Woods' invincibility never seemed so far away

By Rex HoggardJune 16, 2015, 8:37 pm

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – For nostalgic types, today is an anniversary worth noting.

Seven years ago today, Tiger Woods beat a guy named Rocco to win his 14th major and third U.S. Open title. Maybe it’s more compelling that Tiger’s one-legged effort at Torrey Pines was also the last time he hoisted Grand Slam glory, as well as the last time the U.S. Golf Association held its national championship on a seaside West Coast municipal layout.

Not that Woods was in a nostalgic mood when he spoke with the media on Tuesday at Chambers Bay.

Through all the trials and few triumphs in recent years, Woods has maintained a singular ideology. On Tuesday, the edges may have changed but the message remained familiar when he was asked what he still had to accomplish in his career.

“More wins,” he said. “That’s why I’m still playing.”

You can question Woods’ methods and medical records, but his motivation has never been up for debate. That, however, seems to be the only similarities between the guy who will tee off on Thursday on the shores of the Puget Sound and the version who needed overtime at the 2008 U.S. Open to sidestep Rocco Mediate along the Pacific Ocean.

Gone is the sense of invincibility that permeated Woods’ halcyon years when even a pronounced limp couldn’t dull his perceived advantage. In its place is a player who hasn’t posted a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour in nearly two years and who seems as fragile as that left knee seven years ago at Torrey Pines.

On Tuesday there was talk of progress and purpose as well as veiled references to significant “base-line shifts” that have been made, leaving only small amounts of tinkering in his journey to a better golf swing.

“You saw what I did at Torrey [withdrawal] and Phoenix [missed cut]. The fact that I came back and did what I did at Augusta [T-17], I was very proud of that,” Woods said. “I'm sure most people have thought I was probably crazy to think I could probably win the Masters. But I really felt like I could. I had a chance, I just didn't get it done.”

First-round tee times: 115th U.S. Open

Missing from that timeline was a third-round 85, his highest 18-hole score on Tour as a professional, and his 302 total, his highest 72-hole total, in his last start at the Memorial.

When Woods hobbled away from Torrey Pines seven years ago today, it was unthinkable - even in his physical state - to consider that the greatest player of his generation would go 0-for-21 in his quest to win major No. 15.

Or that 20 different players would get on the Grand Slam board before Woods, or that he would begin the week at Chambers Bay 195th in the World Golf Ranking.

While Woods talked of a game that is “getting better every day” and a newfound confidence in his swing, the facts do little to support that optimism - particularly when your paradigm of hope is a tie for 17th place in April at Augusta National, and every major statistical category suggests otherwise.

Whether “swing consultant” Chris Como is your brand of vodka really doesn’t matter at this juncture. Woods has made it clear he is all in when it comes to his new action and that he has been through these types of peaks and valleys before.

“Sometimes you have to make a shift, and I did. Short-term suffering for long-term gain,” he explained. “I've done this before when I've made changes in the past I've struggled through it. I've come out on the good side. But I had to make those, it's more of a commitment than anything else. I had to make a commitment, and I have.”

Perhaps, but it’s hard to remember any of those other transitions - from Butch Harmon to Hank Haney and Sean Foley - when the oddsmakers felt better about Sergio Garcia’s chances of winning his first major (33 to 1) than they do about Tiger winning his 15th (50 to 1).

It’s a reality that Woods has, if not embraced, then at least made peace with.

“This year certainly has been a struggle,” he said.

An entire generation of players now considers that 2008 Open Woods’ seminal moment. On Tuesday, Cole Hammer, the 15-year-old high school sophomore who will be the third-youngest player to participate in the U.S. Open, was asked his earliest golf memories and his young mind quickly raced back to that Torrey Pines highlight reel.

“When he did that fist pump on the 18th green [72nd hole]. I've been watching the U.S. Open since then,” Hammer said, as if he were talking about a chapter from a dusty history book.

Never before has Torrey Pines and that ’08 masterpiece seemed so far away, not in months or metaphorical meaning.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.