Woods thought he would have hit bottom sooner

By Doug FergusonAugust 11, 2010, 3:34 am

2010 PGA ChampionshipSHEBOYGAN, Wis. – His work almost done for the day, Tiger Woods stood in the 18th fairway at Whistling Straits waiting for the green to clear when he asked, “What time is my press conference?”

Gone was the sense of dread that came with meeting the media – his first time back at the Masters or facing the British tabloids at St. Andrews. Back then, he braced for questions about the extramarital affairs that got him into this mess, a broken marriage, the endorsements he lost.

Now, the attention has mostly shifted back to his golf.

Some reprieve that turned out to be.

One reporter asked Tuesday how he had gone from the No. 1 player in the world to “one of the worst players on the planet.”

Once the clear-cut favorite in any major, Woods heads into the PGA Championship not knowing what to expect himself. He used to win nearly 30 percent of the time on the PGA Tour. Now it’s a question of whether he’ll make it past the cut on Friday.

And for good reason.

Just two days ago, Woods endured his worst tournament ever when he shot 18-over 298 at Firestone – the course where he had won seven times – and beat only one player in the 80-man field.

He has broken par only four times in his last 20 rounds. He has not come seriously close to winning any of his eight tournaments this year. Instead of looking relaxed and confident, he said he had one more practice round and “hopefully everything will come right.”

The only surprise was that Woods said he expected to be this bad much earlier.

“To be honest with you, I thought I would have been here a little bit sooner, with all that’s going on,” he said. “But somehow, I’ve been able to play a little bit better than I thought for a stretch, and then it finally caught up with me last week.”

Then, he clarified what he meant by “here.”

“Playing this poorly. For sure,” he replied. “With all the things that have gone on, for some reason I’ve been able to piece together rounds and keep it in there. There were two tournaments where I really hit it well, but other than that, I really haven’t done that well.”

His time is running out this year. If he plays poorly at Whistling Straits, he could be in jeopardy of missing the 125-man field at The Barclays that starts the PGA Tour playoffs. Woods is at No. 119, one point behind Bob Estes. To miss would be a five-week break from the PGA Tour, this time because he wasn’t eligible to play.

Woods has slipped to No. 10 in the Ryder Cup standings – only the top eight qualify after the PGA Championship – although he confirmed that he would play in the Oct. 1-3 matches if he were a captain’s pick.

Since turning pro, Woods has led the Ryder Cup standings every time.

“It happens to the best of them,” said Phil Mickelson, who revealed his own troubles Tuesday that he is coping with a form of arthritis. “We all have tough days. We’re not used to seeing it happen to him, but it does happen to the best players. So it’s just one of those things that over a long career, you’re eventually going to have a rough week or two.”

These are rough times, indeed, and one only had to see Woods practice at Whistling Straits to figure that out.

He did not hit a single shot from the tee or from the fairway without his caddie, Steve Williams, holding the back end of a wedge just over his right ear.

“Just to keep my head still,” Woods said. “It’s been moving all over the place.”

He also asked Sean Foley, the swing coach for Firestone winner Hunter Mahan and Sean O’Hair, to take a look at his swing. Foley twice videotaped him from the back and front along the front nine, and they had a quiet discussion on the 10th tee before Foley dropped back to spend time with one of his other clients.

Woods at least has kept his sense of humor.

He hit a 5-wood on the par-5 11th hole just right of the green, and with a hazy morning sky along Lake Michigan, Williams wasn’t sure where it went. “It’s in the fairway,” Woods told him. “Where else would you expect it to be?”

There are no expectations these days, when it comes Woods. No longer the sure thing in golf, he has never been more unpredictable.

“I’ll be honest, with the way he played the past week, guys feel like this is wide open – this tournamen – and that’s not a feeling that a lot of guys have had before,” Paul Casey said.

Woods played with O’Hair and Mahan, who finished 30 shots ahead of the world’s No. 1 player at Firestone. They didn’t keep score, but if they had, “it was a little tighter than 30,” Mahan said with a smile.

“Like he said last week, it’s been a long year for him, and I think he’s totally going to get his game back,” Mahan said. “Last week he just looked lost, watching it from my perspective. He just didn’t look like he knew quite what to do, and for any player, that’s a very uncomfortable feeling.”

Woods has been No. 1 in the world for 270 consecutive weeks – a record – dating to the week before the 2005 U.S. Open. That ranking is in jeopardy again, with Phil Mickelson having the best shot, Steve Stricker the long shot.

Woods was in the middle of a swing change with Hank Haney when the PGA Championship last came to Whistling Straits in 2004. It was a struggle to make the cut, and he wound up in a tie for 24th, never in contention throughout the week.

That’s what constituted a bad week.

Now, Woods can’t hit a shot without his caddie making sure the head stays still. He had a swing coach videotape his swing, even though Woods never looked at it while on the course.

Think back to the start of the year, when Woods had not been seen in public since the Thanksgiving night car crash outside his home. The feeling was that once he returned to golf and started winning, everything would get back to normal.

He’s back playing golf. Things are far from normal.

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

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.

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

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."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

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.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

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.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

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.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

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: