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Weekly 18: Mad, mad golf world

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For the better part of three days, the TPC Blue Monster course failed to look very threatening, instead more closely resembling an animated Smurf.

The track yielded so many eagles that even the hair of new owner Donald Trump was standing on end.

In the final round, though, it was another group of Eagles whose words about a Monster rang truer than any: “They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast.'

When it was over, it was Justin Rose whose steely knives had done the most damage to the beast, earning his fourth career PGA Tour victory by a single stroke over Bubba Watson. This week’s edition of the W18 begins with the idea that Rose is on the verge of even bigger accomplishments.


1. A Rose By Any Other Name

For those who clicked over from the festivities at Doral in favor of the NCAA’s Selection Sunday, here’s a quick summary: Justin Rose won his conference championship and is now one of the top seeds entering next month’s Big Dance at Augusta National Golf Club.

The tournament currently known as the WGC-Cadillac Championship has been contested since 1999 on a half-dozen different courses around the world, but enjoys one common bond amongst its champions. Other than last year’s winner, Nick Watney, all previous titleholders had either won a major before winning this event or won one shortly thereafter – or both.

Granted, that list includes the name Tiger Woods on six separate occasions, but the point is hardly moot: Winning this tournament is a pretty good indicator of a player’s ability to win a major.

Rose may be adding his name to that list very soon, too.

I’ve contended since his BMW Championship title last year that Rose is on the right path toward reaching that success and nothing he’s done lately has altered my view of that imminent prosperity.

He tends to agree.

“No doubt about it, if you look at the tournaments I've won, Jack's tournament [Memorial], Tiger's tournament [AT&T National], a playoff event over here [BMW] and now a World Golf Championship [Cadillac], the progression is really, really nice,” Rose said. “The only thing that really is the next level up is a major. But not to say that I'm at that stage in my career where I'm only focusing on the majors; I think there's a lot more for me to do in the game than to get to that point. But no doubt, I feel my game is getting ready for that. 

“You've got to not maybe put too much emphasis on the majors. I just have to keep preparing well and keep doing what I'm doing at the moment and hopefully you just put yourself in the right situation at the right time.”

A major championship seems like it’s been predestined for Rose ever since he finished in a share of fourth place as a 17-year-old amateur at the 1998 Open Championship.

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Rose is still searching for such notoriety, but if his play over the past 24 months – and this past week, in particular – is any indicator, he may finally claim that long-awaited major title this year. Hey, it could even happen next month.


2. What I Learned

I learned that no matter what Tiger Woods does, he’ll always be wrong in the eyes of some fans. Here is a sampling of tweets I received after his withdrawal on Sunday: 

“I knew he was still injured!” (Funny. Didn’t hear anyone making that claim after he shot a final-round 62 last week.)

“He’s just a quitter and a sore loser!” (In 278 career PGA Tour starts, he has withdrawn exactly five times – or once every three years.) 

“He would have kept going if he was in contention!” (Well, yeah. No kidding. Same goes for every other player on Tour. If you’re injured, but in contention, you gut it out; if you’re injured and out of the mix, there’s no point in risking further damage to the injury.) 

Conspiracy theories aside, the truth is, Woods was close to regaining top form before injuring himself once again. We don’t yet know the extent of the left Achilles injury, but if it was enough to force him from the event, then it’s enough to cause plenty of concern. I’ve never understood claims – in golf or other sports – from fans who consider athletes “soft” for repeatedly getting injured. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. Tiger didn’t hurt himself on purpose or through any fault of his own, so why is there such a backlash against him right now? Well, as we’ve learned when it comes to him, such criticism will always exist, no matter what.

For a more complete look at What We Learned, click here.


Three Up

Gil Hanse

3. Gil Hanse

Without a doubt, there hasn’t been as momentous a week for a golf course architect as the one enjoyed by Gil Hanse over the past seven days.

The Pennsylvania-based designer received the call from the IOC to build the Olympic course for golf’s return to the games four years from now in Rio de Janeiro, then showed up 24 hours later at Doral, as Donald Trump’s appointee to redo the Blue Monster.

