Punch Shot: Behind the scenes in 2013

The 2013 season provided golf fans with many controversies and storylines, but some stories are always left untold. GolfChannel.com writers take you behind the scenes providing us with their best tales from the road this past season.


By JASON SOBEL

Two of my lasting memories from covering the game in 2013 include the (almost) first shot of the year and the (almost) last shot of the year – and both involve Matt Kuchar.

As you probably recall, the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions was delayed for a few days due to heavy winds around the Plantation Course. At one point, officials attempted to begin the event with a two-tee start, so I trekked up to the 10th teebox, where it’s usually breeziest. Prior to the first shot of the year ever being struck, I watched Kuchar place his ball on a tee, only to have it blow off before he ever swung at it.

It was a tweetable moment if there ever was one, considering I was one of about seven people in attendance when it happened. So I took out my phone and began thumbing a tweet, but within seconds was reprimanded by a marshal. This came despite the sticker on my credential allowing a phone, despite anyone being allowed to tweet from the course and despite the season not even having begun yet. A scolding about tweeting before the first shot was ever hit? That’s gotta be a record that will never be broken.

Eleven months later, I stood just off the 18th green at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge as Zach Johnson improbably rinsed his second shot, then holed out with a wedge for par to force a playoff with Tiger Woods. Amidst the chaos that ensued, I ran into Kuchar, who had played in the group in front of them, as he was leaving the scoring area.

The usual irrepressible Kuchar smile was even bigger than normal – not because he was rooting for Johnson or against Woods, but because he had just witnessed the same thing that everyone else around the 18th green had seen. “Wow,” he said to me. “What a par!” It was a cool reminder that despite the impeccable golf swings and the multitudes of zeroes in the bank account, the world’s best players are still fans of the game and love seeing the improbable take place. Just like the rest of us. 


By RANDALL MELL

Hearts swell around the 18th green late on Sundays in major championships. No heart swells there quite like a parent’s with a competition ending.

I’ll remember the elation hovering in the wings in majors this past year. I’ll remember it in the hearts and faces of the parents of all three major championship winners in the women’s game.

I’ll remember Dale and Carol Lewis watching their daughter, Stacy, overcome five bogeys in the final round to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open with a birdie-birdie finish at St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf. There are few sights as heartwarming as watching parents marvel over their child. We saw it there in Dale’s eyes and heard it quivering in his voice, emotion springing up from all the memories of his daughter’s battle with scoliosis.

“Today was like her whole life,” Dale said under the shadow of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews clubhouse. “She is never down. She always has a chance.”

That same sense of parental wonder was in the eyes of Sung Kim as she watched her daughter, Inbee Park, hoisting the U.S. Women’s Open trophy at Sebonack in her historic third consecutive major championship triumph. Sung Kim shared a story that surprised us there, a story about how on the eve of the final round her restless daughter confided to her that she was worried about letting down her family and her country with so much at stake. Inbee struggled to sleep in the house the family was renting with the weight of history pressing down.

“Don’t worry,” Sung Kim said she told Inbee. “If you win, it’s OK. If you lose, it’s OK. We are just so happy either way.”

With that, Inbee found the sleep she needed.

I’ll also remember the pride in Mona Pettersen’s eyes as she watched her daughter, Suzann, draped in their native Norwegian flag, hoisting the Evian Championship trophy. Mona saw a life’s thread running through the moment.

“She’s always been so determined,” Mona said. “When she gets her mind on something, there’s no stopping her.”

Parents have their blind spots with their children, but nobody sees through to the core quite like they do. I'll remember that from the 2013 majors.


By REX HOGGARD

After 186 tries the scoreboard, and a beaming smile, said it was Ken Duke’s turn.

The veteran had toiled at nearly every level of professional golf with varying degrees of success, but a PGA Tour title had eluded him at every step.

Having finished runner-up three times on Tour he knew how quickly fortunes can change on a championship Sunday, but after a closing nine of 32 for a final-round 66 at last season’s Travelers Championship there was a hint of anticipation etched into his face as he entered the scoring trailer.

At 12 under, there was only one player, Chris Stroud, who could catch him, and his only spoiler had missed the green at the last hole and needed to chip in to force overtime.

Before Stroud’s downhill birdie chip reached the cup, Duke was already out of the scoring trailer. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he smiled as he made his way to the first playoff hole in a mixture of appreciation and anticipation.

Duke outlasted Stroud in the playoff, making birdie at the second extra hole, to claim that elusive Big League victory and immediately endear himself to the media masses.

Journalists are taught to root for the story, not the player. With Duke, however, it was hard to separate the two.


By WILL GRAY

There are several memorable moments that stick out for me from my travels in 2013, but the scene that created the widest array of storylines came at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio.

