Right Place Right Time

By Rex HoggardMarch 17, 2010, 4:45 am

The Masters works because the U.S. Open is too far away. The Masters works because Bay Hill, a great event, is shoehorned into a sprawling neighborhood and already a logistical challenge, sans zoo. The Masters works because the Tavistock Cup in not a real competition. The Masters works because Augusta National is as close to a Tour autocracy as one can get.

But mostly the Masters works as the site of the “return” because it is where mind, game and calendar collide into a perfect storm, however imperfect Tiger Woods’ current situation may be.

According to Woods’ own statement released just before midday March 16 he called Arnold Palmer and Joe Lewis, Mr. Tavistock, to explain why the pin went directly to the first week of April on his competitive calendar. Make no mistake, both breathed a sigh of relief.

Woods’ return would be a boost for either the Arnold Palmer Invitational or unofficial Tavistock Cup, but at Augusta National, where no detail is left unattended, it’s a reason to dig in.

“They will control everything,” Palmer said. “If there is a place in the world you can do this it will be there.”

The question will be asked over the next two fortnights whether Woods is bigger than the Masters? Check back on April 11 for that answer. What is not up for debate is if the world No. 1 is bigger than the API, to say nothing of the Tavistock Cup? He is, with apologies to the golf purists who cling to the notion that no one is bigger than the game.

When the API surfaced as a possible site of Woods’ return the discussion immediately turned to a press center that had long ago surpassed “max. occupancy” and an aged infrastructure that leaves no room for the fleet of satellite trucks and paparazzi that would descend on central Florida.

At Augusta National, that is not a problem. Media credentials for this year’s Masters were received via e-mail last week, and there are three things the powers that be at the National do really well – pimento-cheese sandwiches, golf tournaments and deadlines.

There is a large parking lot adjacent the Hooters Restaurant on Washington Road that will have room for an army of main-stream, and tabloid, media. But that will be as close as they get to Magnolia Lane, a fact that likely influenced Woods’ decision almost as much as his stellar resume on the Georgia gem.

Woods normally talks to the media on Tuesday at Augusta National. Whether he continues that tradition, and whether he approaches anything even close to full disclosure, remains to be seen. But Team Tiger is aware that the Masters media center is populated with sports and golf writers. There will difficult questions, to be sure, but nothing compared to the discomfort that would have awaited him at Bay Hill.

CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus said Woods’ first tournament “will be the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years,” and there is no better place for such a spectacle than between the pines and magnolias.

It is a risk showing up at the year’s first Grand Slam gala cold. He can plow through as many range pellets as he’s likes on the Isleworth practice tee under the watchful eye of swing coach Hank Haney, but there is no substitute for live fire.

Competitively he could have used the “reps” at Bay Hill, where he has won with walk-off putts at the last hole the last two years. Even the Tavistock Cup, a 10-man team event, offers a measure of competitive tune-up and, at the least, a chance to give 19 fraternity brothers a chance to get the awkward “How ya been?” out of the way.

But if anyone can debut with a “W” it is Woods, despite a record that is mixed when it comes to cold comebacks.

At the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot following the death of his father he carded rounds of 76-76, missed the cut at a major for the first time as a professional, and didn’t sugarcoat things afterward.

“I was not ready to play golf,” Woods said then.

While the 2008 U.S. Open after two months off and knee surgery will perhaps go down as his greatest competitive achievement – one- or two-legged division.

But this time it is different. Physically Woods is fine and after five months of inactivity and intense therapy the thought of golf between Augusta National’s manicured ropes must be a welcome relief.

“The Masters is where I won my first major and I view this tournament with great respect,” Woods wrote in his statement on Tuesday, with an eye toward history, recent and otherwise. “After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I’m ready to start my season at Augusta.”

And that’s perhaps the best reason why the Masters works, because it is finally time to move on

Getty Images

Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

Getty Images

McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

Getty Images

Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

Getty Images

Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”