#AskLav: The year ahead for Tiger and Phil

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 30, 2014, 4:00 pm

Finally, the fans’ favorite week of the year has arrived. 

You’ve read the preview stories, listened to the analysis from the talking heads, endured the endless hype leading up to the big event.

You’ve coughed up the money for a ticket.

You’ve ordered the first of several overpriced drinks.

You’ve crammed into an uncomfortable seat. 

And now, you’re finally ready to roll up your sleeves (to ensure a nice, even tan, of course) and cheer lustily (and obnoxiously) for your favorite player while being entirely too close to thousands of sweaty spectators. 

Super Bowl week? Puh-leeze. It’s time for the best party on Tour.

And this year should be no different: The forecast at TPC Scottsdale calls for mild temperatures with light winds and occasional beer showers. Sounds glorious.

The mailbag: 



Mickelson, for one, has been surprisingly durable throughout his career – last week was just his fourth career WD, and only his second since ’07. His back has flared up in each of his last two starts, and if Lefty is intent on making this a career year, he needs to shut it down until he’s absolutely 100 percent. As for Tiger, it’s fair to say he’s an old 38. He’s been in the spotlight for more than two decades, which takes its toll, and he continually pushes his body to the brink; in the past few years, his body has started to break down – elbow, neck, Achilles, knees (four operations). Their poor performances in Week 1 were about more than getting older, though. Last week I wrote about their respective war against Father Time, and how, over time, bodies and games must evolve when physical skills diminish. Phil and Tiger will be able to summon brilliant golf at times, but they’ll begin to have more off-weeks like Torrey as well. 

Instagram#AskLav: Who is more likely to win a major this year, Kuchar or Sergio? – via Daniel Jaramillo, on Instagram

Matt Kuchar’s best bet to win a major this year will be at the Masters, where he has finished in the top 10 each of the past years. Look at his stats – he’s short (116th) and crooked (124th) off the tee, which usually isn’t a recipe for success at the majors, except for Augusta, where the rough is a non-factor.

Right now, Sergio Garcia’s a better pick, because he’s happy and in love off the course (for now), which means he’s dangerous on it. He has won two of his last three starts, he seems to be frowning less, and his putter has gone from being his biggest liability to his best friend. Sergio was ranked eighth – EIGHTH! – in strokes gained-putting a year ago. If he can wield the flat stick like that again, he should be able to break through in the Big Ones … so long as nothing conspires against him. 

Instagram#AskLav: I believe Tiger will win a major this year, if not 2. Do you believe he will? And if so do you think it will ‘open the floodgates’ on his major drought? – via Kinley Lee, on Instagram

Do I believe he will win one? Yes – this foursome of major venues is too favorable for him not to add to his major haul. If he doesn’t win one in 2014, it’s reasonable to wonder if he’ll ever get to 15, let alone 18. But opening up the floodgates? No, not like the old days. Majors are harder than ever to win because golf is deeper than ever. These days, winning a major requires superior ball-striking, sublime putting and even a little luck. One little mishap on Friday – see: 15 at Augusta – can affect the outcome on Sunday. The days of expecting multiple-major seasons are long gone.

The most noticeable thing about Tiger at Torrey was that he definitely had gained muscle mass – the guy looked like he could suit up Sunday for the Broncos. As for his swing, well, I have no clue. Compared to my action – little lower body rotation, hands outside on the takeaway, awful impact position – Tiger’s looked flawless. 

Instagram#AskLav: Do you think Jordan Spieth’s performance on Sunday at the Farmers showed he’s not quite ready to win the big tournaments yet? – via Ben Ehrlich, on Instagram

Wrote about this Sunday from Torrey, but the kid is still learning how to win at the highest level. It’s easy to anoint him the Next Big Thing because he had a decorated junior and amateur career and, a year ago, he had a lot of top 10s, backdoored a win at the John Deere, advanced to the Tour Championship and played on the Presidents Cup team. Huge potential. But Spieth himself admitted in San Diego that he “wasn’t really mentally ready to win this week,” and that, under the gun, he didn’t have a go-to shot for the first time in a tournament. A month earlier, he had a shaky back nine at Kapalua with an ice-cold putter. Remember, he is just 20 years old, with one full year under his belt, and he’s already been in a position to win a dozen times. The wunderkind is too talented not to figure it out soon.

Instagram#AskLav: Hey Ryan, do you think Phil Mickelson will be No. 1 this year? – via Todd Peters, on Instagram

Short answer: Um, no. He’s never been No. 1, and it’s likely not coming in his age-43/44 season, either. Tiger, Rory and Adam Scott all will have better years than Phil, who won’t play enough in late summer and fall to make up ground in the OWGR. 

Instagram#AskLav: When will Bubba Watson win another tourney? Been a lot of starts since his Masters win – via Charlie Lallas, on Instagram

Indeed, the 2012 Masters winner has gone silent. He had just three top 10s a year ago, a hugely disappointing campaign as he transitioned to life as a major winner and, more importantly, as a father. His stats weren’t much different from 2012 to ’13 (still top 5 in driving distance and greens hit), and he actually improved in putting (157th to 119th). Bubba will always be a streaky talent who can catch fire and notch a W at any time. He just needs to be properly motivated. 

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''