Getty Images

Notes: What to expect from Tiger in 2018?

By Doug FergusonJanuary 2, 2018, 5:26 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – The PGA Tour rings in the new year at Kapalua for the 20th straight time. After all these years, the one moment that stands above all others was the titanic battle between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els in 2000.

Both made eagle on the 18th hole to force a playoff. Both made birdie on the first extra hole. Woods ended it with a 35-foot birdie putt on the next hole that was downhill and into the grain with about 6 feet of break. Equally memorable was what Els said when it was over:

''He's 24. He's probably going to be bigger than Elvis when he gets into his 40s.''

Woods turned 42 on Saturday. He's still not bigger than Jack Nicklaus when it comes to golf's ultimate yardstick - most majors won.

But he's still Tiger, and that means a lot.

He commands more attention than major champions nearly half his age. And that's why Woods, who makes golf must-see TV when he's playing, leads the list of five questions to consider for 2018.


WHAT TO EXPECT FROM TIGER?

The question wasn't much different a year ago.

Woods returned to the Hero World Challenge after a 15-month recovery from two more back surgeries, and more was made of his 24 birdies than finishing 15th against an 18-man field in an unofficial holiday event. When the new year began, he lasted three rounds over two tournaments and was out again.

This time, he is returning from fusion surgery on his lower back. Most noticeable last month in the Bahamas was his power, and Woods said in a recent blog that he is hitting a full club longer than he was before. Adding to the higher level of optimism is the amount of golf he played leading up to his return - and not the score, but the company. Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Daniel Berger all played with Woods and liked what they saw.

The measure will be the full schedule that he wants to play, though he has not said what or where that would be. And if his health is as solid as he is letting on, golf will get a full dose of Woods in the majors for the first time since 2015.


WHO'S ON THE PLANE TO FRANCE?

The Americans haven't won the Ryder Cup on European soil since 1993, two months after Jordan Spieth was born.

That's old news.

The Americans won the last Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, and they start 2018 with the top three players in the world ranking and five of the top eight. That means they will be favored on paper, and most American golf fans will be dismissive of Europe's chances.

That's old news, too.

The more pertinent question is who goes to Paris for the matches?

Much attention will be on Phil Mickelson, who hasn't missed a team competition since 1993 and is desperate to make the next one. He hasn't won since 2013 and was a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup.

The Americans had 14 players in their 20s win on the PGA Tour last year, and six of them were on the Presidents Cup team. Odds are not all of those six will be in France, and U.S. captain Jim Furyk could have some tough choices for his picks.


WHAT WILL THE SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE?

Sometime this summer, the PGA Tour will announce a significant overhaul to a schedule that for years has been predictable.

This is the last PGA Championship in August before it moves to May in 2019. Paring the number of PGA Tour events to achieve a Labor Day finish to the FedEx Cup won't be an issue with the loss of one playoff event (Boston), moving one event to the fall (Greenbrier) and likely converting one into a World Golf Championship (Memphis).

The tough part is figuring out where everything else goes.

That starts with March, which currently features a pair of World Golf Championships (Mexico, Match Play) and next year adds The Players Championship. Something will have to give. Also, title sponsorships must be resolved for the Houston Open and possibly Colonial.


HOW WILL RORY MCILROY RESPOND?

For the first time since 2009, Rory McIlroy goes into a new year outside the top 10 in the world. Attribute that to nagging injuries that persuaded him to take a long break at the end of last year to get his health and game in order.

He will have gone more than three months without competition when he returns in Abu Dhabi, the start of an ambitious schedule in which he will play eight times before he gets to Augusta National.

Golf should have a good idea by then if McIlroy is back in the conversation.


WHO MAKES IT BACK TO PARADISE?

Justin Thomas said he would love nothing better than to start every year at Kapalua.

As good as he is, there's no guarantee.

Only nine players from the 32-man field last year made it back to start 2018. Among the missing are Jason Day, who started last year at No. 1, and Bubba Watson, missing from the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the first time in four years. Spieth missed out in 2015. Rickie Fowler wasn't at Kapalua last year.

There were 14 first-time winners last year on the PGA Tour. It's not getting any easier to win.

