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Punch Shot: Where are we headed with Tiger?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 31, 2017, 3:15 pm

Tiger Woods announced on Monday that he plans to play the Hero World Challenge. Writers Ryan Lavner and Will Gray discuss what they'll key on while watching his first start since a fourth back surgery and if they think Woods can go a season uninjured.

Gray: OK, Lav, it's official. Tiger's coming back a month from now at the Hero World Challenge. Initial reaction?

Lavner: Stunned, but in hindsight the flurry of social-media posts – at least a flurry for Tiger – hinted that another comeback was imminent.

Gray: If nothing else, the last month vaulted him into contention for most improved Twitter account.

I agree that it's a bit jarring, especially when squared with his shudder-inducing comments at the Presidents Cup about his future. But we can't discount just how soft of a landing spot the Hero is: small field, low-key vibe, sparse crowds. Essentially as close to a controlled environment as he can get. Plus it's a course he knows well with, ahem, generous landing areas off the tee and no real rough. Perhaps we should have seen this coming.

Lavner: Agree. It was a similar situation last year, and he showed just enough glimpses of good play to really ratchet up the excitement for 2017. (Sigh.) Still, I can't shake the feeling that it's too much, too soon. He was only cleared for full golf activity a few weeks ago. A month later, he's ready to play four tournament rounds under the national spotlight?

Gray: It does seem a bit quick, but the calendar could also be a factor. If he skips Hero, where is his next likely option? Torrey Pines, eight weeks later? Last year showed there are no guarantees regardless of how slowly he ramps things up, so perhaps there's something to be said for giving it a crack now while the body is (theoretically) responding well.

I think we can both agree that expectations are at an all-time low. Will simply completing 72 holes upright be considered a win?

Lavner: Yep, 72 holes injury free is a win, just like last year. Unfortunately, his surprisingly good play a year ago led him to push himself during that break between the Hero and Torrey – and something clearly went awry, because he showed up at Torrey in terrible shape.

Gray: It's still hard to mesh the optimism I saw down at Albany last year with the despondent tone you encountered at Torrey the following month. Given the barrage of recent swing videos Tiger has sent out on social media, what's one aspect of his game that you'll be watching the most intently?

Lavner: Obviously in today's era the long game is the most important, and so we'll watch to see whether he's able to piece together a repeatable swing without pain. But I'm most interested in his short game. He's only a few years removed from the chip yips, and he's going to need to be sharp on and around the greens if he has any chance of contending in the future.

Gray: Right there on the same page with you. It was only three years ago, when this event was at Isleworth, that his short game first showed signs of collapse. His comeback won't be tied to any single variable, but to have even a prayer of working back into contention he has to at least be functional around the greens.


Tiger Timeline: A look at Woods' history of injuries and comebacks


Gray: Let the extrapolation begin. Augusta National, Shinnecock, Carnoustie, Bellerive – over/under: 1.5 major starts for Tiger in 2018?

Lavner: Not sure he'll play well in any of them, but I think he'll peg it in all four majors. For that to happen, Tiger must listen to his body and reduce his regular-season schedule. That's the only way this (final) comeback can work.

Gray: A full year of Tiger! There are kids in grade school who have never witnessed such a feat. I'll believe it when I see it, but I agree with you that less will be more. The ambitious early-season schedule that followed last year's Hero, including the ill-fated flight to Dubai, needs to be trimmed considerably.

Lavner: Talked to Trusted Tiger Friend Notah Begay III on Monday night, and even he admitted that he's anxious about this latest comeback attempt. He just hopes, like I think we all do, that Tiger can go out on his terms – whenever that is – with some respectable golf.

Gray: There are still some philosophical questions about what that last bit would even mean to Tiger. Will he be willing to lower his own lofty expectations for himself? Time will tell. In the interim, let's keep prognosticating. Are we talking about a fully healthy Tiger heading into the 2018 Hero?

Lavner: A fully healthy Tiger probably doesn't exist anymore, not after what he's put his body and mind through. But at this time next year it's not hard to imagine that Woods will still believe he can compete with the game's best, even if the results suggest otherwise.

Gray: Deep Thoughts with Lavner. Let's close this out with a couple more. Back to scheduling, what's one "typical" Tiger event you hope he cuts, and maybe one new event you hope he considers adding?

Lavner: Hope he cuts Torrey – it's one of the toughest non-major tracks of the year, and even two decades of good vibes there won't help him stay out of the thick, gnarly rough. And hope he adds Houston, an ideal warmup for Augusta.

Gray: Agreed on Torrey, as the South Course can take down top players any day of the week. Not sure he'd break with tradition and try playing the week before Augusta, but I wouldn't mind seeing him head back to the Wyndham, site of his most recent brush with contention. Stenson won this year without even putting driver in the bag!

