While some panic, Tiger patient amid early struggles

By Rex HoggardFebruary 2, 2017, 10:43 am

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – When it comes to Tiger Woods, patience is in short supply.

Fans want to see the guy who won 14 majors in 11 seasons and reigned as the world No. 1 for a staggering 683 weeks over the course of his career. The media pines for the once-in-a-generation player who transcends sport. And certainly those who pay his appearance fees, which according to various sources easily exceeded seven figures for this week’s stop in Dubai, anxiously await the man who made red and black on Sundays a staple.

The collective wants it all, be it the 2000 or ’05 versions of TW, and they want it now.

It speaks volumes that it sometimes seems the only person with any patience when it comes to Woods’ current comeback is Tiger himself.

Woods has admitted in the past to being antsy, particularly off the course, and he has a history of ignoring doctor’s orders when it comes to his competitive fortunes. But this time has been different.

Following multiple back procedures after the 2015 season, Woods watched all of the official ’16 season from his couch. Even when it appeared he was poised for a comeback he slow played his return, withdrawing from the Safeway Open last fall.

And on Thursday at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when everything that could go wrong did go wrong, Woods remained a singular voice of reason – patience, even.

Omega Dubai Desert Classic: Articles, photos and videos

“I'm fighting my ass off to try and shoot a score,” he said after an opening 5-over 77 left him a dozen strokes off the lead. “I'm trying to get back to even par, and once I get back to even par, try and get 1 or 2 under. Just try and creep my way back.”

After two early bogeys at Nos. 10 and 12 – he started his day on the outward loop – Woods remained upbeat, telling caddie Joe LaCava that even par at the turn was the goal. He figured he could make up ground on his second nine and close the gap on the leaders.

“It just never materialized. I never did it,” he shrugged.

Woods turned in 40 strokes after finding a water hazard, which is easier than you'd think to do in this desert, short of the 18th green. Of the 66 players in the early wave, Woods was beating just two of them, and things didn’t get any better after that.

He failed to birdie the par-5 third after a poor chip shot. In fact, he played Emirates Golf Club’s four par 5s in 2 over par. Woods missed one of his best birdie chances of the day when his 20-footer at the fourth slipped by on the high side, and three-putted the fifth hole for bogey.

There was some solace for Woods in that he hit 10 of 14 fairways on an increasingly windy day, which was a vast improvement over his 4-of-14 performance on Day 1 last week at Torrey Pines. But he struggled with the pace of the greens on his way to 33 putts.

“I just could not hit the putts hard enough. I left every putt short,” Woods said. “What I thought was down grain, downwind, would be quick, downhill, and I still came up short. Into the wind, uphill putts into the grain, I put a little more hinge on it going back to try to get a little more hit to it and it still didn't work.”

It’s not as though Woods was thrilled with his worst round in eight starts in Dubai, as evidenced by his body language on the 18th hole – his ninth – after hitting a 100-yard wedge shot 98 yards and into a water hazard, or when officials told Woods’ group to pick up the pace on the sixth hole.

But all things considered, Woods remained focused on the bigger picture – which includes refining his game in time for the Masters and staying clear of the disabled list if not the trainer’s table.

“I wasn't in pain at all. I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn't doing a very good job,” Woods said. “At the end I finally hit some good ones but the damage had already been done.”

The only damage on Day 1 seemed to be to his confidence following another over-par round to begin a tournament – he opened with a 76 at the Farmers Insurance Open. That he’s scheduled to tee off Friday afternoon with a shamal forecast to bring winds of 30 mph likely won’t help that outlook.

But of all the things that are in short supply for Woods these days, a reliable driver and consistent touch on the greens topping the list, it’s an abundance of patience that might be his greatest asset.

Instagram nation understandably wants the guy who for so long was virtually unbeatable, but on this the only real authority is Woods, who seems content with the notion that this come back will likely take some time.

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... 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."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

Getty Images

LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.