Does his win mean Tiger is back?

By Rex HoggardMarch 26, 2012, 1:05 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – He’s back.

He’s done.

He needs time.

He needs reps.

He needs rest.

One busy week for the game’s former alpha male doesn’t quiet or quantify any of these often-heard sound bites because, as the last 30-odd months have demonstrated, golf eschews instant analysis.


Video: Tiger talks after winning at Bay Hill | Analysis and highlights

Photos: Arnold Palmer Invitational


Today’s reality is tomorrow’s recycled nonsense. Yet as a breezy spring day turned to dusk at Bay Hill, the only thing that was certain was that for four days Tiger Woods was good. Like 2006 good only with more shots out of the short grass and fewer walk-off putts. In his defense those types of theatrics would have seemed like overkill.

Truth is there was no need, not when your final line is the statistical embodiment of precision.

Bogey-free and nearly perfect on Friday hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation; slowed by a surreal two-hole stretch on Saturday that included a plugged lie (No. 14), a swooning teenager, a scream and a snapped tee shot out of bounds (No. 15); and ultimately a victory that ended a title drought that had stretched to 30 months with the type of Sunday performance that once defined his career.

Woods’ heroics at Torrey Pines in 2008 and Bay Hill in ’08 and ’09 aside, he made his competitive bones by undercutting his competition and removing all glimmers of hope one clinically played shot at a time.

It was a familiar modus operandi, Woods began his final lap at Arnie’s place by hitting six consecutive fairways – and the one he missed (No. 9) was by inches – nine consecutive greens in regulation and made the turn 2 up on Graeme McDowell. From there Woods played the final loop in 1 over in what on most Sundays is called a prevent defense.

If next month’s Masters begins on the back nine on Sunday, Bay Hill was over by intermission. At least it felt that way.

“I noticed coming down the stretch he was 3 under for the day,” Bubba Watson gushed. “In these conditions that’s unbelievable.”

Woods’ last official PGA Tour victory was at the 2009 BMW Championship but to watch him close at Bay Hill it was as though he was fresh off a ‘W’ and not a worrisome WD at Doral two weeks ago.

When he bolted the property 11 ¼ holes into his final round at the WGC-Cadillac Championship earlier this month, his status for the Masters was a hot topic. Now the only talking point is whether he’ll be the outright favorite heading down Magnolia Lane or share the honor with Rory McIlroy.

The last two years he’s finished tied for fourth place at the year’s first major with a “one-dimensional game” and more distractions than a teenager with a BlackBerry. But his five-stroke victory over McDowell changed all that, at least for this news cycle.

But if the victory was defined by Woods’ stellar ballstriking there is also something to be said for his resilience following a miscue on the 15th hole on Saturday when a woman reacted loudly to a teen-aged boy who had passed out and Woods pulled his tee shot out of bounds.

Some may have considered that an untimely nod from fate. Not Woods.

“I saw a calmness last night on the range,” said Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava. “I’m a little frustrated because of what happened on 15 and he didn’t let it bother him. He heard what happened and understands the situation. Hit balls until dark and you could almost sense he knew he was going to play well today.”

But if that episode added a surreal element to the proceedings, the absence of tournament namesake Arnold Palmer from the award ceremony cast a pall over what was an otherwise circus-like atmosphere.

Fifteen minutes before Woods completed his closing-round 70 Palmer was sent to a local hospital with high blood pressure and planned to stay there overnight.

“It really puts a damper on the situation because he is what’s so special about this tournament,” said McDowell, who slipped three strokes behind Woods with a double-bogey 6 at the first hole and never got closer than two shots the rest of the way.

But then Woods has become accustomed to the surreal ever since he hit a tree and a fire hydrant in November 2009 to begin an uber-public free for all. Since that last official victory in ’09 in Chicago Woods has changed swing coaches, caddies, addresses and marital status.

Armchair psychologists would consider Woods’ Bay Hill breakthrough nothing short of monumental and, for a moment, Woods allowed the thought.

“It was pure joy,” he smiled before the inner competitor intervened a few moments later. “You don’t need to win. You want to win, that’s the misconception a lot of people have.”

Few, if any, of Woods’ contemporaries can attest to the ebb and flow of the past two-plus years better than Sean O’Hair. It was O’Hair who began the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational five strokes clear of Woods only to lose by a stroke. And it was O’Hair who helped facilitate the connection between Woods and swing coach Sean Foley in the summer of 2010.

“I just think it was a matter of time,” said O’Hair, who split with Foley last May. “He’s the best player that ever played the game and it was only a matter of time before he wins again. For the people who thought that he wasn’t going to win again I don’t think they know the game of golf very well.”

There had been close calls, including near misses last year at the Australian Open and this year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Pebble Beach and the Honda Classic. There had been breakthroughs, unofficial or otherwise, at last year’s Chevron World Challenge. But there was never any doubt. Not for Woods or Foley.

“All my guys are fantastic talents and when you put science to talent you’re going to get good things eventually but it takes time,” said Foley, who began working with Woods in August 2009. “Outside of his kids winning is what matters so to see him happy right now is what’s important.”

The scientist in Foley saw progress give way to near perfection this week. Bay Hill marked the first time Woods has posted four under-par rounds in the same event since the 2010 Masters, and his patience was matched only by his precision.

For the week Woods was first in greens in regulation, hitting 57 of 72 putting surfaces, 29th in fairways hit, sixth in driving distance and fourth in strokes-gained putting.

Woods also dissected Bay Hill’s par 5s playing them in 12 under, a key statistic during his halcyon days in 2006 and 2000. But most telling about Woods’ performance was that both teacher and student see plenty of room for improvement.

Both, however, took a moment to savor Tour tilt No. 72 and his seventh Bay Hill decision. Following Woods’ approach to the 72nd green he high-fived LaCava and beamed, “All that hard work has paid off. F’ing yeah.”

At the same moment adjacent the final green Foley allowed, “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re 50 percent of the way into the pattern.”

For those closest to him the question was never whether Woods was done or back. It was when would all the pieces fall into place?

“It’s been a long time. He was a man on a mission. Let’s be honest, you saw the ballstriking,” LaCava said. “He was pretty jacked up . . . He probably wishes the Masters was tomorrow.”

Don’t we all?

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

 

 

Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.