The Other Year In Golf

By Mercer BaggsDecember 21, 2000, 5:00 pm
First of all, let's just say we are not going to mention 'his' name. Legends, lore and epic tales have and will be written about 'him.' This is not one of them.
No, this is for the other men. The overshadowed. The obscure. Those who resurrected careers. Those who established a household name. Those who bettered adversity. And those who, were it not for 'him', would be the primary subjects of golfing greatness.
For many, 2000 was a year of redemption. A chance to revive a fledgling career. A chance to taste victory once again. A chance to finally have reporters stop asking you that same damn question - 'When are you going to win again?'
This year Tom Lehman (Phoenix Open), Steve Lowery (Southern Farm Bureau), Scott Verplank (Reno-Tahoe Open), Dudley Hart (Honda Classic) and Stewart Cink (MCI Classic) all broke winless droughts that extended at least three years. Verplank won the Thirst Quencher Award by earning his first PGA Tour title since the 1988 Buick Open.
Of all the players to re-enter the winner's circle in 2000, none was more apprized than Paul Azinger with his victory at the SONY Open in Hawaii. It had been seven long years since Azinger won the '93 PGA Championship. Seven years without a trophy - but not without victory.
In between Tour titles, the 40-year-old husband and father of two successfully conquered cancer - lymphoma, to be exact. Bigger than any trophy or winner's check he'll ever receive. But my, how poignant, how rewarding it was to see Azinger - full head of hair blowing in the Hawaiian breeze - holding his hardware, pride in check, but radiating a sense of accomplishment. Knowing he had defeated more than just 155 other men that second week in January.
While their winless streaks weren't as barren, a handful of other players triumphed again in 2000. And in the case of one man - again and again and again.
Phil Mickelson entered this season with 13 career PGA Tour victories, but none since 1998. However, the left-hander broke the dam in 2000, and flooded those heavy expectations, winning four times. Two of those conquests came at the expense of 'him'. Mickelson won the Buick Invitational and the Tour Championship with 'him' in the field, thus avoiding the statement: 'Yes you won, but `he' wasn't playing.'
A trio of players were forced to deal with that Catch-22 situation. David Duval, Ernie Els and Justin Leonard all won in 2000. Duval won the Buick Challenge. 'He' wasn't there. Els won the International. 'He' wasn't there. Leonard won the Westin Texas Open. Well, you know.
Davis Love III didn't 'officially' win this year, but he did capture one of the year's biggest unofficial events - the Williams World Challenge. Despite coming so close so many times in 2000, and posting eight runner-up finishes since his last PGA Tour win at the 1998 MCI Classic, Love fired a final-round 64 to earn a come-from-behind victory over Sergio Garcia and 'him.' In addition to the $1 million paycheck, Love also collected a much needed confidence boost heading into 2001.
From the 'When are you going to win again?' department to just, 'Are you ever going to win?'
Kirk Triplett joined the PGA Tour in 1990. 266 starts later he was finally a Tour victor. Triplett won the Nissan Open in February, thus finally giving the public a name to 'the guy in the funny hat.' He finished 11th on the season-ending money list, and qualified for his first Presidents Cup. He even wore a baseball cap instead of his traditional bucket hat that week in Prince William County, Va. Of course, people mistook him for Tom Lehman. Three victories and one tie later, however, Triplett was his own man - and a recognizable one at that.
In all, there were eight first-time winners in 2000: Jim Carter (Tucson Open), Robert Allenby (Shell Houston Open and Advil Western Open), Tom Scherrer (Kemper Insurance Open), Dennis Paulson (Buick Classic), Michael Clark II (John Deere Classic), Rory Sabbatini (Air Canada Championship) and Chris DiMarco (SEI Pennsylvania Classic) all joined Triplett in the blissful world of triumphant Tour winners.
Not included in those eight is Darren Clarke at the WGC-Andersen Consulting World Match Play. Clark was the only rookie to win on the '00 PGA Tour; as a result, the 31-year-old was awarded Rookie of the Year honors. Clark won the John Deere Classic in a dramatic Monday playoff, defeating none other than Triplett, who was trying to become a multiple winner just months after becoming a maiden winner.
Winning wasn't everything in 2000. Bob May proved that. May, a 32-year-old journeyman, achieved near-celebrity status in the mid-August Kentucky sun - by finishing second.
May, who by his own count has in excess of 25 professional runner-up finishes worldwide, took 'him' to the limit in the PGA Championship at Valhalla. Including the three-hole playoff, the final 12 holes on Sunday were reminiscent of a classic heavyweight fight.
Punch. Counter-punch. May matched the champion shot-for-shot.
Eventually, 'he' proved a bit too strong - just a bit. It wasn't Tyson-Douglas, 1990. But it was Creed-Balboa, 1976. Rocky got another shot at the champ. May? We'll have to wait and see.
Courage comes in many forms. Professional and personal. Blaine McCallister knows both sides. Blaine's wife, Claudia, suffers from pseudoxanthoma elasticum, a rare eye disease that causes the deterioration of the central vision. Legally blind, Claudia often follows Blaine around the course, using high-power binoculars to magnify her husband's blurry image.
This year, Claudia saw her husband finish second at the COMPAQ Classic of New Orleans and tie for third at the Westin Texas Open. It was just a year ago that McCallister missed a four-foot putt on the final hole of the season's final event that would have secured his 2000 PGA Tour card. Instead, the then-41-year-old was forced to go back to Q-School. He responded by finishing as medalist.
McCallister completed the 2000 campaign 49th on the money list. Any notion of a return trip to Q-School vanished in early May in New Orleans.
Searching for his first win since 1993, McCallister had the COMPAQ Classic in hand. All he needed was a par at the home hole to garner victory. Rather, he missed a 10-foot putt to force a playoff. On the first extra hole, McCallister was again faced with the four-footer, the same length he missed from to lose his card a year ago. Again he missed.
One hole later, McCallister was collecting a runner-up check of $367,200, while Carlos Franco hoisted his second-consecutive COMPAQ trophy.
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow. McCallister said he felt like he was 'bleeding all over the place,' down the stretch.
Yet, with his wife by his side, McCallister rationalized: 'There are a lot of things worse in this world. You know, it's kind of like what they say, you get knocked down, you got to be able to get up. We've been dealt the hand in front of us and we are just going to, you know, play the cards.'
Well-said by a man who never needs to be reminded of life's priorities.
Another athlete gone awry or an honorable young man owning up to his transgressions. There were differing views when the news broke about Notah Begay III's DUI arrest, and his confession to having a prior incident.
Regardless, Begay took his medicine. Served his time. And successfully put the past behind him.
Begay won back-to-back tournaments at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and Canon Greater Hartford Open in June. He finished the year 20th on the PGA Tour money list with over $1.8 million. He moved from 87th to 33rd in the World Ranking. And he qualified for the Presidents Cup, where he compiled a 3-2 record to help the Americans win back the Cup.
Each year there are compelling stories which define the season. Some bad, most good. But there always seems to be one that stands out. Sometimes it's a series of actions. Sometimes it's a lone incident. Sometimes it's just a picture perfect moment.
The latter was the case in 2000.
If ever there was one image that golf fans will never forget, it's that of Jack Nicklaus sitting on the fence of the 18th hole at Pebble Beach, Friday in the U.S. Open. His final U.S. Open. The man. The venue. The sun - setting, reflecting. As perfect an image as there will ever be in sport.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem Talks about Tiger, Rights Fees and the future.
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The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 1:11 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.

Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.

Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.

The narrative wondrously started to turn here.

It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.

It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.

He is just four shots off the lead.

“I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”

Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.

“He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”

Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.

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How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?

“It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”

This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.

“I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”

Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.

When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.

“It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”

Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.

“I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.

Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.

It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.

“It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”

Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.

Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.

“He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”

Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.

Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.

“I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”

Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers.  He got a standing ovation.

“I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”

So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?

Woods seems in a hurry to find out.

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List, Lovemark lead; Tiger four back at Honda

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 12:41 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Even with a tee shot into the water for another double bogey, Tiger Woods could see the big picture in the Honda Classic.

He was four shots out of the lead going into the weekend.

Luke List delivered a round not many others found possible in such difficult conditions Friday, a 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Jamie Lovemark (69). They were at 3-under 137, the highest score to lead at the halfway point of the Honda Classic since it moved to PGA National in 2007.

So bunched were the scores that Woods was four shots out of the lead and four shots from last place among the 76 players who made the cut at 5-over 145. More importantly, he only had 13 players in front of him.

''This is a difficult golf course right now,'' Woods said. ''Making pars is a good thing. I've done that, and I'm right there with a chance.''

And he has plenty of company.

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Tommy Fleetwood, who won the Race to Dubai on the European Tour last year, scratched out a 68 and was one shot out of the lead along with Webb Simpson (72), Russell Henley (70) and Rory Sabbatini (69).

Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger each shot 72 and were in a large group at 139. They were among only 10 players remaining under par.

Fleetwood laughed when asked the last time he was at 2 under after 36 holes and only one shot out of the lead.

''Maybe some junior event,'' he said. ''It's good, though. These are the toughest test in golf. Generally, one of the best players prevail at the end of weeks like this. Weeks like this challenge you to the ultimate level. Whether you shoot two 80s or you lead after two rounds, you can see what you need to do and see where your game is. Because this is as hard as it's ever going to get for you.''

