Players leery of being paired with Woods

By Randall MellMarch 14, 2010, 6:57 am

2010 WGC-CA Championship

DORAL, Fla. – Tiger Woods’ presence is inescapable.

They’re playing through it yet again at the WGC-CA Championship with a mushroom cloud of speculation erupting over high-profile reports of the possibility of Woods’ imminent return.

Two weeks ago, Woods was reported to be working hard on his game with swing coach Hank Haney at his Isleworth home outside Orlando. Last week, Jack Nicklaus said he couldn’t “in a hundred years” imagine that Woods will not play the Masters. Thursday, the New York Post reported that Woods had hired former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer to prepare a return at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with The Associated Press citing sources later that same day saying the Masters is more likely the target for his return.

While nobody outside Woods’ camp seems sure when Woods will end his self-imposed exile, players are beginning to prepare for a jolt unlike anything tournament golf’s ever seen.

“I anticipate a zoo,” 13-time PGA Tour winner Jim Furyk said of the atmosphere that will accompany Woods’ return.

While Furyk said he welcomes Woods rejoining the PGA Tour, he’s wary of the insanity that’s likely to come with his initial appearance. Furyk isn’t alone.

“It’s going to be an absolute circus,” four-time European Tour winner Graeme McDowell said.

While PGA Tour pros are eager for the boost Woods is expected to bring their sport in his return, there’s some trepidation, too. Who wants a spot in the center ring when the circus first hits town? Who wants to be paired with Woods in his first start back? Privately, a lot of players are dreading the possibility.

“Most players won’t mind if they’re left out of that,” two-time PGA Tour winner Henrik Stenson said.

Woods’ return promises to be more trumpeted than any sport’s ever seen.

It promises to surpass the frenzy that accompanied Muhammad Ali’s comeback in 1970 after he was suspended and stripped of his boxing title following his arrest for draft evasion.

Or Michael Jordan’s return to basketball in 1995 after his first retirement.

Or Ben Hogan’s comeback in 1950 just 11 months after he was nearly killed when his car crashed into a bus.

“When Tiger Woods returns, it will be the focus of intergalactic attention,” said Rick Horrow, CNN’s sports business analyst.

PGA Tour pros are as curious as media and players about what Woods will be like when he re-emerges, but the players are even more invested in the answer. How Woods returns, where he returns, impacts them in practical ways as his “co-workers.”

They’ll be watching with the deadline to commit to the Arnold Palmer Invitational approaching Friday.

Whenever Woods comes back, there are serious questions for his Tour brethren to consider.

How will galleries welcome back their best player? Is the ugly and unruly kind of fan that so many other sports know poised to invade the genteel world of tournament golf? In that regard, will all Woods’ colleagues pay a price for his indiscretions?

The most pressing question within the player ranks, though, focuses on how the scandal has impacted Woods’ game.

Did the public disgrace crack his protective armor?

Has shame damaged the confidence that’s made him such a formidable champion?

Will Woods return without his aura of invincibility?

“There’s no doubt we’re wondering about that,” McDowell said. “If he doesn’t come back and win quick, there’s no doubt his force field’s gone a little bit. All of a sudden, he’s more human. I think guys will view him more that way. His golf life had been perfection personified for 15 years, or whatever it’s been. His off-course life seemed squeaky clean as well.

“This guy’s been God-like. I think other players looked at him and said, `This guy’s unbelievable.’ All of a sudden, there’s a chink in the armor. Whether that equates to less invincibility on the golf course, I don’t know. Let’s hope, for our sake, he is less invincible, because let’s be honest, he’s pretty hard to beat when he’s on his game.”

Woods’ return will have the most jarring effect on players paired with him.

If he makes his return at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he’ll fall into his traditional PGA Tour pairing category with other tournament winners. A computer will spit out his partners from among players who fall into that same category.

If he makes his return at Augusta National, Masters’ officials will choose who plays with him.

“I’m eager for him to get back out here, hopefully sooner rather than later,” said Steve Stricker, an eight-time PGA Tour winner who calls Woods his friend. “I don’t know if being in his group the first time he comes back is going to be easy. It will definitely be a challenge. I’ve thought about it. In some regard, you would like to be out there, to be with him the first time. Hopefully, that would make it easier for him, but it’s going to be hard for him and everyone in that group.”

Though security promises to be strong around Woods, with uniformed law enforcement officers expected inside the ropes and undercover security outside the ropes, players aren’t sure what to expect from the fans who won’t necessarily be coming to watch golf.

“If you get in a situation where people are heckling and trying to irritate him, they’re going to irritate other players,” Furyk said. “It definitely has a trickle-down effect.”

Woods’ situation has been mercilessly mocked since reports of his marital infidelity became public following the early morning incident of Nov. 27, when he crashed his SUV into a neighbor’s fire hydrant and tree. When Woods made his televised apology at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse in Ponte Vedra Beach last month, three women dressed like strippers stood on the highway near the club’s entrance holding signs that read: “Pick me!” During the Farmers Insurance Open, a plane circled around the course carrying a banner that read: “We miss you Tiger! Déjà vu Showgirls.” Earlier this week, shock jock Howard Stern staged the Tiger Woods Mistress Beauty Pageant with three of Woods’ alleged mistresses competing.

The prospect of E! Online, People Magazine and supermarket tabloids entering the realm of tournament coverage gives players pause.

“Talking to the golf media [about Woods] isn’t a problem,” Furyk said. “It’s talking to outlets that don’t normally cover golf and ask the craziest questions, questions that are irrelevant.”

 These are the elements of Woods’ return players dread, but they also see a great upside.

“I’m excited about when he comes back,” three-time PGA Tour winner Ryan Palmer said. “When he first came out on Tour, there was a curiosity about him that brought people to the game. The curiosity is back, and it’s even greater.

“I think we’re going to have more people watching than ever before, and I expect he’ll come out stronger than ever. I won’t be surprised if he wins by a bunch right away.”

Palmer said he would relish being paired with Woods upon his return.

“I think we’re all excited about getting this over with and getting him back out here doing what he does best,” McDowell said. “To say we’re sick of all this is a little strong, but we’re ready to get him back. It’s going to be an unbelievable boost for golf.

“In my opinion, we’re going to see him back soon. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t play Bay Hill.”

Furyk looks forward to Woods re-establishing his place in the game.

“I think we’re all looking forward to having him back,” Furyk said. “He’s our best player, and we need him back. We’re just looking forward to when it’s business as usual, not the circus.”

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title

Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open

Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59

Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63

Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut

Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club

Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth

The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ

Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year

And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win

Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.