Being awarded the Olympics gig, in particular, is noteworthy for Hanse, who is known for producing such acclaimed tracks as Castle Stuart and Boston Golf Club. He was given the job over design firms featuring bigger names such as Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Gary Player.

I can’t add much to the Hanse story that hasn’t been told in recent days, other than to say this is a win for purveyors of any specific craft.

Think about it: If you have a clogged sink, would you rather call a jack-of-all-trades who also paints and installs light fixtures? Or would you rather call a plumber who specializes in fixing that particular issue?

Unlike the other candidates, Hanse isn’t a retired golfer, doesn’t have his own clothing line and doesn’t host any golf tournaments. He is a golf course architect. That’s all.

And that should bode well for the project over the next four years.

4. Rory McIlroy

More than a few observers noted the symbolism when, just as Tiger Woods was getting into his car after withdrawing during the final round, McIlroy holed a bunker shot on the 12th hole for birdie. Not that I think these upcoming years will wholly be the “Rory Era” and nor do I believe that Woods is done, but if you’re seeking a tangible passing-of-the-torch moment, well, there you go.

For those who still aren’t willing to buy into the Rory hype, you had exactly 24 hours to gloat about your theory. Following his win at the Honda Classic, McIlroy jetted off to New York to visit girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, played a point against Maria Sharapova, then posted an opening-round 73, after which he said he felt “flat.”

Since then? The No. 1-ranked player went 69-65-67 to finish in solo third place – his fifth top-5 finish in five worldwide starts this season.

As I wrote in this column after his runner-up result at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, I think Rory has made the leap into Tiger’s former territory in just one aspect of his game – consistency. Over his first few seasons, he was just as likely to win as finish 25th or 50th or miss the cut. Now, even without his A-game for all rounds, McIlroy can and will contend nearly every single time he tees it up.

There aren’t many players in the history of the game for whom we can make that claim. But Rory is proving it true with each start.

5. George McNeill

It wasn’t so long ago that McNeill was a club professional in South Florida. I’ve had many conversation with Sunshine State pros who not only remember playing both competitive and friendly matches against him, but remember getting into his pocket on more than one occasion, too.

Well, those pockets are much deeper now, following his second career PGA Tour victory at the Puerto Rico Open, where he held off Ryo Ishikawa with three straight birdies to close and win by two.

Even after Sunday’s triumph, McNeill recalled his club professional days.

“In between playing the Nationwide Tour and getting on PGA Tour, there was about an eight-month stretch in there where I gave up competitive golf and went to work in a golf pro shop,” he said of his days at Shadow Wood in Bonita Springs and The Forest in Fort Myers. “I realized that I really don't want to do that, and that kind of drove me back to playing competitive golf again.”

Such a humble background doesn’t prevent McNeill from thinking big, though. When asked his plans for the remainder of the season, he joked, “To win 12 more times.”

There are plenty of Florida section pros who wouldn’t mind seeing that at all.


Three Down

Sergio Garcia

6. Sergio Garcia

He was cruising along at 5 under through his opening nine holes on Thursday … and that’s when things started going horribly wrong.

Garcia followed with six bogeys in his next eight holes, then a triple at the last, when he yanked two into the agua.

But that was nothing compared with what happened on Sunday.

On the par-4 third hole, Garcia hit four balls into the water en route to making a 12 – yes, the dreaded octo-bogey.

I’m still bullish – as I’ve been for a while – on Sergio’s long-term chances to win multiple majors – but his propensity for going from good to bad to worse can’t be considered a good sign.

7. Olympics website

As we know, golf will return to the Olympic Games in 2016. Apparently, the IOC – or whoever runs their website – assumes that just because the game hasn’t been part of the festivities for decades, we don’t understand how it’s played.

And so they offer this handy description of the game: “The athletes compete individually on grass fields that have different configurations. There are varied Golf courses leading to holes with orange-size diameter. The goal is to roll the ball into the hole with the fewer number of strikes as possible.”

