Renewed inspiration has a healthy Tiger on right track

By Damon HackDecember 13, 2016, 3:33 pm

Tiger Woods was sizing up a five-foot par putt in the Bahamas two weeks ago when a small woman in a beige sun hat leaned in for a closer look.

She had followed Woods countless times, but she remained interested in the 40-year-old’s every step.

As soon as Woods struck the ball, she broke the silence.

“In,” Tida Woods, Tiger’s mother, said before the ball dropped into the hole. She turned away and disappeared back into the Bahamian gallery.

All throughout the week at the Hero World Challenge, there were echoes of a time gone by. The greatest player of his generation, raised from the crib to be a champion, broke a 466-day leave of absence with his most emphatic flourishes since he was the game’s No. 1 player three years ago.

The week was tantalizing, rife with rust and double bogeys but also more birdies than anyone. (“Only Tiger Woods could take a year and a half off and put up the numbers he’s putting up,” said the eventual Hero champion, Hideki Matsuyama.)

Woods was far more than a surgically-repaired legend playing out the string. He was a confident shot-maker spinning clubs and turning heads. He was at ease throughout the week, cracking jokes with Patrick Reed, poking fun with reporters (and at himself about his world ranking, which shot up 248 spots, to 650, after the tournament.)

What it means for his final act, however, remains murky, no matter how powerful the nostalgia.

The PGA Tour is overflowing with youngsters who crave the power game and long gym session that Woods once did.

By his own admission, Woods can no longer beat balls for hours on end, nor can he log 30 miles of runs in a week.

But he does have new motivation beyond the resumption of major championship glory.

One Woods confidant in the Bahamas said Woods’s children – who were too young to enjoy his dominant years - are his primary inspiration these days.

Woods also has the perspective that comes with age, accomplishment and defeat, both on and off the course. Through long stretches of doubt, he has rebuilt a body, a golf game and a life.

“I can’t imagine from where he was in the early 2000s, arguably the best to ever play the game, to having to deal with struggle,” said Rickie Fowler, a frequent practice partner of Woods in Jupiter, Fla. “Not being able to put the same move on the ball and hit the same shots he’s used to seeing, and to be patient and go through that whole process and wait until he was ready to make that progress in the last few months. It’s not surprising, but it’s impressive.”

The significance of a 15th place finish in a field of 17 players (many of them counting down the days to Christmas) is unclear, but many of Woods’s peers saw a turning point in his career in the Bahamas.

One year ago at the same venue, he moved stiffly around the golf course, going through his hosting duties while wondering out loud if he would ever play again.

His comeback included months of tiny, tedious repetitive movements to strengthen a back that had been operated on three times.

At the Ryder Cup, after a week of hugs and chest bumps, he postponed a long-awaited comeback at the Safeway Open in October, when he described his game as “vulnerable.”

To some, it was stunning choice of words, an admission of fragility from the player once considered the most mentally tough.

“Napa, as interesting as that was, a nick in the armor, ‘I’m not ready to do this in front of people,’ he’s now shown that he didn’t really care what anybody else was going to think,” Jordan Spieth said. “He wanted to make sure that he was going to come back and be as confident as possible.”

Said Woods: “I wanted to have a more well-rounded game. I just felt like, ‘What’s the point?’ My competitive juices said ‘You can pull this off,’ but why pull it off instead of being more ready? I think I did the right thing.”

Upon his return, Woods showed bursts of the old brilliance, in particular a bogey-free round of 65 in the second round punctuated by par saves reminiscent of his game at its height.

And though he is more than three years removed from his last win – and nearly nine from his last major – he has a new incentive that could boost him.

“Golfers play for different reasons in their 20s, 30s and 40s and these changes are developmentally predetermined,” said Dr. Gio Valiante, the sports psychologist and author who once interviewed 100 golfers for a study in 2002 on golfers and inspiration. “Jack Nicklaus said the hardest thing is finding motivation over a long career.”

In 2002, at age 26, Woods had finished off a run of seven major titles in 11 starts.

“In his 20s, Tiger’s motivation was to see how good he could be, to actualize his talent,” Valiante said. “In the 30s, it shifted during the dark years. It went from mastery to ego. ‘I want to beat that guy.’ His demise was preceded by a loss of motivation. When motivation left him, so did his ability to be great.”

But Valiante sees another shift in motivation for Woods now, just as Jay Haas found a spark in his own game as his son, Bill, neared the PGA Tour, or Mark O’Meara, a practice partner and father figure to Woods, raised his level to win two majors in 1998 at age 41.

“You can have high desire, but if it’s for the wrong reasons, that leads to bad outcomes,” Valiante said. “Wanting your kids to see you be great is a natural and healthy source of motivation.”

Woods beams at the mention of his children, Sam and Charlie, the latter of who finished tied for second in a junior golf tournament in West Palm Beach, Fla., in June.

In the Bahamas, Woods told the story of the two Scotty Cameron putters he doesn’t allow 7-year-old Charlie to touch. The clubs combined to win 14 majors.

