Woods-Mickelson pairing falls flat

By Rex HoggardAugust 7, 2014, 7:32 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There was a time when a Tiger vs. Phil pairing would have rattled the oaks that line Valhalla Golf Club’s fairways.

If Woods was the center of the golf universe, Mickelson’s orbit helped pull him along to greatness through force of inspiration. The game was at its best when Lefty was at his best, the prototypical archrival to the former world No. 1 who so thoroughly polarized fans.

The best show in town has been Tiger vs. Phil (see Championship, Ford, 2005) for more than decade.

All of which made Thursday’s exhibition a telling sign of the times for the two giants. It was not the rumble of a rivalry that rattled the trees on Day 1 at the 96th PGA Championship.

“Is that out of bounds over there, Bones?” Mickelson asked longtime caddie Jim Mackay as his opening tee shot at the 10th hole sailed left into the trees and toward a corporate tent.

As a general rule, “provisional” is not a word uttered by a major champion.

Things went even worse for the other half of the fight card.

At the seventh hole (the duo’s 16th of the day), it was a similar scenario for Woods when he flared his drive wildly out to the right and turned to his caddie Joe LaCava and asked, “That OB?”

“Think it’s TIO (temporary immovable obstruction) like mine on No. 10,” Mickelson offered.

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For what it is worth, both players would par their respective missteps. Everything in between would fall into the TIO (two ignominious outings) category.

“It wasn’t very good,” Woods succinctly summed up his day. “A lot of bad shots and I never got a putt to the hole.”

While Mickelson would recover from his unimpressive start, playing his final 10 holes in 4 under par for an opening 69, nothing felt right for Woods, not even his ailing back that led him to withdraw from last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational midway through the final round.

Some were surprised Woods even showed up this week considering his tender exit last week at Firestone, and moments after signing for his 3-over 74 he conceded that he’s still not 100 percent.

“I’m stiff, but that’s about it,” said Woods. He was then asked if his swing was impacted by his ailing back, “A little bit, but I’m used to it.”

Those who still flock to see Woods have become used to pedestrian play from the 14-time major champion in 2014.

After turning in 1 over par, which included a chip-in birdie at the par-4 16th hole, Woods began his second loop with a pair of wild drives that sailed left and found hazards, the first ending up in deep rough and the second a creek.

For the day, Woods produced four bogeys and a lone birdie, hit just 8 of 14 fairways and 10 of 18 greens in regulation and needed 30 putts.

“The man looked like he needs to play some golf. He looked kind of raw,” said Padraig Harrington, the third member of Thursday’s band at Valhalla.

Mickelson’s take was a tad more positive, but may end up striking a nerve when it lands in Woods’ inbox.

“I thought he played with a lot of heart,” Lefty said. “It's not easy when your game isn't where you want it and you're hitting shots that you don't normally hit.”

While well intended, Mickelson’s assessment was akin to the Southern staple, “Bless his heart.”

Both players, however, seem to have found themselves at a crossroads.

For the first time since 1995 there is the very real possibility that neither Tiger nor Phil will be among the United States’ dozen at this year’s Ryder Cup. For the first time since 2006 neither of the game’s Big Two is currently qualified for this year’s Tour Championship.

While Mickelson’s poor play is difficult to characterize, a self-fulfilling cycle of lost confidence and not a single top-10 finish on Tour this year, Woods’ troubles are a combination of rust and injury.

He struggled with back issues early in the year until a closing 78 at Doral sent him to the surgeon’s table for a microdiscectomy procedure on March 31, and his best finish since returning to the Tour has been a 69th-place showing last month at Royal Liverpool.

“On the range my swing was dialed in out there. Unfortunately, I didn't carry it to the golf course,” Woods said.

Neither player is bound for his golden years anytime soon - there is too much talent and determination for that. But what Thursday’s 18 demonstrated is the current state of the game.

For years Woods and Mickelson lamented the logistical realities of not being paired together very often. Thursday’s round was just the 32nd time in the duo’s career that they found themselves on the same tee in a Tour event.

“Unfortunately Phil and I just never get paired together,” Woods said. “It happens so rarely the first two days. We're always on the opposite side of the draw. It's always fun to play with him.”

That the dynamic duo now find themselves in a toe-to-toe match, however contrived it may be, with something well south of their best stuff is akin to getting an empty box on Christmas morning.

On Thursday at Valhalla the trees rattled, but for largely all the wrong reasons.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.