The difficulty was primarily from the wind, which blew just as hard in the morning when List shot his 66 as it did in the afternoon. More aggravating to the players are the greens, which are old and bare, firm and crusty. It's a recipe for not making many putts.

Defending champion Rickie Fowler had six bogeys on his front nine and shot 77 to miss the cut.

''It's unfortunate that the greens have changed this much in a year,'' Fowler said. ''They typically get slick and quick on the weekend because they dry out, but at least there's some sort of surface. But like I said, everyone's playing the same greens.''

It looked as though List was playing a different course when he went out with a bogey-free 32 on the back nine, added a pair of birdies on the front nine and then dropped his only shot when he caught an awkward lie in the bunker on the par-3 seventh.

''It's very relentless,'' List said. ''There's not really too many easy holes, but if you hit fairways and go from there, you can make a few birdies out there.''

List and Lovemark, both Californians, have never won on the PGA Tour. This is the third time List has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead, most recently in South Korea at the CJ Cup, where he shot 76-72 on the weekend.

''It's kind of irrelevant because there's going to be 30 guys within a couple shots of the lead,'' List said. ''It's going to be that type of week.''

He was exaggerating – there were 11 players within three shots of the lead.

And there was another guy four shots behind.

Woods brought big energy to a Friday afternoon that already was hopping before he overcame a sluggish start and holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to make the turn at 1 under for his round, and leaving him two shots out of the lead. Everyone knew it just from listening to the roars.

Woods had his chances, twice missing birdie putts from inside 10 feet at Nos. 10 and 12, sandwiched around a 12-foot par save. His round appeared to come undone when he found the water on the 15th and made double bogey for the second straight day.

Then, he hit out of a fairway bunker, over the water and onto the green at the dangerous 16th hole and faced a 65-foot putt. He misread the speed and the line, so badly that it was similar to a car driving from Chicago to Denver and winding up in Phoenix. A bogey dropped him to 2 over.

The big moment was the 17th hole, 184 waters into the wind and over water. That's where Rory McIlroy made triple bogey earlier in the day that ruined his otherwise solid round of 72, leaving him seven behind. Making it even tougher for Woods is the Brandt Snedeker hit 5-iron before him to about 6 feet. Woods got to the tee and the wind died, meaning 5-iron was too much and 6-iron wouldn't clear the water.

He went with the 5-iron.

''I started that thing pretty far left and hit a pretty big cut in there because I had just too much stick,'' Wood said.

It landed 12 feet below the hole for a birdie putt.

Thomas made 17 pars and a double bogey when he three-putted from 6 feet on No. 16. He felt the same way as Woods.

''I'm in a good spot – really good spot – going into this week,'' Thomas said.

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Woods to play with Dufner (12:10 p.m.) in third round

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 12:10 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods will play alongside Jason Dufner in the third round of the Honda Classic.

Woods and Dufner, both at 1-over 141, four shots back, will tee off at 12:10 p.m. ET Saturday at PGA National. They’re in the 10th-to-last group.

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Co-leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark will go at 1:40 p.m.

Some of the other late pairings include Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who will be playing together for the third consecutive day, at 1 p.m.; Louis Oosthuizen and Thomas Pieters (1:10 p.m.); and Webb Simpson and Russell Henley, in the penultimate group at 1:30 p.m.

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Woods doesn't mind 'fun' but brutal 17th hole

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods doesn’t mind the boisterous crowd that surrounds the par-3 17th hole at PGA National.

And why should he?

When the wind died down Friday afternoon, Woods played a “big ol’ cut” with a 5-iron that dropped 12 feet from the cup. He made the putt – one of just nine birdies on the day – and when he walked off the green, the fans gave him a standing ovation.

The scene is expected to be even more raucous Saturday at the Honda Classic, especially with Woods in contention.

There is a Goslings Bear Trap tent just to the right of the tee. The hole has become a hot topic in recent years, after a few players complained that the noise from the nearby crowd was distracting as they tried to play a wind-blown, 190-yard shot over water.

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Woods was asked his thoughts on the party setup after finishing his second-round 71.

“As long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, we’re fine,” he said. “They can be raucous. They are having a great time. It’s fun. They are having a blast, and hopefully we can execute golf shots, but as long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, everything’s cool.”

After the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open, a few players told Woods that fans were trying to time their screams with the players’ downswings.

“There’s really no reason to do that,” Woods said. “I think that most of the people there at 17 are golfers, and they understand how hard a golf shot that is. So they are being respectful, but obviously libations are flowing.”

The 17th played as the most difficult hole on the course Friday, with a 3.74 scoring average and a combined score to par of 104 over. More than a quarter of the tee shots found the water.