By REX HOGGARD
At 10 a.m. on Monday Tiger Woods is scheduled to take to the first tee at Augusta National for a practice round. At 2 p.m. he is scheduled to talk to the media. If form holds, expect to see many more answers coming from the former, rather than the latter.
For the first time since Woods caromed his way down an Isleworth byway in November, the world No. 1 will take to a microphone to field questions from the national media at large. But be forewarned, anyone looking for closure to the most bizarre season golf has ever known should get used to disappointment.
That’s not to say Monday’s unprecedented meet-and-greet doesn’t present a wealth of opportunity for Woods.
• The gathering will give Woods a chance to explain what happened the night his SUV plowed through a collection of immovable obstructions beyond his claim in a March 21 interview with Golf Channel that, “it’s all in the police report.” There was a reason the Florida Highway Patrol wanted a look at Woods’ medical records and, in fairness to every professional athlete who has run afoul the law of the land, he could put to rest a great many questions.
• Woods will also be afforded a chance to clarify his relationship with Canadian Dr. Anthony Galea, who is under investigation for his use of human growth hormone and who has been linked to many high-profile athletes including Alex Rodriguez. According to reports, Galea helped Woods recover from knee surgery using a process called blood spinning. Blood spinning is a legal procedure under the PGA Tour’s performance-enhancing drug policy. But it’s also a procedure that could have been administered by any number of qualified doctors. Why choose a doctor who is not licensed to practice medicine in Florida and who has the cloud of HGH hanging over his head?
• But, perhaps most pressing, the 14-time major champion will have a chance to explain why we should trust him again. During his February media event at TPC Sawgrass Woods said his actions will ultimately decide how he has chosen to live his life. Within the confines of the Augusta National press building he could go a long way to showing he’s on a new path with some honest and from-the-heart answers.
Woods’ press conference will not be about a pound of flesh. Truth be told he owes the media nothing. He can choose not to elaborate any further than he already has, put a peg in the ground on Thursday and go about putting this episode behind him doing what he does best – winning.
He may stick to his talking points, put his head down and simply refuse to submit to the impending media maelstrom. But this isn’t about what the press wants. This is about what golf deserves. And the game deserves some answers.
By RANDALL MELL
Will Tiger Woods invite us along on his journey?
It’s not something most of us are expecting when he meets the media Monday at Augusta National, but it would change the nature of his march toward history.
Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 professional major championship titles is one of sports’ great treasures. Nicklaus wasn’t just a winner. He was a gentleman sportsman who won as much respect in all his runner-up finishes in majors (19) as he did in his victories.
Woods’ march to break Nicklaus’ mark won’t be a solitary journey. Everyone who loves the game will follow. For a lot of them, it’s now a journey to dread because they feel betrayed. For them, this is looking like it will be a repeat of Barry Bonds’ miserable march to break Hank Aaron’s record.
But there are millions of folks who will root for Woods’ redemption, who want to encourage a man’s sincere desire to be something better.
Sincere is the key word. Truth that hurts will be the measure of that sincerity in his Monday news conference at the Masters.
Woods can show us the Six-Minute Man was just a start.
There were possibilities in the tone of that six-minute interview with Golf Channel and a similar allotment with ESPN two weeks ago, the possibility that he could surprise us all in undergoing a transformation beyond the way he views marriage. There was the possibility he’s interested in changing the nature of his relationship with the world.
But there was a giant dose of skepticism that came in those six minutes. It was in the sense that his relationship with the world is still built on his entitled and controlling terms. There was more than a sense of it in his claiming that “it’s all in the police report” when asked what happened in the early morning hours of Nov. 27 and in his claiming that nobody in his inner circle knew of his infidelities when published reports show otherwise.
For Woods to make this golf journey something his betrayed following won’t dread, he needs to offer truth that hurts him. Telling us what happened that night in Isleworth is a start because the events didn’t just change his life, they turned the entire golf world upside down. A general accounting matters in setting the record straight before moving forward.
Detailing why he would risk damaging the integrity of his sport in the treatment of his knee by hiring a doctor who has a history of using and prescribing banned HGH substances matters in moving forward.
Woods risks making so many of the folks who will follow his golf journey feel like the women he used if he doesn’t reach out with truth that hurts him. The pain of that truth is more than penance. It’s a sincere invitation to join him on his journey.
Tigers Big Monday at the Masters
Rose tries to ignore scenarios, focus on winning
ATLANTA – No one has more to play for than Justin Rose on Sunday at the Tour Championship.
The Englishman will begin the day three strokes behind front-runner Tiger Woods after a third-round 68 that could have been much worse after he began his day with back-to-back bogeys.
Winning the tournament will be Rose’s top priority, but there’s also the lingering question of the FedExCup and the $10 million bonus, which he is currently projected to claim.
“The way I look at tomorrow is that I have many scenarios in play. I have the FedExCup in play. I have all of that to distract me,” Rose said. “But yet, I'm three back. I think that's my objective tomorrow is to come out and play good, positive golf and try and chase down the leader and win this golf tournament. I think in some ways that'll help my other task of trying to win the FedExCup. It'll keep me on the front foot and playing positive golf.”
Although there are many scenarios for Rose to win the season-long title, if Woods wins the Tour Championship, Rose would need to finish fifth or better to claim the cup.
There’s also the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking to consider. Rose overtook Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world with his runner-up finish at the BMW Championship two weeks ago. He will retain the top spot unless Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka or Johnson win the finale and he falls down the leaderboard on Sunday.
McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods
ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.
Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.
“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”
For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.
The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.
McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.
“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”
Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship
ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.
With the top 25 earners in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.
''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''
Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Web.com Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.
''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''
Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.
''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''
Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.
McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.
The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.
Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling
ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.
For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.
“I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.
Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.
“Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”
Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.
On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.
He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.
This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.
“The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”
Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.
He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.
There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.
Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.
Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”
Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.
It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.
Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.
“I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”
In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.
He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.
The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.