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Tiger's comeback ready for major focus in 2019

By Jaime DiazOctober 11, 2018, 12:45 pm

And now, back to our regular programming, as we rejoin "The Tiger Woods Comeback," still in progress.

We apologize for the interruption, but Ryder Cups always provide a powerful first impression, a rush to judgment, and a lingering aftermath.

Woods was part of all that, going 0-4 in the American team’s 17 1/2 to 10 1/2 loss to Europe in France. To many people, the dull body language that accompanied his mediocre play may have spoiled all that he accomplished this year.

We heard the familiar refrain that Woods is too remote a personality to play effectively with partners. Some also wondered that after his victory the week before at the Tour Championship – so long in coming, so powerfully emotional – whether Woods, who will be 43 in December, is sated and ready to ease out of all this return-to-glory business.

That last part? Don’t think it for a moment. As a golfer, Woods has miles to go before he sleeps.

That’s because the hard part is over, and the best part is about to start. Woods’ long ordeal – nine years filled with dark days and injury that began with a personal scandal in 2009 – seems to have finally ended. A successful back fusion in 2017 has had a Lazarus-like effect on him physically, while the process of overcoming personal adversity has matured him as a person. After finally cresting what must have seemed an endless incline, the road before Woods may very well appear a flat straightaway, one that promises to be long and even downwind.

But first, let’s put that Ryder Cup performance in context. Woods arrived in Paris worn out, his tantalizing improvement colliding with an overcrowded late-season schedule. The best example was how his surprising T-6 at The Open got him the last spot in the field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Rather than taking a full two-week break to rev up for the season’s home stretch, Woods couldn’t pass up playing at the venue where he had eight previous victories – including a seven-stroke romp in 2013 that was his last tournament win. 

But a drained Woods didn’t have it at Firestone, and he finished T-31. He was brilliant the next week at the PGA at Bellerive, where he was second to Brooks Koepka, but in his first full season since 2013, he was already on the verge of being over-golfed. He may have felt closer to his first victory in five years, but going on to play all four of the FedExCup Playoff events meant he would have to dig very deep.

In that regard, his triumph at the Tour Championship – at least in relation to the Ryder Cup – was Pyrrhic. The massive cheering throng that surrounded the 72nd green was a profound signal of what the victory must have meant to Woods personally. But four hours later he was on the team charter to Paris, his opening match five days away. It’s easy to say Woods just doesn’t care enough about the Ryder Cup – his 13-21-3 record is Exhibit A – but there’s more evidence that he simply didn’t have time to sufficiently recharge.

That empty look and dull body language that Woods carried at Le Golf National wasn’t from apathy or age. I had seen it before. While at Stanford, Woods – who took his college studies seriously and enjoyed being anonymous in the classroom among students he called brainiacs – would sometimes complain that he was tired and relatively unprepared because of trying to keep up in school. His demeanor during some college tournaments could be flat.

I saw the look again in a hotel room in Endicott, N.Y., in September 1996, a few hours after the 20-year-old Woods had finished T-3 in a rain-soaked and abbreviated BC Open. The week had been a constant whirlwind of not only competition, but fan frenzy already known as Tiger Mania. Woods had been on a runaway train of commitments since his epic victory the month before at the U.S. Amateur, leading to his decision to turn professional and debut at the Milwaukee Open, followed in consecutive weeks with the Canadian Open and a near-victory at the Quad Cities Open. His motivation for playing so much was to earn enough prize money to avoid having to earn his card at the Tour’s Q-School.

In Endicott, Woods packed his bags to make a plane that would take him to Callaway Gardens, Ga., for the Buick Challenge. His actions were brisk, but his face was an expressionless mask. He would go on to hold a news conference the next day, but Wednesday before the pro-am he withdrew, citing exhaustion. It meant he would miss a dinner Thursday where he was to receive the Haskins Award, a decision for which he was heavily criticized.

