Woods' bad back could hinder Masters prep

By Ryan LavnerMarch 2, 2014, 10:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – OK, now there is legitimate reason for concern: Tiger Woods’ worst start to a season just got markedly worse.

Questions about the state of his game heading into the year’s first major morphed into serious doubts about his short- and long-term health Sunday after the world No. 1 withdrew after 13 poorly played holes at the Honda Classic.

There were signs of trouble early and often at PGA National. Even before teeing off in the final round Woods was stretching and twisting his lower back. Afterward, in a statement, he confirmed that the injury had caused him discomfort since his warm-up on the range.

Then, after walking off the ninth green, he stopped and talked for about 15 seconds with girlfriend Lindsey Vonn, who had slipped inside the ropes. It was an unusual exchange in the middle of a round, and in hindsight it’s reasonable to assume they were discussing his health and a possible exit strategy.

About an hour later, Vonn was seen hobbling through the parking lot with Woods’ 5-year-old son Charlie. Soon after, and with the media waiting nearby, Woods was dropped off in a white van. He chatted briefly with his spokesman, Glenn Greenspan, before slowly heading toward the passenger seat of a black Mercedes SUV.

Oh, just a reminder: The Masters is only 39 days away.

Back spasms was the official reason for his withdrawal. The severity of the injury is unknown – in a statement Woods said that it’s similar to what he experienced at the Barclays last fall, when he fell to his knees after hitting a shot – and it’s unlikely he would fully divulge that information even if he did return to action next week at Doral.


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What we do know is this: This is Woods’ seventh career withdrawal, and his fourth in the past five years. That he has pulled out for four different ailments – knee, Achilles, neck and now back – only casts further doubt as to whether he will ever again be able to play an injury-free season.

If nothing else, Sunday served as a stark reminder that it is Woods’ brittle body – not his mind or game – that stands as his main obstacle to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

This marks the first time in Woods’ career that he has failed to record at least one top-10 finish in his first three starts of a season. His previous worst opening stretch was 2011, and that eventually turned into a lost year, after missing three months (and two majors) with injuries to his knees and Achilles’ tendon.

Now, Woods is rusty, injured and seemingly disinterested at times. He clearly eased into the year because of a late-2013 injury and can’t chisel off the rust or, more importantly, return to 100-percent health.

To recap, he missed the 54-hole cut at Torrey Pines, where he had won eight times as a pro. Then came the listless T-41 in Dubai, where he was a two-time winner.

And now, after an efficient Saturday 65 that prompted many to proclaim that all is right with the world No. 1, he was 5 over par (and back to even for the tournament) when he walked off after 13 holes.

Prior to withdrawing, he was missing fairways with irons. He was flubbing pitches around the green. He was fighting a two-way miss with the driver – on the par-5 third, he blasted one 40 yards right into the pond; three holes later, he sniped one left into the drink.

Luke Guthrie, who was paired with Woods during both weekend rounds, noticed that Woods began gingerly teeing up the ball and plucking it out of the cup on the 11th hole. Soon after, Woods made a short par putt on 13, walked up to Guthrie and said, “I can’t go anymore,” and headed toward the white van.

“If you’re hurting, you’re hurting,” Guthrie said afterward. “You don’t need to risk injuring yourself even more. He’s had his share of problems with injuries. There’s no reason for him to chance it if he’s really hurting.”

Much like in 2012, when Woods withdrew from Doral only to return two weeks later and win at Bay Hill, this injury is even more significant because of the timing.

Here’s a trivia question: How many times has Woods won the Masters without a victory earlier in the season?

Answer: Zero.

When Woods has won one Tour event before the Masters, he has gone on to claim two green jackets (1997, 2002).

It’s why his next two scheduled starts, at Doral and Bay Hill, take on even greater importance – assuming, of course, that he can even make it to the first tee Thursday. “It’s too early to tell,” he said in a statement.

Indeed, the coming days will provide more clarity.

At this point, any outcome is possible.

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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.'"


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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.