Now and Then

By Rex HoggardJanuary 28, 2011, 6:03 am

Farmers Insurance OpenSAN DIEGO – It’s been 955 days since Tiger Woods grimaced his way to immortality at the 2008 U.S. Open, but it may as well have been 955 years as the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open got under way against a backdrop of cobalt blue skies and a drastically changed reality.

To memorialize – or capitalize, you pick – Woods’ competitive return to Torrey Pines, the PGA Tour contrived a pairing with Rocco Mediate, the everyman who took Woods to extra frames in 2008. But that pairing, and the idyllic ocean views, marked the extent of the similarities between 2008 and Thursday’s opening round.

In 955 days, the world has suffered through recession and early recovery. So has Woods. Since that historic Monday Woods’ world ranking has changed, twice, as has the world order, with a dramatic shift to Europe.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods tees off Thursday on the North Course at Torrey Pines. (Getty Images)
During that time, Lee Westwood, the man who toppled Woods from atop the world heap, has won four times and enjoyed just as many hair color changes. Similarly Mediate’s hairline has changed dramatically, so has the Tour’s company line, shifting to younger faces, to say nothing of Woods’ bottom line, undercut by scandal.

In 2008 Phil Mickelson played with two drivers. On Thursday he needed just one big stick to post a 67, which matched his best round on the South Course since it was redesigned in 2001.

Three years ago the North Course was a practice tee and media center. On Thursday it had been converted to pinched driving areas with unmercifully deep rough, which Woods called the hardest on Tour to hit.

During the SoCal Open, the 14th hole on the South Course played as a drivable par 4. On Thursday, it was where Nathan Green drove his ball, and his round, into the rough, the bunker and three-putted his way to a double bogey-6.

In 2008 Mediate was the lovable antagonist, pushing a hobbled Woods to extra holes on Monday and then some. On Thursday he was just lovable, struggling to a first-round 71

During the ’08 Open, the North’s ninth green was a chipping area for participants. On Thursday Woods chipped his third shot on the North’s ninth, his last hole of the day, to 6 feet only to miss the birdie attempt, a common theme on a day he needed 30 putts.

In 2008 North Torrey Pines Road fronting the seaside muni was a congested mess. On Thursday . . . well some things never change.

On Saturday at the ’08 Open famed architect Rees Jones, who nip/tucked Torrey Pines into shape for the national championship, was high-fiving members of the media following Woods’ eagle on the 18th hole to take the third-round lead. On Thursday someone named Matt Jones made birdie on the South’s 18th and high-fived no one.

In 2008 Westwood missed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that would have earned him a spot in Monday’s playoff with Woods and Mediate. On Thursday the Tour was missing the world No. 1, who first turned down membership and then an invitation into the circuit’s marquee event.

During the ’08 Open, which was played exclusively on the South Course, Woods played the par 5s in 9-under (not counting the playoff). On Thursday he failed to birdie or eagle any of the theoretical three-shot holes.

After each round in ’08, Woods quickly retreated to his hotel to ice his broken left leg. On Thursday, he retired to Torrey’s practice putting green to work on a cold putter. “I kept leaving myself above the hole and these greens are bouncy enough you can’t do that,” Woods said.

In ’08 Chris Kirk, who finished last among the players who made the cut, watched Woods’ finish on Saturday and Sunday from his room in the Hilton adjacent the South Course’s 18th hole. “I was hearing the roars before they would show it on TV and every time I was like, no way,” Kirk said. On Thursday Kirk played two groups behind Woods, birdied two of the four par 5s and clipped the world No. 3 by three strokes.

During the Monday playoff in 2008 Woods and Mediate combined for a best-ball score of 7-under. On Thursday their best-ball score was 6-under on the easier North Course.

But most of all, expectations have shifted for Woods and for golf. At the time he held a 9.229-point lead in the world ranking, a sum that seemed insurmountable, and seemed destined to overtake Jack Nicklaus’ haul of 18 majors. Today he trails Westwood by 1.5 points in the ranking and hasn’t won a major since Torrey Pines. In fact, he hasn’t won anywhere in the world since the 2009 Australian Masters.

So if he seemed overly pleased with his opening 69 on the North Thursday consider how much reality has changed since June 2008. On Wednesday Woods said of his swing change, “I’ve been here before.”

And that’s certainly true, but on Thursday, some 955 days adrift from his quintessential career victory, things have never felt so strangely different.
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McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.