Sun Rises and Falls on Woods

By Mercer BaggsOctober 16, 2002, 4:00 pm
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. ' Tiger Woods loves the serenity of a pre-dawn practice round. Its his sanctuary.
Peace of mind, he said Wednesday at the Disney Golf Classic. Im able to play in peace and not be hounded for autographs and pictures when Im getting ready to play a tournament.
The prospect of beating fans, media and even the sun to the course stemmed from Woods tour mentor Mark OMeara. The elder statesman took Woods, in his first full season on the PGA Tour in 1997, out early at Bay Hill. Ever since, Tigers afternoons have been filled with workouts, rest and practice sessions ' not practice rounds.
But what about waking up consistently at 5 in the morning?
I dont sleep very much, he said. Everything changed in college. I used to be a big, heavy sleeper, but when I went to college, I pulled all-nighters without any problem.
He also doesnt have any problem getting loose in the mornings. He said he doesnt stretch, doesnt hit range balls, doesnt warm up. But hes not yet ready to take that approach into an official round.
I should do that, he quipped. Ive thought about doing a (Carlos) Franco. I just dont have the guts to do it, Woods said in reference to the practice-deficient Paraguayan noted for his ability to pick up and play.
Of course, its never that easy for the worlds No. 1. Some feel inconvienced by his self-accommodation.
Such was the case at the Ryder Cup, Woods most recent appearance on a golf course. After three days of following protocol, U.S. captain Curtis Strange told Tiger and the rest of the team to prepare like they would for a major championship on Thursday, the day before the matches were to start.
He did just that, going out at 6:30 AM alongside Mark Calcavecchia. That created hullabaloo with the foreign press, who was furious over the fact that many spectators, who had paid 45 pounds ($60) for a one-day pass, didnt get to see the games best.
If youre one of the top players, you are going to get criticized a little more than the other guys. Thats whats transpired this year, Woods said. People forget that Calc played with me during the practice round, and he didnt get criticized at all. Just Curtis and myself. It was unfair.
Thats the way it is for Woods. On and off the course, hes got a target on his back. If an issue arises, petty or prominent, Woods can be assured hell somehow be in the mix.
Aside from his A.M. incident at The Belfry, he was taken to task for not being a team player, wearing a different outfit than most of his teammates on Day 1. He said the players were given a choice of what they wanted to wear each day, and he simply chose to wear a white turtle neck and red sweater vest instead of the red polo and blue sweater vest.
He also said the players had discussions with the PGA of America in order to try to make the Ryder Cup, which is a week-long workload outined in strict regimen, more fun for the players. The PGAs response said Woods: Well get back to you.
Woods isnt all-powerful, but his opinion carries the bulk of the Hulk.
As a three-time Masters champion he was forced to speak out on the fact that Augusta National Golf Club has no female members.
I said it a long time ago and I stick by what I said. Everybody has a right to do what they want. Is it unfair? Yes, its unfair. Do I want to see a female member? Yes. But, its our right to have any club set up the way we want to.
That was not a satisfactory answer for some.
Everyone wants to have someone (else) say what they believe in. Thats human nature, Woods said.
Woods further elaborated on the subject Wednesday, saying if the two sides, primarily Augusta Chairman Hootie Johnson and National Council of Womens Organization Chairperson Martha Burk, would just sit down and talk, the issue might finally be resolved.
Hootie is right and Martha is right. Thats the problem. They are both right but are going about it the wrong way, Woods said. There is no substitute in sitting down and having a face-to-face conversation about it. There is no substitute for looking someone in the eye.'
Oh, the inner-sanctuary of being inside the ropes. Where Tiger only has to hit high draws and low fades and make putts,' and doesn't have to concern himself with bureaucracy.
In his two weeks off following the Ryder Cup, where he played the second day with a 102-degree fever, Woods rested, recovered, and didnt pick up a club until a couple of days ago.
Now, hes anxious to shake off the rust and make a final sprint to the finish line of another phenomenal season.
One of the best Ive ever had. Won two majors, won six events worldwide, he said. Im making one more run at the end of the year. Thats why I did shut it down and didnt do anything. I tried to make sure I was physically ready for this long stretch coming up.
While stating that this was one of his best years outside the otherworldly 2000 campaign, Woods said it wasnt necessarily his most enjoyable season.
You have to look at two different things. What I do on the golf course, performance-wise - thats me, and what I do for a living. Thats my passion. The other stuff is my opinion, and I get crushed for giving my opinion when asked, he said.
Woods, a two-time Disney winner, still has the season finale at the Tour Championship, the Dunlop Phoenix Open in Japan, the PGA Grand Slam of Golf and Skins Game in the same week, and his own Target World Challenge.
And if you want to see him preparing for these events, set your alarm.
Full field and tee times for the Disney Golf Classic
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G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”

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McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.

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Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:56 am

LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.

Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.

Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.

“When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

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Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.

“Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”

Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.

“Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”

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Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:37 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.

Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.

It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.

“I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.

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Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.

“I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”

Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.

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Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:25 am

LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?

The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.

Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.

In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.

What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.

If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.

Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.

“You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

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He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.

That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.

Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."

“Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”

While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.

“Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”

While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.

Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.

“I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”

It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.

One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.

“Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.

And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.