Last one: Are you more or less optimistic about this comeback attempt than you were a year ago?

Lavner: More optimistic, because there have been plenty of examples of players who continued to perform at a high level, pain free, after fusion surgery. If he can clear his mind and put in the work – that's been the biggest unknown over the past few years – then there's a chance this can work.

Gray: There's a chance, sure. But I'm a little skittish after last year's debacle. That was the return where he had finally taken his time and hadn't rushed back, and it was supposed to be the one that stuck. Instead, it just showed us how quickly it can all fall apart. He's another year older, another year removed from both the grind and his last good season of 2013. Let's put it this way: I'd love to be proven wrong.

Lavner: Nice. That's a good spot to end it on.

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PGA Tour 'career mode' to be featured in video game

By Nick MentaMay 21, 2018, 6:02 pm

The PGA Tour announced on Monday a licensing agreement with developer HB Studios that will see Tour branding featured in HB's upcoming "The Golf Club 2019" video game.

Per a release, the game's career mode takes players “on an authentic journey through Q-School, the Web.com Tour and a 32-tournament PGA Tour season, including the FedExCup Playoffs, to become the FedExCup champion."

The initial launch will also feature "six precise replicas" of TPC courses played each year on Tour: TPC Summerlin (home of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open), TPC Scottsdale Stadium Course (Waste Management Phoenix Open), TPC Sawgrass’ The Players Stadium Course (The Players Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St. Jude Classic and future home of the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship), TPC Deere Run (John Deere Classic), and TPC Boston (Dell Technologies Championship).

“We are so excited for the launch of 'The Golf Club 2019' featuring the PGA Tour that highlights some of our best tournaments,” said Len Brown, PGA Tour chief legal officer and executive vice president of licensing. “This will allow our fans to take the same path to the PGA Tour by earning their card through the Web.com Tour. Additionally, this will give gamers the opportunity to play under the same tournament conditions that our players face week in and week out. We are thrilled with this partnership.”

The agreement is a large step forward for a franchise which has been focused on virtual architecture, allowing users to design, play and share courses with other members of the TGC community. To date, users have designed more than 170,000 layouts. 

“We are absolutely ecstatic and proud to be an official licensee of the PGA Tour, one of the most prestigious sports organizations in the world,” said Alan Bunker, CEO of HB Studios. “This further validates that HB Studios has the No. 1 golf video game on console and PC platforms. With the inclusion of PGA Tour content and the support of this fantastic organization, it will elevate our game even higher and provide our users with an even more authentic video game golfing experience.”

The 2019 edition is the third installment in “The Golf Club” franchise following "The Golf Club" in 2014 and "The Golf Club 2" in 2017. The game is set for an August release on PlayStation 4, XBOX One, and PC.

The PGA Tour previously licensed its branding and TPC courses to well-known developer Electronic Arts, as far back as 1990. The EA game enjoyed its greatest popularity from 1999-2013 under the name "Tiger Woods PGA Tour". Following the 2013 edition, EA's partnership with Woods and a licensing agreement with Augusta National Golf Club reached an end.

The studio developed one edition of the game for current-generation consoles in 2015 under the name "Rory McIlroy PGA Tour". The title received poor initial reviews when it launched with limited content and far fewer features than previous incarnations of the game, although EA continued to add content for up to a year.

A request for comment from EA has not yet been returned.

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Mann, LPGA HOFer, former tour president, dies at 77

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 4:46 pm

Carol Mann, an LPGA Hall of Famer, made a lasting impact on the women’s game beyond her 38 LPGA titles. She was a former tour president in the 1970s who helped develop the LPGA’s corporate structure.

Mann, 77, died in her home in Woodlands, Texas, on Monday.

She leaves a legacy as a player, teacher, TV broadcaster, writer and businesswoman.

“Carol was a significant player in the growth of the LPGA,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “She was involved when some big changes came to the tour. She was a talented woman beyond her golf.”



Mann, who towered over the game as a physical presence at 6 feet 3 inches tall, was dominant in her prime. She won 10 LPGA titles in 1968 and claimed the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. She won eight titles in ’69. Her first LPGA title was a major championship, the 1964 Women’s Western Open. She also won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1965.

As the LPGA’s president from 1973 to ’76, Mann oversaw the hiring of the tour’s first commissioner, Ray Volpe, a former NFL marketing executive. Mann and Volpe helped take the tour from a struggling business venture at the time to a more profitable one.

“It is always difficult to lose a member of your family,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “Carol Mann was a tremendous competitor, but an even  more amazing person.  She was special in every way, and she certainly left the game and the LPGA better than she found it. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.”

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Sponsored: Callaway's 'Insta Tips'

By Grill Room TeamMay 21, 2018, 4:35 pm

Want to improve your game? Want a quick lesson? And by quick, we mean, 5-10 seconds quick.

Joe Compitello, the director of instruction at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, N.J., teamed up with Callaway to provide a series of Insta Tips. These quick and easy lessons will help your game, from tee to green, and keep your attention.

Click here for the full series of videos and check out a few clips below:




Aaron Wise, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods Getty Images, @TGRLiveEvents

Monday Scramble: This is their jam

By Nick MentaMay 21, 2018, 2:00 pm

Aaron Wise asserts himself, Trinity Forest draws mixed reviews, Tiger Woods hangs out in Vegas, and somebody punches somebody else - maybe. All that and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble.

Aaron Wise's learning curve lasted exactly 17 starts. That's how many events he had played as an official PGA Tour member before breaking through for his maiden win Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson. A kid plenty ready for the moment, the 2016 NCAA Division I individual champion entered the final round tied for the lead and ran away from Marc Leishman with six birdies in a seven-hole stretch. Once firmly in control, Wise made eight straight pars on his way into the clubhouse. Heady stuff for a 21-year-old.

You need look back only a couple weeks for evidence that Wise was ready for something like this. Saturday at the Wells Fargo Championship, he could have melted down on the 18th hole. With his ball sitting on a steep bank inside the hazard line, Wise thought about taking a drop next to the green but ultimately chose after minutes of indecision to play it where it was. And he whiffed. He went right under it. He thinned his next shot over the green and looked as though he was going to throw away three days of fabulous play all at once. Instead, he steeled himself and chipped in to save his bogey-5.

Although Wise couldn't run down Jason Day a day later, his tie for second played a vital role in propelling him to victory just two weeks later. Wise said he felt "oddly calm" in the final round and that his experience at Quail Hollow had filled him with the self-belief he needed to close out his first win.

Mark down Wise as yet another young force to be reckoned with, as if there was somehow a shortage of those on Tour.


1. Let's go to the golf course. The Nelson's move to Trinity Forest was met with plenty of skepticism from players, some of whom simply stayed away.

The event's OWGR winner's points and strength of field dropped to 34 and 178, respectively, from 50 and 335 one year ago. The Nelson's strength of field was the lowest for a PGA Tour event in 2018 (excluding the opposite-field Coarles) and looked more in line with what you might expect during the wraparound portion of the schedule.

It's certainly possible top players are taking a wait-and-see approach to the course, but if the Nelson does wind up sandwiched between the Wells Fargo and the PGA, Trinity Forest is not going to be any kind of warmup for a Bethpage Black or a Harding Park or an Oak Hill, not when Quail Hollow is a PGA Championship layout. 



2. And if players are waiting on positive reviews to lure them to a venue that bares little resemblance to any other course on the PGA Tour schedule, they're not going to hear anything positive from Matt Kuchar. Asked on Thursday about the layout, Kuchar answered, "If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” before adding, "I really liked Las Colinas. That place was great. I really, really enjoyed Las Colinas.” After missing the cut, Kuchar admitted his distaste for the layout negatively affected his play, leaving architecture enthusiasts surely enraged.

Objectively, Las Colinas was an immaculately conditioned TPC devoid of character, and Trinity Forest is a rugged, minimalist tract with so much character it could border on caricature under certain conditions. The two designs have nothing in common, and Tour types are generally resistant to change, a sentiment summed up well by Adam Scott: “Majorities just don’t like different, do they? This is just different than what we normally roll out and play." On the plus side, Jordan Spieth, a Trinity member, said that many of the guys who did show up enjoyed the course more and more after each round. Architect Ben Crenshaw is hoping good word will spread. 

There's nothing wrong with Trinity Forest. It was actually nice to see something a little different on Tour. But the Nelson's place on the schedule may prove an obstacle to attracting the game's best regardless of where the event calls home.



3. As for the top talent who did show up, Spieth - say it with me now - was once again let down by his putter. The club that played such a pivotal role in his three major victories has abandoned him this season. Spieth entered the week second on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green and 183rd in strokes gained: putting. When he walked off the final green Sunday at Trinity Forest he was third in the field in SG: off-the-tee, fourth in SG: tee-to-green, fourth in proximity to the hole and 72nd in SG: putting. Those numbers left him 12 shots behind young Mr. Wise.

Remember when Spieth was a 21-year-old dusting the best in the world? Those were the days.