With spots in the season’s second major on the line, well-recognized professionals lined up toe-to-toe with otherwise anonymous amateurs. Rory Sabbatini stood on the putting green at The Lakes Country Club in the early morning hours, one of many PGA Tour pros to go with shorts for the day’s 36-hole journey. He practiced next to Justin Thomas, at that point still an amateur, whose plane had landed just hours earlier after he helped lead the University of Alabama to a national championship. His father was with him on the putting green, coffee in hand, still wearing the smile from the day before.

Scott Gardiner drew much of the morning buzz that day by showing up to the course without his clubs, which were lost in transit. The subsequent scramble led to the Aussie playing with a mixed set of sticks from the staff collection and using balls emblazoned with “SNAP,” since the assistant in the shop that had a few eggs to spare tends to move his shot from right to left. Remarkably, he used the rag-tag assortment to shoot an opening 65 without hitting so much as a single ball on the range.

As morning became afternoon, future Presidents Cupper Brendon de Jonge could be seen sitting alone in a corner of the course’s outdoor patio. He was eating a to-go burger from the grill before being shuttled to Brookside Golf & Country Club for the day’s second round, appearing very much like a club member grabbing a quick bite before resuming his $5 Nassau match.

As the sun began to fade, an 11-for-7 playoff included veteran Steve Flesch, whose teenage son, Griffin, served admirably as caddie, despite the fact that it seemed at times the weight of the golf bag might be enough to send him sideways.

Such are the sights of a sectional qualifier – easily one of the more memorable days I spent on the course in 2013.

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Woods now listed as Masters betting favorite

By Will GraySeptember 24, 2018, 12:03 am

Now officially a winner again on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods has become a popular bet for folks thinking about next year's Masters.

The trip down Magnolia Lane is still seven months away, but Woods' breakthrough victory at the Tour Championship has led bettors to flock to the window to lay down cash on the four-time champ to add green jacket No. 5 next spring at age 43.

Woods was listed at 12/1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook when odds opened after the PGA Championship, behind only 2015 champ Jordan Spieth. That's where he remained for the subsequent six weeks, but after a stirring performance at East Lake Golf Club he's now listed as the 9/1 betting favorite for the first major of 2019.

Here's a look at the latest odds via the Westgate, as many of the top contenders head to Paris for the Ryder Cup:

9/1: Tiger Woods

10/1: Jordan Spieth

12/1: Dustin Johnson

14/1: Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

16/1: Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler

18/1: Jon Rahm

20/1: Jason Day

25/1: Bubba Watson

30/1: Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Tony Finau

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Woods caps comeback season with win No. 80

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 12:01 am

ATLANTA – When the last chapter is penned in the groundbreaking and infinitely complicated life of Tiger Woods, Sept. 23, 2018, is sure to get lost in the talking points.

His two-stroke victory at the Tour Championship on Sunday was impressive by any measure, but it wouldn’t qualify as his most dominant or his most clinical performance. If we’re being honest, his 80th PGA Tour bottle cap was like so many others, a battle of attrition that never allowed for a modicum of doubt.

There was a three-stroke lead to start the day, a birdie at the first to pad his advantage and a parade of nondescript pars that gave the season’s final round a marching band to nowhere feel. Given the gravity of what was a seminal moment in his career it felt so mundane, but then that’s always been the hallmark of his greatness.

After four back surgeries, four knee surgeries, an arrest for driving under the influence and more cringe moments than an episode of "America’s Got Talent," this victory was so much more than the sum of its parts.

Social media was abuzz in the aftermath of Woods’ walk-off. From the depths of pain, pedestrian performances and poor choices Tiger put an exclamation point on what was already a successful return.

It had some calling this the greatest comeback in the history of sports, but then the car Woods was driving last Memorial Day only bounced off a few curbs, not a bus.

To be historically aware, Ben Hogan’s comeback after nearly dying in a car crash in 1949, a horrific event that was followed by a run that included eight major victories, should be considered the category leader on this front.

But as Tiger whipped a day’s worth of sweat from his face and considered his answer the more relevant question is where the 2018 Tour Championship ranks on his own lifetime resume.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“It's certainly up there with obviously all the major championships I've won, Players, World Golf Championships. But this is under different circumstances,” said Woods, who closed with a 71 at East Lake for his first Tour victory since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “I just didn't know whether this would ever happen again.”

Woods is normally averse to this type of nostalgia, but even if he wanted to take a deeper dive it’s not a debate that lends itself to instant analysis. When your career has been a nonstop highlight reel of fist pumps and unforgettable moments there’s no easy way to rank greatness.

