Woods shows encouraging signs ... but what now?

By Rex HoggardApril 14, 2015, 4:50 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Forget release patterns and Myelin issues, whatever that means. You can even forget about that tie for 17th place on Sunday at the Masters, although it was more of a reason to be optimistic than some might think.

The only thing that could be truly gleaned from Tiger Woods’ week at Augusta National was subtly etched into his body language after he completed 72 holes for the first time on the PGA Tour since last year’s Open Championship.

“It was mostly positives," Woods said after a closing 73 on Sunday. "Considering that the state of my game, where it was at Torrey and Phoenix, caught between two different release patterns and then to come back and have, you know, it was maybe only a shot or two over 72 holes I reverted back to that old swing pattern, the release pattern as well.” 

OK, maybe we won’t be able to forget about release patterns just yet; but definitely forget Myelin patterns.

Following eight weeks of hidden progress, Woods returned his game to prime time with, depending on who you ask, varying degrees of success.

While there was no fifth green jacket waiting for him on Sunday, he avoided the kind of embarrassing shots that defined his play earlier this year in Phoenix and San Diego and sent him into seclusion.

Woods’ short game was solid, his iron play – at least for Days 2 and 3 – was sharp and his driving ... well, his driving was familiar.

That he needed 13 holes to hit his first fairway on Sunday is hardly headline-worthy; this is, after all, the same guy who finished 69th on Tour in driving accuracy in 2013 when he won five times.

“I was caught between two different release patterns. They're completely polar opposites. So I needed to do a lot of work and engrain the pattern. The Myelin pattern, where it takes 10,000 reps but it's actually 10,000 good reps. You might hit 50,000 to get 10,000,” Woods said.

Still, taken collectively, and relative to his record the past year and a half, Woods’ week was encouraging, if not for his legions of fans then at least for the man himself.

“It's going to take some time,” Woods said. “So I was pleased with the way I was able to hit the ball this week. I've got my pop back. And then on top that I got my short game back, which was nice.”

There were, however, a few asterisks.

When Woods pushed his drive right of the ninth fairway on Sunday and lost a violent exchange with a tree root with his next shot there were a few anxious moments.

He favored his right wrist for the next few holes, but seemed to recover enough to eagle the 13th hole and sounded like someone who had spent too much time on webMD following his round when asked about the injury.

“It hurt. It definitely hurt,” said Woods, who withdrew after 11 holes in his last start at the Farmers Insurance Open with a tight back. “I drove my hand or drove the club straight into it [a root]. It didn't move. But my body kept moving.

“There was a little joint that popped out and I was able to somehow put it back in, which didn't feel very good, but at least it got back in and I could move my hand again.”

While Woods didn’t give any indications the injury would have any long-term impact on his comeback, the confidence gained from his week in Georgia was overshadowed by an uncertain future.

Woods’ finish at the Masters moved him up 10 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking, to 101st, not nearly enough to crack the top 64 and qualify for next month’s WGC-Match Play Championship (next Monday is the deadline to qualify).

That would make his next likely start The Players, which he won the last time he played, in 2013. But even that seems uncertain with Woods telling scribes when asked about the Tour’s marquee event, “I'm going to practice. Practice some more.”

Between now and the FedEx Cup playoffs, which he currently isn’t qualified for, Woods will likely have six more starts if he follows his traditional schedule, including The Players, Memorial, U.S. Open, Open Championship, Quicken Loans National and PGA Championship (he’s not currently qualified for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational).

There’s also the question of dwindling opportunities, at least when it comes to Woods’ quest for a fifth green jacket.

When Woods hit what Jordan Spieth called “arguably the greatest shot that's ever been hit in a major championship” - his chip-in at No. 16 on his way to winning the 2005 Masters - he was eight months shy of his 30th birthday.

On Sunday, Woods putted out for bogey on the 72nd hole eight months away from his 40th.

It’s a milestone that would have seemed farfetched when Woods held off Chris DiMarco back in ’05 that he would go 0-for-his-30s at a place that at one time seemed like his personal invitational.

“Arnold [Palmer] and I both agreed, that you could take his Masters and my Masters, and add them together [10 total], and this kid should win more than that,” Jack Nicklaus said of Woods in 1996.

But Woods has fallen well short of that ominous prediction, although it’s not been from a lack of effort.

He had six top-five finishes at Augusta National in his 30s and has still never missed a cut at the Masters as a professional, yet at 44 years old Phil Mickelson, who tied for second on Sunday, appears more likely to add to his Masters closest than Woods.

There were plenty of positives for Woods last week and the confidence he collected will be invaluable as he continues his comeback.

“My short game’s my strength again, which is good stuff,” Woods said.

There were also plenty of questions, primarily what’s next and when? Oh, and what exactly is a Myelin pattern?

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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?''

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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.

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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. 

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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.