Woods puts on another futility clinic

By Will GrayJune 19, 2015, 4:07 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – The tournament practice range on a Wednesday evening can be a lonely place. Practice rounds are in the books, and course notes have long been compiled. It’s certainly no time for players to dig answers out of the dirt.

But there stood Tiger Woods on Wednesday at Chambers Bay, the only player on an otherwise abandoned practice facility. Drilling range balls as the sun began to dip, rehearsing patterns and searching for solutions.

After he began the U.S. Open with a 10-over 80, it’s clear he didn’t find them.

The player who struggled mightily at TPC Sawgrass and imploded at Muirfield Village? Yep, he made the trek out to the Pacific Northwest. But while his bottoming out at the Memorial came from miscues magnified by penalty shots, this was death by 1,000 paper cuts.

The driving, the approach shots, the putting. Everything was just a little bit off on a course – and in an event – designed to accentuate the small misses. There is nowhere to hide at Chambers Bay, particularly in front of a primetime audience, and Woods offered up a nearly six-hour testament to the fact that he remains very much lost.

“Not very happy, that’s for sure. It was a tough day,” Woods said. “I stuck that 6-iron in the ground on the first hole, and then just couldn’t quite get it turned around today.”

On a day when many of the game’s best went well into red figures, Woods didn’t make a birdie until his 16th hole. At that point, he was beating only one player among the 156-man field, a 27-year-old club pro named Rich Berberian.

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His scorecard was already riddled with bullet holes before Woods came to the par-5 18th, but there he added salt to a gaping wound. His second shot, a cold-topped 3-wood, trickled into a bunker that USGA executive director Mike Davis didn’t expect a single person to find all week. It was a cringe-worthy effort usually reserved for struggling pro-am partners.

Woods then climbed down into the “Chambers Basement,” reaching the literal bottom of the course after finding the figurative one much earlier in the day. At that point, the scene wasn’t one of shock or surprise. It was simply sad.

Woods has completed 15 rounds this year, failing to break 80 on three occasions.  Two weeks after recording his worst career score, he added his highest-ever round at the U.S. Open.

Woods appears destined to miss the cut at this event for just the second time as a professional, and his struggles have no end in sight. This despite his attempts to paint a rosy picture with proclamations that seem to lack just a bit more conviction every time he trots them out.

“I know when I do it right, it’s so easy,” he said. “It just feels easy to control, easy to do it, easy to hit all my shots. I just need to do it more often and build from there.”

Rest assured, there was nothing easy about Woods’ opening round. Now in the heart of his summer of competitive reps, Woods has hammered home the notion of short-term struggles for the sake of long-term gains. His limp around Chambers Bay certainly didn’t bring him any closer to the second part of that equation.

“It’s just one of those things, just got to work through it,” he said. “I’m trying as hard as I can to do it, and for some reason I just can’t get the consistency that I’d like to have out there.”

The fact that this round came on the 15-year anniversary of Woods’ greatest triumph, his portrait of perfection at Pebble Beach, only serves to show how far he has fallen. The game that appeared so simple back then, so fluid and natural, is now an uphill struggle on all fronts. Woods is hyper-aware of every aspect of his game, forced to think his way through shots and processes that once were second nature.

“I fought, I fought hard. And that was my number. I couldn’t grind out any harder than that,” he said. “So that’s just the way I played, and unfortunately it was a high number today.”

Woods’ round was encapsulated on No. 8. Perched high on a hill along the edge of the property, the hole isn’t accessible this week for spectators. Players are offered a brief reprieve from the frenzy, a chance to hit a few shots in quiet conditions that resemble a Monday practice round.

It was amid that silent air there that Woods, after sailing his tee shot right of right, took a mighty lash and dug his ball out of a hilly mass of fescue. Except the ball went dead left, and his club went sailing backwards over his head.

Woods was left to look around – first for the club, then for the ball. He stood perched on the hillside, arms at his side, simply wondering where it all went.

That search continues for Woods, but the target has never seemed farther away.

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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.