LEMONT, Ill. – Leave it to the PGA Tour to find the upside of Tiger Woods missing out on the Tour Championship.
In a press release Monday promoting the 30-man field at East Lake, it notes that Woods’ failure to qualify for the last playoff event guarantees there will be a new FedEx Cup champion this year.
Phil Mickelson said it “absolutely” will be strange not having the world’s No. 1 player at the Tour Championship, although it’s nothing new. Woods has only played East Lake twice in the past five years, skipping in 2006 after a long year coping with his father’s death and in 2008 when he was recovering from knee surgery.
The difference, of course, is that Woods couldn’t play the Tour Championship even if he wanted. He needed to shoot 65 in the final round of the BMW Championship, and it took him until the 17th hole just to get under par for the final round, and the tournament.
In an explanation he offered three times Sunday – to NBC Sports, XM Radio and the rest of the media – he blamed only himself.
“I didn’t play well in the beginning of the year and I didn’t play well in the middle of the year,” he said.
He said he is starting to play well now, but that only shows how far he had fallen. Woods tied 12th at The Barclays, tied for 11th at the Deutsche Bank Championship and tied for 15th at the BMW Championship.
Three straight weeks out of the top 10 used to be called a slump.
Now it’s called progress?
But there are other examples of Woods’ weird year on the golf course.
He has gone seven consecutive tournaments out of the top 10, the longest stretch of his career. His previous worst was five straight tournaments out of the top 10. That was in 2001, between victories at the Memorial and Firestone.
And to get an idea of how he is playing, just look at when he is playing.
Woods is typically among the last to arrive because he is in or close to the lead so often. This year, he has teed off before noon in the final round at nine of his 12 tournaments.
The exceptions were the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. That includes Quail Hollow, where he didn’t even make it to Sunday after missing the cut with the highest 36-hole score of his career.
As he walked down the eighth hole at Firestone on Sunday, Woods could look to his left at the back nine that was empty. That’s never happened before. Then again, he’s never been the second group off on Sunday.
Another first came at Ridgewood in the opening playoff event. Because of his FedEx Cup ranking – No. 112 – Woods teed off so early that he was the first player to hit a shot in the tournament.
“That’s how far I’ve fallen,” he said, a rare glimpse of his self-deprecating humor.
On Saturday morning at Firestone, caddie Steve Williams saw a reporter and asked the whereabouts of another golf writer.
“I never thought this would happen,” came the reply, “but he actually has a later tee time today than Tiger.”
Should anyone find this the least bit shocking?
This is no time to take pity on Woods. He’s the one who created this mess he’s in. But only Woods knows what’s going on inside his head and with his swing.
He split with swing coach, Hank Haney, in May and spent the next three months working out the settlement in a split with his wife.
Woods appears ready to take on a new coach with a new concept. Previous swing changes have taken Woods some 18 months before he figures it all out. Even, he still managed to win at least one tournament, threaten in a couple of others and have time to eat lunch before his final round, not after it.
Perhaps the only shock is that he’s still No. 1 in the world ranking. That’s as much a reflection of Mickelson, who has had 11 tournaments with a mathematical chance to take over. The next comes at the Tour Championship, and the scenario for Lefty to be No. 1 will not depend on Woods because he won’t be there.
They played together in the final round at Cog Hill for the first time all year, tied at even par. Mickelson was five shots ahead after seven holes, as Woods walked with his head down, not looking the least bit like he was having any fun.
Woods rarely does unless he’s winning.
“You tell that his game is inches from turning because his speed is back and his putter looks great,” Mickelson said. “I mean, his game is not far off at all. It looks very close to being right there.”
That’s another measure of how far Woods has fallen – his biggest rival can only offer an encouraging word.
They might still meet again, though certainly not as a partnership at the Ryder Cup. That didn’t work even in good times. Mickelson is the defending champion in Shanghai at the HSBC Champions, where a year ago he took a two-shot lead into the final round and buried Woods.
For Woods, the HSBC Champions is more meaningful than ever. It will be his last chance this year for a PGA Tour victory (this World Golf Championship only counts as one if a PGA Tour member wins it). Woods has gone 14 consecutive seasons with at least one tour victory, three years away from the record held by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
And it’s not a streak that Woods can start over.
Woods failure to make Tour Championship only appropriate
LEMONT, Ill. – Leave it to the PGA Tour to find the upside of Tiger Woods missing out on the Tour Championship.
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