Empty Season for Tiger
Tiger Woods was headed toward another first-round loss at the Match Play Championship in February, trailing Rollins with two holes to play. Woods squared the match with an 8-iron into 18 inches on the 17th, then was let off the hook when his opponent hit sand wedge into the bunker on the final hole and made bogey.
Woods survived the scare, scraped through five more matches and won for the 40th time in his PGA Tour career.
No one suspected that would be the only trophy he held all year.
It's bad enough that Woods just completed his second straight season without a major, matching his career-long drought at 10 without winning the tournaments that matter the most.
Imagine the heat Woods would feel if he had lost that match to Rollins, and faced the final three months of the season trying to avoid a winless season while relying on a game that looks ordinary.
The bigger question: Where does he go from here?
'We have some big ones coming up,' Woods said, trying to convince himself that the year is not lost.
He mentioned the NEC Invitational this week at Firestone and the American Express Championship next month in Ireland, two World Golf Championships that he has dominated.
There's the Ryder Cup, which has never been his favorite event, and the season ends at East Lake in Atlanta with the Tour Championship.
Yes, he's still eligible for that.
Just like last year, the Tour Championship could go a long way toward determining who wins the money list, the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average, and who states his case as PGA Tour player of the year.
Only this time, Woods won't be in the mix.
For the first time since he turned pro in 1996 at the Greater Milwaukee Open, the No. 1 player in the world - for at least one more week, anyway - has nothing to motivate him but pride.
His rookie season, Woods was trying to earn enough money to avoid going to Q-school. He won twice in his first seven events and wound up qualifying for the Tour Championship, still one of the most amazing feats of his career.
Even in 1998, when the BellSouth Classic was his only victory, Woods still had a chance to win the money title and the Vardon Trophy going into the Tour Championship, but David Duval wrapped up both awards.
There is still hope.
Woods won the NEC Invitational three straight times and has never finished worst than fifth in his six appearances at Firestone. He is the two-time defending champion at the American Express.
Even so, that would only dress up a tattered season.
The Big Three is now Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, even though Woods remains No. 1 in the ranking.
With a victory handed to him in the PGA Championship for his third major, Singh took a commanding lead on the money list with just over $6.9 million. That's nearly twice as much money as Woods.
Mickelson and Els are battling for the Vardon Trophy, separated by .04 in adjusted scoring average. Even more telling is that they have finished higher than Woods is the last five majors.
Woods still draws the big crowds.
He remains the only player who can drive television ratings, another example coming from Whistling Straits - the overnight rating was up 4 percent from last year (Shaun Micheel beating Chad Campbell), which was down 41 percent from the year before (Rich Beem holding off Woods).
But he no longer is the favorite in every tournament he plays, even when he has the lead going into the weekend.
The focus the rest of the year now shifts to Singh and Mickelson, and possibly Els.
Even that debate over who had the best season might only last until the 41-year-old Fijian wins again and rises to No. 1. Singh's five victories are three more than anyone else, and while Mickelson had an outstanding year in the majors, he still wound up with as many as Singh.
Mickelson came within five shots of winning all four majors, which could be a deciding factor if the race with Singh is close come November. Then again, one would think that a player of his ability would have won more than two times given that many chances. His other victory was the Bob Hope Classic.
Mickelson has played five fewer tournaments than Singh and has won more money per start, but Singh's five victories (three of those with Lefty in the field) are impossible to ignore.
Els was crushed by letting another major slip away, the last three his own doing. He shot 80 in the final group at the U.S. Open; missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th in regulation and lost in a playoff at the British Open; then made bogey on the 72nd hole at the PGA Championship that cost him a spot in the playoff.
Unlike Woods, the Big Easy still has a chance to make this a big year.
He is one tournament away from returning to No. 1 in the world for the first time in six years. And while he would have to win all three of the big events left, still in the picture is becoming the first player to win the money title on both sides of the Atlantic.
It could be a pretty good show - one that Woods can only watch unfold.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it
There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.
There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.
Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.
The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."
Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:
If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.
“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”
The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.
Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).
We followed our defending champion Toto Gana during his registration! He even did his Donald Duck impression!— LAAC (@LAAC_Golf) January 17, 2018
Acompañamos a Toto Gana, defensor del título, durante todo el proceso de acreditación. ¡Incluso imitó a Donald Duck!#LAAC2018 pic.twitter.com/NGh7hS4cCz
Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in
There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.
Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.
While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.
Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:
1. Brooks Koepka
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Patrick Reed
4. Justin Thomas
5. Jordan Spieth
6. Rickie Fowler
7. Bubba Watson
8. Webb Simpson
9. Bryson DeChambeau
10. Phil Mickelson
11. Matt Kuchar
12. Brian Harman
On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.
Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:
1. Tyrrell Hatton
2. Justin Rose
3. Tommy Fleetwood
4. Francesco Molinari
5. Thorbjorn Olesen
6. Ross Fisher
1. Jon Rahm
2. Rory McIlroy
3. Alex Noren
4. Matthew Fitzpatrick
5. Ian Poulter
6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello
Koepka autographs local kids' 'Go Brooks' sign after win
Brooks Koepka is a two-time U.S. Open winner, but that doesn't mean he's now too big to go sign a couple pieces of cardboard in somebody's front yard in the middle of the night.
Koepka's girlfriend, Jena Sims, posted two pictures to her Instagram story on Sunday of "Go Brooks" signs she says were put up by some local kids in the area where Koepka was staying for the week.
The first is dated prior to Koepka's final-round tee time.
The second is from Sunday night.
And here, separately, for no reason in particular (other than the fact that she posted it) is a video of Sims running over a parking cone at last year's U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
Speaking of kids, just feels those two are gonna make it.
Koepka moves to No. 4 in world with U.S. Open win
After successfully defending his U.S. Open title, Brooks Koepka reached a new career high in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Koepka held off Tommy Fleetwood to win by a shot Sunday at Shinnecock Hills, becoming the first player to go back-to-back in nearly 30 years. As a result, he jumped five spots in the latest rankings to No. 4, six spots higher than he reached with last year's U.S. Open victory at Erin Hills.
Fleetwood finished alone in second place and moved up two spots to No. 10, tying his career-best placement. Patrick Reed moved up two spots to No. 11 by finishing fourth, while fifth-place Tony Finau went from No. 37 to No. 31.
It was a largely quiet week in the rankings despite the fact that a major championship was contested. Outside of Koepka and Finau, the only other player inside the top 50 to move up or down more than three spots was Jason Dufner, who went from 53rd to 48th with a T-25 finish.
Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1 for the second consecutive week, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Koepka and Jordan Spieth. Jon Rahm dropped one spot to No. 6, with Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Fleetwood rounding out the top 10. Hideki Matsuyama fell two spots to No. 12, dropping out of the top 10 for the first time since October 2016.
Despite a missed cut at Shinnecock, Tiger Woods actually moved up one spot to No. 79 in the latest rankings. He plans to play the Quicken Loans National and The Open in the coming weeks, which will be his final two chances to move into the top 50 in time to qualify for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The event is being held for the final time this summer at Firestone Country Club, where Woods has won eight times.