Newsmaker of the Year, No. 2: Tiger Woods

By Will GrayDecember 18, 2015, 2:00 pm

From ski masks to surgeries, glutes to gravy, this was indeed a very strange year for Tiger Woods.

At least for the time being, Woods’ spot on this annual list of newsmakers appears etched in stone. No other player can create as many headlines or garner such attention, even without the meaningful on-course performance to match.

Woods put that maxim to the test this year, one in which he was barely relevant inside the ropes but remained one of the game’s most-discussed figures.

Never before have we seen a season for Woods which began with such promise fall apart so quickly. This was supposed to be the beginning of his Final Act, an opportunity to fervently renew his quest for the few career records not already in his possession.

Equipped with a new swing consultant and a clean bill of health, Woods embarked on 2015 with equal parts confidence and expectations. He was eager to put behind him an injury-plagued campaign and tackle a list of major venues that included two of his favorite haunts: Augusta National and St. Andrews.

What followed was a painful journey from one perceived bottom to the next, as a great champion was reduced to a shell of his former self.

The first red flag arose in Phoenix, where Woods’ short-game woes mushroomed into a full-blown case of the yips. Unable to execute a series of straightforward chips, he missed the cut in embarrassing fashion.

Woods leaned on some of his favorite buzzwords in the immediate aftermath at TPC Scottsdale, insisting that he was simply caught between swing patterns. He was quick to remind the world that he was not that far removed from a five-win season in 2013.

But then Woods abruptly withdrew the following week because of a back injury, limping off the course before offering his now-famous explanation from the Torrey Pines parking lot that he simply couldn’t “activate his glutes.”


Top 10 Newsmakers of 2015: The full list


That two-week debacle led Woods to take an indefinite leave from competition, the strongest indicator yet that something was seriously amiss.

“Like I’ve said, I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level,” Woods wrote on his website. “When I think I’m ready, I’ll be back.”

That return proved to be at the Masters, where Woods’ T-17 finish offered a rare glimmer of hope. But that would turn out to be his lone weekend appearance at the majors, as Woods averaged nearly 76 swipes per round at Chambers Bay, the Old Course and Whistling Straits.

There was also a third-round 85 at Jack’s Place, Woods’ highest single-round score and one that led to a solo dew-sweeping appointment the following morning. While that effort at the Memorial proved to be Woods’ statistical low point, larger setbacks still loomed.

To be fair, there were also signs of progress along the way, hints that maybe this lost campaign could somehow still be salvaged. When Woods returned to action at the Masters, he seemed a different player than the one who had bowed out weeks earlier. He was lighthearted and candid in his pre-tournament pressers; he danced and listened to music while practicing on the range.

And there was eventually cause for optimism on the scorecard, too. He turned two good rounds at The Greenbrier Classic into three good rounds at the Quicken Loans National, which led to the high-water mark of the year at the Wyndham Championship.

After making an unexpected and last-minute commitment to the event, Woods took the tournament by storm before ever hitting a shot. He demonstrated control on a tight track, contending and even leading deep into the weekend. While he didn’t win, he left Greensboro with his first top-10 finish in nearly two years and seemingly had some momentum heading into the offseason.

But just a few weeks later, Woods announced that he had undergone a second microdiscectomy surgery on his injured back, and another follow-up procedure soon followed. When he showed up at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month, Woods’ comments took on a somber tone as he offered no timetable for his return and appeared devoid of optimism.

“Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know, so that’s been hard,” he said. “Hopefully the day-by-day adds up to something positive here soon.”

It was there, in a Bahamian sweatbox in front of dozens of media members, that Woods’ already disastrous year officially bottomed out.

Perhaps we should have known that Woods was in for a strange year when our first glimpse of him was high atop a mountain in January, donning a skeleton ski mask and missing a tooth. Perhaps each on-course struggle that followed should have been made somewhat less jarring by the one that preceded it.

But this was Tiger Woods. This was the most decorated winner of his generation, a man whose golf ball has been largely under his command and control for more than two decades.

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

And yet, despite the struggles, we watched. And we read, and we commented. Woods is now ranked No. 413 in the world, but he is also the central figure in five of the 10 most-read stories on GolfChannel.com this year.

Fans care about Woods, both when he wins and when he misses the cut, and our “Tiger at 40” series has displayed Woods’ far-reaching impact on the game’s current landscape.

So while this year did not go according to plan for Woods, he still gave us plenty to talk about. And although his status for 2016 (and beyond) remains anyone’s guess, one thing appears certain: regardless of his performance, he’ll likely have a spot on this countdown next year.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

 

 

Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.