Once a major rival, Federer an inspiration for Tiger

By Rex HoggardFebruary 1, 2017, 11:04 am

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Of all the subtext associated with Tiger Woods’ historic victory at the 2008 U.S. Open, a list that included a broken leg and ailing knee, it was his friendly rivalry with Roger Federer that went largely overlooked.

Woods’ overtime triumph at Torrey Pines nearly a decade ago moved him to 14 majors for his career, two Grand Slam tilts ahead of the tennis great and fellow Nike athlete.

In a grand game of one-upmanship, it was bragging rights that only a select few would ever understand. Always inclined to give others the needle, one could imagine a classic Tiger text message: “That’s 14, you’re turn.”

In those halcyon days, there was nothing Woods couldn’t do. His ’08 SoCal masterpiece was his fourth victory in his last eight major starts – Jack Nicklaus’ benchmark of 18 overall was easily within sight and Federer, who endured his own share of health issues in ’08, including a season-long bout with mononucleosis and a back injury, seemed destined to spend the rest of his career playing catch up.

So much has changed since then.

A 2009 scandal impacted Woods both on and off the golf course and since that epic shootout with Rocco Mediate in ’08 at Torrey Pines there has been an assortment of surgeries and medical setbacks that have limited him to just 24 major starts.



Federer, on the other hand, tied Woods with 14 majors at the ’09 French Open and on Sunday morning, at 35 years old, he defeated Rafael Nadal in an epic final to claim his 18th Grand Slam title. But it wasn’t the number, a number that Tiger has been married to ever since he won the 1997 Masters, that Woods took away from Sunday’s action in Melbourne.

“Serena [Williams] is a good friend of mine and we were texting back and forth, so very proud of her for what she did [winning major No. 23 in Australia]. And for her to battle through the injuries that she's gone through,” Woods said on Wednesday at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. “It's pretty remarkable that all of them got to that point [the Australian Open finals]: Roger being out for that point, Rafa dealing with injuries; Serena, same thing; and then Venus [Williams] with her autoimmune disease.”

This went well beyond being a fan. This was strangely personal, a glimpse into what the next few years for Woods could look like.

Being Tiger Woods has always been an enigma. Questions earlier in his career focused on his ability to focus in the most pressure-packed situations and execute on cue. In recent years, the dialogue has turned to his health, how his body will withstand multiple swing changes and whether he’d ever catch Nicklaus?

In Federer, Woods could easily see how a kindred spirit navigated a similar career crossroads.

“What Roger has done is he's been dominant for so long, and then to, not only that, to compete against Djoko, to compete against Rafa; and now Andy [Murray] is playing well,” Woods said. “He's had a litany of guys who have won Slams. And no one wins Slams at his age.”

Woods will face a similar litany of challengers in his comeback. Playing with Jason Day and Dustin Johnson last week at the Farmers Insurance Open, his first official start on the PGA Tour in 15 months, certainly served as a quick reintroduction to the modern game.

“I watched Dustin carry a ball last week when it was cold, wet and damp and carried it 335 [yards],” Woods said. “Jason [Day] and I just looked at each other going, ‘We don't have that.’”

But what he has is the accumulated knowledge of two decades on Tour, a rekindled passion for the game and, after Sunday’s final in Australia, a paradigm of hope.

Federer became the oldest player to win a Grand Slam title since 1972 and Venus Williams, who lost to her sister Serena in the women’s final on Saturday, was vying to become the oldest women’s Grand Slam champion at 36.

Federer now wins with a different game than he did earlier in his career, a concept Woods seems to have embraced in this second phase of his own career.

“So you do it differently,” Woods said. “If you look at the list of guys who shot below 60, you realize Jim Furyk's on there twice. He averages 270 off the tee, shoot two rounds under 60. So it can be done different ways.”

But then how Woods gets there, with an off-speed swing that finds more fairways and a short game that still ranks among the game’s best, is secondary to his health.

The only way to win a major championship is to play in a major championship, and everything Woods has done since having multiple back procedures after the 2015 season has been structured to assure longevity as much as competitive lethality, and there may not be a better example of this then Federer.

“For him to come back, after having to take that much time off, and for him to get the timing; that's the hardest part,” Woods said. “He rehabbed properly and you can tell how fast he's moving. He's shortened up points, changed his strategy around a little bit. Didn't hang around the baseline as long. I mean, as you get older, you change your game and you do things slightly differently, and he did that.”

This week’s start in the Middle East, his second of four scheduled events in a five-week window, is another chance to see if Woods can change his own game and get back in the Grand Slam race with Federer.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”