Woods surprisingly content with future uncertainty

By Rex HoggardDecember 7, 2015, 6:00 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – He buzzed around Albany Golf Club in a golf cart, glad-handed corporate guests and played the role of tournament host with surprising ease.

Last week’s Hero World Challenge will be the last time Tiger Woods will be seen publically in his 30s, a milestone that has taken on added relevance following two back surgeries in the last three months and his most recent indefinite stay on the disabled list.

Speculation, which always rages wildly when it comes to Woods, ranged from a possible return to the PGA Tour by early next year (Florida swing?) to a more prolonged absence (the U.S. Open?), but after watching Woods gingerly make the rounds last week at Albany, it’s seems as if there were no guarantees he’ll be in the field next year when the World Challenge returns to the Bahamas.

“That's the hardest part for me is there's really nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards,” Woods said. “It's just taking it literally just day by day and week by week and time by time.”

But then, another prolonged hiatus from the game is nothing new when it comes to Woods, who hasn’t played a full season on Tour since 2013. What was different was the relative ease with which he appears to be settling into a new role.

When Davis Love III named Woods one of his vice captains for next year’s Ryder Cup, the initial surprise was mitigated, at least partially, by his insistence that he intended to be a “playing” vice captain.

Last week’s press conference, however, seemed to cast Woods in a slightly different light. At 39 - to be fair the guy doesn’t turn 40 until Dec. 30 - he still has plenty of time to change his competitive fortunes, if he’s healthy.

It’s the ultimate qualifier that has become as much a part of Woods’ legacy as those 14 major championships and 79 Tour victories.

“You know, it's tough, it's tough to see,” Jordan Spieth said. “You just hope he gets healthy. He really has his head around making sure that he takes his time getting back because he's still got a lot of good years ahead of him in my mind as long as he approaches it the right way, and I don't know what that is.”



The world No. 1 was 15 years old the last time Woods won a major, world No. 2 Jason Day was a Tour rookie when Tiger won that 2008 U.S. Open and No. 3 Rory McIlroy joined the Tour two years later.

None of the current “big three” have played Woods at his best, at least not in the Grand Slam events which have been the central theme of his career.

Instead, the current wave of players seem to view Woods in much broader terms, beyond the limits of his competitive achievements. Even Bubba Watson, Sunday’s champion at the World Challenge who is just two years younger than Woods, took a telling view of Woods when asked about his own long-term goals.

“Truthfully, my goals in my career have changed over the years,” Watson said. “Watching Tiger Woods, what he's done for the people off the golf course, my goal is now stretched to that.  I think I can do more off the golf course.”

Woods himself alluded to a possible next chapter, at least in general terms, last week in a rare moment of nostalgia that was fueled by the uncertainty of his current medical issues.

“I'm hoping that I can get back out here and compete against these guys. I really do miss it. That's fun,” he said. “But if that's not the case anymore, then I'll find other avenues, that being growing my foundation, what we're trying to do, golf course design or other projects I have going on right now that will certainly take up more of my time.”

That’s not to say Woods should be viewed in any way less than the sum of his Hall of Fame parts, just differently. After three back surgeries and with his golf activities limited to driving a golf cart, it’s only natural to embrace the realities of your situation.

Watching Woods carefully examine Zach Johnson’s putter last week, it’s clear the game still calls to him and if he needed a paradigm of competitive hope he should look no further than friend Davis Love III, who at 51 years old won the Wyndham Championship to close last season.

“Obviously it's frustrating for him,” Spieth said. “But I think we certainly haven't seen the end of him even if he does say that if the sun sets on the career now, it's still good. I think we can all read between the lines there, that he's still got some really good years left.”

Whether Woods is truly at peace with his evolving role in the game doesn’t really matter, at least not until he’s able to play his way back to some sort of competitive relevance. But as another frustrating year drew to a close, what was striking is how content he seems to be settling into whatever the next chapter may bring.

Getty Images

Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

Getty Images

Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

Getty Images

McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“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, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

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

Getty Images

Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.