Golf goes on, but Tiger saga won't go away

By Nick MentaMay 31, 2017, 7:49 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Outside the clubhouse at Muirfield Village sits a very large rock bearing the names of every winner in the 40-year history of the Memorial Tournament.

It’s a list that starts with Roger Maltbie in 1976 and ends with William McGirt in 2016.

In the middle, on five separate inscriptions, is the name Tiger Woods.

For years, Woods dominated the Memorial, claiming victory and posing with Jack Nicklaus on Sunday a record five times. Woods is the all-time money winner at this event, racking up more than $5 million in earnings.

And once again this week, as in so many years past, Woods is the biggest story.

Of course this time, golf has nothing to do with it.

Woods early Monday again rocked the sports world with a mugshot that represented a new low in what’s been a stunning fall from grace.

When Woods so much as sneezes, it qualifies as news in golf circles. So when he’s cited for DUI, the air comes out of the room.

There is a tournament to be played this week at Muirfield, a good one, too. Seven of the top 10 players in the world are here just two weeks before the second major of the year.

Jason Day is here trying to find balance in his life after aiding his mother in her fight with cancer. Dustin Johnson is looking to regain the form that saw him win three consecutive events before he injured his back at the Masters. Jordan Spieth is coming off a runner-up finish at Colonial one week after trying out a new putter and is somehow flying under the radar. There are storylines aplenty.

And yet, as much as golf has moved on from Woods’ era of dominance, his is the only name that transcends the game. And the slow but steady trickle of updates coming out of the Jupiter Police Department is keeping fans and media members’ attentions rapt.

Woods’ colleagues on Tour have spent the early week mostly discussing the states of their games, save for the time they’ve spent less-than-eagerly discussing Woods.

When asked about the situation Tuesday, Day appeared frustrated that he hadn’t dodged the question and then saddened at his friend’s plight, saying that it was “tough to see Woods go through this.”

Adam Scott thought for a second and didn’t look all that comfortable talking about it while offering that he was “just surprised and I guess a bit saddened to see that. I don’t ... we should all – I don’t know all the details about it, but hopefully it’s not a worse problem than it is.”

A day earlier, Jack Nicklaus called for support for Woods, and Dustin Johnson in an interview offered his thoughts and prayers.

No doubt, once play gets underway here Thursday, the focus will return to golf. Should a Spieth or a Day or a DJ walk up the 18th fairway Sunday afternoon to a standing ovation, discussions will return to how a litany of young talents have banded together to take up Tiger’s mantle. The same thing will happen in two weeks at the U.S. Open.

But no matter how good a story golf provides, Tiger is going to keep looming large, new details will continue to emerge. The dash cam video is coming. The results of his urine test will follow. There will be an arraignment, and court proceedings will proceed from there. And as in the past, there will be updates – real or fabricated – on his health, recovery, and future as an athlete.

For those reasons, Woods is going to continue to exist in a parallel universe. We’ve arrived at a point where there are stories about golf, and there are stories about Tiger, and those two topics seem increasingly unrelated. Only once before was that dynamic as clear as it has been this week at the Memorial. But in 2009, when he dented up a different black SUV, Tiger Woods was still Tiger Woods. There was a surreal quality to the headlines back then. While the last few days have offered a look at a different kind of trouble, each successive setback in his personal life is proving progressively less surreal, progressively more believable when it comes to light.

The game will move on in the way it already has. DJ, Day, Spieth, Rory McIlroy and the like will carry the torch and borrow from the best parts of “Tiger Woods, The Golfer” to great success.

But Tiger is going to continue along in his own bubble, largely disconnected from the game he ruled. Until Woods makes a successful return, until he makes headlines for his play on the course, he’ll be a story unto himself.

Perhaps the most revealing comments about Woods' current relationship to the PGA Tour came from last week's champion Kevin Kisner. A two-time Tour winner who has finished runner-up six times in the last three seasons. Kisner was asked on Tuesday how well he knows Woods.

"Never met him," he answered.

As each new detail filters out over the coming days and weeks, Woods’ name will stay in the conversation. But each time one of his peers has to stop discussing his game to address whatever is going on with Tiger, the disconnect between Woods' life and professional golf will grow wider.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.