Woods returns to Augusta as just another player

By Doug FergusonApril 2, 2011, 9:17 pm

Tiger Woods at the Masters is every bit the mystery he was a year ago.

No one knew what to expect when Woods showed up at Augusta National last year without having played in five months, more vulnerable than invincible from the public humiliation of a sex scandal.

No one is quite sure what to expect from him now.

His wife divorced him. He changed coaches and decided, at age 35, to rebuild his golf swing for the fourth time.

He lost his No. 1 ranking to Lee Westwood, then Martin Kaymer. When he goes to this year’s Masters, which starts Thursday, it will be the first time since 1997 that Woods is outside the top five in the world ranking. Off the golf course, he has not replaced any of the corporate sponsors that left him.

And most glaring of all, Woods is not winning.

Not even close.

“It’s strange,” Stewart Cink said. “We got so used to seeing him win.”

He tied for fourth last year at Augusta, remarkable by any standard but his own. It raised false hopes that he could put his game back together quickly and resume his pursuit of history. But with each tournament, he resembles the guys he once routinely beat.

In 69 rounds since the Masters, Woods has broken par only 31 times. In 14 out of 18 tournaments, he has finished at least seven shots out of the lead. In the 18 tournaments before his downfall, that happened only three times.

At Firestone, where Woods had won seven times and had never finished out of the top five, he shot the highest 72-hole score of his career (298) and finished 30 shots behind the winner. In his first start this year at Torrey Pines, where his seven victories include the U.S. Open on a shattered leg, he finished 15 shots out of the lead.

That gap between his 14 majors and the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus now looks like a gulf.

“I’m surprised that he has not bounced back by now,” Nicklaus said. “He’s got such a great work ethic. He’s so determined to do what he wants to do. I’m very surprised that he has not popped back. I still think he’ll break my record. We’ll see. You probably can ask me that same question at the end of this year and we’ll see what the answer is. My guess is as good as yours.”

That’s about all anyone can do when it comes to Woods – guess.

The divorce in August provided for shared parenting. Woods is about to move into a new home he is building in south Florida, not far from where his ex-wife will live. There have been tales of his 2-year-old son, Charlie, already swinging away with a golf club and wandering onto the range to watch Dad at work.

Woods keeps these details to himself, along with when and where he spends time with the toddler and big sister Sam, who turns 4 in June. Asked at Doral why he wasn’t playing more tournaments to get his game into shape, his blunt reply surprised even his handlers:

“Because I have a family. I’m divorced,” Woods said, staring at the reporter without a trace of emotion. “If you’ve been divorced with kids, then you would understand.”

Rumors and gossip continue to dog him – Who is he dating? When is he moving? Is he selling his boat? And it probably won’t abate. Woods entered the celebrity realm with the scandal, and remains firmly planted there, fodder for tabloids.

The question of far greater substance is his health, and Woods has been coy about addressing it.

His agent confirmed in December that Woods had a cortisone shot in his right ankle to relieve lingering soreness. Woods surprised the media at the Masters last year when he revealed he injured his right Achilles’ tendon while recovering from knee surgery.

Woods ended last season with his best golf until Graeme McDowell beat him on the final day. He played so well that even his caddie said, “The tide is turning.” But it hasn’t. He looked ordinary two months later for the start of the 2011 season.

There was a time when few dared to criticize Woods. Not anymore.

Masters chairman Billy Payne wagged his finger at Woods last year – “It is simply not the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here. It is the fact that he disappointed all of us,” Payne said. And 21-year-old Rory McIlroy wrote in an essay for Sports Illustrated magazine: “I’m not sure we are going to see him dominate again the way he did.”

Woods used to answer such critics with the kind of golf that left no doubt who was the best in the game. Now, he talks about “the process” of getting better and how this swing change is the most comprehensive one yet.

“It’s finally starting to come around,” he said last week at Bay Hill.

It was his final tournament before the Masters. He tied for 24th.

Woods, of course, is only part of the picture at the 75th Masters.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson had high hopes when he left town in a green jacket, wearing it in the drive-thru lane of a doughnut shop with his kids. His wife, diagnosed with breast cancer 11 months earlier, was there to greet him on the 18th green in one of the more emotional moments on a golf course where there have been many.

For the next six months, Mickelson had more than a dozen chances to become No. 1 in the world for the first time. Then came another health setback – his own – when he discovered he had psoriatic arthritis. He didn’t win the rest of the year. He has contended only once this year. Ever the optimist, Mickelson believes that will change when he drives down Magnolia Lane.