Two months later, Woods would return to Callaway Gardens to attend a makeup Haskins dinner. In his acceptance speech, he apologized, but by that time Woods' withdrawal was being looked at as a smart move. It had given him a few days’ rest, after which he went to Las Vegas and got his first victory on the PGA Tour.

Woods would be careful to never again get caught up in such a rushed and taxing playing schedule. Until this summer.

Woods is resting now, unlikely to play anywhere the rest of the year outside of his pay-per-view match with Phil Mickelson, and then the next week at the tournament he hosts, the Hero World Challenge. He’s gearing up for 2019.

His approach will be far different than this year, when Woods was in full search mode and needed reps. Even though his fused back never appeared to cause him a serious problem, he had to rediscover his game. It turned out to be a slower, more methodical return than he probably expected. He had much to learn about his body, his swing, his equipment, and his competitive mind.

Woods got himself in the heat at Valspar and Bay Hill, only his fourth and fifth tournaments of the year, but then stalled over the next five. But his T-4 at the Quicken Loans showed new progress that he carried through the PGA Championship. Then at the BMW Championship, he appeared to embark on a new commitment to sacrifice distance off the tee in the interest of hitting more fairways. Besides adding a degree of loft to his driver, he slowed his swing down about 5 mph, employing a smoother hitting action that two of his former teachers, Butch Harmon and Hank Haney, had both encouraged.

All season, Woods worked on his game without a swing coach. Close observers have remarked on an improved rhythm in his action, and less attention, at least in his public practice sessions, to body and club positions. By the second half of the year, there was a subtle but noticeable sense of flow to Woods’ rounds, especially with his iron game, which has featured breathtaking runs of sharp shooting. Indeed, when Woods is rolling as he did at Carnoustie, Bellerive and East Lake – hitting fairways, shaping approach shots, showing short-game mastery and sure putting – he looks like the most complete, and maybe still the best, player in golf.

Woods has said little about 2019, but I think there will be two main themes: Less is more. And, to a greater extent than ever, it’s all about the major championships.

No doubt Woods will play fewer than the 18 official events he entered this year, and likely between 12 and 15. It will be a schedule predicated on being fully ready for four weeks. Yes, passing Sam Snead’s record of 82 career PGA Tour victories will be on Woods’ mind (he needs three more), but majors count toward that total.

The plan would be a time-honored tradition that’s been vetted by the very best. Bobby Jones followed it all his career, including his Grand Slam season in 1930. Ben Hogan seldom played in non-majors after his car accident in 1949, and the rest of his career would win six majors against only five regular events. Jack Nicklaus, especially after age 30, established the model that Woods has generally followed. The pattern for all was “prepare, peak, play (wins), rest and repeat.”

Woods, of course, hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. And since losing the 54-hole lead to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA – the first time in 15 tries he had done so in a major – he’s showed more vulnerability on major weekends. For example, at the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, Woods was tied for the lead after 36 but faded with 75-73 to finish T-21.

Coming into this year, Woods – through a combination of injuries and bad play – had last made a cut in a major at the 2015 Masters. Any hope of catching Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors seemed gone, but this year has restored a glimmer. Traces of a mental barrier were evident at Carnoustie, where Woods responded to holding the lead after 10 holes of the final round by making a double bogey on the 11th and a bogey at the 12th. But that championship was the deepest contention Woods achieved in a major since losing to Yang. And it led to the breakthrough at Bellerive, where he didn’t make a crucial mistake until pushing his tee shot into a hazard on the 71st hole.

Woods’ victory at the Tour Championship was most significant for his confidence in being achieved on a major championship style set up at East Lake. Indeed, since downshifting slightly with his driver, Woods’ overall game is more suited for winning majors than it has been since 2013, and he might be mentally stronger now.

Next year, the first three majors are at venues where he has won – Augusta, Bethpage, Pebble Beach. If he doesn’t get one, and especially if he doesn’t seriously contend in any of them, any dreams of his catching Nicklaus will be dealt a blow. But if he can win one, it will prove he can win another. And the most important record in golf will be back in play.

