Tiger at 40: Where does Tiger go from here?

By Rex HoggardDecember 17, 2015, 12:00 pm

(Editor’s note: This story originally ran on Dec. 17)

COVERING THE WALLS of Arnold Palmer’s Latrobe, Pa., office is a vivid history of the King’s career: letters from presidents, scorecards, snapshots with celebrities. Tucked into a dark corridor almost as an afterthought is the Sept. 1, 1969, issue of Sports Illustrated.

It was the 11th time Palmer’s familiar face graced the cover of Sports Illustrated but unlike the other occasions this time was riddled with mixed messages. The headline said it all: “Farewell to an era: Arnold Palmer turns 40.”

Palmer, who turned 40 on Sept. 10th of that year, was winding down his 15th season on the PGA Tour and his first, at least to that point, without a victory.

The implications of the headline, and the accompanying story, were clear – one of the game’s most charismatic and compelling players was nearing the end of his career. It was a message Palmer begrudgingly understood but didn’t like.

Asked recently if the SI cover inspired him to prove he still had the game to compete, Palmer flashed his familiar smile and left no room for ambiguity: “Absolutely.”

Palmer would win twice before the end of the 1969 season and add six more titles to his resume before slipping gracefully into his golden years.

Tiger at 40

Dec. 16: Who is Tiger Woods?

Dec. 16: Why Tiger still matters

Dec. 17: Tiger's future in his 40s

Dec. 17: The Tiger effect on youth

Dec. 30: 'Golf Central' birthday special

In many ways, Palmer admitted, that SI cover and the general sense of finality that surrounded his 40th birthday motivated him, gave him something to prove despite a career that already ranked among the game’s best. Tiger Woods will face a similar situation later this month when he turns 40, a milestone that has been met with a mixture of skepticism and sentimentality.

Earlier this month at his own Hero World Challenge, even Woods seemed willing to accept the reality that time and too many trips to the surgeon’s table had caught up with him.

“I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy,” Woods said. “For my 20 years out here I think I've achieved a lot, and if that's all it entails, then I've had a pretty good run. But I'm hoping that's not it. I'm hoping that I can get back out here and compete against these guys.”

If that doesn’t exactly sound like a competitor who, as poet Dylan Thomas once penned, plans to “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” know that Woods has come by this new measured perspective honestly.

He underwent microdiscectomy surgery in March 2014 and missed nearly four months on Tour while he recovered. When he returned to competition in 2015, he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open when his glutes wouldn’t "activate," and he had a second microdiscectomy in September after missing the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive year.

There was a third “follow-up procedure” in October, although the details of this surgery remain unknown, and when he resurfaced to host the World Challenge he said his golf activity had been limited to nothing more than walking.

“There is no timetable. So that's the hardest part, that's the hardest part for me is there's really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards,” Woods said. “It's just taking it literally just day by day and week by week and time by time.”



IT'S IN THAT CONTEXT that Woods’ 40th birthday has become a much more nuanced milestone. While there is no shortage of players who enjoyed success well into their 40s, few if any began the final decade of their careers with so many unanswered questions.

Whatever comes next for Woods depends entirely on how his back responds to three surgeries in two years, but there is a litany of examples of players who were competitive at the highest levels well into their fourth decade.

Mark O’Meara, one of Woods’ earliest confidants and a neighbor when the two lived in the Central Florida enclave Isleworth, turned 40 shortly after Woods turned pro in 1996.

In a cosmic twist of time, it was Woods’ early success, particularly at the 1997 Masters, that prompted O’Meara, who turned 40 in January of ’97, to work harder when many of his contemporaries were easing quietly into their pre-Champions Tour years.

“He motivated me a ton. I probably wouldn’t have won those two majors had he not come into my life,” said O’Meara, who won four times in his 40s including the 1998 Masters and Open Championship.

John Cook was also part of that Isleworth crew that converged just as he was entering his 40s, a milestone that is often complicated by competing interests outside of golf that can dull one’s competitive edge.

“Being around Tiger and being around Charles Howell kind of kept Mark [O’Meara] and I young,” said Cook, who won on Tour twice in his 40s. “We just watched the greatest player, it kept us motivated. It kept us wanting to play.”

Where Woods will find his will to move forward is, like his current medical diagnoses, something of a mystery.

For the better part of two decades the finish line has always been Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, the last of which came at Augusta National when the Golden Bear was 46.

“He’s still got his eye on the prize. It’s the record. He’s said it ever since he was a kid - he wants that record,” Cook said. “I don’t think he’s satisfied with the last four or five years. The year he had [2013] was really good, but no majors. That’s what’s it’s all about.”