Roll the ball? Strikes? Sounds more like bowling than golf.

To the person who wrote that description of golf, allow me to quote famed bowler The Dude: “Obviously you're not a golfer.”

8. Zack Miller

Poor Zack finds himself in the Three Down section for the second time in a month, but it’s not because I’m picking on him. In fact, what he’s done in the past few weeks is pretty impressive.

Miller received plenty of ink late last month when he posted scores of 81-92 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Since then, he’s missed a cut on the Nationwide Tour and missed another on the PGA Tour, failing to cash at the Puerto Rico Open this week.

A quick check of his last five rounds, though, shows steady improvement, with successive scores of 92-82-81-80-75.

I’m no math whiz, but that current pace could have him posting 59 by mid-summer.


9. Stat of the Week

I can’t be certain this stat doesn’t share a record, but I can be positive there’s never been a number that’s better.

In the opening round of the Puerto Rico Open, Brendon de Jonge played the four par-3 holes in a collective 5 under par.

That would be birdies on the sixth, eighth and 11th holes, then an ace on the 16th.

For the round, he shot 3-under 69, with a dozen pars and a pair of bogeys on all other holes.


10. Quote of the Week

“I'm going to say this off the record even though we are on live television. I'm hearing rumors about getting the U.S. Women's Open.” – Donald Trump.

Note to The Donald: The press room is not Las Vegas. What happens in the press room doesn’t stay in the press room.

As many of my colleagues on site noted, this may have been the first instance ever in which the interview subject during a press conference asked for something off the record in front of a room full of reporters and TV cameras.

Oh, and on the record, Trump was referring to the 2017 edition of the U.S. Women’s Open, which is rumored to be going to Trump Bedminster in New Jersey.   Click for more Quotes of the Week


11. Video Mailbag

The Grey Goose 19th Hole team examines how long Rory McIlroy will hold the No. 1 ranking in this Grey Goose Internet Extra.


Three Wishes

Augusta National

12. I wish there was a Selection Sunday in golf.

Watching the nail-biting and fretting over which teams reached the NCAA Tournament and which were left out got me thinking that golf should have a similar section process once per year.

So here’s what I’m thinking…

We can all agree that the Official World Golf Ranking isn’t the ultimate barometer of talent and performance, right? And we concur that entry into the Masters field is the best invitation for a player all year?

With that in mind, Augusta National officials should institute Selection Sunday.

Much like the NCAA hoops tourney, there would be automatic berths. Let’s keep all past champions and PGA Tour regular season winners, but add winners from select European Tour events and instead cut back from top-50 to top-20 on the OWGR at year’s end and two weeks prior.

And also like the college tournament, plenty of at-large berths would be available. Would there be controversy surrounding those who made it and those who didn’t? Of course. But the process wouldn’t be any more fickle than the current format, in which one player can make the field over another because he earned more ranking points at last year’s Singapore Open.

Hey, if the ANGC folks can offer a special invitation to any player anyway (see: Ishikawa, Ryo), then it isn’t that much of a stretch to leave, say, about one-third of the field to arbitrary choices, while obviously employing such factors as recent form, ranking and past results in the decision making process.

Much like the NCAA process, it would get people talking about the Masters for weeks ahead of time, with Selection Sunday serving as must-see TV for those who care about the tournament.

13. I wish William Willett received more credit.

After waking up Sunday morning with an hour less sleep, but an hour more daylight at day's end, I tweeted the following:

I remain convinced that Daylight Saving Time was the idea of some scientist who just wanted to play golf after work all summer.

Many tweeters responded by half-kidding that he should win a Nobel Prize, but really, I was only half-kidding myself. So I did a little research and learned that while New Zealand entomologist G.V. Hudson first expressed the idea, the man who championed its cause was William Willett, a British scientist who indeed just wanted to play golf after work all summer.

