A surreal golf season that is only half over

By Doug FergusonJuly 7, 2010, 1:11 am

Tiger Woods is assured at least one trophy this year.

Even though he tied for 46th at the AT&T National – his first time out of the top 40 in five years among tournaments that he completed – Woods stayed at No. 1 in the world. This being the second week of July, that means he has clinched the Mark H. McCormack Award for the 13th straight season, giving to the player atop the world ranking for the most weeks in a calendar year.

So he has that going for him.

Halfway through a PGA Tour season like no other, Woods at No. 1 is about the only thing that makes this year seem ordinary. It already has been anything but that.

Woods was only joking Sunday afternoon – early afternoon, it should be noted – when he was leaving the locker room at Aronimink and said over his shoulder, “Go watch some real golfers.”

Considering the standard has he has set the past dozen years, Woods sure hasn’t looked like himself.

Considering the circumstances of the last six months, what is he supposed to look like?

Tiger WoodsHe tied for fourth in the Masters and U.S. Open, which even Woods finds acceptable, at least when the cameras are off. In four regular PGA Tour events, he hasn’t cracked the top 10.

Woods missed the cut in Quail Hollow with the highest 36-hole total of his career. He withdrew from The Players Championship in the final round with a sore neck, marking the first time he had gone consecutive weeks without earning any money. Sunday was the first time in 11 years that he completed a regular PGA Tour event without breaking par.

That’s not to say 2010 hasn’t been memorable, for Woods or anyone else.

Imagine telling the PGA Tour brass at the start of the year that the highest television ratings would come from the TPC Sawgrass. Could any of them have guessed that it would be February instead of May? Woods was the star attraction, but he wasn’t wearing a red shirt and pumping his fist. He was dressed in a dark suit and looked into a camera that wasn’t working as he read a 13 1/2 -minute statement about his spectacular fall through a sex scandal.

The low point for the tour came a month earlier.

While Woods was accused of cheating because he had a wife; Phil Mickelson was accused of cheating because he had a wedge.

Mickelson was among a small group of players who used 20-year-old Ping wedges with deeper grooves that were allowed under a legal loophole. The issue threatened to divide the tour until Ping chairman John Solheim allowed golf executives to ban his clubs from competition. Solheim should get a trophy for that.

One constant with Mickelson – no one ever knows what’s coming next.

He has won only one tournament this year – the Masters – but the timing could not have been better. It was the first time his wife, Amy, was at a tournament since being diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago. Mickelson has missed only one cut, and the timing could not have been worse. That was at Colonial, where he wasn’t around to take part in the “Pink Out” to show support for his wife.

Mickelson is at Loch Lomond this week for the Scottish Open, his fifth straight tournament in which he has a chance to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world.

Lefty has never been No. 1 – not in the world ranking, the money list, scoring average for the prestigious Vardon Trophy, not even on the majority of ballots for PGA Tour player of the year. Could this finally be his time?

Maybe. But remember, the year is only half over.

There already have been three multiple winners on the PGA Tour this year – Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Justin Rose. Depending on how long it takes Woods to get his game back in shape, Els might be in the best position to take advantage. He has earned more world ranking points than anyone this year, the product of two big wins and third place at the U.S. Open. He also leads the PGA Tour in the only two statistics that matter – scoring average (69.54) and money (nearly $4 million).

A European has never won player of the year (Nick Faldo was not a member in 1990 when he won two majors) and maybe that’s about to change. A year ago, Europeans only won three PGA Tour events. This year, they won three in a row in June alone – Rose at the Memorial, Lee Westwood at the St. Jude Classic, Graeme McDowell at the U.S. Open.

Yes, it shows the increasing strength of European golf, particularly in England, which now has five players among the top 16 in the world. Funny, though, how no one ever says anything about the strength of American golf when Zach Johnson wins at Colonial or Steve Stricker wins at Riviera.

Rickie Fowler is still trying to win in what is shaping up as an interesting rookie of the year race.

So much depends on how one defines a rookie, especially considering that Vijay Singh won the award in 1993 when he was 30 and Todd Hamilton won in 2004 at 39.

