Does Tiger need to learn to win again?

By Rex HoggardDecember 1, 2011, 11:59 pm

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Twenty-six and counting.

That’s how long it’s been through injury and enigmatic play, swing and address changes. For those scoring at home it’s been more than two years since Tiger Woods turned a Sunday opportunity into something special.

There’ve been close calls, most notably at this year’s Masters and last month’s Australian Open.

There has even been victory, technically, but no matter how rewarding his clinching point was two weeks ago at Royal Melbourne, the Presidents Cup doesn’t really split 12 ways.

So the question remains – and was magnified by his opening 69 at the Chevron World Challenge, a Santa Ana special that left him tied for second place and three strokes adrift of K.J. Choi –  of all the things Woods has lost or misplaced through two trying years would he need to learn how to win again?

The last time he hoisted Sunday silver was at the 2009 Australian Masters. His PGA Tour slide dates even further back to the ‘09 BMW Championship, but in the context of rediscovering whatever gear made him great even that is a bit misleading.

At Cog Hill two years ago he began the final turn seven strokes clear of the field and cruised. The rebound triumph likely won’t be so effortless even with a swing that’s cut a hole through some of the most fierce winds from Sydney to Sherwood Country Club the last four weeks.

Woods will reckon it’s like riding a bike, having emerged from at least three swing overhauls in his career more dominant than before.

But this time feels different not because of the amount of time and tries that have elapsed since 2009 but because of the circumstances.

If any player knows the unique challenges of collapses and comebacks it is Steve Stricker, who has also spent more time between the ropes with Woods the last few years than anyone.

Stricker had the makings of singular, if not shy, talent early in his career. He won twice in 1996, but began battling a swing that had only one direction, left, and suffered through six cold years.

Following his victory at the 2001 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Stricker went 190 starts before finally breaking through at the 2007 Barclays.

If slump busting were a science Stricker would have a PhD.

“First of all you doubt yourself if you can even do it again,” Stricker said. “You wonder if you’re ever going to put yourself back in that position again even though you’ve done if before, you know what it’s like to win. But you still have that doubt, especially if it’s been a long time since winning.

“And then to actually get yourself into contention to pull it off is the next step. It’s a challenge every step of the way, mentally and physically.”

Stricker is not one to offer unsolicited advice, but if he were he could have put on a clinic as he and Woods made their way around Sherwood on Thursday.

Since those post-2001 dark days Stricker has pocketed consecutive Comeback Player of the Year awards and won seven Tour titles in four seasons, including twice this year.

He could have told Woods, who has shown a fondness for Stricker ever since the duo went 4-0-0 in team play at the 2009 Presidents Cup, that the first victory after a long drought is the hardest, and most gratifying.

“It was way more rewarding, especially when you think you may never win again,” Stricker said of his Barclays breakthrough. “It was a huge weight lifted off you.”

If Woods were so inclined he could have quizzed Stricker on the emotions that are part and parcel of getting off the schneid. Woods may discover that winning 14 majors was running downhill by comparison.

“I put so much effort into trying to come back and win again,” Stricker said. “It was a joyous moment. You know where you’ve been, when you were playing well and then the bottom, it was really rewarding.”

It doesn’t seem likely that Woods’ drought will stretch to 190 starts, not the way he’s hitting the ball, not the way he lives for the moment. Nor does it seem possible that the process will be akin to reinventing the wheel.

Following his third-place finish at the Australian Open, a run that was marred by pedestrian putting and a Saturday lapse, Woods’ friend Notah Begay had a simple question: Did it feel any different?

“I told him I felt nothing,” Woods said. “And he says, ‘Good, because you’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to be normal. You’re supposed to be there.’

“I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’”

Follow the Chevron World Challenge on Golf Channel and NBC. Airtimes: Golf Channel, 3-6 PM Friday, 1-3 PM ET Saturday and Sunday. NBC, 3-6 PM ET Saturday and Sunday.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at 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 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 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 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.