Woods' flaws on full display in 82 at Phoenix Open

By Will GrayJanuary 30, 2015, 9:50 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – This wasn’t how the experiment was supposed to go.

Here stood Tiger Woods, walking aimlessly through a desert left of the 14th fairway at TPC Scottsdale. Circling. Searching.

“Did anyone see where it went?” he asked.

Woods was looking for an errant drive, one that he ultimately found nestled in a bush. Thirteen holes later, a similar question was on the lips of media and fans alike after he carded the highest round of his professional career.

Who is this guy, and what has he done with Tiger Woods?

It was only two days ago, after all, that Woods was upbeat and full of promise. Cracking jokes, speaking of reformed habits and optimistic about finally embarking on a season equipped with a clean bill of health. This added tournament stop would offer much-needed reps and it would serve as a welcome return to an event most thought he had abandoned, the site of one of his most memorable moments.

The swing was good, he said, and the chipping woes of December had been beaten into submission in the offseason by hard work and repetition under new coach Chris Como.

Then he stepped to the tee under the spotlight of competition, and it all became a mirage.

Woods has experienced a variety of on-course low points in recent years, but this was uncharted territory. An outward 44 matched the score he put up at Muirfield Village two years ago, and the 11-over 82 was one more swipe than he took amid abysmal weather conditions at the 2002 Open Championship.

The main culprit Friday was the same one as Thursday, and the same as at last month’s Hero World Challenge. Woods, once blessed with a world-class short game, no longer can chip.

The stat line was woeful, but the visuals were even worse. Faced with a 35-foot pitch from behind the fourth green, Woods hit it 47 yards over the green. A 31-yard chip on No. 14 traveled only 19 yards. He stood 48 feet from the hole on No. 15, and two strikes later he was still 25 feet from the target.


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First a blade, then a chunk. Duffs followed by skulls. Woods covered the entire spectrum of poor short-game shots, improbably transformed into a 12-handicap once he stepped within 50 yards of the green.

His response after the round, as it often has in recent years, went back to mechanics.

“Well, it’s the pattern,” Woods said. “I was much deeper overall swing-wise. My attacking was much deeper with Sean (Foley). Now I’m very shallow, so that in turn affects the chipping. I’m not bottoming out in the same spot. It’s a different spot.”

Patterns and spots and bottoming out are wonderful subjects to discuss during practice rounds or offseason workouts, but they don’t help execute a shot when it counts. Faced with that task time after time this week, Woods simply appeared lost.

“It was painful to watch,” said Jordan Spieth, who played the first two rounds with Woods, “because you know his short game was once as good as anybody’s will ever be.”

Therein lies the sad truth to Woods’ current struggle: the fall not only came quickly, but from such unprecedented heights. Woods relied on his short game as an asset for years, and in turn it has now deserted him in the coldest and most brutal fashion imaginable.

Woods – Tiger Woods, for goodness sake! – has the yips.

After some prodding, Woods finally ceded that some of his troubles could be rooted in the mental side of his game, even if he quickly returned to familiar keywords during the explanation.

“It is mental to an extent because the physical pattern is different,” he said. “So obviously when the physical pattern is different, the trust is not quite there. I’m not bottoming out in the same spot. Yeah, to an extent, yes it is (mental), but I need to physically get the club in a better spot.”

The 17th hole served as a microcosm for Woods’ short-game woes, as he and Spieth were in nearly identical positions in the fairway short of the green at the short par 4. Woods stood by as Spieth confidently pulled out a wedge and spun his pitch to within 3 feet of the hole. Tap-in birdie.

Seemingly wracked with indecision, Woods hesitated before drawing a mid-iron. His bump-and-run attempt barely got airborne, and the shot stopped short of the putting surface. It led to a bogey.

The trust, the self-belief that propelled him to such amazing heights has evaporated to the point that Woods does not have the confidence to even attempt a shot that most pros consider routine. It was the fourth of six pitches, chips or bunker shots Friday that he failed to simply get on the green.

Admittedly in need of tournament rounds, Woods exits Phoenix with two fewer reps than he expected as the litany of questions surrounding his game only grows.

Now he heads to San Diego, where the search for answers will continue.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.