The great unknown

By Jason SobelJuly 29, 2011, 3:36 am

I’m going to take up playing high-stakes three-card Monte games with street hustlers. Maybe figure out Stonehenge. Solve the debt ceiling while I’m at it.

Hey, anything is easier than predicting the future of Tiger Woods these days.

Once thought to be the heir apparent to Jack Nicklaus’ throne atop golf’s storied food chain, Woods has instead taken over “Most Enigmatic” honors from the likes of Sergio Garcia, David Duval and John Daly.

On Thursday, Woods announced that he will return to competitive golf after a three-month hiatus at next week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which means we should expect the unexpected. That’s a cliché, sure, but what isn’t a cliché in Tiger’s life these days? His story is that of the quintessential star athlete. He had everything – fame, popularity, money, bikini-model wife, 2.3 kids and a golf game that even at its most mediocre was better than 98 percent of his peers.

And now? Post-scandal, Woods has become a caricature of his former self. A recent novel attempted to exaggerate the unraveling of a Tiger-like professional golfer, but Tiger’s dissolution has already been the ultimate exaggeration – no fiction necessary.

Then again, those are topics for another time, because we’re here to talk about the one thing Woods first became known for and the one thing he’s rarely done these past two years – and even more rarely done well. He is about to play golf in public for the first time since posting a front-nine 6-over 42 at The Players Championship prior to withdrawing due to an injured left leg and, undoubtedly, a little hurt pride, too.

This is hardly the first time he’s returned from a lengthy absence with few expectations for success from the masses. Three years ago, Woods didn’t play a single tournament between the Masters and the U.S. Open, instead recuperating from minor knee surgery, only to return at Torrey Pines and win his 14th career major title. Last year, after a self-imposed hiatus following his scandal, he made his initial start of the season at Augusta National, finishing in a share of fourth place.

Callow jokes aside, there’s nothing Tiger enjoys more than proving everyone wrong inside the ropes.

It could happen again at Firestone, a course on which Woods has prevailed an eye-popping seven times in 11 career appearances. Though his swing coach Sean Foley has in recent days said he hasn’t worked with his pupil, Tiger previously maintained that he wouldn’t return until he owned a clean bill of health and received the go-ahead from his doctors.

There’s more motivation than simply playing well and earning money and climbing the FedEx Cup standings, though. It’s well within reason to believe that – injured or not – Woods was thoroughly embarrassed by his nine-hole performance at TPC Sawgrass. That’s a feeling he may have endured off the course since Thanksgiving night of 2009, but one which largely escaped him for much of his professional life.

Throw in the fact that in his last full start this season, while he was competing with knee and Achilles injuries that occurred on the 17th hole during Round 3 of the Masters, he still finished T-4 at that event, and suddenly optimism begins to pervade next week’s scenario.

Maybe he’s not as far from success as most people seem to think. Maybe his recent injuries – not emotional issues, personal problems or even technical faults with his swing – have been the only thing holding him back.

Then again, maybe he’ll repeat last year’s performance at Firestone.

Forget those seven titles in Akron. The most recent memory of Woods at this event is the four-day total of 18 over par that left him in a share of 78th place in the 80-man field. He couldn’t hit a fairway, couldn’t find a green and couldn’t hole a putt outside the leather. Coming off this recent absence, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to expect a repeat of such futility next week. 

And therein lies the current most intriguing subplot to the long-running Tiger Woods saga. Whereas we used to ask questions such as, “Are you picking Tiger or the field?” and “By how many strokes do you think Woods will win this week?” he has transformed from the World’s Greatest to the Great Unknown.

You could gaze into your crystal golf ball and tell me that Woods will open with a 62 next week en route to an easy victory and I’d believe you. You could read some “tee” leaves and contend that last year’s debacle was triumphant compared to what will occur this time and I’d believe that, too.

It’s because of this unsolved mystery that even those who swear they’re sick of the 24/7 coverage on Tiger will continue to watch his every move. He may be on the verge of returning to glory or he could be continuing a downward spiral toward mediocrity.

I don’t have the answer and I’m done trying to guess. But hey, at least I’m one heck of a three-card Monte player.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.