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.
Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest
Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.
During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.
Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.
Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson
DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.
With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.
But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.
That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.
Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.
There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.
If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.
“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”
While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).
While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.
“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”
But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.
While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.
“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”
Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.
But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.
Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.
“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”
An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.
For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.
“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”
5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2
The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:
1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.
2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.
3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.
4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.
5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.
Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. … Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.
Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old
DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.
Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.
Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.
“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”
Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.
“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”