But that Jack-or-bust mentality has been somewhat softened in recent years. Former swing coach Hank Haney said this year on Sirius XM PGA Tour radio that catching Nicklaus was never Woods’ primary goal.

Earlier this month at the World Challenge, Woods talked about eclipsing Nicklaus on the all-time Tour wins list, with only a passing reference to the game’s ultimate litmus test for greatness – 18 major championships.

Perhaps Woods’ current medical plight has prompted him to reassess what’s possible. Perhaps he was never zeroed in on Nicklaus’ record – although at this point it does seem like a revisionist spin on diminishing returns. Either way, Tiger’s mind, if not his body, doesn’t appear to be entirely at ease with the idea that his time may have passed.

“I really do miss it. I miss being out here with the boys and mixing it up with them and see who can win the event. That's fun,” Woods said.

If a paradigm of hope is what Woods needs, there is no shortage of examples he can pull from. In his last start of 2015 – the Wyndham Championship, an 11th-hour addition to his schedule to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs – he lost to 51-year-old Davis Love III.

Love and Woods have grown closer since the creation of last year’s U.S. Ryder Cup task force and Love has become something of a voice of reason when it comes to Woods’ future.

“If he just plays, you know he’s going to get better,” Love said. “Give him from the first of February to the end of the FedEx Cup [Playoffs], where he’s healthy, 16 tournaments, he’ll play really well.”

It’s become the ultimate qualifier – if he’s healthy.

For the most part, Nicklaus didn’t deal with the assortment of injuries that Woods has, but his record in his 40s, when he won five times, including three of those 18 majors, should give Tiger a reason to be optimistic.

Or, he could look to Phil Mickelson, his primary rival throughout much of his career who added four Tour titles to his resume since turning 40 in 2010, most notably the 2013 Open Championship which set up a late-in-career bid to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open.

“I'm 45. I still love golf and appreciate the fact that I'm able to play at the highest level and do what I love to do,” Mickelson said in June. “Some people don't want to do it that long, and I understand. It's each individual's own preference.”



OF COURSE, THE ULTIMATE arbiter of success past 40 would be Vijay Singh, who collected 22 of his 34 Tour titles in his fourth decade, including the 2004 PGA Championship.

Singh, who at 52 finished inside the top 125 on the FedEx Cup points list last season and has shown no signs of taking his game permanently to the greener pastures of the Champions Tour, had a singular motivation when he turned 40: “I just wanted to win,” he said.

But even in Singh there is a cautionary tale as Woods plots his course into the next decade. While the Fijian blazed a new trail for 40-somethings there was a physical toll. He averaged more than 25 events on Tour after turning 40 – a number Woods didn’t approach even before he was sidelined with an assortment of injuries – and was ultimately slowed, like Tiger, by injury.

“I was in good physical shape, until I got my knee done. For some reason it was all over then,” said Singh, who underwent right-knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in January 2008 and hasn’t won since. “It went to my back ... it was just downhill from there.

For Woods, the optimism that was there just two years ago after he’d won five Tour events and his 11th Player of the Year Award has faded, replaced by uncertainty.

Most agree the best player of his generation, perhaps of all time, has the talent to make 40 the new 30, but the questions remain. Even if Woods’ health returns, he must still find the competitive spark that drove him to hone his trade through endless hours of practice and preparation.

“Only he knows what he wants to do deep down inside," O'Meara said. "Turning 40, with the life he has led and the pressure and the scrutiny he’s lived under, there’s not that many human beings who have experienced what he has. At the end of the day we’re still human beings, and human beings can only take so much.

“It’s going to be difficult to get back to that level that he once was, but who knows? Sometimes when you least expect it with him, when you underestimate his desire and ability, he comes roaring back.”

Palmer found his post-40 drive in that Sports Illustrated cover, a desire to prove those who would second-guess his future wrong, and it’s certainly a form of motivation Woods is familiar with as the crescendo of doubt has grown the closer he gets to his 40th birthday on Dec. 30.

But as Palmer eyed that fateful cover from 1969, the conversation turned to Woods and his impending birthday. The signature smile vanished, replaced by the slightest hint of sadness.

“I’m afraid some of my thoughts about Tiger and his life and his future might be different. There are things that would be unfair, to him, for me to say,” Palmer said. “He has an opportunity and a talent that is something he should value more than he does.”

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.



It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.



Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.



Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.



Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.



After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.



Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.


Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters


Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.