“I feel like the year kind of starts now,” he said.

Westwood, the runner-up by three shots a year ago, has taken over the label as the best player without a major, and there’s no argument. Not only was he No. 1 in the world for 17 weeks, he has finished among the top three in all but one of his last five majors.

Even so, the 37-year-old Englishman has only four wins around the world during that stretch.

He is off to a slow start this year, and he has company.

Jim Furyk, whose three wins last year allowed him to capture the FedEx Cup and PGA Tour player of year honors, has barely made a peep the opening three months of the season. Ditto for Ernie Els, who craves a green jacket the way Greg Norman did before him.

Looking for a favorite?

The road to the Masters hasn’t offered many clues.

Seven of the 12 winners on the PGA Tour this year who will be at Augusta were outside the top 100 in the world when they won, a list that ranges from D.A. Points to Gary Woodland to Mark Wilson. All will be making their Masters debut.

“It’s an open Masters,” three-time major winner Padraig Harrington told RTE Radio in Ireland. “The best players in the world at the moment have not won majors, and guys who have won majors are not in the best form in their lives. I’m not sure if the new guard is coming through at the Masters, or the old guard is taking control again. It’s a great Masters for the public to watch.”

The Masters has the smallest field of any major – at least 99, the most since 1966 – and with so many subtleties on the greens, the same cast of characters seem to contend each year. Perhaps it’s little wonder that Woods and Mickelson have won six of the last 10, similar to generations ago when Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were swapping green jackets.

Now, however, it appears to be anyone’s game – especially with so much uncertainty surrounding Woods.

Woods at least would figure to have a better chance than a year ago.

No, he hasn’t shown he is close to winning, but at least he’s playing. His caddie, Steve Williams, said Woods is so comfortable and experienced at Augusta that he played last year in large part on memory, recalling what kind of swing was required and hitting it.

Woods closed with a 66 at Doral for his only top 10 this year. He played a good round in tough conditions at Bay Hill until finishing with a double bogey. He says he is making progress. He has proved his skeptics wrong before.

“This year, it’s nice to have some tournaments under my belt,” he said. “Last year I went into it just like I did the ’08 U.S. Open. I didn’t really practice before the ’08 U.S. Open because my leg was broken. Just go out there, show up and play. Those two venues, I knew the golf course and that helps a lot.”

“It’s nice to be actually in more tournament shape going in.”

How will that translate? Who knows?

Having gone nearly 17 months without winning, Woods no longer appears to be as imposing as he once was. The intimidation factor is gone. The guy in a red shirt on Sunday is teeing off too early for any of the players to notice.

About the only thing in his favor is the tournament itself.

“There are certain golf courses where … I feel pretty good and comfortable, no matter how my form is going into it,” Woods said. “And Augusta is one of them.”

Marc Dull (Florida State Golf Association)

Cops called in bizarre ending to Florida Mid-Am

By Ryan LavnerMay 20, 2018, 7:16 pm

In a one-paragraph post on its website, the Florida State Golf Association declared Marc Dull the winner of the 37th Mid-Amateur Championship on May 13 after his opponent – in a tie match with two holes to go – was unable to return because of an “unfortunate injury” sustained during a lengthy weather delay.

Left unreported was what allegedly happened.

According to a police report (see below) obtained by GolfChannel.com, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office received a call that afternoon from Dull’s opponent, Jeff Golden, who claimed that he’d been assaulted in the parking lot at Coral Creek Club, the tournament host site in Placida. In a statement provided to police, Golden said that he was sucker-punched in the face by Dull’s caddie, Brandon Hibbs.

Both in his statement to police and in a subsequent phone interview afterward, Golden, 33, said that the alleged incident stemmed from a rules dispute on the ninth hole during the championship match. As he surveyed his putt, Golden asked Dull whether the cup was damaged or if there was loose debris around the edge.

“Don’t worry about it,” Hibbs reportedly told Golden. “If you’re going to make it, you’re going around it.”

With tensions already running high because of what he perceived as breaches of etiquette by his opponents, Golden informed the rules official in the group that he believed Hibbs’ statement constituted advice. The penalty was a loss of hole, giving Golden a 2-up lead at the turn.

At that point, Hibbs told police, he recused himself and returned to the clubhouse. Dull and Golden continued their match, heading to the 17th hole all square when they were pulled off the course because of inclement weather.

