Will anyone step up in Tiger's absence?

By Randall MellMay 12, 2014, 7:50 pm

Martin Kaymer found his way out of the fog.

He emerged from his funk Sunday, claiming The Players Championship with the return of his best form.

Maybe in a larger sense, he will inspire the game to follow him out of its own funk.

Bravo to Mr. Kaymer, who showed such fortitude holding it together after Sunday’s weather delay at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, but he takes this season on yet another tangent.

This continues to look like such a rudderless year, a season meandering aimlessly from one storyline to another with no theme emerging to tie it all together and no protagonist equipped to lead us to one.

Where are we going? Where is this PGA Tour season headed? What’s going to ultimately define it. Hey, as humans, it’s only natural to search for meaning.

More than halfway through the 2013-14 wraparound schedule, this season still feels lost.

More than anything, the year is defined by the absence of Tiger Woods.

It craves a compelling understudy to fill the void, and nobody’s stepping forward.

In that respect, it’s becoming a year of lost opportunity, from Jordan Spieth’s near misses, to Adam Scott’s backpedaling stumble to No. 1, to Phil Mickelson’s lost weekends, and Rory McIlroy’s maddening flirtations with form.

It’s a year so far defined by what refuses to develop.

“The game of golf is, unfortunately, a game of losers,” Sergio Garcia said Sunday at The Players. “We lose a lot more tournaments than we win.”

With Woods around, we forget sometimes. Without him, we’re constantly reminded.

There was McIlroy’s Sunday failure at the Honda Classic, Scott’s weekend collapse at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Mickelson’s Sunday fade with a chance at Wells Fargo and Spieth’s inability to close out on Sundays at the Masters and The Players.

The PGA Tour turns to the Lone Star state this week, which intrigues, because the tour feels like it’s in a No Single Star state. And yet maybe this is where Spieth follows Kaymer’s lead and seizes the opportunity. After frustrating falls short at the Masters and The Players Championship, Spieth returns home to Texas the next two weeks, looking to win the HP Byron Nelson Classic and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

Now there’s a hometown sweep that would give this year some definition, especially if it thrusts Spieth into position to become the youngest No. 1 in the history of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Scott isn’t playing this week, but he will overtake Woods as the new No. 1 sitting on his couch. That’s a perfect turn to the year, because Scott’s ascension won’t be about the direction of his game as much as it will be about the direction of the game in general, without Woods leading it.

It would have been so much more compelling if Scott would have seized the No. 1 ranking after defending his Masters title, or by winning The Players Championship for a second time.

We’re a month away from the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, and that brings us to Mickelson, who missed the cut at both the Masters and The Players Championship. In a year of aches and pains, Mickelson would cure what’s ailing him and the game itself by winning at Pinehurst.

If he claims that elusive U.S. Open trophy after a record six second-place finishes in the event, it’s a story that will tower over the year.

McIlroy has teased us with flashes of returning form, and he’s certainly capable of still becoming the story of the year with three majors, a World Golf Championship event and the FedEx Cup still looming.

If Bubba Watson adds to his win at Riviera and the Masters, this year might end up being all about Bubba Golf.

But this all inevitably boils down to Woods and just how successful that microdiscectomy surgery was on his back.

His much anticipated return, whether it’s at the British Open, or the PGA Championship, promises to shape whatever else this year gives us.

Getty Images

Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

Getty Images

Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

Getty Images

Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

Getty Images

Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.