Golf's new Golden Age

By Jason SobelDecember 5, 2011, 6:00 pm

A seismic shift occurred under the tectonic plates of the golf world on Sunday. Tiger Woods winning his first tournament in more than two years? Well, that’s part of it, but hardly the entire story.

No, this had more to do with a major alteration of the space-time continuum.

The season-long ebbs and flows of professional golf have always been determined by the annual calendar. The game blooms along with the azaleas in Augusta every April; it heats up again at the U.S. Open in June; it blows onto the radar at the Open Championship in July; it oozes one last shot of glory at the PGA Championship in August.

The major championships remain the standard bearers for which all other tournaments are measured – and rest assured, the other ones pale in comparison. That doesn’t mean, though, that other parts of the calendar are absolved of any potential drama. 

And therein lies the seismic shift.

Hoggard: Tiger emotional in victory

The end of the year was for so long golf’s opportunity to lounge in front of the cozy fireplace and hibernate until the next season. Sure, the good-natured hit-and-giggle fests comprised a Silly Season that kept elite players’ wallets fattened and diehard fans amused, but the heart of the scheduled lineup had long since taken its cuts, riding the bench until their numbers were called again.

The shift to late-season events becoming important was less swift than gradual, but there were a few key moments in its arrival. First was the Nedbank Golf Challenge, comprised of a 12-player field in South Africa, receiving Official World Golf Ranking points for its participants in 2006, followed three years later by a similar arrangement for the 18-man Chevron World Challenge, which coincided with the inaugural Race to Dubai, garnering greater importance for the end of the European Tour schedule.

Like a perfect offseason storm, all three converged to make Dec. 4 one of the most important dates of this year’s golf calendar, as unlikely as that sounds. In succession, three of the game’s biggest stars catapulted themselves into the headlines during a time previously reserved for pursuits other than popular pros purloining headlines. Rory McIlroy won the Euro Tour’s penultimate event in Hong Kong. Lee Westwood triumphed at the Nedbank. Woods prevailed at the Chevron.

If it wasn’t before, it’s official now: The Silly Season isn’t very silly any longer.

The 49th week of the year – and the 49th week in which multiple major tours hosted events – wasn’t only meaningful because of its trio of champions. Its relevancy will extend into the 2012 campaign as one of the most anticipated golf seasons in recent memory.

We have to go back to 2001, when Woods owned three major championship trophies and was pursuing the so-called “Tiger Slam,” to find a time when golf had created such a palpable buzz entering the year. The timeliness of such reverberations is magnified by the fact that the outgoing season was one known more for parity than anything else. Three different players staked a claim to the No. 1 ranking, four different players won the major championships and no player claimed more than two PGA Tour titles.

If there’s one man who can create a buzz, it’s Woods. His one-stroke victory over Zach Johnson turned a traditional NFL Sunday in this country into a Golf Sunday, with fanatic and casual observers alike glued to their television sets throughout his journey toward the long-lost winner’s circle.

For the first 14 years of his professional career, Woods was always the prohibitive favorite anytime he teed it up. So dominant was the 14-time major winner that legitimate queries about “Tiger or the field?” permeated conversations prior to many of those tournaments.

During the 749-day period between Woods’ victories, though, the game’s landscape changed. Rather than one preeminent figure reigning over the opponents, others have stepped in to fill that void, cultivating a culture of excitement and even greater anticipation.

As we witnessed on Sunday, McIlroy and Westwood – the world’s second- and third-ranked players, respectively – are competing at an elite level. Luke Donald is the game’s most consistent performer. Twenty-something major winners Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer and Keegan Bradley own star potential, as do fellow twenty-somethings Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.

The list of players who can challenge Tiger – and will be challenged by Tiger – for supremacy on a weekly basis stretches much further than the aforementioned names, all of which breeds plenty of promise for the upcoming campaign.

In fact, speculation can extend well beyond 2012. For so many years, Woods single-handedly brought golf to the masses. If he can return to his former level – and yes, that remains an “if,” even after his recent win – and others continue on their apparent paths toward success, the next half-decade could be ripe for a golden age within the game’s highest level.

If nothing else, it leaves the golf world on the collective edge of its seat going into next season. These are the types of things we now learn on a day like Dec. 4, that seismic shift proving that anticipation and drama can’t be contained within the walls of the traditional calendar.

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Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:19 am

IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.

Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.

Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.

Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.

Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."