“Touch any other putter, do anything you want with any other putter,” Woods said. “These putters are off-limits. These two, Daddy only.”

A renewed drive alone won’t bring birdies or good health, but victory seems farfetched without it.

Woods left the Hero World Challenge in a better place than he arrived. He knows there are those who believe he will win more majors and others who say he is finished.

“It’s noise and you block out the noise,” Woods said. “My job is to go out and execute and win golf tournaments.”

It sounded so familiar, one last reverberation, with a legend trying to keep his hold on the game for just a bit longer.

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Lewis says she's expecting first child in November

By Randall MellApril 27, 2018, 2:18 am

Stacy Lewis is pregnant.

The 12-time LPGA winner confirmed after Thursday’s first round of the Mediheal Championship that she and her husband, University of Houston women’s golf coach Gerrod Chadwell, are expecting their first child on Nov. 3.

Lewis learned she was pregnant after returning home to Houston in late February following her withdrawal from the HSBC Women’s World Championship with a strained oblique muscle.

“We're obviously really excited,” Lewis said. “It wasn't nice I was hurt, but it was nice that I was home when I found out with [Gerrod]. We're just really excited to start a family.”

Lewis is the third big-name LPGA player preparing this year to become a mother for the first time. Suzann Pettersen announced last month that she’s pregnant, due in the fall. Gerina Piller is due any day.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

Piller’s husband, PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, withdrew from the Zurich Classic on Thursday to be with her. Piller and Lewis have been U.S. Solheim Cup partners the last two times the event has been played.

“It's going to be fun raising kids together,” Lewis said. “Hopefully, they're best friends and they hang out. But just excited about the next few months and what it's going to bring.”

Lewis, a former Rolex world No. 1 and two-time major championship winner, plans to play through the middle of July, with the Marathon Classic her last event of the year. She will be looking to return for the start of the 2019 season. The LPGA’s maternity leave policy allows her to come back next year with her status intact.

“This year, the golf might not be great, but I've got better things coming in my life than a golf score.” Lewis said. “I plan on coming back and traveling on the road with the baby, and we'll figure it out as we go.”

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Coach scores in NFL Draft and on golf course

By Grill Room TeamApril 27, 2018, 1:47 am

To say that Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had a good day Thursday would be an understatement. Not only did his team snag one of the top defensive players in the NFL Draft - Georgia outside linebacker Roquan Smith, who the Bears took with the eighth pick of the first round - but earlier in the day Fangio, 59, made a hole-in-one, sinking a 9-iron shot from 125 yards at The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha, Wis.

Perhaps the ace isn't so surprising, though. In late May 2017, Fangio made another hole-in-one, according to a tweet from the Bears. The only information supplied on that one was the distance - 116 yards.

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Gooch chooses 'life over a good lie' with gators nearby

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:31 pm

AVONDALE, La. – A fairway bunker wasn’t Talor Gooch’s only hazard on the 18th hole at TPC Louisiana.

Gooch’s ball came to rest Thursday within a few feet of three gators, leading to a lengthy delay as he sorted out his options.

Chesson Hadley used a rake to nudge two of the gators on the tail, sending them back into the pond surrounding the green. But the third gator wouldn’t budge.

“It woke him up from a nap,” Gooch said, “and he was hissing away and wasn’t happy.”

The other two gators remained in the water, their eyes fixed on the group.

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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“I’m sure we would have been fine, but any little movement by them and no chance I would have made solid contact,” he said.

A rules official granted Gooch free relief, away from the gator, but he still had to drop in the bunker. The ball plugged.

“I chose life over a good lie in that situation,” he said.

He splashed out short of the green, nearly holed out his pitch shot and made par to cap off an eventful 6-under 66 with partner Andrew Landry.

“It was my first gator par,” he said. “I’ll take it.”

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Koepka's game 'where it should be' even after injury

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:18 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Brooks Koepka didn’t look rusty Thursday while making six birdies in the first round of the Zurich Classic.

Making his first start in four months because of a torn ligament in his left wrist, Koepka and partner Marc Turnesa shot a 5-under 67 in fourballs at TPC Louisiana.

“It felt good,” Koepka said afterward. “It was just nice to be out here. I played pretty solid.”

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

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The reigning U.S. Open champion felt soreness in his wrist the week after he won the Dunlop Phoenix in the fall. He finished last at the Hero World Challenge in December and then the following month at the Tournament of Champions before shutting it down.

He only began practicing last week and decided to commit to the Zurich Classic after three solid days at Medalist. He decided to partner with one of his friends in South Florida, Marc Turnesa, a former PGA Tour winner who now works in real estate.

Koepka hasn’t lost any distance because of the injury – he nearly drove the green on the 355-yard 16th hole. He’s planning to play the next two weeks, at the Wells Fargo Championship and The Players.

“I feel like I’m playing good enough to be right where I should be in April,” he said. “I feel good, man. There’s nothing really wrong with my game right now.”