Certainties and unknowns in Tiger's return

By Jason SobelOctober 4, 2011, 12:12 pm

In the column you’re about to read, I’ve been asked to assess Tiger Woods’ chances at this week’s Frys.com Open. Nice assignment, huh? I’ve got a better chance of predicting the ’12 presidential election – 3012.

Anyone who hasn’t been in a tryptophan-induced nap since Thanksgiving night two years ago has witnessed his plight. The erstwhile GOAT (Greatest Of All-Time) is now considered a goat (an inferior member of any group), the model superstar transformed into a model of inconsistency.

All of which means absolutely nothing entering his first career Fall Series appearance. Woods is capable of winning by double-digits or missing the cut – and I don’t know which scenario is more likely. I don’t know if his new “straighter” drives will finally start finding the fairways. I don’t know if his putting stroke – last seen on the back of a milk carton – will return to form. I don’t know if he’ll be motivated against a field of less accomplished players.

So, what do I know about Tiger in advance of his next start? Well, just a few things…

I know that he recently shot a course-record 62 at his new home course, the ultra-difficult Medalist Golf Club. I know this because the news was splashed across the headlines, despite the fact that elite professional golfers collect course records the way most grandmothers collect coupons.

Does it mean anything going into a competitive appearance? Maybe, maybe not. It certainly can’t hurt that Woods at least boasted one fortuitous round prior to teeing it up again, but it should hardly serve as a determining factor of success 3,000 miles away.

I know Woods is working hard and has looked proficient in practice, because his swing instructor told me so. The last time I spoke with Sean Foley, he talked about how his most popular pupil was striping it at the range and gearing up to get back into action.

Of course, not to take Foley’s words lightly, but I’ve never actually heard from a coach who said of his guy, “He’s a work in progress and he isn’t close right now. Don’t expect much. In fact, don’t expect anything. Except maybe an upcoming trip to Q-School.”

The power of positivity may be as important for an instructor as breaking down the mechanics of the swing, but there’s a certain quiet confidence from Foley that tells me Tiger’s return to glory is less a matter of “if” than “when.”

He brings up some terrific points in defense of their work together. They’ve now spent 11 competitive tournaments trying to rebuild and tweak his swing, dating back to last year’s PGA Championship. As a comparative example, Foley invokes the progress of another star student, Justin Rose, maintaining that through 11 events together, his swing wasn’t close to where they both wanted it. The Brit now owns three PGA Tour victories in the past two seasons, including at the BMW Championship two weeks ago.

That would suggest patience is recommended when debating the long-term effects of these changes on Woods, though patience is often forgotten when it comes to his prospects.

I know this feels like déjà vu. Two months ago, Woods returned after a three-month hiatus and the masses were ready to declare him “back” at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The result reminded me of something I once wrote after spending 30 minutes seated next to Woods on a bus ride through Manhattan. He was “remarkably unremarkable.”

In the case of the bus ride, the context purported that he was just a regular guy – someone who, away from the course, is more apt to speak about small talk such as last night’s ballgame or the weather rather than chasing down Jack Nicklaus’ all-time major championship record. At Firestone, it was a reference to his final result, as he finished T-37 in the 76-man field. Doesn’t get much more remarkably unremarkable than that.

One week later, he played nacho golf at the PGA. You know how nachos always start out hot and delicious, dripping with tasty toppings, only to turn into a weighty pile of stale chips and congealed cheese 10 minutes later? That was Woods at Atlanta Athletic Club, as he posted three early birdies, only to see his chances soon congeal, cleared away from the table before the weekend in the form of a missed cut.

I know that his buddy Bryon Bell was overmatched on the bag those two weeks – and I know Joe LaCava will be a huge upgrade. The former caddie for Fred Couples and, more recently, Dustin Johnson, LaCava is a pro’s pro, one of the top loopers in the game for the past two decades.

It may take the new tandem a few tournaments to learn each other’s idiosyncrasies, but some improvements will be instantaneous. At the PGA, Bell couldn’t have helped stop the bleeding if he was spotted the tourniquet. In the same scenario, LaCava may not know the right thing to say to his boss right away, but he’ll say something, which is better than what was offered from the most recent alternative.

And lastly, I know criticisms of Woods’ game will continue, no matter the end result this week. The tournament may not be a literal no-win situation for him, but it is a figurative one. Think about it: If Tiger fails to contend or even make the cut, the Bronx cheers will ring even louder. Some will mindlessly draw the conclusion that such an outcome means he’ll never again be the player he once was.

It will permeate to those closest to him, too. Foley will be ripped for “ruining” his swing. Couples will be jeered for prematurely naming him to the Presidents Cup team. LaCava will chided for leaving a birdie machine in Johnson for a player whose future may be in doubt.

If he wins, if Woods goes out and blitzes the field by double-digits this week, well, in the eyes of many, he still can’t win. Such a triumph will be written off as the schoolyard bully beating up the younger kids for their lunch money. Against a field of aging vets and wide-eyed rookies, soon-to-be Nationwide Tour regulars and Q-School entrants, even a convincing victory won’t convince people that Tiger is once again capable of being one of the world’s best players, if not the absolute best.

This much I know. As for how Woods will actually fare at the Frys.com Open this week, I still have no idea – but I do know we’ll find out soon.

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.