Next up for Woods Working his way back to tour

By Doug FergusonFebruary 20, 2010, 11:38 pm

MARANA, Ariz. – Tiger Woods suddenly appeared through a door-sized gap in the blue curtains as the room fell silent. He had been out of the public’s eye for three months. Fifteen minutes later, he was gone again.

Essentially, what happened Friday was that Woods was seen and heard—in tightly controlled circumstances.

The next big step comes when Woods gets back to golf, a landscape he once dominated but may no longer control.

Golf’s biggest star spoke before a friendly crowd of 40 people in Florida, most of whom he had not seen since the Nov. 27 car accident that exposed the dirty side of a squeaky-clean image with sordid tales of sex.

Supporters thought his televised apology for cheating on his wife and letting his fans down was sincere. Critics found it to be scripted.

Either way, it was clear just how differently Woods is viewed now.

Another example: Two employees from a local strip club were chased off the property Friday morning at the Sawgrass Marriott, where dozens of satellite trucks and some 300 media gathered to watch Woods’ appearance on short-circuit TV. And about an hour before Woods was to speak, a pair of women not dressed for the chilly weather stood along the side of the road holding signs with suggestive comments.

“Hopefully, as he makes progress with these issues – today would have to be characterized as progress – people will react to that in a positive way,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “He’s the biggest name in sports in the world, and people like that bring people out of the woodwork who have different opinions. It’s hard to predict how that’s going to play out.”

Three wire services – The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg – were allowed in the room at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse to observe Woods’ talk, with no opportunity for questions.

That time comes when he steps fully back into public life, which in his case is the golf course.

“I don’t rule out that it will be this year,” said Woods, who confirmed he received therapy and was headed back for more on Saturday. “When I do return, I need to make my behavior more respectful of the game.”

It was an indication that along with trying to make good at home, Woods is taking responsibility for how he acts at work.

His temper has been a topic throughout his 13-plus years on the PGA Tour, particularly his language. Tom Watson sent Woods a letter last summer about his cursing, urging him to knock it off. Watson shared those thoughts earlier this month in Dubai when he said Woods has not carried the same stature as the greats who came before him, such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson.

“I think he needs to clean up his act and show the respect for the game that other people before him have shown,” Watson said.

What’s unclear is whether being “more respectful of the game” means Woods will consider changing his schedule to compete in some of the 11 tournaments on the main PGA Tour schedule that he has never played as a pro.

Also noteworthy was the location Woods chose for golf’s biggest media showcase ever.

It would have been just as easy for Woods to set up shop in the clubhouse at Isleworth, tucked away behind secured gates not far from his house. In a letter to the PGA’s policy board, Finchem said the tour made Sawgrass available as it would for any player, even though no other player could command this much worldwide attention.

It appeared to be a statement by Woods that he knows he has damaged his sport and his tour, and staging such an important event at PGA Tour headquarters was an indication of his support when he returns.

What kind of support will Woods himself get?

Ernie Els was among those furious that Woods chose the Friday of the Accenture Match Play Championship here in Marana to speak – Accenture was the first sponsor to drop him – although that was before he knew Woods had a one-week break from therapy and was going back.

Players are no different from the public. They either like Woods and hope for the best, or don’t think much of him and will delight in his failures. The former outnumber the latter by a large margin.

“For me, it’s water under the bridge,” Sergio Garcia said. “I’m just looking forward to having him back on tour. I’m actually excited to see him back. So it’s good to see that he’s doing well and hopefully he gets everything sorted out.”

Woods has many friends on the PGA Tour, but he is close to hardly any of them. One exception is Notah Begay, who withdrew from the PGA Tour event in Mexico to be at the TPC Sawgrass.

Begay compared Woods’ delivery – measured, uncomfortable – to when Woods spoke before a private gathering at his father’s memorial service in May 2006. “This is as emotional as I’ve ever seen him in public,” said Begay, Woods’ teammate at Stanford.

Looking forward, he believes Woods will find a reception like never before on the PGA Tour.

“There will be a mixture of cheers and boos,” Begay said. “Not everybody is going to say, ‘Go Tiger.’ There’s going to be some criticism, things he’s not used to hearing. And he understands that it’s his fault.”

The tour has rarely dealt with so much anger directed at one of its players – there was some heckling of Vijay Singh for saying he hoped Annika Sorenstam missed the cut at the Colonial, and at Bethpage in the 2002 U.S. Open when Garcia saluted the fans with his middle finger after they made fun of his pre-shot routine.

Woods’ star power dwarfs the rest of golf, however, and the nature of his sins make him an easy target.

“It’s going to be a big deal when he comes back out and resumes his career,” Finchem said. “But we can be reasonably prepared for that on short notice.”

Finchem is hopeful that notice comes soon, although no one knows when Woods will play golf again. There were apologies and confessions in his 13 1/2 minute speech, just not much information.

The commissioner was far more optimistic about whether Woods can succeed.

“If there’s anything about Tiger Woods that’s been evident over the last 14 years, it’s that when he sets his mind to do something and he brings the attention and focus that he can to do something, he’s been successful,” Finchem said. “And certainly, that includes improvement in almost every area, whether it’s his game, his business acumen, his presentation, his ability to talk on his feet.”

Woods actually has proven to be somewhat clumsy in spontaneous speech. That time is coming, and it will be another big step. Only then will it be known if it’s a step forward or back.

Getty Images

Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

Getty Images

Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

Getty Images

DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

Getty Images

Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.