That applies to Woods, too.


Note: Ferguson is the golf writer for The Associated Press.
Getty Images

Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 20, 2018, 2:00 am

By RYAN GRIFFITHS

Some stories stick with you longer than others. First time you get to do a feature. First time you meet a sports legend (it was Allen Iverson for me). Seeing a championship isn’t bad, either. Been there, done that. Lawnmower museum on the east coast of England, tsunami survivors in California, re-connecting Al Geiberger with his lost 59 tape, all good, but no story or environment has stuck with me like going to Attica Correctional Facility in 2013 to tell the story of Valentino Dixon.

For starters, I’d never been searched before setting up for an interview. Not just me, everyone - all three cameramen, Jimmy Roberts, the guy escorting us in who worked there. Everyone. Attica trusts no one. Can’t blame them after 1971, when inmates protesting living conditions took members of the prison staff hostage. The ensuing police response left 29 inmates and 10 hostages dead.

Attica has a "shank wall," a collection of homemade weapons seized from inmates and displayed like baseball cards in a plastic case on the wall outside the guards' lunchroom. Prison interior decorating at its finest. Nice touch.

We went to do a story on an inmate who was introduced to the world in a Golf Digest article by Max Adler in 2012. "The golf artist who had never stepped foot on a golf course - Valentino Dixon.: He was in for murder. Second degree. You know, your standard golf story.


Wrongfully imprisoned man freed after nearly three decades


Dixon, a former aspiring artist before getting caught up in the Buffalo drug-dealing scene, started sketching photos from Golf Digest for the warden. I’ve never been to prison, but from what I have gathered from watching The Shawshank Redemption some 8,000 times, getting in the warden’s good graces is a smart habit to pick up if you’re doing serious time.

Dixon's art was insanely good. Even more so because he did it all with colored pencils. No paintbrushes allowed (see shank wall above). Jimmy, the crew and I stopped for a good 10-15 minutes to marvel at his creations before continuing with the interview.

We spent a solid 40 minutes talking to the man who supposedly killed a man 20-something years prior. In that time, he pleaded his innocence to us over and over again. He spoke like a man who had rehearsed every angle of his story over and over and over again. I give him credit - there were no holes in his story. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and he didn’t look like a killer, didn’t sound like one. either. But what did I know? I’d never met one - that I know of. And if you were stuck in prison for 20-plus years and all of a sudden had a camera in front of you and a platform to plead your innocence, wouldn’t you do your best to try to get out of there?

Since the guards wouldn’t allow any food, the crew and I stopped at the first deli we saw on the ride back into Buffalo. After we were done eating, we all looked at each other, knowing what we all were thinking: "Do you think he did it?”

Didn’t matter what we thought, we were just there to tell the story. On Wednesday, however, people whose opinions mattered made a decision and allowed someone who loves the game of golf, but has never stepped foot on a golf course, to do just that if he so chooses. That's a story that will stick with him for the rest of his life.

Getty Images

Wrongfully convicted inmate who turned to golf artistry freed

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 12:35 am

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A New York prison artist who never played golf but became known for drawings of lush courses he could only imagine was set free Wednesday after authorities agreed that another man committed the murder that put him behind bars for nearly three decades.

Valentino Dixon walked out of Erie County Court into bright sunshine and hugs from his mother, daughter and a crowd of other relatives and friends, ready for a meal at Red Lobster and vowing to fight on behalf of others who are wrongly convicted.

"I love y'all," Dixon shouted after trading the green prison uniform he wore in court for jeans and a T-shirt. "It feels great."

Earlier Wednesday, a judge agreed to set aside Dixon's conviction in the 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson on a Buffalo street corner and accepted a guilty plea from another man who had confessed to the killing two days after it happened.

"There was a fight. Shots were fired. I grabbed the gun from under the bench, switched it to automatic, all the bullets shot out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying," Lamarr Scott, who has been in prison for 25 years for an unrelated attempted murder, told the court. "I dropped the gun and ran and it was over and done with."

Scott said he had gotten the gun, a Tec-9 semi-automatic, from Dixon and the two men had driven together to the crowded corner where the fighting broke out. Scott was given a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, concurrent with his current term.

