Woods alone with thoughts, list of growing questions

By Rex HoggardJune 7, 2015, 5:46 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Before pacesetter Justin Rose had even arrived at Muirfield Village, before host Jack Nicklaus had finished his annual Sunday scrum with reporters, before lunch, Tiger Woods completed his surreal round of 74 at the Memorial.

The world’s 172nd-ranked player tipped a sweat-stained hat toward the surprisingly large crowd that ringed Muirfield Village’s 18th hole and tried to manage a weak smile from behind tired eyes.

Like he has for a lifetime of PGA Tour Sundays, Woods was clad in his signature red and black, but on this day, everything was different.

The five-time Memorial winner set out at 8:10 a.m. (ET) alone with his thoughts and reminders of his misadventures waiting at every turn. How, for example, did he double bogey Nos. 8 and 9 on Saturday? Did he really make a quadruple bogey-8 at the last hole on Day 3?

To his credit, Woods took the long view when he was finally asked about that third-round 85, his highest score in 1,158 Tour rounds.

“I had to go through yesterday. I had to go through those painful moments, just like I did at Torrey and Phoenix to be able to make the leap I did at Augusta,” Woods said. “Yesterday was the same thing. It was just unfortunately on a golf course like this where you can't get away with much.  It kicked my butt pretty hard.”

That missed cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open – which included a Friday 82 – and his withdrawal from the Farmers Insurance Open begat his tie for 17th at the Masters, his first top-20 Tour finish since 2013. Following that progression, just imagine what’s next following Woods’ last-place finish at the Memorial.

Highest round on Tour.

Highest four-day total (302).

Hope springs eternal.

For a decade and a half, Woods made the game appear so easy, hit the ball, putt the ball, pick up trophies. And he did so with a legion of fans alongside cheering victories large and small. But on Saturday, it was a solidary figure who stumbled his way around Jack’s Place.

Never before had the competitive blinders seemed so impenetrable.

“This is a lonely sport,” he allowed on Sunday. “The manager is not going to come in and bring the righty or bring the lefty, you've just got to play through it. When you're off, no one is going to pick you up either. It's one of those sports that's tough, deal with it.”

Despite it all, Woods remained surprisingly upbeat, touching on his normal talking points of “process” and “patterns,” and the need to keep moving forward.

For all the hyperbole, this is just Woods’ sixth start with swing consultant Chris Como. That’s hardly a West Coast swing for most players, but in the fishbowl where Woods lives, it’s more than enough of a sample size for some to declare the experiment a failure.

But for a player who has endured similar peaks and valleys between swings - three as a professional to be precise - the road to redemption has never been an easy ride.

“The guys that have made tweaks, you have moments where you go backwards and then you make big, major strides down the road. That's just the way it goes,” said Woods, who has failed to break par in nine of his last 14 Tour rounds.

“You have to look at the big picture. You can't be so myopic with your view and expect to have one magical day or one magical shot and change your whole game. It doesn't work that way.”

There was certainly nothing magical about his week in central Ohio. There’s probably little in those 302 strokes that would make Woods think that better days are on the horizon.

He missed more fairways (31 of 56) and more greens (37 of 72) than anyone else who made the cut, which doesn’t exactly scream, “bring on the U.S. Open.”

Although Woods would never use such esoteric terms, Nicklaus – arguably the definitive source when it comes to Tiger by virtue of the duo’s historical connection – figured that better days were ahead for the former world No. 1.

“I think he’s hit rock bottom a few times in the last couple years. I think he’s tired of finding a new low. I can understand that. He’ll climb out of it,” the Golden Sage said.

“I don’t know whether it’s in his head, whether it’s in his swing, whether it’s in his body. . . . All I know is that he’ll have to go and regroup, as we all have to do at times, and find out.”

For Woods’ five victories at Muirfield Village, it was always Nicklaus who was waiting for him just off the 18th green to offer his traditional congratulations.

Early Sunday as he trudged up the hill there was no one there for Tiger. Just as he’d been for a strange three hours he was alone with his thoughts and a growing list of nagging questions.

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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."

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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.'"

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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."

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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."

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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.