Tiger's impending return sparks interest, intrigue

By Rex HoggardSeptember 7, 2016, 7:23 pm

Since Tiger Woods last hit a golf shot that mattered on the PGA Tour, Dustin Johnson won a U.S. Open, Jordan Spieth lost a Masters and Nike Golf lost interest in making equipment.

It will be 417 days between the time Woods putted out at the 2015 Wyndham Championship and his next shot at the Safeway Open in October.

During that span, Woods turned 40, was named a vice captain for this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team and watched as golf’s landscape transitioned to a star-by-committee.

But the most interesting element that arose from a busy Wednesday in golf was that over the last 13 months Woods has developed an impressive amount of patience.

What else would explain his measured approach to return to the game following two back procedures last year? How else could one interpret Wednesday’s news that Woods hopes to play not one, but three events before the end of the year?

“My rehabilitation is to the point where I’m comfortable making plans, but I still have work to do,” said Woods, who plans to play the PGA Tour’s season-opener, a European Tour event in Turkey and his own Hero World Challenge before the calendar expires. “Whether I can play depends on my continued progress and recovery. My hope is to have my game ready to go.”

“Hope” was the key portion of Woods’ message.

At this point in his career, at this point in what has been an eventful decade, Woods seems resigned to the unseen hand of fate.

Things have clearly been moving in the right direction back home on his private practice range in Jupiter, Fla. – by most accounts he’s not spending much time playing in public – but after more than a year on the DL he’s not dismissing the prospect of a wrong turn.

It was a subtle part of Woods’ otherwise positive message on Wednesday.

After spending far too much time ignoring his doctors, Woods seems to have become a model patient either by necessity or choice, not that it really matters if he was forced or arrived willingly at his current crossroads.

Whatever Woods has become over the last 13 odd months, he’s still a competitor driven to push himself and his game against the world’s best, and sitting on the sidelines watching the world move on couldn’t have been easy.

The new guy, let’s call him Tiger 4.0, clearly didn’t like being a bystander to history, but he didn’t have many options.

“It was difficult missing tournaments that are important to me, but this time I was smart about my recovery and didn’t rush it,” Woods said in a statement. “I missed competing.”

The record is rather clear on this, 417 days is, if not cautious, then at the least cautionary even for a player who has endured three back procedures since March 2014.

If the facts aren’t enough to convince you, then listen to those closest to Woods.

“He seems a little more reasonable about [his expectations],” Notah Begay said of Woods on “Morning Drive.” “There is going to be a certain level of maturity and forgiveness.”

Woods’ careful approach to this most recent comeback was also evident in what was a surprisingly detailed announcement that he was returning to his day job.

The Safeway Open, which will be played Oct. 10-16 in northern California, opens the 2016-17 season but, like nearly all of the post-Tour Championship fall events, doesn’t have the deepest field. It’s not exactly a “rehab start,” but it certainly has the feeling of a soft opening.

Similarly, the Turkish Airlines Open, which will be played Nov. 3-6, will have a deeper field but no cut, assuring Woods 72 holes against an elite field; and his Hero World Challenge in early December will be played on his home course in the Bahamas against another short-but-strong field.

All things considered, Woods appears to have checked all of the right boxes this time around.

Healthy? Yep.

Smarter? On it.

Realistic expectations? Well, Woods may have his head straight on that front but it seems doubtful the masses and media would allow him much of a honeymoon.

Perhaps the more pressing question, that’s assuming Woods’ health isn’t an issue, is whether the former world No. 1 can reinvent himself?

Since Woods tied for 10th place on Aug. 23, 2015, in Greensboro, N.C., the golf landscape has changed dramatically. The conversation is no longer about who could possibly replace Tiger; that question has been answered by a collection of players from Jason Day and Spieth to Rory McIlroy and Johnson.

How Woods fits into the current clubhouse depends on how competitive he can be after such a long layoff, and that will likely be decided by his ability to adjust to the reality that he no longer has the game’s best fast ball and may need to add an off-speed pitch to his repertoire.

The likes of Day, Spieth, McIlroy and Johnson have never really seen Woods at his absolute best, at least not at a major championship. They all seem to look forward to his return, but it will very much be a new chapter depending on how Tiger’s comeback progresses.

“It could be a fun fall,” Woods said.

Perhaps, but what is for certain is the next few months just became much more interesting.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.