Phil, Tiger's Masters dominance nearing an end

By Randall MellApril 4, 2014, 4:50 pm

Spring feels more like autumn with the arrival of this year’s Masters.

The chill in the morning air at Augusta National portends winter more than it does spring this time around.

Fallen, dying leaves rustling past the feet of players would be more apropos this year than dogwoods and azaleas blooming. There is, after all, this ominous sense that we’re approaching the end of a season rather than the beginning of one.

That’s because we’re acutely aware that the end of an era may be at hand.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have had more to say about who wins the Masters in the last 20 years than anyone in the game, but those days appear to be nearing an end.

They’ve combined to win seven of the last 17 Masters. Even when they weren’t winning, they were contending. Did you know there hasn’t been a Masters without Woods or Mickelson finishing in the top five since 1999? Or that they have both finished T-10 or better in seven of the last 14 Masters? In fact, there hasn’t been a Masters without Woods or Mickelson finishing in the top 10 since 1994.

Their shadows fall prominently over the Masters next week. Since the turn of the century, they have been Larry Bird and Magic Johnson there.

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Tiger and Lefty haven’t merely won a lot at the Masters. They’ve awed us with spectacular shots there. From Woods’ impossible, circuitous chip-in for birdie at the 16th on his way to winning in ‘05, to Mickelson’s threading the trees from the pine straw to make birdie at the 13th on his way to winning in ’10, they’ve produced riveting theater.

In ’05, Mickelson put the green jacket on Woods in the trophy presentation. In ’06, Woods put it on Mickelson.

The days the Masters revolved around Woods and Mickelson may not quite be over, but we all know we’re getting to the end of the book now. We don’t know how many pages are left in this story, but we know there aren’t many.

With Woods, 38, unable to play while recovering from back surgery, and with Mickelson, 43, playing through his own injury issues, this Masters will begin with the feeling it is as much about the magic no longer possible as it is the magic still possible.

“There's probably not another player in the history of sports – it’s arguable – that has had as big an impact on his sport as Tiger, as far as viewership and ratings and money,” said Paul Azinger, the 12-time PGA Tour winner who will help call the Masters for ESPN. “Maybe Muhammad Ali, in boxing. I just can't think of anybody, that when he's not there, the void is any greater in any sport.”

This will be the first Tiger-less Masters since 1994.

“It's a huge disappointment for us in the business of TV,” Azinger said. “There's going to be a day when Tiger is just not around anymore, period. The shock, disappointment and the reason he's not here, I think it will present a little bit of a challenge, possibly, at first, but once that tournament gets going, the Masters carries its own weight and everybody will be fine.”

While Mickelson’s appearance at the Masters seemed uncertain after he withdrew from the Valero Texas Open with a pulled oblique muscle last weekend, he’s looking ready at the Shell Houston Open this week. Still, the question looms over just how his body will continue to hold up. He withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open with pain in his back early in the year.

Healthy or not, Tiger and Lefty haven't been quite right all season.

There's probably not one player that would have said, going into the Masters, ‘I wish I hit it like Tiger Woods,’” Azinger said.

Neither Woods nor Mickelson has won this year. That’s just the second time in 20 years that one or the other hasn’t arrived at Augusta National with a victory already in hand for the season.

“It might be one of the most open Masters we've had where there are so many different guys that could win,” said two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North, who also will help on ESPN’s broadcast of the Masters. “I just think you look at Phil, he's been a mess lately. He’s hurt a little bit, but he was there practicing the last couple days. He drives down Magnolia Lane, and the switch goes on, and there's no better place for him to play than there. And if his back is doing well, I think he's going to be a threat there before the week is up.”

Mickelson hasn’t been a threat all year. In six starts, he has two WDs and a missed cut. His best finish is a tie for 16th at WGC-Cadillac.

Woods may not be teeing it up, but he’ll be a big story early in the week. His absence will be palpable.

“I think golf is always better when Tiger is in the conversation,” Rory McIlroy said at the Shell Houston Open this week. “And even though he’s not playing, he’s still in the conversation.”

No Tiger? Questions over Lefty’s readiness? It leaves the door open in what’s been a wide open year on the PGA Tour. The winners of the last six PGA Tour events provide a disconcerting feel for what golf could be like without Woods and Mickelson. Henley, Hadley, Reed, Senden, Every and Bowditch. It’s not exactly a Murderer’s Row of golf.

“I don’t think it’s just the Masters, but golf in general is just very wide open,” McIlroy said.

Woods’ surgery may prove regenerating, but there are going to be doubts lingering until his return. Have we seen him contend for his last Masters? Will he be back, with Mickelson rejuvenated, too? Even the game’s insightful experts can’t be sure.

“I got sick [with cancer] when I was in the prime of my career,” Azinger said. “Tiger is a little bit past his prime. I was out for six months or so, and I tell you what, I lost my edge. It was nice to be home. I was the kind of guy, I played with a chip on my shoulder. Tiger plays with a chip on his shoulder, a little bit, for whatever reason. His challenge now will be: How self-motivated is he going to be?

“You know, when Tiger was an amateur, his dad said Tiger Woods will win 14 majors. Well, he has won 14 majors. I don't know why Earl didn't say 19, but he said 14.”

It’s among the reasons this Masters will begin with the feeling it’s more like autumn than spring.

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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.