A Return to Domination

By Mercer BaggsDecember 22, 2006, 5:00 pm
2006 Stories of the Year Editor's Note: TheGolfChannel.com 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 story No. 1 from this past season.
 
The 2006 PGA TOUR season had a defining event, the U.S. Open. It was at Winged Foot where Tiger Woods missed his first cut as a professional in a major championship. It was also where Phil Mickelson made double-bogey on the 72nd hole to lose by one.
 
For Woods, the result was disappointing. He was competing in his first event in nine weeks, his first event since the death of his father to cancer in May.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' six-event PGA TOUR winning streak began at the Open Championship.
For Mickelson, the result was disheartening. He was ready to stake full claim to Tigers throne atop the world of golf.
 
Tiger recovered. Phil did not. And the current landscape of golf can be traced back to that one event.
 
How would things have been different if Mickelson had made par? If Mickelson had won his third straight major championship? We can only wonder. Mickelson can only imagine.
 
Woods, however, does not dwell on such scenarios. He doesnt have to. He had no problem dusting himself off after being trampled at the Open. Though he had never missed a cut as a professional in a major, the aftereffects were nothing he hadnt dealt with before: frustration, anger, disappointment. Nothing that couldnt be overcome. Nothing like the pain of losing a loved one.
 
For Mickelson, it was different. Everything was going his way. He was peaking. And then he crashed. In six brutal swings everything changed.
 
Mickelson was crushed. He was a public punch-line once again. He hasnt since been the same.
 
The same can be said for Tiger.
 
Woods next emerged at the Cialis Western Open, and he was not the same player who exited early at Winged Foot. He didnt win that week, but his runner-up performance helped set the stage for his return to dominance.
 
Watching Tiger Woods play the role of superior golfer is like watching Bruce Willis in the Die Hard series. The plot is roughly the same in each movie, but the action is so captivating that you dont mind its repetitive nature.
 
Weve seen Woods dominate before, most notably in 2000. That year serves as the standard of Tigers greatness. But even he admits that what he accomplished over a three-month stretch in 2006 rivals that of six years ago.
 
'It's close,' he answered when asked to compare the two campaigns. 'Very close.'
 
The winning started at the Open Championship, where he was the defending champion. Woods conquered Royal Liverpool by executing a game plan that involved hitting only one driver all week. His performance was masterful.
 
That was the beginning of six straight PGA TOUR wins, including the PGA Championship, where he outclassed and overpowered the field at Medinah.
 
His final numbers included eight PGA TOUR victories (and one more in Dubai) and $9.94 million in official TOUR earnings. His lead in the Official World Golf Ranking, which was less than six points after the U.S. Open, is now more than double that.
 
Was it his best year ever? Not according to Woods. Not when you consider everything that took place outside the ropes.
 
If you take into account what happened off the golf course, it's my worst year, he said. I consider (this year) as a loss. In the grand scheme of things, golf, it doesn't even compare to losing a parent.
 
Tigers personal life took a very serious hit in 2006. And whether inspired or not by his fathers passing, Woods was nearly unbeatable upon his return to the game.
 
Not that he was invincible. He lost to Shaun Micheel in the European Tours World Match Play in mid-September. He also failed to win November events in China and Japan, falling to Padraig Harrington in a playoff in the latter.
 
Tiger Woods
Woods has once again separated himself from the rest of the golfing world.
However, unlike just six months ago, no one is questioning who the best player in the world is.
 
Woods got to this point, or should it be that he returned to this height of excellence, after completing his second major swing overhaul.
 
He and instructor Hank Haney spent the majority of the 2004 season defending themselves over the alterations. He won only once that year. But in 2005, he collected six TOUR trophies, including at The Masters Tournament and British Open.
 
Still, it was Mickelson who was perceived by many as The Man as the seasons second major loomed. Mickelson had won the BellSouth Classic by 13 and had claimed The Masters for his second consecutive major triumph.
 
Woods, meanwhile, had been sidelined for more than two months because of his fathers failing health and ultimate death.
 
While Winged Foot proved a back-breaker for Mickelson, it provided some much needed competition for Woods, if for only two days. Though he missed the cut, he returned to action three weeks later rarin to go.
 
And where he went was where only three men had ever gone before. Only Byron Nelson (11 straight in 1945) and Ben Hogan (six straight in 1948) had ever won six straight PGA TOUR events.
 
And, of course, Woods, who won six straight from the latter stages of 1999 to the beginning of 2000.
 
Hes now the first to accomplish such a feat twice.
 
I think it's interesting how I was getting ripped for making my swing changes, now here we are. That's why I made those changes. It's nice to have the opportunity to do the things I know I can do in this game of golf, Woods said after his sixth win-in-a-row at the WGC-American Express Championship.
 
Woods seems to have once again significantly separated himself from the rest of the TOUR pack. His chief rivals appear to once again be found in the past rather than the present ' including himself circa 2000.
 
Woods won nine times that year. He won three consecutive major championships. He finished in the top-5 17 times in 20 events played.
 
Many wonder if Woods can duplicate that season in 2007. Woods wonders if he can better it.
 
People want to compare stuff to the past, he said, and I'm trying to get better in the future, not the past.
 
Woods is again without peer, at least a modern one. Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els appear to be less of a challenge than breaking Jack Nicklaus career major victory record or Byron Nelsons TOUR winning streak or Sam Sneads career TOUR wins mark.
 
But despite them all ' those in the present and those from the past ' and despite how well he is playing entering the upcoming season, Woods knows that there will always be one against whom he will always find his truest competition.
 
It's always yourself, he said. You're always trying to better what you've done in the past, always. Hopefully that's good enough to beat the rest of the guys. But if you keep improving each and every day, then in the end you're always going to have a very successful career.
 
Related Links:
  • Previewing 2006; Reviewing 2007
  • Woods Repeats at Open Championship
  • Woods Wins Going Away at PGA
  • Tiger Woods' Bio
  • Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

    The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

    The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

    In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

    Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

    Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

    Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

    By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

    Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

    RISING

    Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

    Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

    Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

    Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

    Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


    FALLING

    J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

    Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

    Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

    DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

    LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

    Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

    Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

    In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

    "Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

    Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

    "The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

    The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

    "Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

    Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

    Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

    By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

    We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

    God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

    We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

    Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

    There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

    It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

    Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

    Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

    BORN IN 1912

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
    May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
    Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

    Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


    BORN IN 1949

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
    Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
    Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

    Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


    BORN IN 1955

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
    Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
    Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

    Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


    WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

    Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
    Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
    Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
    Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
    Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

    A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


    EUROPE'S BIG 5

    Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
    April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
    July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
    Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
    Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
    March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

    The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


    WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
    Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
    May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
    May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
    June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

    Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


    BORN IN 1980

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
    July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
    July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

    Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

    Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.