Hooks & Cuts: Tiger, Jack and Jesse Owens

By Rich LernerJanuary 6, 2015, 1:25 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii - It's a new year, which offers a lot of new and intriguing storylines. We've got some old topics to tackle as well in this opening edition of Hooks & Cuts:

• For Tiger Woods, it’s not as simple as, healthy back equals healthy game. He has to be healthy psychologically to win big again. Tiger was always better cloaked in invincibility than he has been in vulnerability.

• An Ohio State victory over Oregon might be the biggest Buckeye win since Jack Nicklaus at the Masters in ’86. The greatest Buckeye triumph of all time remains Jesse Owens’ four gold-medal rebuke of Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

• Proof that it’s tough to win on Tour: Woods, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth failed to do so in 2014.

• Yippy and lifty, I’d been missing 3-footers all day. After another shove right at 17 I turned to my caddie and said, “This is sad.” He replied, “No, no, it’s not sad.” Empathetic, I thought. Then he added, “It’s pathetic.”

• A stab at the next three U.S. Ryder Cup captains: Steve Stricker, Mickelson and Jim Furyk.

• Rookies to watch in 2015: Tony Finau and Daniel Berger. Finau’s built like an NFL tight end and hits it miles. He’s gracious and he smiles. The son of former tennis pro Jay Berger, Daniel’s intense, long enough, and highly competitive. 

• Curious to see how they fare in '15: Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson and Michelle Wie.

• The Masters is a feeling as much as it is a competition. No one understands that better than two-time winner Ben Crenshaw, who bids farewell to Augusta this April. Pass the tissues. 

• Struck by the beautiful vista from an elevated tee during a recent round, I stood transfixed in a moment of reflection, thinking, “This is golf.” I turned around and saw my buddy smoking a cigarette as he relieved himself in a bush and I thought, “No, THIS is golf.”

• When does Mickelson get his own tournament?

• I would not be surprised if Jason Day, Adam Scott, Garcia and Spieth won majors this year, or if Rory McIlroy won the career slam at the Masters. I would be pleasantly surprised if Larry Nelson were named Ryder Cup captain and if Tiger played an entire season injury free and won his 15th major.

• People do still read newspapers. At least I wish they did. On a recent flight the guy next to me kept loudly folding and shaking his newspaper as I was trying to sleep. Every 15 seconds, he crinkled and crunched it. I was dying to say, “Settle on something, anything. Page 12: Australian Panda gives birth to triplets. It’s a terrific story.”   

• We in the media too often focus on big names because it’s easy and it sells. Actually, rank-and-file tends to rule week-to-week on Tour. Rank-and-file works at it. Rank-and-file shoots 65. In 2014, Jimmy Walker, Reed, Kevin Stadler, Scott Stallings, Russell Henley, John Senden, Matt Every, Steven Bowditch and Matt Jones all won before the Masters.  

• Eighteen majors is still the singular record in golf, the most coveted and most talked about. But Sam Snead’s mark of 82 Tour wins isn’t far behind and I hope as Tiger, now with 79, inches closer that feat grows in magnitude. Let it marinate in your mind, the phrase, winningest golfer of all time. That also underscores the idea that Kathy Whitworth, with 88 career victories on the ladies' side, is underappreciated.

Jesse Owens

• Former USGA president and NCAA champion Sandy Tatum is now 94. He told me maybe the greatest single sports story I’ve ever heard and it involves Jesse Owens (pictured above). At 16, Tatum traveled alone from America to Europe to visit his sister, in 1936. Tatum went to the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. “Chilling,” is how he describes the feeling as a stadium full of Germans stood to give the Nazi salute to Adolf Hitler when he arrived each day. With a German, ironically named Luz Long, on the cusp of winning the long jump, Owens had one last chance to puncture Nazi propaganda that boasted of racial superiority. A smile comes across Tatum’s face as he readies for the story’s crescendo, the picture as clear and beautiful today as it was almost 80 years ago. “Owens took off on that final jump,” Tatum recounts. “And he never came down.”

• Masters wins that would move the needle most: Tiger, Rory, Rickie, Phil and Jordan, in that order. Hideki Matsuyama winning, and that’s not a remote possibility, would move it in Asia.  

• Anirban Lahiri of India and Antonio Lascuna of the Phillipenes are currently qualified for golf’s return to the Olympics next summer in Rio. Tiger and Phil are not.

• Tom Watson will likely play his 40th and final Open Championship this summer at the Old Course at St. Andrews. It’s just a few steps over the Swilcan Bridge, but miles and miles from Gleneagles, by then a long nine months shaking off the stench of the Ryder Cup to again bask in glory.

• Carlos Ortiz, the 2014 Web.com Tour Player of the Year with three victories, has a chance to become the first Mexican-born winner on Tour since Victor Regalado won the Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad Cities Open in 1978. By the way, Quad Cities, now the John Deere Classic, is one of the most underrated tournaments, producing some good moments through the years. Payne Stewart always said that it was his most cherished win, in 1982, because it was his first on Tour and the only one his father, Bill, got to see before he died of cancer in 1985. The Grip, Eddie Fiori, took down Tiger there in 1996. And Spieth winning there in 2013 at age 19, the youngest in some 80 years on Tour, may someday turn out to be significant.

• Billy Horschel’s proud of his Fed Ex Cup title, but prouder of his mom, Kathy, who recently earned a college degree.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.