Golf's landscape shifts from Tiger to the pack

By Rex HoggardFebruary 11, 2015, 11:30 pm

Charles Howell III was feeling nostalgic and it had nothing to do with the veteran’s sordid history with the 18th hole on Torrey Pines’ South Course.

The view of the PGA Tour landscape had shifted dramatically long before Tiger Woods announced on Wednesday he was stepping away from professional golf until "my game is tournament-ready."

To be clear, Howell, despite Woods’ early exit from Torrey Pines with a back injury, his third early exit in his last eight official Tour starts, is not among the growing number who have declared the end of the Tiger era on Tour.

“I’d still like to see Tiger get healthy and make another big run. I’d like to see him play another five years or so,” Howell said Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open.

But that still doesn’t change the reality on the ground. Best intentions aside, Woods – at least the current version who has played just nine Tour events in almost a year and a half – is no longer the gold standard.

“I am so used to seeing him beating my generation’s head in,” said Howell, who once ricocheted his approach shot off the flagstick on the 18th hole and into Devlin’s Billabong for a bogey to finish runner-up to Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open.

“I’m used to looking up and seeing him shooting 61, 62 on the North Course [at Torrey Pines] and you’re just waiting for that Woods [name] to pop up on that leaderboard. That’s what generation I’m in.”

Howell joined the Tour in 2001, the same year Woods won his second Masters and his fourth major in his last five Grand Slam starts. Over the next nine seasons the guy in red and black would win 47 Tour titles, all before turning 34 years old.

It wasn’t a question of if he would run down Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major championships or Sam Snead’s 82 Tour titles; it was a matter of when.

Since turning 35, however, Woods has managed just eight Tour victories in 53 starts and has been plagued by a litany of injuries, most recently back surgery last season. Age and injury have combined with a growing list of would-be world-beaters to create a drastically altered reality.

“You look at all these good young players coming up now – the Justin Thomases and Jordan Spieths – everybody hits it 300 yards now, so that’s the motivation for me to work as hard as I do,” Howell said. “For a while there my biggest motivation was Tiger; now my motivating factor is all these 20-year-olds out here. It’s amazing how that changes.”

Most of Woods’ Tour frat brothers, at least publicly, warn that it would be a mistake to send Tiger into an early retirement just yet. He is, after all, just a year removed from a five-win season and his 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

Privately, however, there is a growing sense that even if Woods can emerge from his current medical malady he no longer has the tools to dominate the way he once did.

Despite all the recent talk about Woods’ increased swing speed under new “consultant” Chris Como, he’s closer to the middle of the pack in driving distance (he ranked 50th, 49th, 32nd and 71st in driving distance the last four seasons) and his short-games woes since his return last December at the Hero World Challenge have been well documented.

Even PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem seemed to acknowledge the changing winds. While the “fan” in Finchem would rather see the former world No. 1 continue to challenge the history books, the executive seems to have come to grips with the distinct possibility that even if he’s not as prolific as he once was, he is still the game’s top draw.

“Candidly, I think when he tees it up, everybody in the world's going to want to see how he's going to play, because here you had a guy who was so incredibly good for such a long time, and he's struggling out there,” Finchem said last week at Torrey Pines. “I've said this before, but I think that Tiger has about a 10-year shelf life, in my view, in terms of, if he's not winning golf tournaments, people still want to watch Tiger Woods play golf.”

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement that the former alpha male will reconnect with his winning ways, nor does it seem likely Tiger would have any interest in a 10-year farewell tour. But such is life in the post-back surgery era. While most inside the game hope for the best many have started to prepare for something that’s less than ideal.

Some have said Woods’ woes are the byproduct of injury, others contend it’s a loss of motivation and confidence. Whatever the culprit, it will take years, not months, for this final chapter to be written. If nothing else, the man has proven himself infinitely resilient and a dogged competitor, regardless of the opponent.

But what is certain, his mere presence is no longer the primary driving force on the Tour. That target has shifted to a younger, healthier benchmark.

Getty Images

Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

Getty Images

Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

Getty Images

Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

Getty Images

Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.