Expectations in overdrive as Woods eyes Merion

By Rex HoggardMay 29, 2013, 7:12 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Not since 2009 have the expectations been this high, and maybe not since that late spring four years ago has the hyperbole been so justified.

For the first time in his historic career, Tiger Woods begins the week at Jack’s place with four Tour bottle caps already on the shelf this calendar. Not in 2000, when he won nine times and the front end of the “Tiger Slam”; not in 2008, when he collected eight Tour titles and a U.S. Open on one leg; not in ’09, when he won six times and lost his first major (PGA) when leading through 54 holes.

As Paul Goydos once famously figured, Woods is once again the most underrated player in the game, and for good reason in spite of runaway expectations entering the year’s second major.

Critics will nitpick, pointing out his victories at the Farmers Insurance Open in January and WGC-Cadillac Championship in March weren’t exactly walk-offs. But that fixation on Woods’ late stumbles in both events is a disservice that confuses execution with ego.

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When his career is over, the record books will not add up the “pretty” wins and discard those of lesser quality.

Some even suggest that victories on friendly confine venues (Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill) aren’t the best gauge of long-term success, but that conveniently ignores his Sawgrass special earlier this month when he punched his way to his first Players victory since 2001 largely with fairway woods and wedges.

Even his most ardent detractors will struggle not to grasp the elephant in the room; not since 2009 has Woods been this poised, in body and mind, to dominate when it counts – at a major.

Back in 2009, Woods arrived in Ohio having won at Bay Hill (sound familiar?), and scorched the field with a closing 65 at Muirfield Village that included a filthy 49 of 56 fairways hit for the week.

Bring on Bethpage, were the not-so-subtle undertones; much like this week’s focus is squarely on Merion and next month’s U.S. Open.

Three of the first four questions during Woods’ Wednesday meet and greet with the media were about Merion, which he visited on Tuesday on his way to the Memorial.

With apologies to the Memorial, Woods’ play the last four months has created a collective ADD that is completely understandable.

“If (Merion) dries out and plays firm and fast it will be very similar to what we play in the sand belt (of Australia),” Woods said.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Woods will be able to pick apart Merion like he did the Stadium Course earlier this month, opting for 3- and 5-woods off many tees and playing angles, not attack.

It’s worked before (see Open, British 2006), and there is a level of confidence with his Sean Foley swing that we haven’t seen since, well, 2009.

“I feel confident with the motion,” Woods said. “In all the stretches where I played well, I felt good about what I was able to do and I was able to fix it on the fly. ... The work with Sean now is more about alignment.”

For good measure, Foley walked with Woods during his Wednesday pro-am at Muirfield Village and the extent of their work was on alignment. That he is healthy – the last event Woods withdrew from with injury was the 2012 Cadillac – and happy also adds to the enthusiastic equation.

All of which makes the runaway expectations so expected.

There are no assurances in golf. They tend to play all 72 regardless of the betting line and even the best scripts are subject to last-minute edits by karma.

It was 2009, after all, when Woods bolted the Memorial riding what seemed like an unstoppable wave of momentum. But rains and Lucas Glover happened at the Bethpage Open, and he ended up on the wrong side of the forecast at Turnberry, Y.E. Yang at Hazeltine National and life in November.

Paper lions are subject to the same capriciousness as longshots, regardless of pedigree. But those truths do little to diminish the unbridled expectations that have been caused by Woods’ scorching start.

When Woods won that one-legged Open in 2008 at Torrey Pines, Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships seemed one surgery and a few weeks of physical rehab away.

The possibilities in 2009 seemed limitless, much like they do now. Hype doesn’t get you into the Hall of Fame, but it certainly makes things more interesting.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.