Woods returns to Royal Melbourne a far different man

By Rex HoggardNovember 15, 2011, 1:21 pm

MELBOURNE, Australia – On Tuesday Tiger Woods marveled at how much differently Royal Melbourne played since the last time he stalked the Alister MacKenzie masterpiece for Cup and country.

“I hit the ball a lot (farther) now than I did in ’98. That's just the technology,” Woods said when asked to compare where he was in1998 to the current model.

But then juiced-up golf balls and oversized drivers seem trivial when compared to everything else that has transpired over the last baker’s dozen for that one-time rookie.

In no particular order, the former world No. 1 has slipped to 50th in the world rankings; embraced and largely emerged from 3 ½ swing changes; won 64 PGA Tour titles and 13 majors; hit a tree, a fire hydrant and eventually the competitive skids; and endured a sex scandal and divorce.

The 22-year-old Woods was the youngest on Jack Nicklaus’ team “by far,” Woods recalls, and he went 2-3 in his rookie Presidents Cup.

At the time “Hello, world,” had not come fully into bloom; 13 years later everything seems to have come full circle – a curious mix of limitless potential tempered by the capriciousness of life.

He was skinny in ’98 with a swagger that masked his inexperience. Some would say that swagger has, if not fully returned, then at least is within view as evidenced by last week’s third-place finish at the Australian Open and a swing that is looking less like a work in progress with each round.

In ’98 Woods stalked the property like he knew an answer to a question others had not even thought of. Within weeks he would begin piecing together one of the greatest runs ever, winning eight times in 1999 and laying the groundwork for an even more historic 2000 – nine wins and the front end of the “Tiger Slam.”

If Woods is reluctant to embrace the “then and now,” John Cook, who, after Mark O’Meara, has had as close to an unobstructed view of Woods’ ascent and plummet as anyone offers his take.

“Well, there’s a lot of stages of that we all know,” said Cook when asked to dissect the difference between the current version and the ’98 model. “When we first got to playing and hanging around each Other quite a bit you could see a young kid that was so incredibly talented but didn’t quite know what to do with it maturity-wise.”

Like most observers, Cook uses Woods’ ever-evolving swing as signposts. “Through the Butch 1, Butch 2 to Hank as far as golf goes and to Sean,” the American assistant captain said. “Just to see the progression of the swings and also asking him if he really believes in what he was doing and he’s always been quite honest.”

Both Butch Harmon swing changes produced history and, despite revisionist claims to the contrary, Hank Haney’s model netted a 50 percent winning clip.

So far, Woods is O-fer on Sean Foley’s watch, although in the affable swing coach’s defense Woods has only played an injury-riddled 12 official events since he began working with the Canadian.

What’s changed since ’98? “I have way more shots than I did in '98 and a much better understanding of how to map out a golf course and how to play myself around a golf course,” Woods, who turns 36 December 30, figured, unwilling or unable to concede that nearly everything has changed.

Since the last time an American dozen ventured to Oz, Woods redefined greatness and pulled golf from its niche status. He made history and defied conventional wisdom and lulled the golf world into believing that there was nothing he couldn’t do.

Similarly, he tumbled dramatically and publically from the top of the dais and forced the golf world to reexamine the complexities of hero worship.

“Those are just parts of life,” said Cook of Woods’ competitive and personal evolution. “He’s come out of them pretty well. He’s more relaxed and confident and healthy. Confident Tiger Woods is very good.”

The evidence of that truth can be found on the twisting fairways of Royal Melbourne. In ’98 the wunderkind set out in Sunday’s second-to-last group against Greg Norman, the International side’s anchor and an Australian icon.

When the two began their round the matches were virtually over thanks to a 14 ½-5 ½ International advantage through four team sessions. The Australian galleries sensed a quick end and wildly cheered the “Shark’s” every step. Undaunted, Woods grinded out a 1-up victory to quiet the crowds, however briefly.

“Like any road team, you try to make the gallery quiet,” Woods said on Tuesday. “We have done that in other Cups before in the past and it's fun when that happens.”

Of everything that has changed for Woods since ’98, perhaps the only remaining constant is his drive to win, his desire to quiet the gallery.

Watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Presidents Cup live on Golf Channel beginning Monday at 6PM. Tournament air times: Golf Channel Wednesday 9PM-2AM, Thursday 7:30PM-2AM, Friday 3PM-2AM and Saturday 6:30PM-12:30AM. NBC coverage Saturday at 8AM and Sunday at noon. (Note: all times are ET)

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.