For some, the 1997 Masters, his first major championship, stands alone as a career high-water mark; while others may lean toward the 2000 U.S. Open where he lapped the field by 15 strokes.

“Those were special because of the way he did it,” said Butch Harmon, Tiger’s swing coach from August 1993 to August 2002. But for Harmon the Tour Championship was different. “He had a chance to win the last two majors. It’s impressive that just two years ago he couldn’t pitch the ball on the green. It’s not exactly Ben Hogan, but it’s along those lines.”

As far as clinical brilliance, most would say the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool is the benchmark. It was Tiger’s first victory after his father, Earl, died following a brutal bout with cancer and was nothing short of a ball-striking show.

“That was his best ball-striking tournament he’s ever had. That’s a different deal,” said Hank Haney, who served as Tiger’s second set of eyes from March 2004 to May 2010.

But it’s the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines that may stand as the competitive and physical pinnacle of Tiger’s career. On a broken leg with a torn ACL he endured 72 grueling holes to finish tied with Rocco Mediate and eventually prevailed on the first hole of a sudden death playoff after 18 holes on Monday.

“That’s No. 1, it’s not even close,” Haney said. “He didn’t win [at East Lake] with a broken leg. At the U.S. Open he won on one leg. It is unbelievable that he came back from four back operations, but once you’ve established that you’re back and you’re healthy you knew he’s going to win. A lot of things had to happen, he got off the prescription drugs and got his back healthy. But I felt like this was going to happen and he’s not done.”

But if the ’08 U.S. Open is the standard by which Tiger’s career will always be measured, his performance at East Lake deserves to be considered with a wider lens. This wasn’t about fairways hit or birdies made, this was about rounding a corner many never imagined he could.

At his darkest moments last year there was doubt he’d ever be able to swing a golf club again, never mind throw an 11-under total at the world’s best. The game had passed him by the critics claimed and even if he did find his way off the surgeon’s table the current cast and crew were a different breed who would be immune to his dominant ways and the aura he once held over the game.

This wasn’t Hoylake in ’06 or Pebble Beach in ’00, but in many ways it was better. There’s nothing better in sports than a comeback story and Tiger’s journey from a broken and burdened man to beaming on a final green is nothing short of a reinvention.

“The world is full of people who want to see a comeback story. We’re all coming back from something, so when you see someone do it inspires people to fight through it,” said Sean Foley, who stepped in for Haney in August 2010 and served as Woods’ swing coach until August 2014.

It was only last summer that the most common image of Tiger was a mug shot taken after his DUI arrest. The grainy image looking back at the world was a testament to how far he’d fallen, an unshaven and blurry-eyed shadow of the player who once seemed so untouchable. He couldn’t play golf, he couldn’t even ride in a golf cart his back hurt so bad, and his inability to do the one thing he was truly great at left Tiger to his own devices.

As he recovered from fusion surgery on his lower back he began to miss the game and the things that he’d done to transform it. As he returned, slowly at first before picking up the pace this summer, he allowed the world to see a different side, a player who was appreciative of what amounted to a final chance to be great.

There was emotion on Sunday and unbridled joy. His first victory in five years may defy assessment, but for Tiger there was so much more to his week in Atlanta than the history books could ever reveal.

“It's totally different because of what he’s been through, but I’d have to put [his victory at East Lake] up there with one of his greatest victories ever because of what he’s been through, the mental and physical, the disgrace,” Harmon said.

Maybe the 2018 Tour Championship won’t go down as Tiger’s masterpiece when he hangs up his Nikes. Maybe what awaits will be the true measure of his genius.

“The greatest accomplishment in sports is going to be when he’s No. 1 again and that’s going to be pretty soon,” Haney said. “When he returns to No. 1 it won’t be a debate.”

With fans stacked five and six rows deep along every fairway, probably the biggest crowd East Lake has seen since Bobby Jones was stalking the rolling hills, Tiger played the script he invented, a bullish version of what Stewart Cink once called a prevent defense.

The only change to this all-too-familiar routine was the pregnant pause he allowed himself after putting out on the 18th hole, slamming his putter into the ground and raising his arms in triumph.

In a historic twist it was the same green where Jones, who pulled off an impressive comeback of his own once, ended his golf career. It was only apropos that Tiger would complete his comeback and restart his career on the same spot.

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Woods: Support from Tour friends 'meant a lot to me'

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 23, 2018, 11:54 pm

ATLANTA – As Tiger Woods approach the 18th green on Sunday at the Tour Championship, with thousands of fans – literally – breathing down his neck, Davis Love III crouched down inside the ropes, on top of a mound to take it all in. He was joined by Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson.

Rickie Fowler was waiting. Tommy Fleetwood was watching from the clubhouse balcony. Paul Casey was there. So, too, were Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas.

