Woods begins latest comeback with no guarantees

By Will GrayOctober 30, 2017, 11:15 pm

Here we go again.

With a quick blog post and a tweet launched into the social media ether, Tiger Woods again lit a flame to the biggest tinderbox in golf.

Will his oft-injured back hold up in the latest iteration of his return to competition, now set for the Hero World Challenge a month from now? Can he improve upon last year’s result, where he led the field in birdies but only beat two players across 72 holes? Is there still time to get a bet down in Vegas that he’ll slip on a fifth green jacket in April?

After months of sparse updates and rudderless speculation, it’s all again on the table. Woods will step back inside the ropes a few weeks before his 42nd birthday, with a rebuilt body and a revamped mindset.

“I’m excited to return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge,” he said Monday in a release. “Albany is the perfect setting and it will be great to join this outstanding field.”

But the question remains: will this time be any different than the last?

Keep in mind, this entire string of events, the sheer idea of Woods hitting a competitive shot before 2018, seemed rather preposterous only a month ago. It was at the Presidents Cup that Woods entertained the notion that he might never play competitive golf again, much to the surprise of the media gathered in the shadow of Lady Liberty.

“I don’t know what my future holds for me,” Woods said on Sept. 27. “As I’ve told you guys, I’m hitting 60-yard shots.”

My, how things can escalate. In the span of a few short weeks, Woods went from hitting pitches to full shots on the range to drivers on the course and his patented stinger.

A brimming arsenal was showcased – and quickly, at that – leading many to suddenly realize that the Hero, which had purposefully held back two open spots when announcing the majority of its 18-player field, was still in play.

Granted, this rapid renaissance flies in the face of Woods’ other recent comments about easing back into things. That was also the goal a year ago, when he ended a 15-month hiatus in his Bahamian alcove after patiently biding his time, only to see a well-crafted comeback attempt crumble after only seven rounds.

“I don’t know what 100 percent means after eight surgeries, but I’ll try and get as close as I can to that number,” Woods said last month. “But as I said, we just take it one step at a time. It’s a process, and I’m in no hurry.”

Perhaps the calendar sped things along, given that his next plausible playing opportunity wouldn't be until late January. Or maybe Woods was simply overcome with giddiness after cranking out a handful of swings without flinching in pain for the first time in months, if not years.

Don’t discount the allure of making his much-anticipated return in the highly-controlled environment of Albany. With an 18-man field, unofficial stakes, sparse crowds, limited media and a forgiving course with which he’s familiar, there are plenty of reasons to circle this particular week, even if he seems to be progressing ahead of any discernible schedule.

To his credit, Woods appears to have used his time away from the game to turn over a new, self-deprecating leaf. He grinned his way around Liberty National as an assistant captain and displayed a level of self-awareness with his “return of the stinger” tweet last week that would have seemed out of place a decade ago.

Even Monday’s announcement included a reference to the “committee of 1” which granted Woods, the tournament host, an exemption specifically reserved for the tournament host.

The thought of a largely healthy Woods returning to action is tantalizing enough, but for that same player to be willing to have a little fun while trying to keep up with players half his age? The internet has combusted over less.

Granted, there are still far more questions than answers as to the state of Woods’ game. His lumbar fusion surgery in April, the fourth procedure in recent years aimed at healing his ailing lower back, was by all accounts his most invasive surgery to date. Its impact on his flexibility and swing arc over the course of 18 holes, let alone 72, remain to be seen.

And by Woods’ own account, he wasn’t doing anything “golf-related” until a few weeks ago, and only earlier this month did he receive clearance from his surgeon to resume full golf activities. The situation is a far cry from last year, when he slowly but surely ramped his game back into playing shape only to find that it was decidedly rough around the edges.

But if nothing else, Woods’ comments last month served the purpose of flattening any lingering expectations. Each accurate drive, flushed iron and holed birdie putt from here on out will feel like a bonus given the state of Woods’ game, or lack thereof, for much of the year.

At this point, Woods’ much-heralded return doesn’t extend beyond a few low-key rounds along the Bahamian coast. After the misfire that followed last year’s appearance, there are no certainties about how his body will respond at Albany, or in the weeks that follow.

Four years removed from his last healthy season, nine months since limping away from Dubai and again tasked with rehabbing a surgically-repaired body, Woods won’t begin this latest comeback equipped with any guarantees.