In all seriousness, the putting will get better, and when he finally matches general competence on the greens with his elite ball-striking, he'll finally capture his first trophy of the season. Don't be surprised if it happens this week at Colonial in another hometown event, one he won in 2016.



4.The aforementioned Scott remains - by the slimmest of margins - unqualified for the U.S. Open. Needing to crack the Official World Golf Ranking's top 60, Scott appeared to have done enough when he closed a final-round 65 with a birdie to pull into a four-way tie for sixth. Unfortunately, just moments later, he'd drop into a three-way tie for ninth, missing out by a single shot. 

Scott has played the last 67 majors in a row, dating back to 2001. It's a streak bested by only Sergio Garcia. Having missed this week's cutoff, he'll need to either head to sectional qualifying on June 4 or be inside the top 60 on June 11.

5. I understand golf is different than basketball and football, but the concern over how gambling might negatively impact the game feels a little like pearl-clutching. Yes, some idiot with money on the line could yell in somebody's backswing on the 72nd hole. That absolutely could happen. And yet, somehow we survive every Open Championship and every other tournament played in countries that allow gambling.

Then again, fans outside the U.S. don't yell mashed potatoes or baba booey.

I take it all back. We've made a huge mistake.



6. You might not be familiar with the name Adrian Otaegui, but that could change in a hurry if he keeps up his current form. The 25-year-old Spaniard just backed up a runner-up at the Volvo China Open with a win at the Belgian Knockout.

He's finished in the top 20 in each of his last six European Tour starts and he hasn't finished worse than T-40 in nine events. Both of his wins in the last year have come via match play (or something close enough in the case of the Knockout). With the victory, Otaegui is now up to 77th in the world, making him the fourth-highest Spaniard behind Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, and Rafa Cabrera Bello. 

7. While we're on the subject of the Belgian Knockout, two notes about the format. First, credit again goes to Keith Pelley and company for being unafraid to try something other than 72 holes of stroke play.

The rechristened Belgian Open, which had been dormant since 2000, featured 36 holes of normal stroke play qualifying before giving way to nine-hole, head-to-head stroke play in the knockout rounds. Considering how divisive the WGC-Match Play's round-robin format has become, early-stage stroke play does seem like an easy enough solution when it comes to both cutting the field and protecting the game's biggest stars from a Day 1 exit.

8. For the second time in as many events, the LPGA shortened an event due to weather.

At least the circuit was able to finish three rounds this time. Two players actually got in 56 holes, with Ariya Jutanugarn defeating Nasa Kataoka in a playoff. The victory is Ariya's first of 2018, but the Jutanugarns' second, following Moriya's breakthrough last month in L.A.

9. The Most Interesting Man in the World, Miguel Angel Jimenez, captured his first senior major at the Regions Tradition, but how about Steve Stricker's start to his PGA Tour Champions career? He's gone T5-1-1-T2-T2. Look out, Langer.

Didn't mean to shortchange Jimenez there. Just figured this image summed up the moment.

10. It never ceases to be amazing, by the way, the fine line between the wilderness and a PGA Tour card. Michael Arnaud had made just one Web.com start this year, and he shot an 81. He made only two of five cuts on the Web all last year. On Tuesday, he was in Oklahoma preparing to play an Adams Tour event when he was informed that he had been moved up to first alternate at the BMW Charity Pro-Am. So he took his chances and raced to South Carolina. He was the very last man into the field. And now he's a Web.com winner, inside the top 25 on the money list. All it takes is one great week to rejuvenate a career. 


Our Ryan Lavner normally writes this column, but he's on NCAA duty the next couple weeks. That said, he is checking in with this story about an alleged fist fight at the Florida Mid-Am! Here's a little taste:

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.

You know you want more. Click here.

This week's award winners ...

A master class in big timing: Hosting his annual Tiger Jam event at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, Tiger Woods "challenged" World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a showdown, but rather than wait and see who won, Woods got up on the tee, unleashed a drive, and simply walked away, going full mic drop.

This may have been a savvy play by Tiger, considering Mullins won a WLD event last summer with a drive of 374 yards.

Life is just a party and parties weren't meant to last: We compiled a photo gallery of some of Woods' best celebrity interactions at Tiger Jam over the years, but this image tops them all:

Who needs local knowledge? Tip of the cap to Hideki Matsuyama and his caddie for this read. "I think we start this a good 10 feet left, let it funnel right, and then it should take a hard left at the hole."

Kuchar should have just done that.

Belgian Wave: Is this the opposite of a Belgian Dip?

New rule: Backstopping is absolutely fine as long as we stop marking balls altogether.

And finally:

I like to think we have a lot in common, as I randomly pick up this column, quickly put it back down, and then try to (not-so) casually slip away. Cheers, buddy.