An important Ryder Cup for Tiger Woods
Corey Pavin sat at the head table on the seventh floor of the New York Stock Exchange and announced his four captain’s picks to reporters and PGA of America dignitaries. The players, so thrilled to be chosen you could almost see them beaming as they listened via a conference call, were introduced one by one and asked to say “hello” to their captain.
This was new for Woods. He has led the Ryder Cup standings every time since turning pro.
“Tiger Woods, are you with us today?” PGA spokesman Julius Mason said from the podium. “Say ‘good morning’ to your captain and everybody else in attendance today.”
An awkward silence followed.
Mason turned slightly nervous when he called out his name again, and for the briefest moment, some in the room wondered if Woods didn’t bother calling in or had hung up. Mason looked relieved to finally hear Woods’ voice.
The only time Woods is ever on a conference call is to accept PGA Tour player of the year or to speak to local media at a tournament where he is the defending champion. On Tuesday, he was no different than Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink and Rickie Fowler – even though he is very different.
Woods has won twice as many majors as the rest of the U.S. team combined, and nearly as many PGA Tour titles. He has been No. 1 in the world longer than seven of his teammates have been on tour.
But he still needed to be a captain’s pick to play. And there’s a reason for that.
True, Woods got a late start on the year when he tried to salvage a marriage that was shattered by his infidelity. He didn’t play until the Masters and has competed only 11 times this year. That still should have been enough for him to qualify for the team, except that Woods had trouble finishing in the top 10.
He no longer looks invincible on the golf course.
The American team no longer can be perceived as Tiger Woods and 11 other guys wearing the same uniform. At the moment, he’s not playing any better than them.
It could be the best thing that ever happened to him.
Woods is not the loner on tour that some make him out to be. At one tournament this year, he bet one of his playing partners who would shoot the lowest score over 36 holes, and the loser had to buy tickets to the movies that afternoon.
And while he privately rolls his eyes at black-tie dinners and opening ceremonies at the Ryder Cup that can feel more like a presidential inauguration, the best times of the year are spent in the team room with his fellow Americans.
“What nobody understands – it doesn’t matter if it’s you or my son or a fan on TV or Tiger’s mom – you don’t get it unless you’re in the team room,” said Davis Love III, an assistant captain this year. “Tiger is great in the team room. He’s a smart guy. He’s a talented player. He wants to do everything he can to win. He’s learned how to be a quiet leader and a vocal leader. He’s learned to say the right things. It’s just hard to describe.”
Woods makes it sound as if this Ryder Cup is no different from the others.
“I’m part of the team, and honored to be part of the team,” Woods said. “Whether I was a person who was picked or a person who earned their way on the squad, it doesn’t change the overall goal. It’s still the same. And that’s to go over there and win.”
But it is different.
Woods still gets the bulk of attention because of who he is and what he has done. He will get most of the questions, and while queries into his divorce have tapered off, they are sure to come up again in the British tabloids.
Even so, he is closer than ever to being one of 12.
His relationship with Pavin is surprisingly strong. A month ago, without prompting, Woods referred to Pavin as one of the greatest players ever in golf considering his limited length in an era of power.
The day before the PGA Championship, TV reporter Jim Gray pointed his finger toward Pavin’s face and chest during a dispute over an interview. Woods found out about it the next morning during a fog delay at Whistling Straits. After finishing his first round, when Gray asked a question, Woods offered a terse answer and turned his head to find the next question.
It was a not-so-subtle message that Woods had the captain’s back.
Woods spent the last two days at the Deutsche Bank Championship going over the captain’s picks as if he were going to be in room with Pavin and his assistants trying to decide who to take.
The only time he bristled Tuesday is when a British reporter suggested he had been indifferent about the Ryder Cup.
“I don’t know where the perception of indifference is, because I’ve always loved it,” Woods said. “The team bonding that occurs, getting to know the guys and everyone there that’s associated with our team, are experiences that you’ll never forget. And I’ve created some great friendships because of it.”
This will be the seventh Ryder Cup team for Love, his first as an assistant, so he knows what to expect when 12 individuals get together, no matter how good they are, no matter how much they’ve been through.
“He’s a welcome addition,” Love said, “because we want to wrap our arms around him and bring him back to us.”
HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie
Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.
Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.
That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.
"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.
There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.
Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best
There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.
Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.
"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."
Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.
"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."
When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.
"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."
Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014
As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.
Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.
Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.
Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.
With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.
Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty
Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.
Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.
The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.
Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.
Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.
"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"
The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin:
It’s absolutely ridiculous. It took us 4 hours and 15 minutes to play a 2-ball (behind pictured guy I’ll add). We were an hour longer than the first guys that teed off. It’s unacceptable. https://t.co/rrlF3xB7bl— Stephen Ames (@StephenAmesPGA) October 22, 2018