Time Ticking Down for Tiger

By Golf Channel NewsroomAugust 9, 2003, 4:00 pm
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) -- By all accounts but one, Tiger Woods has every reason to call this year a success.
 
Despite surgery on his left knee that caused him to miss five weeks and limited his PGA Tour events to a career-low 12 going into the PGA Championship, Woods has won four times, has four other top-5s, leads the money list and has the lowest scoring average.
 
'A heck of a year, all things considered,' Woods said.
 
Still, he won't consider it a great year without a major championship.
 
Not since he left the forest-lined fairways of Sahalee five years ago has Woods gone into an offseason without a major to his name. That's what he is up against at Oak Hill Country Club in the 85th PGA Championship, the fourth and final major known as 'Glory's Last Shot.'
 
It's his last shot at joining Walter Hagen as the only men to win a major in five straight seasons.
 
It's his last shot to stop all this talk about a majors slump.
 
It's his last shot to avoid spending the next seven months mulling over chances that got away from him at Augusta National and Royal St. George's.
 
'If you win a major championship, it's a great year, simple as that,' Woods said. 'Majors are so much better than anything else. It's like tennis -- you don't hear about any other events (but the Grand Slam). There are so many other events around the world that are big, but there are only four majors.'
 
Three of them already are taken.
 
Mike Weir of Canada won the Masters. Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. Ben Curtis, a 500-1 long shot who was No. 396 in the world ranking, pulled off a shocker at Royal St. George's to win the British Open.
 
Not since 1969 have all four majors gone to players who had never won a Grand Slam event -- George Archer (Masters), Orville Moody (U.S. Open), Tony Jacklin (British Open) and Raymond Floyd (PGA).
 
There's a good chance of that happening at the PGA. Twelve of its last 15 winners had never won a major.
 
Last year it was Rich Beem, the former car stereo salesman who played like he had nothing to lose, withstood four straight birdies by Woods down the stretch, and won the Wanamaker Trophy at Hazeltine.
 
Maybe that wasn't such an accident.
 
'You're looking at your Tiger Woods, your Phil Mickelsons, Davis Love, Ernie Els. There's still going to be 10 guys that really are at the top of the talent pool,' Furyk said. 'But there are more guys that have an opportunity to win now, and that's going to continue to happen.'
 
This year could shape up like 1969 for another reason -- that was the last time eight players had won at least twice on the PGA Tour going into the final major of the year.
 
That list includes Woods (4), Weir, Davis Love III and Kenny Perry (3), and Furyk, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and David Toms at two victories each.
 
The hottest player of the bunch is Perry, who has won three times and finished in the top 10 in his last seven tournaments, dating to Colonial in May. Perry has the unique distinction of winning in back-to-back weeks with the No. 1 player in the field -- Annika Sorenstam at Colonial, Woods at the Memorial.
 
Perry isn't sure why he's on the biggest roll of his career, but he gives some credit to Woods.
 
'He's definitely head and shoulders above most guys out here, so he's raised the bar and he's actually made me play better,' Perry said. 'I've watched what he's done. It's inspired me, and I've raised the level of my game.'
 
Furyk has a chance to join some exclusive company. The only other players to have won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in the same year are Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.
 
There is reason to believe Furyk can succeed again, and not just because he is coming off a two-stroke victory at the tree-lined Buick Open.
 
The East course at Oak Hill is a classic design that resembles a U.S. Open venue. The winding fairways are on average 23 yards wide, the rough is thick and mushy and the greens are among the quickest. The last time Oak Hill held a major was in 1980, when Nicklaus won his record-tying fifth PGA.
 
He finished at 6-under 274. No one else broke par.
 
Weather conditions tend to dictate whether any course plays easy or difficult, and just as difficult to forecast is a winner -- especially this year, especially at this major championship.
 
Oak Hill is not entirely unknown. Eleven players from the '95 Ryder Cup return, although not all of them have pleasant memories. Brad Faxon, Peter Jacobsen and Jay Haas all came to the 18th hole that day with a chance to earn valuable points, and all came up empty in a European victory.
 
Phil Mickelson went 3-0 at Oak Hill in the '95 matches, and he usually plays his best in the PGA Championship. No one is sure what to expect this year. The best player to have never won a major has not been in contention at any tournament since his forgotten third-place finish at the Masters.
 
Mickelson, out of the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time in six years, has not won in more than a year.
 
'I don't feel like there's pressure to get a win right away,' he said last month. 'I want to just start playing better, as opposed to worrying about the result.'
 
The PGA Championship also is the last chance for the Americans to earn a spot on the Presidents Cup team that will play in South Africa in November.
 
Jerry Kelly, Bob Estes, Charles Howell III, Fred Funk and Jeff Sluman are all on the bubble. None has ever played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. All would swim to South Africa for a chance to play.
 
The PGA also could go a long way toward determining who wins the PGA Tour player of the year, an award that Woods has won the last four seasons. He is locked in a good race with Weir, Furyk and Perry, and any number of players could join the fray by holding the Wanamaker Trophy at week's end.
 
That's not what is driving Woods. He simply doesn't want the year to end without a major on his mantel.
 
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    Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

    By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

    After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

    But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

    Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

    Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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    Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

    By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

    Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

    The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

    “There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

    “To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

    Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

    “To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

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    Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

    By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

    There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

    Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

    In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

    “It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

    “That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”

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    Woods does everything but win at The Open

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:57 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and moral victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.

    Sure, after a round in which he took the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.

    “Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”

    But here’s where we take a deep breath.

    Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with eight holes to play.

    Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.

    The scenario was improbable.

    Inconceivable.

    Impossible.

    At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.

    Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.

    This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.

    One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?

    “Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.

    Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.

    Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.

    Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.

    Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.

    Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.

    Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.

    “For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”

    So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”

    But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, the ball ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.

    “It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”

    Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.

    “Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing The Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”

    Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.

    “She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”

    But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.

    Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.

    “To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”

    His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two young, cute members of his clan.

    Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:

    LOVE THE HATERS.

    After this riveting performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?