#AskLav: Talking Tiger and Phil ... and more Tiger

By Ryan LavnerMarch 6, 2014, 1:15 pm

Last week’s episode of Survivor: PGA National helped reinforce a few ideas. 

Russell Henley is a fearless, tenacious competitor with a lot of upside.   

Rory McIlroy is close, very close, to being a prolific winner once again on the PGA Tour.

And that Tiger Woods’ record as a closer won’t ever be matched.

Winning a tournament on the PGA Tour is no easy task, despite how routine Woods has made it look for so many years. With McIlroy kicking away a third-round lead at the Honda, he became the eighth player in 14 events this season who has failed to convert a 54-hole lead into victory. Last year, only 17 players in 38 tries were able to slam the door after holding the Round 3 lead.

Granted, math was never a strong suit, but in the past year and a half that’s just a 44 percent success rate.

Tiger’s career record with the lead, including the PGA and European tours? A superhuman 89 percent (58 of 65).

Indeed, it appears that he is the last of golf’s shutdown closers.

This week’s mailbag: 

Instagram#AskLav: What does Woods have to gain by playing this week? – Oliver Graham, via Instagram

A ton – provided he can stay upright for 72 holes. Playing (and finishing) this week would give him confidence that his back won’t limit him going forward. And, to use of his favorite Tigerisms, he needs the reps – desperately – after teeing it up in only 10 ½ rounds so far in 2014. With the Masters only five weeks away, he wouldn’t compete here if he was seriously worried about re-injury.


 

 

Sure, a few of the story lines have been ridiculous – Tiger, after all, will never return to his 2000 self, neither personally nor professionally, so it’s best to stop waiting. But generally, everyone loves a story in which a player overcomes obstacles (real or imagined) to return to glory. Drama makes for compelling reading or television, no?


 

 

A little concerned, no doubt, since his only encouraging round of the year was that Saturday 65 at the Honda … which he followed by withdrawing the next day. He has yet to string back-to-back rounds together, and there isn’t much time to get it sorted out, unless he makes the desperate move and adds an event. That said, Tiger has shown in the past that he can play his first tournament of the year at Augusta and still be a factor, as he did in 2010. Since 2005, the guy has finished outside the top 6 there only once. Injured, rusty, whatever – he’ll probably find a way to contend.


Instagram#AskLav: What is the best thing about the “new” Doral? Hit or miss with the Tour? – Clayton Swanner, via Instagram

We’ll have to wait until Sunday for a more definitive answer, but most early reports indicate that the players are enjoying the new-look Doral. Make no mistake, it’s essentially a brand-new golf course. The routing is the same, but most holes have a different look. The rough is thick. There is more blue – as in water – at the Blue Monster. The greens, however, are the bigger difference-maker – they’re larger and more undulating. Add it all up, and it’s a more difficult test. Keep in mind, of course, that doesn’t always mean it’s a better test.


Instagram#AskLav: Does Tiger have any chance this week if he doesn’t get a practice round in on this new Doral track? – Will Wente, via Instagram

Well, he at least walked the course Wednesday afternoon, which is progress, but he’s still outside the top 10 in my personal Power Rankings. Despite his well-documented success at this track (four wins, five other top 10s), he’ll still be teeing it up semi-blind Thursday – he only chipped and putted on Wednesday – relying mostly on the notes and charts made by his caddie, Joe LaCava. He’s a terrific looper and can adequately guide his man around the course, but Tiger is still putting on brand-new greens and playing shots from different angles. Everyone in the field needs a few early spins around Trump Doral. Woods is no different.


Instagram#AskLav: What is going on with Phil right now? He is missing a whole lot of cuts. – Jack Costello, via Instagram

Actually, the Honda trunk-slammer was his first missed cut since last July, but I see where you’re going with this. Lefty has gone nine starts on the PGA Tour without a top-10 finish … which is not the kind of performance you’d expect from a player who said in January that 2014 had the potential to be a career year. Phil said that he’s hitting his driver longer and straighter than ever before – and he’s currently ranked 137th in total driving. He said last year that he’s figured out the secret to putting – and he’s currently ranked 114th. He’s also outside the top 100 in proximity to the hole from 50-75 yards, 75-100 yards, 100-125 yards, 125-150 yards, 150-175 yards and 175-200 yards. Notice a pattern? He’s not doing anything particularly well right now.


Instagram#AskLav: Should Tiger change his swing again? – Bradley Wonka, via Instagram

Hmm, that same swing seemed to work last year, when he won five times and earned Player of the Year honors, right? A swing change is not the answer, not at this point in his career. Getting 100-percent healthy – or as close as an oft-injured 38-year-old can be – is of greater importance.


 

 

You’ll have to ask my boss. Actually, don’t bother. I already know the answer.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.