Woods break officially begins this week
This was Nicholas Thompson, not Tiger Woods.
And that’s why the “indefinite break” from golf that Woods announced two months ago didn’t really start until Tuesday.
It has been 53 days since golf’s biggest star announced he was stepping away to sort out a private life that has run amok through tabloids and gossip magazines because of his extramarital affairs.
Truth is, little has changed during his absence.
At least so far.
The PGA Tour is only three weeks into its new season, three events that Woods usually doesn’t play. Besides, not as many Americans watch golf during those weeks, from behind the ropes or on the sofa. Not when the tournaments are played on two islands in the Pacific or four courses in the California desert. Not when they are held the same weekend as the NFL playoffs.
Torrey Pines, however, is different.
It’s the first tournament on U.S. network television. It’s where Woods and his chief rival, Phil Mickelson, typically start their seasons.
How much will the Tour miss Woods? Now is the time to start keeping score.
This is a big week for Tom Wilson, the tournament director of what now is called the Farmers Insurance Open. This might be the only PGA Tour event in history that had four names in the span of one year – the Buick Invitational, the Century Club of San Diego Invitational, the San Diego Open and the Farmers Insurance Open.
General Motors filed for bankruptcy, knocking out Buick as the title sponsor. The tournament found a replacement only last week, and Wilson is optimistic that Farmers will be interested in signing on for more than just this year.
It would have helped to have Woods around this week, bringing the energy and crowds that once accompanied him.
Woods has missed this tournament only once when healthy, in 1997 when he was playing for appearance money overseas and won the Asian Honda Classic by 10 shots. He had to skip last year while recovering from knee surgery, although he still managed to steal some headlines by announcing hours after the final round that his wife had given birth to their son, Charlie.
Torrey Pines has become the tour’s signature stop on the West Coast Swing, awarded the prime spot on the calendar between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl. It’s no surprise that its TV ratings have dwarfed every other tournament on the West Coast, helped in part by Woods winning five of the last six times he played.
The difference now, of course, is not only what’s keeping him away but the uncertainty of when he will return.
By now, players have accepted that Woods is on leave and that his personal life is a wreck. There really is nothing else to say beyond the daily dose of gossip. What really happened that night he drove his SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree? Is he really at a sex addiction clinic in Mississippi? Did his wife participate in the program? Does their marriage have a chance?
The bigger question, which no one can answer, is when he will return.
Rocco Mediate is back at Torrey Pines for the first time since that 19-hole playoff loss to Woods in the 2008 U.S. Open. Mediate missed last year with a knee injury, which largely went unnoticed. He went to the putting green on Monday and told his caddie, “A little different here.” Missing were thousands of fans surrounding the practice range on the North Course.
Missing was his adversary that day, Woods.
“Yeah, that’s really different,” Mediate said. “Any time he’s not in the field, it’s obviously not the best field we have. You always want your best guy. It always makes it what it’s supposed to be, especially (since) he’s won here 712 times. So it’s hard to beat that guy here.”
His absence will continue to capture attention if he’s not at the Match Play Championship (where he returned a year ago) or another World Golf Championship at Doral the second week of March, or at Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Nick Watney was reminded of his victory last year, when hours after he left Torrey Pines with the trophy, word leaked that Woods had become a father again. So if Watney were to win again, could history repeat itself with another announcement from Woods? And what would the announcement be?
Watney laughed at the possibility.
“I hope it would be that he’s coming back,” Watney said. “Because we need him.”
Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage
NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:
Friday, Day 2 (Times ET)
Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)
Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.
1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.
Fleetwood, with his fancy umbrella, fires 65 on Day 2
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood looked like an Open rookie when he set out on Friday under gray skies and a cold, steady rain.
Because the Englishman doesn’t have an equipment sponsor he made a quick turn through the merchandise tent for an umbrella – but at least he didn’t have to pay for it.
“We stole it,” he laughed when asked about his Open-brand umbrella. “We got one given for free, actually. We didn't steal it. We don't always carry an umbrella. So it just so happens this week that we've got a nice Open Championship [umbrella]. It looked quite nice, the yellow and the course.”
It was Fleetwood’s only rookie move on Day 2 at Carnoustie, posting a flawless 65 to move into an early tie for second place at 5 under par.
Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, a 9-under 63 he shot last fall during the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, but given Friday’s conditions and the difficulty of this course during The Open, his 65 on Friday might have been better.
“It's not a course record, but it's pretty good,” said Fleetwood, who was stroke behind leader Zach Johnson. “If you went out, you wouldn't really fancy being 6 under out there. So I think that's a good indication of how good it was.”
It was a dramatic turnaround for Fleetwood on Friday. He said he struggled with his ball-striking, specifically his tee shots, on Day 1, but he was able to turn things around with an hour-long session on the range following his opening round.
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.
Tweets by GCTigerTracker
McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.
McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.
But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.
“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.
“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.
“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”
McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.
“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”
McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.