Rory McIlroy is the right age – 21 – even if it seems as though he has been around forever. He is a rookie on the PGA Tour, and his 62 in the final round to win Quail Hollow will not be forgotten anytime soon. Fowler is 21, yet he turned pro only 10 months ago. He had a chance to win in Phoenix and had the 54-hole lead at the Memorial.

But until he wins, the award he might get is best imitation of a traffic cone when he dresses in orange on Sunday.

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Spieth admits '16 Masters 'kind of haunted me'

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:38 pm

Two years ago, Jordan Spieth arrived at Colonial Country Club and promptly exorcised some demons.

He was only a month removed from blowing the 2016 Masters, turning a five-shot lead with nine holes to play into a shocking runner-up finish behind Danny Willett. Still with lingering questions buzzing about his ability to close, he finished with a back-nine 30 on Sunday, including birdies on Nos. 16-18, to seal his first win since his Augusta National debacle.

Returning this week to the Fort Worth Invitational, Spieth was asked about the highs and lows he's already experienced in his five-year pro career and candidly pointed to the 2016 Masters as a "low point" that had a lingering effect.

"Even though it was still a tremendous week and still was a really good year in 2016, that kind of haunted me and all the questioning and everything," Spieth told reporters. "I let it tear me down a little bit. I kind of lost a little bit of my own freedom, thoughts on who I am as a person and as a golfer."

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Spieth went on to win the Australian Open in the fall of 2016, and last year he added three more victories including a third major title at Royal Birkdale. Given more than two years to reflect - and after nearly nabbing a second green jacket last month - he admitted that the trials and tribulations of 2016 had a lasting impact on how he perceives the daily grind on Tour.

"I guess to sum it up, I've just tried to really be selfish in the way that I think and focus on being as happy as I possibly can playing the game I love. Not getting caught up in the noise, good or bad," Spieth said. "Because what I hear from the outside, the highs are too high from the outside and the lows are too low from the outside from my real experience of them. So trying to stay pretty neutral and just look at the big picture things, and try and wake up every single day loving what I do."

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Spieth offers Owen advice ahead of Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:22 pm

As country music sensation Jake Owen gets set to make his Web.com Tour debut, Jordan Spieth had a few pieces of advice for his former pro-am partner.

Owen played as a 1-handicap alongside Spieth at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and this week he is playing his own ball on a sponsor invite at the Nashville Open. Owen joked with a Web.com Tour reporter that Spieth "shined" him by not answering his text earlier in the week, but Spieth explained to reporters at the Fort Worth Invitational that the two have since connected.

"We texted a bit yesterday. I was just asking how things were going," Spieth said. "I kind of asked him the state of his game. He said he's been practicing a lot. He said the course is really hard. I mean, going into it with that mindset, maybe he'll kind of play more conservative."

Owen is in the field this week on the same type of unrestricted sponsor exemption that NBA superstar Steph Curry used at the Web.com's Ellie Mae Classic in August. As Owen gets set to make his debut against a field full of professionals, Spieth noted that it might be for the best that he's focused on a tournament a few hundred miles away instead of walking alongside the singer as he does each year on the Monterey Peninsula.

"Fortunately I'm not there with him, because whenever I'm his partner I'm telling him to hit driver everywhere, even though he's talented enough to play the golf course the way it needs to be played," Spieth said. "So I think he'll get some knowledge on the golf course and play it a little better than he plays Pebble Beach. He's certainly got the talent to be able to shoot a good round."

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Presidents Cup changes aim to help Int'l. side

By Rex HoggardMay 23, 2018, 6:20 pm

In March when the PGA Tour announced the captains for next year’s Presidents Cup there was an understandable monsoon of attention for one element of that press conference.

Tiger Woods being named the captain for the U.S. team that will travel to Australia late next year was just not news, it was a monumental shift in how many view the 14-time major champion.

Although he’s slowly played his way back to competitive relevance, his decision to lead the red, white and blue side was the most glaring example to date that Woods is beginning to embrace a new role as a leader and a veteran.

Newsy stuff.

In that blur of possibility, however, were a few other nuggets that largely went overlooked but may end up impacting the biennial team event much more than the two high-profile captains (Ernie Els was named the International side’s front man for 2019).

