Tiger the pragmatist

By Rex HoggardJune 28, 2011, 10:32 pm

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – From Torrey Pines to TPC Sawgrass the competitive obituary has been written, premature to be sure, but penned by a surprisingly large number nonetheless.

The most common question used to be, “Have you ever met Tiger Woods?” Now the ubiquitous query is, “Will Tiger ever win again?” With a neon spotlight on ever. Woods has heard the discord in between his daily workouts to right a left leg that’s been wrong for far too long and episodes of “Dora the Explorer.” “That song is just brutal,” he said.

In practical terms, Woods’ winless drought on the PGA Tour now stretches back to the 2009 BMW Championship, 21 months and 20 events for those keeping track of such minutiae.

Fueled by his freefall out of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking and Rory McIlroy’s stunning U.S. Open victory, golf’s new era is upon us and there seems to be little room in the new world order for an ailing alpha male.

But on Tuesday in this tony Philadelphia enclave, Woods didn’t exactly have the look of a dead man walking. Of course, that he was walking at all without the aid of a protective boot or crutches is progress by any measure.

In short order a surprisingly forthcoming Woods revealed that he hasn’t hit anything more meaningful than a putt since walking off TPC Sawgrass after nine holes in May, that there is no time line for his return to the competitive fray, that playing The Players likely set him back physically and that “this one is different.”

“I pushed too hard and hurt myself, and this time around I’m not going to do that again,” Woods said of his rehabilitation and impending return.

Not exactly the same man who once famously told doctors advising him not to play the 2008 U.S. Open where to put their Magnetic Resonance Imaging tests.

As for those who say Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career majors is dead in the water the man of few words offered only this: “He won when he was 46, right? I’ve still got some time.”

Recent history and the polarizing nature of Tiger Woods aside, the all-or-nothing debate over whether Woods is washed up is overshadowed by the realities of time and talent.

Whether he ever chases down Nicklaus’ Grand Slam benchmark is best left to the certainty of time, which, as Woods correctly pointed out, is currently on his side. What does seem certain at the current crossroads is that the last four will be the most difficult.

Whether he ever wins again, however, is a question of semantics. You don’t lose talent. Confidence? Sure. Health? Yep. Desire? Perhaps. But not talent, and throughout all of Woods’ travails the last two calendars no one has ever questioned his talent.

The luster of the one-time Teflon kid has long faded, as evidenced by a surprisingly weak field for this week’s AT&T National that doesn’t include a single player from the top 10 in the world ranking. And a four-times operated on left knee certainly qualifies as an occupational hazard. But the underlying skill that lifted him to 14 majors and 71 Tour titles remains.

By all accounts, Woods has become a model patient. Following doctor’s orders to the letter, dialing back workouts if things get too extreme and breaking tradition by refusing to set a timeline for his return.

“It’s time to actually have a different approach. It’s time,” he reasoned.

Of all the titles Woods has been fitted for the last few years this one may be the most surprising – Tiger the pragmatist.

So it is that, in practical terms, a return in time for the British Open seems about as likely as a Cubs’ pennant run, opening the door for speculation that he may eventually call it a year. From there the rumors of his demise will only grow louder.

“There’s not going to be a 50-50 call this time,” Woods said. “I’m going to come back when I’m ready.”

Whether he can ever truly “come back” from the depths of his professional abyss is unknown, but this much is certain – he will begin his climb back to the top of the pack with the same level of talent, and by many accounts dedication, that he had before his body and his misbehaving put a pause on his historic career. Whether he ever wins again remains to be seen, but what is certain is that he’s not done trying.

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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.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.