Judge Susan Eagan let stand a count of criminal possession of a weapon against Dixon, and its 5- to 15-year sentence, which she said he had satisfied.


Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon


"You are eligible for release today," the judge said, igniting applause and shouts from courtroom supporters.

"Mr. Dixon is not an innocent man. Don't be misguided in that at all," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told reporters after the hearing. He described Dixon as "an up-and-coming drug dealer in the city of Buffalo" at the time of the shooting and said Scott was Dixon's bodyguard.

"Mr. Dixon is innocent of the shooting and of the murder for what he was found guilty of," he said, "but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight. It was Mr. Dixon's gun."

While behind bars, Dixon rekindled his childhood passion for drawing, often spending 10 hours a day creating vivid colored pencil landscapes, including of golf courses, while imagining freedom. Articles in Golf Digest and elsewhere have drawn public attention to Dixon's case. NBC Sports' Jimmy Roberts spotlighted Dixon in a 2013 segment for his "In Play" series on Golf Channel.

“I’ve worked in this business for close to 40 years, and this is the most consequential thing I’ve ever been a part of," Roberts said after learning of Dixon's release. "I’m a sports reporter, but we helped get a man out of prison. I’m humbled and dumbstruck.”

Georgetown University students made a documentary as part of a prison reform course last spring. The class worked with Dixon's attorney, Donald Thompson, to have the conviction overturned.

"It went so far beyond reasonable doubt that it's pretty outrageous that he would have been convicted and it would have been upheld," said Marc Howard, director of the university's Prisons and Justice Initiative. Howard taught the course with childhood friend, Marty Tankleff, who also spent years wrongfully imprisoned.

Dixon said he will keep drawing, while working on behalf of other prisoners.

"If you don't have any money in this system, it's hard to get justice because the system is not equipped or designed to give a poor person a fair trial," he said. "So we have a lot of work ahead of us."

His daughter, Valentina Dixon, was a baby when her father went to prison. She brought her 14-month-old twins, Ava and Levi, to court from their Columbus, Ohio, home.

"We're definitely going to go shopping and go explore life," she said. "I can't wait to get him a cellphone and teach him how to Snapchat."

Dixon's mother, Barbara Dixon, said she was in shock after relying on her faith while fighting for his release.

"We're going to Red Lobster," she said when asked what was next. "And everybody's invited."

Getty Images

Thomas donating to hurricane relief at East Lake

By Jason CrookSeptember 19, 2018, 9:20 pm

Much like in years past, Justin Thomas is using his golf game to help with relief of a natural disaster.

The world No. 4 announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d be donating $1,000 per birdie and $5,000 per eagle at the Tour Championship to a charity benefiting the victims of Hurricane Florence, which ravaged the Carolinas last week.

At a fan's suggestion, Thomas, who has averaged 4.35 birdies per round this season, also pledged to donate $10,000 for a hole-in-one.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday just south of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and has left much of the area flooded and without power. At least 37 people have died in storm-related incidents.

Getty Images

Rose realizes his No. 1 ranking is precarious

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:18 pm

ATLANTA – Asked how he would like to be identified when he was finished playing golf, Justin Rose didn’t hesitate – “major champion, Olympic gold medalist, world No. 1.”

He’s had only a week to enjoy the last accomplishment, but the Englishman is aware of what it means to his career to have finally moved into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It's a moment in your career that you always remember and cherish,” said Rose, who overtook Dustin Johnson with his runner-up finish two weeks ago at the BMW Championship.


Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Rose said he took some time last weekend with family and friends to relish the accomplishment and will play his first event this week at the Tour Championship as the world’s best, but he also understands how tenuous his position atop the ranking is at the moment.

“I accept it's really tight up top. It could easily switch this week,” he said. “I just feel that if I go to [No.] 2 or 3 this week, if Dustin and Brooks [Koepka] both play well, I have an opportunity the week after and British Masters, and going to China and Turkey, there's going to be opportunities to get back there.”

Johnson, Koepka and Justin Thomas could unseat Rose atop the ranking this week depending on their finishes at the Tour Championship.