Among these subtle changes is a new rule that requires every team member to play at least one match prior to Sunday’s singles session, instead of the two-match minimum in previous years. In theory, this would allow a captain to “hide” a player who might not be at the top of his form.

The Tour also announced each captain will have four, up from two, captain’s picks and they will make those selections much later than in previous years.

Officials would understandably be reluctant to admit it, but these changes are designed to give Els and Co. a chance, any chance, to make the ’19 matches competitive.

Following last year’s boat race of the International team at Liberty National in New Jersey – a lopsided rout that nearly ended late Saturday when the U.S. team came up just a single point short of clinching the cup before the 12 singles matches – most observers agreed that something had to change.

The International team has won just one of the dozen Presidents Cups that have been played, and that was way back in 1998, and has lost the last five matches by a combined 20 points.

Giving Els and Woods more time to make their captain’s picks is a byproduct of the timing of next year’s event, which will be played in Australia in December; but giving both captains a little more flexibility with the addition of two picks should, in theory, help the International side.

The Tour also altered how the points list is compiled for the International team, with a move to a 12-month cycle that’s based on the amount of World Ranking points that are earned. The previous selection criteria used a two-year cycle.

“That was a change that was important to Ernie Els to make sure that he feels like he has his most competitive team possible,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations. “That in conjunction with having four captain’s picks instead of two, which had been the case prior to 2019, he feels that’s going to give him his best chance to bring his strongest, most competitive team to Australia.”

The 12-month cycle will start this August at the Dell Technologies Championship and end at the 2019 Tour Championship, and puts more importance on recent form although had the new selection criteria been used for the 2017 team, there would have been just one player who wouldn’t have automatically qualified for the team. That’s not exactly a wholesale makeover.

“It didn’t seem to be a dramatic change in the makeup of the team,” Pazder conceded.

Still, a change, any change, is refreshing considering the one-sided nature of the Presidents Cup the last two decades. Of course, if the circuit really wanted to shake things up they would have reduced the total number of points available from 30 to 28, which is the format used at the Ryder Cup and as a general rule that event seems to avoid prolonged bouts of competitive irrelevance.

Perhaps these most recent nip/tucks will be enough to break the International team out of a losing cycle that doesn’t help bring attention to the event or motivate players.

There’s no mystery to what makes for a compelling competition, look no further than the Ryder Cup for the secret sauce. History makes fans, and players, care about the outcome and parity makes it compelling. What history the Presidents Cup has is largely one-sided and if last year’s loss is any indication the event is no closer to parity now than it was when it was started in 1994.

Els has been a part of every International team since 1996 and if anyone can pull the side from its current funk it would be the South African, but history suggests he might need a little more help from the Tour to shift the competitive winds.

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Rahm ready to bomb and gouge around Colonial

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 3:40 pm

Faced with one of the PGA Tour's most traditional layouts, Jon Rahm has no plans to take his foot off the gas pedal.

Rahm is one of four players ranked inside the top six headlining the field at this week's Fort Worth Invitational, where the Spaniard dazzled with bookend rounds of 66 to share runner-up honors in his tournament debut a year ago. Set to make his return, Rahm explained that Colonial Country Club is similar to the narrow, tree-lined course in Spain where he first learned the game with driver in hand.

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So while many other players in the field will play for position, Rahm plans to employ the same strategy he did on his boyhood course by letting it rip off the tee and taking his chances.

"I felt like if I am going to miss the fairway, I would rather be 60 or 70 yards away than laying up and having 130, especially with this rough being unpredictable and these small greens," Rahm told reporters Wednesday. "The closer you are to the green, the easier it will be to hit the green. That's kind of the idea I have."

Rahm struggled in his most recent start at The Players, but otherwise has had a strong spring highlighted by a win in Spain and a fourth-place showing at the Masters. The 23-year-old added that he feels "a lot more comfortable" off the tee with driver in hand than a fairway wood or long iron, so expect more counterintuitive strategy this week from a player who had no trouble solving one of the Tour's oldest riddles a year ago.

"I like traditional golf courses," he said. "You know, everything that says it shouldn't be good for me, in my mind, is good for me."