They all wanted to witness Woods win for the first time in five physically debilitating, at times personally destructive, years. They wanted to congratulate, not just a peer, but a friend.

What that meant to Woods, well, he tried to describe. But words don’t do justice what the support of others means to someone who has been through so much.

“The people who are close to me saw the struggles and what I was going through, and some of the players that I'm pretty close to, they've really helped throughout this process and the last few years,” Woods said. “Their support and some of those things that they said coming off that last green meant a lot to me.”


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Of course, all of these players have one thing in common: They are all headed to Paris for this Ryder Cup, either as players or vice captains.

There were 17 Ryder Cup players in the 30-man Tour Championship field – 11, including Woods, on the U.S. side.

The Americans were set to take a charter flight to France on Sunday night. That means everyone aboard will get to partake in the celebrations. And Tiger will get to enjoy the camaraderie, something lacking from the years when he won 79 PGA Tour events.

“Flying tonight with the guys, it’s going to be fun,” Woods said.

“I think we’re all going to sleep well.”

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TT Postscript: Finally, officially, Tiger Woods is back

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 23, 2018, 11:47 pm

ATLANTA, Ga. – He’s baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack. Here are some things I think I think after watching Tiger Woods end a five-year winless drought and capture his 80th career PGA Tour victory Sunday at the Tour Championship.

• There’s only one place to start. That walk down 18. Tiger Woods leading throngs of maniacs (and me) into an arena only he can create, only he can star in, only he can thrive in. That was a security nightmare, and I’m sure whatever entities hold the insurance policies on Tiger and Rory were pulling their corporate hair out, but that was a scene you can’t really stage. A scene you can’t recreate. Not like that. Not with that level of exaltation. Every single person who has followed Tiger Woods’ career – every single person who loves the game of golf – felt like they were following Tiger in that crowd up 18. Regardless of whether you root for him or against him, you know no one else in the game can create a spectacle like that. After the surgeries, and the scandals, and the personal demons, Tiger Woods teared up, tapped in, put his arms in the air, and soaked in a kind of redemption none of us will ever fully understand.

• He admitted he almost cried twice on the way in. He almost cried in the crowd en route to the front bunker, and he almost cried after Rory McIlroy ceded the stage on the 72nd green. For years, he was invulnerable. Impenetrable. That was his aura. That aura was later shattered at too many different points along the way. There was a popular thought that Tiger Woods couldn’t be Tiger Woods without that same air of invincibility – that edge. But on Sunday, the golf world and Tiger himself saw that he could be vulnerable and a champion. Notah Begay perhaps put it best when he suggested on Golf Central that Tiger could, moving forward, strike a balance between playing with an edge and playing with a sense of gratitude.



• That gratitude seems genuine, too. He thought he was done. More than that, at his lowest point, he didn’t know what was going to be left of his life.

“Am I going to be able to sit, stand, walk, lay down without feeling the pain that I was in? I just didn't want to live that way,” he said in the interview room. “This is how the rest of my life is going to be? It's going to be a tough rest of my life. And so – I was beyond playing. I couldn't sit. I couldn't walk. I couldn't lay down without feeling the pain in my back and my leg.”

Now the roars, the support, the embrace, the victory – it all means a little more. Tiger Woods seems like a guy who took everything he had for granted, faced down the possibility of losing it all, and came out on the other end.


Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


• As for what exactly he really went through, maybe we’ll never know. Maybe we’ll never know how deep and dark that hole went. But clearly there’s an inner circle that knows. And that includes some of Tiger’s colleagues on Tour.

“You know, the people who are close to me saw the struggles and what I was going through, and some of the players that I'm pretty close to, they've really helped throughout this process and the last few years,” he said. “Their support and some of those things that they said coming off that last green meant a lot to me.”

• Tiger has been the face of golf for the last two decades. And that’s why it’s so weird to think that anyone can conceive of him as anything other than the most dominant player in the history of the game. But his kids are young enough that they really don’t know. Hearing him discuss his family Sunday night was both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

“I think they understand a little bit of what Dad does now. I hadn't won any tournaments in which they can remember, so I think this will be a little bit different for them. … A lot of times they equated golf to pain because every time I did it, I would hurt, and it would cause me more pain. And so now they're seeing a little bit of joy and seeing how much fun it is for me to be able to do this again.”

• So where do we go from here? To Paris, where Tiger through a wry smile suggested that everyone is going to sleep well on the U.S. plane tonight. Uh huh.

• But what’s next in that big-picture sense? Does he pass Sam? Does he catch Jack? Hell, I don’t know. I never thought we’d get to this point again. And neither did he. Maybe it’ll never get any better than this. But you know, it just might.