Golden told police that he headed to the parking lot at 2:45 p.m. to retrieve some dry clothes from his car when Hibbs “approached him, apologized, then punched him on the left side of the face,” causing him to fall to the ground.

“I had a moment where I was happy to see him, because the first thing he said to me was, ‘I want to apologize,’” Golden said last week in a phone interview. “By the time he finished I was being punched.”

Asked why he believed Hibbs would strike him, Golden said: “It was from the earlier ruling, 100 percent. He had anger toward me because I called him out on a ruling.”

In a statement given to police, Hibbs, 36, said that he had “been in the clubhouse the entire time and did not batter [Golden], nor was he in the parking lot.” Hibbs, who caddies with Dull at Streamsong Resort in Central Florida, did not return a message seeking comment.

Police wrote in the report that there were no witnesses to the alleged attack, nor was there any surveillance video from the parking lot. While observing Golden the officer noted “no swelling or abrasions to the face,” but there was “some redness on the inside of [Golden’s] lip.” Hibbs’ hands and knuckles showed “no scrapes or abrasions.”

Golden, however, said that there were three bloodstains on his shirt and punctures inside his mouth that proved he’d been struck. He also described himself afterward as “dizzy” and seeing “weird shades of colors,” and that the area between his wrist and thumb was “very sensitive” from catching his fall. Still feeling woozy, he met with his doctor the day after the alleged incident and also underwent a CT scan on Friday.

“I was extremely shaken up,” he said. “I had concussion symptoms.”

Golden declined to press charges – he said later that he wasn’t given the option, because of a lack of physical evidence – and refused medical attention.

Reached by phone last week, Dull said that he had no knowledge of the alleged attack and was only made aware once the police arrived. He said he had waited out the delay in a storm shelter.

“It was shocking,” he said. “[Hibbs] said to me, ‘I didn’t touch the guy.’”

Once the police left, it was up to the FSGA to determine how to proceed.

With the course now playable after a two-hour delay, under the Rules of Golf, the players were expected back on the 17th hole.

Golden asked Dull whether he would concede the match.

“I said that I wasn’t going to concede,” Dull said. “Why would I concede the match when I was sitting in the shelter, and when I come back someone is accused of being hit?”

So Golden then decided to concede, handing the Mid-Am title to Dull, the reigning FSGA Amateur Player of the Year.

“I just wanted to get home,” Golden explained later.

Asked last week for more details about the final result, Jeff Magaditsch, the organization’s director of tournament operations, said in an email that Golden “expressed concern about a wrist issue” and that “not much additional information is available.”

A day later, once the details of the police report became available, FSGA executive director Jim Demick said that Golden “didn’t want to play anymore.”

“Regrettably, the golf course was very playable and Jeff understood that he needed to resume the match,” he said. “I think he was just ready to go.”

When asked to comment on the alleged attack, Demick said that the police “found absolutely no evidence of an assault.”

Last week Golden, who qualified for the 2007 U.S. Open and is now a tennis pro at Palencia in St. Augustine, appealed the FSGA’s decision, writing in a letter that tournament officials shouldn’t have accepted his concession.

Dull said that he was “annoyed by the whole incident.”

“I think it taints the entire championship,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. No golf tournament should end that way.”

Getty Images

Delayed start for Nelson might mean Monday finish

By Will GrayMay 20, 2018, 6:04 pm

DALLAS – Inclement weather  pushed back final-round tee times at the AT&T Byron Nelson by more than four hours, increasing the likelihood of a Monday finish in the tournament’s debut at Trinity Forest Golf Club.

With the field already scheduled to play in threesomes off split tees, the opening tee times for the day got pushed back from 9:23 a.m. CT to 1:23 p.m. because of steady rain in the area. The delay means that the final group won’t start their round until 3:35 p.m. local time.

With sunset in the Dallas area scheduled for 8:23 p.m., the leaders will likely have just under five hours to complete their rounds or face returning to the course Monday morning. Threesomes have been used for each of the first three days, and in part because of the intricacies of the new layout rounds have routinely approached 5 hours and 30 minutes in duration.

Should play spill over into Monday, those playing next week’s event will face one of the Tour’s shortest commutes, with Fort Worth Invitational host Colonial Country Club less than an hour away.

Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise share the 54-hole lead at 17 under, four shots clear of the field. They’ll be joined in the final trio by Australia’s Matt Jones, who is tied for third with Kevin Na.

Getty Images

Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

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.

 

A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

Getty Images

Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

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.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


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.”