Woods leaves Aussies eager for his return

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2009, 9:07 pm

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP)—Still wearing his gold jacket from winning theAustralian Masters, with his car waiting to take him to the airport, Tiger Woods had one more stop to make at Kingston Heath.

He stood atop a bench and looked out at some 250 volunteers who had gatheredoutside the tournament office to see him one last time. Woods thanked them fortheir support, saying his week would not have been as special without them.

In true Aussie fashion, one bloke wasn’t interested in a speech.

“What about those errant shots?” he interrupted as his fellow volunteerslaughed along.

“You’re supposed to kick those back into the fairway,” Woods replied.“Make sure you learn that next time I’m here.”

That left everyone—volunteers in the parking lot, more than 100,000 fanswho passed through the gates, tournament officials and anyone who caught aglimpse of the world’s No. 1 player—with a couple of nagging questions.

When exactly does Woods come back?

“I would love to,” he said on three occasions, without saying whether hewould return to defend his title.

The only time Woods didn’t defend a title on the U.S. PGA Tour, except forbeing injured, was when the old BellSouth Classic changed its dates in 1999 toone week before the Masters. Woods never plays that week. International events,with their appearance money, are different. Woods twice did not return to defenda title, after the 1997 Asian Honda Classic and the 2000 Johnnie Walker Classic,both in Thailand.

He received a $3 million appearance fee to play in Australia, half of thatpaid by Victoria state government.

“I don’t think he’s expected to come back,” Ian Baker-Finch said. “But itwould be great if he did to defend.”

The bigger question: What happens to golf in Australia when he doesn’treturn?

For a country that produces more U.S. PGA Tour players than any otheroutside the United States, golf Down Under has been lagging over the last decadewith a drop in sponsorship and interest. Not since Greg Norman was No. 1 in theworld has there been the kind of buzz that took Kingston Heath hostage for allof last week.

“We had a massive spike,” said David Rollo, who runs tournament operationsfor IMG in Australia. “If we don’t have something that’s not 80 percent ofthis, we’ll have lost an opportunity.”

The appeal of Woods was alarming.

Yes, he attracts large crowds wherever he goes. The fans in China were thelargest ever for when Woods played the HSBC Champions the previous week inShanghai. Woods now has won in 13 countries, and he has captured a trophy onevery continent that plays golf. Even so, Melbourne is one of the world’s greatsporting cities, used to seeing some of the biggest stars in cricket, rugby,tennis, swimming.

Woods captivated them like few others.

A woman standing near the first green on Saturday looked down on a reporterwho was inside the ropes. She wasn’t sure why he was there, only that he had anunobstructed view of Woods.

“This must be the greatest day of your life,” she said.

The walking scorer with Woods’ group on Sunday is a member at Kingston Heathwho plays off a 1 handicap and has a career-best round of 69. She knows hergolf. Yet as Woods was about to tee off in the final round, she looked at theteenager holding the scoreboard and said, “This is the holy grail in golf.”

Melbourne is the kind of place where sports fans don’t typically buy ticketsin advance, rather they walk up to the gate on the day of the event. The U.S.PGA Tour found that out the hard way in 2001 for the Accenture Match PlayChampionship when the gallery was sparse until officials gave up on the weeklybadges and went to daily tickets.

For the Australian Masters, tickets sold out in the first week in October,and 35 percent of the sales were outside the state or country. That’s unheard offor this city.

“I think that because he’s the No. 1 athlete in the world, peopleappreciated the fact that he came,” said Baker-Finch, a former British Openchampion who helped with TV coverage. “He’s held in high regard. Everyone builthim up. It was a special week, not just for golf, but for Australia and sport.To me, he over-delivered.”

Rollo said when IMG decided to take over the Australian Masters, its goalwas to attract top-ranked players outside of Australia. Victoria state won thebidding war for Woods over New South Wales, and it proved to be a boon. Whilethe state government paid half the appearance fee, it said the economic returnin town was $20 million.

Not everyone was optimistic about Woods returning next year, especiallysince he was expected to be back in 2011 at Royal Melbourne for the PresidentsCup.

What happens in the meantime?

Woods’ appearance in the Quad City Classic in Illinois as a 20-year-old in1996—he lost a 54-hole lead to Ed Fiori and tied for fifth—generated so muchenthusiasm that the community rallied around its U.S. PGA Tour stop. Woods neverreturned, although what is now the John Deere Classic is attracting strongerfields than before, even in its spot on the calendar one week before the BritishOpen.

Rollo said IMG is committed to bringing in three international players—inaddition to the Australians—from the top 25 in the world. There was talk ofmaking an offer to Phil Mickelson , along with a couple of other players whomight move the needle.

“Hopefully, there were a lot of kids who were out there or watched on TVand said, ‘I want to be part of that,”’ Rollo said. “Hopefully, that will beTiger’s legacy going forward.”

Getty Images

Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

Getty Images

Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

Getty Images

Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

Getty Images

Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”