Randall's Rant: This is it, Tiger's last run at Jack

By Randall MellJanuary 9, 2017, 2:00 pm

Tiger Woods’ last chapter was stolen from all of us.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Woods fan or a Jack Nicklaus fan, Tiger’s pursuit of Jack was the epic we once thought we were going to get to see go to the 18th hole, so to speak.

Whether you wanted Woods to catch Nicklaus or not, no storyline in golf held the power to captivate all of sports more than Tiger’s chase.

Psychological and physical injury didn’t just rob Tiger. It robbed us all. We fully invested ourselves. That’s the wonderful nature of sports.

Tiger made me believe I was going to get to see golf’s version of Hank Aaron’s pursuit of Babe Ruth, the most riveting sports chase in my lifetime.

And so that’s the real excitement behind last week’s news that Woods felt strong enough to commit to playing in four events in a five-week window in January and February. Maybe this quest isn’t over. Maybe this story doesn’t yet have its ending.

Yes, it’s a giant leap from making his first official PGA Tour start in almost 18 months to resuming his chase of Jack, but Tiger sounds like a believer again. And that’s what gives this comeback its meaning.

There’s only one way we all get to see this stolen chapter returned to us. It’s if Tiger returns it – and this is his last hurrah.

The PGA Tour’s new year may have begun in Hawaii with Justin Thomas winning Sunday, but the year gets its big bang start in La Jolla, Calif., in three weeks, when Woods tees it up at the Farmers Insurance Open.

You can couch Tiger’s return in less dramatic framing, underplay the larger story, cut him some slack, but one way or another this run is his hurrah. It’s his last chapter.

Tiger’s quest won’t survive another significant setback.

We heard Tiger begin to wonder last year whether the chase was over. He’s 41 now. A fourth back surgery, more neck, knee or Achilles problems will end the chase once and for all. It will fully launch the TGR brand into Tiger’s next phase, his life “as a competitor off the course.”

By the Masters, we may already know if life after Jack is already Tiger’s new path.

We may already know if the stolen chapter’s never going to be returned to us.

I don’t really care if Tiger breaks Jack’s record or not, but I really want to see him get to 17 major championship victories. I want to see the chase resume. I don’t believe it’s going to happen, but I’d love to be wrong.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

Getty Images

DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

Getty Images

Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

Getty Images

Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.