But his latest announcement shows that he’s still willing to give it another shot.

Happy Thanksgiving: Biggest turkeys of 2017

By Grill Room TeamNovember 23, 2017, 3:00 pm

Thanksgiving brings us golf's biggest turkeys of the year. Donald Trump, Grayson Murray and a certain (now-former) tournament director headline the list. Click here or on the image below to check out all the turkeys.

Tributes pour in for legendary caddie Sheridan

By Randall MellNovember 23, 2017, 2:54 pm

Tributes are pouring in as golf celebrates the life of Greg Sheridan after receiving news of his passing.

Sheridan, a long-time LPGA caddie who worked for some of the game’s all-time greats, including Kathy Whitworth and Beth Daniel, died Wednesday in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., at 63. He was diagnosed in July 2016 with brain and lung cancer.

Sheridan worked the last dozen years or so with Natalie Gulbis, who expressed her grief in an Instagram post on Wednesday:

“Greg…I miss you so much already and it hasn’t even been a day. 15+ seasons traveling the world you carried me & my bag through the highs and lows of golf and life. You were so much more than my teammate on the course…Thank you.”

Sheridan was on Whitworth’s bag for the last of her LPGA-record 88 titles.

“When I first came on tour, I would try to find out how many times Greg won,” Gulbis told Golfweek. “It’s a crazy number, like 50.”

Matthew Galloway, a caddie and friend to Sheridan, summed up Sheridan’s impressive reach after caddying with him one year at the LPGA Founders Cup, where the game’s pioneers are honored.

“Best Greg story,” Galloway tweeted on Thanksgiving morning, “coming up 18 at PHX all the founders were in their chairs. Greg goes, `Yep, caddied for her, her and her.’ Legend.”

In a first-person column for Golf Magazine last year, Gulbis focused on Sheridan while writing about the special bond between players and caddies. She wrote that she won the “looper lottery” when she first hired Sheridan in ’04.

“Greg and I have traveled the world, and today he is like family,” Gulbis wrote. “Sometimes, he’s a psychologist. Last year, my mom got sick and it was a distraction, but he was great. When I used to have boyfriend issues and breakup issues, he was my confidant. In a world where caddies sometimes spill secrets, Greg has kept a respectful silence, and I can’t thank him enough for that. He’s an extension of me.”

Four months after Gulbis wrote the column, Sheridan was diagnosed with cancer.

“The LPGA family is saddened to hear of the loss of long-time tour caddie, Greg Sheridan,” the LPGA tweeted. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and players he walked with down the fairways. #RIP.”

Dean Herden was among the legion of caddies saddened by the news.

“Greg was a great guy who I respected a lot and taught me some great things over the years,” Herden texted to GolfChannel.com.

Here are some of heartfelt messages that are rolling across Twitter:

Retired LPGA great Annika Sorenstam:

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan in a retweet of Gulbis:

Golf Channel reporter and former tour player Jerry Foltz:

Christina Kim:

LPGA caddie Shaun Clews:

LPGA caddie Jonny Scott:

LPGA caddie Kevin Casas:

LPGA pro Jennie Lee:

Fitzpatrick one back in 2018 Euro Tour opener

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 1:37 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia had six birdies and a bogey Thursday for a 5-under 65 and a one-stroke lead at the Hong Kong Open, the first event of the 2018 European Tour season.

Playing in sunny but breezy conditions at the Hong Kong Golf Club, the greens had the players struggling to gauge the approach.

''Very tough conditions today,'' Chawrasia said. ''It's very firm greens, to be honest. I'm just trying to hit the second shot on the green and trying to make it like a two-putt.''

Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open

Shubhankar Sharma and Matthew Fitzpatrick (both 66) were one shot behind, while seven others were tied for fourth a further stroke behind.

''Hit it great tee to green,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''I think I had like seven or eight chances inside 15 feet, and on a day like today when it's so windy and such a tough golf course, with how tight it is, yeah, it was a good day.''

Justin Rose, who won the title in 2015, shot was 2 under with five birdies and three bogeys.

''I think the course played a couple shots harder than it typically does,'' Rose said. ''I like this course. I think it offers plenty of birdie opportunities.''

Masters champion Sergio GarciaRafa Cabrera Bello and defending champion Sam Brazel (69) were in a group of 16 at 1 under.

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday.