Tiger Giveth and Taketh Away

By Michael CollinsJune 19, 2008, 4:00 pm
My greatest U.S. Open moment has been taken from me!
Damn you, Tiger Woods; its all your fault. Tuesday, you, me and Bubba (Watson) are joking around on the putting green and everything is fine and dandy. By Saturday night after following you around the course, my best moment at a U.S. Open has now been replaced - and I'm not in this one! At least the second one you were in, but at I was too. Now that's even thats third.
Let me explain. My previous favorite U.S. Open moment was caddying in Pinehurst, first time its held there since Payne Stewart won. Im caddying for Omar Uresti and in spite of him putting a spike through one of my Nikes before the second 18 we made it through the qualifying and got in.
We had practice rounds with Justin Leonard one day, whos a lot funnier than they show on TV, and David Duval (with his dad Bob telling funny stories from his days on tour walking with us) talking fishing and telling jokes about Ben Wallaces afro.
This was setting up to be a special week for me. Then, of course, Thursday comes and so does the carnage. Let me tell you before they started that graduated rough, the U.S. Open really sucked (Corey Pavin exception) for short straight hitters, of which Omar is. That was because short straight hitters normally only miss the fairways by a yard or two and in Opens past that was the worse place to miss. So by the time were coming down the last three holes we are gonna HAVE to par in.
I just got off the phone with Omar (hes here in Hartford this week, and were setting up movie times for the week but that's a whole nother addiction) to make sure I tell it right. The 16th is a devastatingly long par 4, about 490 yards playing a little downhill, but even after a good drive we still had a 4-iron into a green about as soft as Nancy Grace interviewing one of the Texas cult mothers.
With a middle left hole, I tell O, front of the green, let it release. He hits it perfect. -- 25 feet for birdie. But we dont need birdies, just birdie putts. He two-putts for par, ONE DOWN! next up, the par-3 17th, uphill about 200 yards, front right hole, Anywhere but front right bunker is the place to be. Well y'all already know where this ball is going as Im screaming, GET UP! GET UP, PLEASE, BABY!!!
Sometimes players, after hitting a shot like that, will put their chin on their chest and as a caddie you know bogey is coming because in the player's mind theyve already made bogey. But this time O is walking with his head up at a much faster pace than I was used to. We get to the bunker, good lie but short sided with the green sloping away. He hits as good a shot as could be asked from there, 15 feet for par. He brings me in on the read and I give him the line. He strokes it exactly over the spot I said and on the final rotation... BINGO! TWO DOWN, ONE TO GO!!
The 18th is a relatively easy tee shot for a U.S. Open -- wide(r) fairway, but the second shot is to a right pin tucked between ridges. No problem, front of the green, uphill putt for bird from 20 feet. I can take a deep breath, when, OOOOOOOOPS. O hits it 4-and-a-half feet by! Now weve got a downhill slider, left-to-right to make the cut on the number (as we were some of the final threesomes on the course). I gotta find some Kaopectate....
I get called to look at the putt. Ill skip the drama and tell you he made the putt because my favorite moment came the next day. The way the cut worked out, we were the last ones in on the number and because of that we were playing first off ALONE on Saturday.
We get to the first tee on Saturday morning and the stands are packed. I see O is a little anxious, and so am I, but there is a microphone on a stand next to the tee. This is a dangerous thing for a stand-up comedian to see. An older (late 50s) man wearing a bow tie walks up to the mic, does some announcements and welcomes, then tells the crowd about turning off any cell phones that were inadvertently brought in. Time to pounce! I grab the mic from this poor man and say, Unless youre a good looking girl, in that case my number is 717...
The crowd roars with laughter seeing a caddie, in bib and all, do such a thing. Then the man says one more thing and uncomfortably walks two steps away from the mic... MY TURN AGAIN! I walk back up to the mic and say, And how about a warm welcome for our starter?! (applause) Orville Redenbachers brother, Wilbur! The place went nuts. Omars sitting on a fold-out chair, bent over laughing; the State Troopers who were standing around had their hands on their knees with tears coming out of their eyes as the starter ran into the tent to hide from the crowd, which made it even funnier.
But the best part: Omar piped driver right down the middle and I got to spend the day, just me caddying and my friend playing the U.S. Open by ourselves on Saturday morning getting standing ovations, talking about everything and nothing, having a blast.
I was almost disappointed that we played too good. We passed many men that day and had to play with another pro Sunday, but by the time we finished Saturday coming up 18, we were the talk of the course for what we did at the first tee to the starter. During a tournament where there are very few smiles, my friend and I skipped into a Saturday sunrise.
And that was my favorite moment in golf until I followed Tiger on Saturday for XM witnessing and calling the eagle at 13, the chip-in birdie at 17, and the eagle at 18. I literally went crazy on the air (you should hear the blooper reel: they mix my call with a Spanish broadcaster calling a soccer goal) but thats because when it comes down to it, Im a fan first. Now I know what people who saw Bobby Jones in person win a major felt. But daggone, now hes even taking MY moments! And if this week in Hartford is even half of the finish Jay Williamson and Hunter Mahan put on last year, Im gonna need a medivac.
Editor's note: Michael Collins has been a stand-up comedian for 15 years and has more than seven years experience as a professional caddie. He currently covers the PGA TOUR as a correspondent with XM Satellite Radio and takes his turn on The Turn Mondays on GOLF CHANNEL.
Email your thoughts to Michael Collins
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Honda Classic
  • Michael Collins Archive
  • Getty Images

    Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

    By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

    Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

    ''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

    Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

    Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

    ''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

    It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

    Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

    The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

    ''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

    PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

    Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

    ''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

    It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

    He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

    ''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

    Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

    Later, he laughed about the moment.

    ''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

    Getty Images

    Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

    Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

    Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

    The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

    “They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

    The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

    “Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

    “As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

    Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

    “Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

    McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

    “It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

    He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

    The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

    The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

    Getty Images

    Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

    It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

    Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

    He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

    It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

    And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

    Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

    The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

    “I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

    “I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

    The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

    But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

    The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

    Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

    So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

    “That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

    "I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

    To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

    They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

    A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

    “He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

    Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

    But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

    Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”