The Tiger (trunk) slam

By Rex HoggardAugust 13, 2011, 12:36 am

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – The PGA Championship is not the end of the season, not by a long shot, but it certainly felt like it for Tiger Woods on a hot and humid Friday at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Although not the end of the world, rounds of 77 and 73 – which left him six shots on the business end of the cut line – may end up being the end of the 2011 road for a player that began the year ranked second in the world and is on pace to ring in the New Year outside the top 50.

Woods’ early exit from the PGA Championship guaranteed that he will miss the FedEx Cup playoffs. His next “scheduled” start is the Australian Open in November, confirming that he will not play next week’s regular-season ending Wyndham Championship and leaving only the slimmest of possibilities that he will participate in any of the Fall Series fun.

His tie for 116th was, for all practical purposes, his competitive swansong for 2011, leaving just a single item to be addressed: What’s next?

Woods’ clipped answer was predictable if not particularly enlightening, head back to his south Florida lab to debug a swing that had multiple personalities at AAC.

He played his first five holes in 3 under, his last six in 1 under and everything in between was not for public consumption. For the week Woods dunked four balls into the warm Georgia waters, posted five double bogeys and played out of 23 bunkers.

It was almost enough to give stand-in caddie Bryon Bell raker’s elbow.

The only highlight may have been that Bell did not break silence and announce, “This was not my most memorable tournament.”

There were signs of life, like his birdie-birdie turn that pulled him to within three shots of a weekend tee time. But he went bunker-bunker-billabong at the 11th and followed with two trips to the woods at the 12th for back-to-back double bogeys.

Adrift between swings, to say nothing of a battered psyche, Woods was less angry late Friday than he was resolved to his plot.

“I’ve got some time off to work on my game and now I’m healthy enough to work on my game,” he said. “It’s a great leap forward that I was able to play two straight weeks healthy.”

And yet somehow it all felt like two giant hops back for golf.

Even if Woods were to play the Fall Series, a victory at Disney isn’t going to change the fact that 2011 may be his worst season as a professional. In order, he had eight starts, posted two top 10s, missed one cut and withdrew with injury from The Players. Maybe 2010 was statistically worse – 12 starts, two top 10s, a missed cut and a withdrawal with injury from The Players – but it doesn’t feel like it.

Maybe it’s because this calendar brought hope following the turmoil of 2010. Maybe it’s because we didn’t think it could get any worse. Maybe it’s because he’s made unrealistic expectations the status quo.

Whatever the reason, the result is an empty feeling that likely won’t get a fix until next year at Torrey Pines. Another hiatus, another round of endless speculation.

The only thing that is certain is that three months on the “DL,” a wet-behind-the-ears swing and what will likely be the year’s most demanding major layout proved to be the imperfect storm for Woods.

“I don’t think he’s that far off, but he’s rusty, that’s what people don’t get,” said Davis Love III, who walked all 36 holes alongside Woods at AAC. “He’s trying to figure it out in a big event and that doesn’t work. I’ve tried to do that. It’s hard to do at a big tournament. It would be easier at the John Deere (Classic) where there’s some fairway.”

But at this point there are no John Deeres in Woods’ future. No soft openings or rehab starts to build confidence. Just the Australian Open likely followed by the Presidents Cup, another intense gathering that provides precious little cover for a work in progress.

U.S. captain Fred Couples will make his wild card pick on Sept. 26 (the Monday after the Tour Championship), singular because he’s already made it clear to anyone who would listen that Woods was on the team. After 36 in Hotlanta, Michael Jordan may be more deserving of a captain’s nod.

Already blog-dom has erupted with reports of Woods’ demise, as one particularly critical observer reasoned on Thursday, “Hello Eldrick Baker-Finch.” And perhaps instant analysis was inevitable considering the finality of it all at Atlanta Athletic Club, but Woods’ contemporaries – those who have seen the best, and now perhaps the worst of him – were reluctant to write the obituary just yet.

“Tiger is a bit like myself,” said Padraig Harrington, who was paired with Woods for Rounds 1 and 2. “If you don’t like what you’re doing you lose confidence, but anyone else would think it was a great swing.”

As he rolled out of town it’s not likely Woods thought anything about the 93rd PGA Championship was “great,” and another exile, self-imposed or otherwise, only promised to bring more uncertainty, more questions for Woods and the game.

There is life after Tiger, it just didn’t seem like it on Friday.

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“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. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “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.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”