One and done: Is this the new normal for Tiger?

By Rex HoggardFebruary 3, 2017, 10:53 am

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – “Is Tiger playing?” asked one player after his early round on Friday in Dubai.

No, he wasn’t. About an hour before his tee time at Emirates Golf Club officials announced Woods had withdrawn from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, his second consecutive missed weekend and the seventh time he’s tapped out since 2010, because of back spasms in his lower back.

Woods looked tentative on Thursday on his way to an opening 77 that made a trip to the weekend unlikely. He grimaced crawling out of a bunker early in Round 1 and moved like a man who has endured two back procedures within the last 15 months.

His manager, Mark Steinberg, stressed that the back spasms that cut his week here in the desert short weren’t the same as the nerve pain that led to him missing all of last season, and following his round on Thursday, Woods said his poor play had nothing to do with his oft-injured back.

“I wasn't in pain at all,” he said after his worst round ever in Dubai. “I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn't doing a very good job.”


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Any opinions beyond these facts are pure speculation, the kind of background noise that has dominated the Tiger narrative for years now, and Steinberg was hopeful Woods could make his next scheduled start in two weeks in Los Angeles.

Whether this most recent setback is a sign of the times or the beginning of the end may be a lively hot take for those on social media, but only Woods knows within the chambers of his heart what the future may hold.

That’s not to say there’s no room for Friday morning quarterbacking.

After a 15-month hiatus from tour golf, the road back to relevance has been curious, with Woods starting at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, where he missed the cut, followed by a flight, commercial no less, across 12 time zones for this week’s stop in Dubai.

The rigors of such a trek could impact even a healthy player half Woods’ age, never mind a 41-year-old who has spent the last year on a strict pitch count.

“I'm sure there's so many different factors that could play into it. I just couldn't know what causes a back to go into a spasm,” Steinberg said. “Look, he doesn't have the strongest back in the world, right. So it's probably easier to spasm because of the issues he's had. So I'm sure there's a variety of factors that can play into it.”

There’s also something to be said for Woods’ return rotation, which includes Torrey Pines, Dubai, Riviera and PGA National for the Honda Classic later this month. After that, it’s likely he’d play Bay Hill and the Masters.

That’s not exactly a user-friendly return to the fray or anything that could be remotely considered “rehab starts.”

Maybe it would have been best to ease back with a warm week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, but that’s not really Woods’ style. As much as he talks about allowing his game to evolve as he gets older, he’s always played the toughest courses against the game’s deepest fields and no amount of maturity is going to soften that competitive edge.

So the path ahead is also not up for debate.

What remains is rather straight forward, continue to push himself and the reality of his physical restrictions, because the alternative, at least to Woods, is the kind of self-actualization that he’s always sidestepped.

You don’t win 14 majors and redefine the game by allowing yourself to contemplate boundaries, but there will be a point, be it in a month or 10 years from now, that diminishing returns begin to sink in.

Pat Perez knows something of such harsh realities having endured the strangest of seasons in 2016 that included shoulder surgery, seven months of rehabilitation and, finally, a victory in November at the OHL Classic.

Last month at the SBS Tournament of Champions as Perez talked of his own struggles the conversation, as it often does, turned to Woods.

“I know how hard it is to come back and this guy [Woods] has had three back, all his knee [surgeries], it will be interesting,” Perez said. “He’s had so much time off.”

If Woods’ Dubai WD is the new normal, and not simply a bump in the road to recovery, if missed cuts and more withdrawals are the status quo, how long is he willing to deal with mediocrity?

“I hope he plays well, I’ve known the guy my whole life and he’s made us a lot of money,” Perez said. “What I don’t want to see is him struggle, because he won’t do it long. If he plays all [four] tournaments and misses all [four] cuts you won’t see him again. That’s just not in him.”

In recent weeks Woods has conceded he’s considered life after golf, an exercise that included a brand makeover to TGR that was aimed at bringing together all of his business interest, but it’s doubtful he’s looking further than his next start at the moment.

But as another opportunity, another chance to prove there are still traces of greatness in him, comes and goes, that steely resistance to doubt and appraisals of his own limitations are sure to be tested.

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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 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."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


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.