Of course, Woods’ greatest rival is the clock. Now that he is close to regaining an elite level of play, how long can his body, motor skills and motivation hold out? Woods beat very long odds to get from where he was in 2017 to where he is now. But even though he’s in a much better starting position, the odds against getting where he wants to go from here are just as long.

Whether he makes it, there’s a collective satisfaction that Woods’s final act as a player has dramatically morphed into something far more commensurate to the greatness that came before.

But what makes the future so intriguing is that we can strongly sense what Woods wants for himself. Because his gift has always been to somehow make that happen. What was most remarkable about 2018 was that he seemed on his way to doing it again.

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Davies leads Inkster after Day 1 of Senior LPGA Champ.

By Associated PressOctober 16, 2018, 1:10 am

FRENCH LICK, Ind. - Laura Davies opened with a 4-under 68 despite finishing with two bogeys Monday, giving her a one-shot lead over Juli Inkster after Round 1 of the Senior LPGA Championship.

Davies, who earlier this year won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open, had a lost ball on the par-5 18th hole on The Pete Dye Course at French Lick Resort. She still salvaged a bogey in chilly, windy weather that had the 55-year-old from England bundled up in a blanket between shots.

Inkster, runner-up to Davies at the Senior Women's Open, made eagle on the closing hole for a 69.

Jane Crafter was at 70. Defending champion Trish Johnson opened with a 73.

Temperatures were in the high 40s, but the damp air and wind made it feel even colder.

Inkster made a bogey on the 17th hole by missing the green with a 9-iron.

''As old as I am, I still get made and I crushed that drive on 18,'' said Inkster, who followed with a 3-wood to 15 feet to set up her eagle.

The 54-hole event concludes Wednesday.

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Miller to retire from broadcast booth in 2019

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 15, 2018, 9:14 pm

After nearly 30 years in the broadcast booth, Johnny Miller is ready to hang up his microphone.

Following a Hall of Fame playing career that included a pair of major titles, Miller has become one of the most outspoken voices in the game as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports. But at age 71 he has decided to retire from broadcasting following the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

“The call of being there for my grandkids, to teach them how to fish. I felt it was a higher calling,” Miller told “The parents are trying to make a living, and grandparents can be there like my father was with my four boys. He was there every day for them. I'm a big believer that there is a time and a season for everything.”

Miller was named lead analyst for NBC in 1990, making his broadcast debut at what was then known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic. He still remained competitive, notably winning the 1994 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at age 46, but made an indelible mark on the next generation of Tour pros with his frank and candid assessment of the action from some of golf’s biggest events.

Miller’s broadcasting career has included 20 U.S. Opens, 14 Ryder Cups, nine Presidents Cups, three Open Championships and the 2016 Olympics. While he has teamed in the booth with Dan Hicks for the past 20 years, Miller’s previous on-air partners included Bryant Gumbel, Charlie Jones, Jim Lampley and Dick Enberg.

His farewell event will be in Phoenix Jan. 31-Feb. 3, at a tournament he won in back-to-back years in 1974-75.

“When it comes to serving golf fans with sharp insight on what is happening inside the ropes, Johnny Miller is the gold standard,” said NBC lead golf producer Tommy Roy. “It has been an honor working with him, and while it might not be Johnny’s personal style, it will be fun to send him off at one of the PGA Tour’s best parties at TPC Scottsdale.”

Miller was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1998 after a playing career that included wins at the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont and The Open in 1976 at Royal Birkdale. Before turning pro, he won the 1964 U.S. Junior Amateur and was low amateur at the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic, where he tied for eighth at age 19.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Miller now lives in Utah with his wife, Linda, and annually serves as tournament host of the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open in Napa, Calif.

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Randall's Rant: Tiger vs. Phil feels like a ripoff

By Randall MellOctober 15, 2018, 7:45 pm

Usually, you have to buy something before you feel like you were ripped off.

