Woods appears happy, relaxed in Masters preparation

By Rex HoggardApril 7, 2015, 7:07 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – With apologies to first impressions, the optimism that marked Tiger Woods’ first two days at the Masters has little to do with longer drives and more repeatable release patterns.

As encouraging as Woods’ limited play at Augusta National has been, a total of 20 holes through two practice days, it was the broad smile and relaxed shoulders that spoke more to what one can expect from the four-time Masters champion this week.

Through two days, Woods has smiled and laughed and hugged his way around the rolling hills. He signed up to play Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest for the first time since 2004; he engaged galleries with every step; he even jokingly gunned a 3-foot birdie putt at No. 7 on Monday some 10 feet past the hole before flashing his signature grin to a stunned gallery.

Who is this guy and what has he done with Tiger Woods?

As encouraging as his play has been for two days – for those interested in such things, he hit 69 chip shots on Monday without a single skull or chili dip – it’s been the often-hard-to-interpret body language that suggests things are indeed better.

In short, he appears to be a man who, at least outwardly, is at ease with his own fate.

After eight weeks of seclusion, Woods has emerged from his South Florida beat lab secure in the notion he has arrived here honestly.

“I worked my ass off. That’s the easiest way to kind of describe it. I worked hard,” Woods said when asked how he had been filling his days since he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open in February.

“People would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again. But it was sun up to sun down, and whenever I had free time; if the kids were asleep, I'd still be doing it, and then when they were in school, I'd still be doing it. So it was a lot of work.”

It’s never been easy for Woods; he just made it look that way. This most recent detour into the competitive abyss – unique largely because it was more game-related (chipping) than it was injury induced – was a reminder that major championships don’t fall into one’s lap.

On Tuesday, following a nine-hole practice round with Mark O’Meara, Woods explained the distance he’s traveled since he removed himself from competition in February saying on his website, “When I think I’m ready, I’ll be back.”

With swing consultant Chris Como and confidant Notah Begay alongside, Woods said he has dug the answers he sought out of the South Florida turf along with a healthy dose of perspective.

He also reassured the amassed media that there will be no moral victories this week.

“Competing is still the same. I'm trying to beat everybody out there,” he said.

What seems to have changed is how a once supremely insular player has widened the circle, however slightly.

After years of moving in opposite directions, it was Woods who texted O’Meara on Monday morning for a practice round, and he included Begay in the comeback to offer the competitor’s perspective to Como’s teachings.

It has all the markings of a man who realizes he’s reached a competitive crossroads, and not just because this week will mark his 20th start at the Masters and the 10-year anniversary of the last time he slipped an arm into the green jacket.

On Tuesday, Woods said at Torrey Pines and the Waste Management Phoenix Open – where he missed the cut – he was “caught between.” The reference was to release patterns, but it could have just as easily been a nod to his current career path.

In one direction is a familiar road that’s included just two Sunday tee times over the last two years, down the other is a chance to resume his pursuit of his 15th major championship and his fifth green jacket.

Along the way Woods conceded there were dark days when the release patterns were off and his back hurt and the path to the top suddenly didn’t seem so clear.

“There were times when there were a few clubs that flew, suddenly slipped out of my hand and traveled some pretty good distances, too,” said Woods, who enters this week 111th in the Official World Golf Ranking. “There were some frustrating moments, but I had to stick with it.”

With that resolve has come a rare dose of retrospect as Woods begins to play his last Masters in his 30s, a nostalgic nod that would be predictable for most players – but then Tiger has never thought like most players.

He’s always appeared above the pressure and the pitfalls that have sidelined so many other champions, but on Monday O’Meara offered a rare perspective that is often easy to overlook when it comes to Woods.

“He hasn’t had a normal 39 years,” O’Meara said. “To be a little off and struggle a little bit, sometimes in life it’s good to struggle.”

Despite the desire for instant analysis, Monday and Tuesday’s turns at Augusta National mean very little with the main event looming on Thursday, but the body language – the jokes and the laughs and the headphones – suggest Woods is at ease with his situation, wherever that may lead.

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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.