Not Out of the Woods

By Rex HoggardMay 31, 2011, 7:28 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – From Jack Nicklaus’ vantage point there is, at least as it applies to Tiger Woods’ dogged pursuit of his major championship record, nothing to see here.

On Tuesday during his annual, and infinitely informal, “State of the Golden Bear” address to the media, the Memorial host, homebody and historic benchmark was asked if he thought the fans were writing Woods off too early.

“That’s ridiculous,” he grimaced. “The fans aren’t, it’s the media. The guy is injured. He’s hurt and hasn’t been able to play. It all gets pushed so far.”

If the media, and maybe the game in general, has taken to feeling like the sky is falling when it comes to Woods, consider Nicklaus a sunny optimist, a man who lives in a place, Columbus, Ohio, where the sky may actually be falling following a particularly wet spring and the Monday resignation of Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel.

From Nicklaus’ perspective, and based on each players’ major milestones, Woods is right on track to match and perhaps surpass the Golden Bear’s record of 18 major championships.

Nicklaus won his first major at 22, his last at 46 – the golden years, if you will – and when he was 35 years old, Woods’ current age, he had won 14 Grand Tilts, the same number that Woods currently holds.

The difference, of course, is that Nicklaus was considered a “young” 35, while Woods has looked AARP-ready in recent years. Earlier this month he limped to a front-nine 42 and withdrew from The Players Championship a year after bolting early from TPC Sawgrass with a neck ailment.

By comparison, Nicklaus said he withdrew from two PGA Tour events – the 1980 World Series of Golf and 1983 Masters – because of injury his entire career. Woods has had four surgeries on his left knee, while Nicklaus avoided the scalpel until he was 44, to repair a tennis-damaged left knee, no less.

They may be at similar sign posts on the road to 18, but there is no escaping the fact that Nicklaus was healthy and happy, by nearly all accounts, for the downwind run of his Hall of Fame career.

Nicklaus won two majors in 1975, the year he turned 35, but, as Woods is learning, the last four are always the hardest. Nicklaus needed 40 more Grand Slam starts to land his last major at the 1986 Masters.

In fact, Nicklaus was stuck on 17 for 20 majors, from the 1980 PGA to the ’86 Masters, the second longest Grand Slam drought of his career after a 12-major slide that ended at the 1970 British Open. Woods’ longest is his current 0-for-10 slide that started after the 2008 U.S. Open – even though he did not play in the '08 British Open and PGA Championship due to injury.

So if Nicklaus sounds more bullish on Woods’ chances than the mainstream consider it the voice of a singular perspective. The ground the two cover is exclusive territory, and no one knows it better than Nicklaus.

Yet the optimist is also every bit the realist. Nicklaus quickly admits he was “lucky” in his career at avoiding the DL, but he had a different swing during a different time.

“My swing never caused an injury for me. I think Tiger's swing, and I think a lot of the swings of today, are far more violent at the ball than some of the old swings,” Nicklaus said. “The game today is far more an upper body game, and we used to play more from the ground up.”

Following Woods’ ’08 Open victory at Torrey Pines and subsequent knee surgery Nicklaus offered him some unsolicited advice, “I thought he was having a problem getting his weight to his right side.”

A year later Nicklaus was paired with Woods during a Wednesday Skins Game at Muirfield Village and “It was the best I’d ever seen him swing. He was getting to his right side.” Woods won his fourth Memorial title that week with a tee-to-green clinic, hitting 49 of 56 fairways and 53 of 72 greens in regulation on the season’s third-toughest non-major course.

Maybe it’s an intimate knowledge of the subject matter, or the man. Either way, the only player who knows what it takes to get to 18 majors has little interest in declaring the game’s most meaningful benchmark safe. And why should he?

It’s what Woods – who will have 42 majors, not counting next month’s U.S. Open, to play before his 47th birthday – alluded to last week when asked his chances of catching Nicklaus.

“It took Jack over what, 24 years, 23 years to do what he did. It takes time. I still have plenty of time, and I feel that going forward I'm excited about playing major championships and playing golf again,” Woods said.

Maybe adversity is part of the process. Is it storybook or historic if the walk appears, at least outwardly, effortless?

Nicklaus may have avoided major injury in his historic career, but he did deal with his share of adversity. There were the chipping yips in 1979 and, even worse, a loss of motivation at 39. Each time he changed his technique and his take on life and each time he overcame. Maybe that’s what Nicklaus sees in Woods, a kindred competitor who craves the moment more than the mementos.

“I told Tiger, which is the same thing I've said to him a thousand times, ‘Tiger, nobody ever wants records to be broken. That's obvious. I don't care who it is,’” Nicklaus said. “But I certainly don't want you not to be healthy and not have the opportunity to play to break records. I want you to get yourself healthy, do what you have to do to go play, get your golf game back in shape, and I wish you well.”

So if Nicklaus seems overly optimistic consider the source. The only man who can relate to Woods’ plight has no interest in seeing the outcome influenced by the technicality of injury.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up right where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.