On the health front, Phil is 1 up on Tiger

By Rex HoggardFebruary 17, 2017, 12:58 am

LOS ANGELES – The juxtaposition was glaring.

A day after the 41-year-old who is fresh from multiple surgeries canceled a news conference because his doctors advised him it was best to remain horizontal, the 46-year-old who is recovering from two offseason surgeries electrified the crowd at Riviera Country Club with an opening 67.

For the latter, Phil Mickelson, his 4-under effort left him tied for fifth place on a cold and gloomy day; while the former, Tiger Woods, remained tethered to an undisclosed couch waiting for his back spasms to subside so he could plot his next move.

Comparisons between Woods and, well, anyone are always patently unfair. Fourteen majors has a way of ending all debates, and Lefty is loath to consider the gulf that currently separates this generation’s greatest players, although his reaction to the obvious comparisons was interesting.

“That's hard because it's not a fair comparison just because I'm five years older,” Mickelson said on Thursday at Riviera.

Interpret Mickelson’s take however you’d like, but the current landscape speaks for itself.

Mickelson, who had two surgeries this offseason to repair a sports hernia, is playing his fifth consecutive week and hasn’t missed a cut, finishing tied for 21st, 14th, 16th and 65th in his first four outings of 2017.

Conversely, Woods missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, his first official PGA Tour start in 15 months, withdrew after just one round the next week in Dubai with back spasms and recently announced he wouldn’t be playing the Genesis Open, where he is the unofficial host, or next week’s Honda Classic because of ongoing back issues.


Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


On Wednesday, Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg told The Associated Press that Woods' doctors “advised he just stay horizontal.” On Thursday, Mickelson was charging vertically up the leaderboard.

Two weeks ago at the Waste Management Phoenix Open Mickelson was asked the source of his longevity and his answer was as detailed as it was damning for Woods.

“I think there are two things that [have] allowed me to elongate my career,” he explained. “One is I give a lot of credit to Sean Cochran and him staying up on new techniques, having our workouts be designed to be built around golf and elongating careers, so building the stabilizing muscles rather than building up just the big muscles.

“Secondly, the swing I have does not put a lot of pressure on my low back and spine and whatnot. It was built more around using the leverage and motion to create speed rather than a violent, brutal force while isolating a couple of joints.”

Mickelson never mentioned Woods, never used him as an example of what not to do or as a cautionary tale. He didn’t have to.

Woods’ training regimen is well documented and his intense workouts have been a point of concern for some within his inner circle for years.

“Tiger did two tandem parachute jumps, engaged in hand-to-hand combat exercises, went on four-mile runs wearing combat boots, and did drills in a wind tunnel,” his former swing coach Hank Haney wrote in the 2012 book "The Big Miss: My years coaching Tiger Woods." “Tiger loved it, but his physical therapist, Keith Kleven, went a little crazy worrying about the further damage Tiger might be doing to his left knee.”

Although there is no way to know for sure, that intense training, along with what was widely considered one of the game’s most explosive swings, is often blamed for Woods’ ongoing health issues.

All told, Tiger has had multiple surgeries on his left knee and three back procedures since April 2014, the latest coming in October 2015 to relieve discomfort.

Mickelson, however, has largely avoided the surgeon’s table. Other than a hip procedure early in his career, his bookend hernia operations are the extent of Lefty’s surgical records, and that’s by design.

“He’s been very diligent with his strength and conditioning program, and that program has been very specific in addressing the requirements of the golf swing,” said Cochran, who has been training Mickelson since 2003. “First and foremost is injury prevention.”

In 2010, Mickelson was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system misfires against its own joints and tendons. As a result, he dramatically adjusted his diet and intensified his training with Cochran.

That worked paid off this offseason when Mickelson was sidelined by surgery and recovery, a process he was unfamiliar with. But he embraced the plan if not the plodding nature that is such a part of rehabilitation.

“As with any athlete in any sport, you have to let the body have a proper amount of time to rest,” Cochran said. “It was a pitch count. You’re not coming out the first day after surgery and hitting drivers at full speed. It’s just not how you do it. You start with wedges and build up.”

Comparisons, particularly to Woods, are always unfair, and luck certainly plays a role when it comes to athletes and injury; but it was impossible to ignore the contrast between Lefty and Tiger on Day 1 in Los Angeles.

One was horizontal, the other was hungry for another round.

Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

Getty Images

The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

Getty Images

Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

Getty Images

Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.