perfect blue backdrop, arms crossed, staring into the horizon … or maybe, on the verge of a missing the cut in a third consecutive major, thinking about jumping into Lake Michigan. It was difficult to tell which.

Or that time at the 2003 Bay Hill Invitational when you were close enough to him you hoped he didn’t give you whatever touch of death he was battling on his way to a Jordanesque, bone-soaked, 11-stroke triumph.

Damn, Tiger was something else.

Maybe those two mean nothing to you. But you have yours. You likely have many.

But what if? What if one of those memories was playing beside him one time in a PGA Tour event? Just that one time for you to hold onto forever. How special would that be?

To answer that, you can ask Keith Fergus. Or Don Pooley. Or Omar Uresti. Or Nick Dougherty. Or Scott Brown.

There are lots of players you could ask. How many? Tough to give an exact number. The Tour keeps head-to-head stats for players, dating back to the late-90s. They are helpful, but fallible. It’s safe to say, however, that there are less than 50 players who fall into this category: One Tour round, one time with Tiger.

Anyone who remembers watching Woods when he turned pro would view this list with nostalgia.

Those players who got their one time with Tiger early in his career were, for the most part, well into theirs. People like Fergus, Pooley and the Rinker brothers, Lee and Larry.

Those who got a singular up-close-and-personal encounter during his prime years, which, really, lasted the better part of a decade, include the likes of Grant Waite, Bradley Hughes, Dougherty and Arron Oberholser.

There are those who caught him in that post-scandal, pre-yips phase. Players like Brendan Steele, Brendon de Jonge and Robert Garrigus.

And there are those who have played once with him over the last couple of years – the last couple he’s played. Those who, frankly, were the better player in their twosome. Those like Zac Blair and Brown.

These names don’t elicit awe, nor should they. These aren’t guys who played with Woods in the winner’s category during the first two rounds of an event or time after time on the weekends.

These are guys who got one shot at Tiger Woods, the greatest player of his generation, if not all time. It’s not their names that matter, it’s their stories.

Each story is unique, because it involves individuals and their perspectives, but there are commonalities: Crowd chaos and sounds, chief among them.

You’ve probably witnessed firsthand what it’s like to watch Woods at an event. And even if you haven’t, you have a pretty good idea: saturation of people, jockeying for position, screams of those trying to be noticed, and a chain reaction of movement: Tiger hits shots, crowd scurries, playing competitor be damned.

“Unruly,” one said.

“It’s like you’re playing on his turf,” said another.

“Like playing with Nicklaus,” said the player who also added, “He reminded me of the Beatles coming to America in '64.”

And those sounds, they weren’t in reference to the crowds, but rather about that way in which Woods struck a ball.

“Like nothing else I’ve ever heard,” said one.

“I’ll always remember the sounds of him hitting a golf ball,” said another. “I’ve never heard anyone else make that sound.”

As multiple players we interviewed said following a Tiger-struck ball, “I can’t hit that shot.”

Who did we interview? Many of the names listed here, and a few others.

Why? Because these guys got to play one official PGA Tour round with Tiger Woods. Not two or 10. One. That’s an irreplaceable instance that fewer than 50 people can claim. Maybe you view these guys as a has-been or a never-was. Doesn’t matter. They got their one time with Tiger. And when you speak to them, they remember every detail. They remember what they saw, what they heard, what they felt.

Some wanted to just stay out of his way. Many remember his signature intimidation tactic: Arrive late to the first tee, make you listen to the enormous applause, get the no-look handshake.

Several also remember paying more attention to what he was doing than what they should have been doing. They recognized the moment. They realized, Hey, this might be my one and only time to play with Tiger Freaking Woods. Screw the score, let’s enjoy these hours.

Of course, others viewed it differently: This is my forever chance to tell the world I beat Tiger Woods, head-to-head. And, some can claim that.

One time. One round. One shot at Tiger Woods.

It’s their Tiger moment. And they shared them with us.

Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 8:52 pm

The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:

Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)

What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.

Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.

Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.

Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.

Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.