Though his idea wasn't enacted until the 1960s, in his 1907 pamphlet 'The Waste of Daylight,' Willett wrote: 'Everyone appreciates the long light evenings. Everyone laments their shrinkage as the days grow shorter, and nearly everyone has given utterance to a regret that the clear bright light of early mornings, during Spring and Summer months, is so seldom seen or used.'

So there you go. The next time you're finishing up on the 18th green three hours after racing out of the office, give thanks to Willett. And maybe a posthumous Nobel Prize isn't such a bad idea after all.

14. I wish the new “Golden Age” surfaces as we may expect.

Here’s my take on what seems like a new era in the game: Golf on cusp of new Golden Age


15. Tweets of the Week

One of the benefits of social media is the ability to find out news faster than ever before. Another is opportunity to see others’ reaction to such news.

On Thursday, it was revealed that PGA Tour member Jarrod Lyle is undergoing a recurrence of the leukemia that he battled as a teenager. Lyle will have a long fight with the disease, but support from his peers spread like wildfire on Twitter within 24 hours of the news. Here’s a sampling of some of those tweets:

@Arjunatwal My thoughts and prayers with jarrod Lyle.. Stay tough bud..we are all thinking of you and can't wait to see you back on tour

@DJohnsonPGA Good morning!! Happy Friday!! Today is a new day - but my condolences go out to Jarrod Lyle and his family while he fights leukemia #support

@JasonGore59 Golf is insignificant when you consider my friend Jarrod Lyle has to fight against Leukemia again. You beat it once, you'll beat it again.

@Brendan_Steele Thoughts and love Jarrod Lyle. One of the great guys in the world. You have all our support to beat this thing.

@PaulAzinger Wishing Jarrod Lyle well..First child due this week, has just found out that he faces a recurrence of Leukemia.

@aronpricePGA Good luck to Jarrod Lyle. You have beaten it once you will beat it again. The whole golf world is behind you.

@elkpga Just spoke to Jarrod Lyle .. His spirits are high ... Looking forward to the birth of his 1st child tonight....knows what he's in 4... Ready

@BillyHo_Golf Very sad news about Jarrod Lyle! He's a great dude and I fully expect him to make a full recovery! He did it once and he will do it again

@IanJamesPoulter We are hoping Jarod Lyle makes a full and speedy recovery, best wishes to him & his wife they are expecting their first child soon as well.

@Nitties23 All my positive thoughts go out to Jarod Lyle... Great bloke with a huge heart.. Beat it again brother and show you kid who's the daddy!


16. Photo of the Week

Earlier in the Three Down section, I mentioned the Olympic website entry for golf. Well, there’s a photo, too – and apparently the IOC is expecting a major comeback for former PGA Championship runner-up Bob May four years from now.

Here’s the pic: http://www.rio2016.org/en/the-games/sports/olympic/golf

And as pointed out by @Decker_Brian, that photo is unmistakably May: http://beta.images.theglobeandmail.com/archive/01277/bobmay_1277819gm-a.jpg

View all Photos of the Week.


17. From the Inbox

With golf’s place in the Olympic Games part of this week’s news, Ross Schade of Iowa writes in with a question about what it will mean to players:

Where would an Olympic gold medal rank against other accomplishments? Four majors? One major? WGC title? John Deere Classic?

My easy answer is that there is no answer. That’s because winning a gold medal will mean different things for different players. For some, it may rank as greater than a major; for others, it could be less than a regular season PGA Tour or LPGA win.

That’s not a copout. It’s the truth.

One thing I can be sure about: The ones who play the best in Rio de Janeiro will be the ones for whom it means the most.


18. And the Winner Is…

K.J. Choi

It’s been a slow start to the season for K.J. Choi, who finished T-5 at the season-opener in Maui, but hasn’t fared better than 24th in four starts since.

There’s no better place for him to get back on the right track than Tampa.

That’s especially true in even-numbered years, as he won the tournament now called the Transitions Championship in 2002 and 2006, and finished solo second in 2010.

Expect another even-handed performance this week.