The wonder in the marketing of Tiger vs. Phil and “The Match” is how it is making so many people feel as if they are getting ripped off before they’ve shelled out a single penny for the product.

Phil Mickelson gets credit for this miscue.

Apparently, the smartest guy in the room isn’t the smartest marketing guy.

He was a little bit like that telemarketer who teases you into thinking you’ve won a free weekend getaway, only to lead you into the discovery that there’s a shady catch, with fine print and a price tag.

There was something as slippery as snake oil in the original pitch.

In Mickelson’s eagerness to create some excitement, he hinted back during The Players in May about the possibility of a big-money, head-to-head match with Woods. A couple months later, he leaked more details, before it was ready to be fully announced.

So while there was an initial buzz over news of the Thanksgiving weekend matchup, the original pitch set up a real buzzkill when it was later announced that you were only going to get to see it live on pay-per-view.

The news landed with a thud but no price tag. We’re still waiting to see what it’s going to cost when these two meet at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, but anything that feels even slightly inflated now is going to further dampen the original enthusiasm Mickelson created.

Without Woods or Mickelson putting up their own money, this $9 million winner-take-all event was always going to feel more like a money grab than real competition.

When we were expecting to see it on network or cable TV, we didn’t care so much. Tiger's and Phil’s hands would have felt as if they were reaching into corporate America’s pockets. Now, it feels as if they’re digging into ours.

Last week, there was more disappointing news, with the Las Vegas Review-Journal reporting that tickets won’t be sold to the public, that the match at Shadow Creek will only be open to select sponsors and VIPs.

Now there’s a larger insult to the common fan, who can’t help but feel he isn’t worthy or important enough to gain admittance.

Sorry, but that’s how news of a closed gate landed on the heels of the pay-per-view news.

“The Match” was never going to be meaningful golf in any historical sense.

This matchup was never going to rekindle the magic Tiger vs. Phil brought in their epic Duel at Doral in ’05.

The $9 million was never going to buy the legitimacy a major championship or PGA Tour Sunday clash could bring.

It was never going to be more than an exhibition, with no lingering historical significance, but that was OK as quasi silly-season fare on TV on Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 23), the traditional weekend of the old Skins Game.

“The Match” still has a chance to be meaningful, but first and foremost as entertainment, not real competition. That’s what this was always going to be about, but now the bar is raised.

Pay per view does that.

“You get what you pay for” is an adage that doesn’t apply to free (or already-paid for) TV. It does to pay per view. Expectations go way up when you aren’t just channel surfing to a telecast. So the higher the price tag they end up putting on this showdown, the more entertaining this has to be.

If Phil brings his “A-Game” to his trash talking, and if Tiger can bring some clever repartee, this can still be fun. If the prerecorded segments wedged between shots are insightful, even meaningful in their ability to make us understand these players in ways we didn’t before, this will be worthwhile.

Ultimately, “The Match” is a success if it leaves folks who paid to see it feeling as if they weren’t as ripped off as the people who refused to pay for it. That’s the handicap a history of free golf on TV brings. Welcome to pay-per-view, Tiger and Phil.

Celia Barquin Arozamena Iowa State University athletics

Trial date set for drifter charged with killing Barquin Arozamena

By Associated PressOctober 15, 2018, 7:28 pm

AMES, Iowa – A judge has scheduled a January trial for a 22-year-old Iowa drifter charged with killing a top amateur golfer from Spain.

District Judge Bethany Currie ruled Monday that Collin Richards will stand trial Jan. 15 for first-degree murder in the death of Iowa State University student Celia Barquin Arozamena.

Richards entered a written not guilty plea Monday morning and waived his right to a speedy trial. The filing canceled an in-person arraignment hearing that had been scheduled for later Monday.

Investigators say Richards attacked Barquin on Sept. 17 while she was playing a round at a public course in Ames, near the university campus. Her body was found in a pond on the course riddled with stab wounds.

Richards faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.