Time for reality to mirror Tiger's perception

By Joe PosnanskiJuly 14, 2015, 4:22 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – So, a couple bits of Tiger Woods news to share. First, Woods did not make the cut for the new EA Sports Rory McIlroy PGA Tour game, which is being unveiled this week at St. Andrews. You will note that the game used to be called “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” but that was before he and EA Sports split up a couple of years ago. And it also was before he dropped to 241st in the world.

But the point here is not that the game is no longer named for him – he’s nowhere to be found inside the game. You can play with 12 real world golfers (Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth among them), but not with Tiger Woods. The company said they only looked at players in the top 100. The last edition of the game included legends like Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan and even Young Tom Morris. There are no legends on the game this year. There is no Tiger Woods.

The other piece of of news? Well, Tiger Woods believes he can win the Open Championship here at the home of golf.

“Absolutely,” he says. And he adds: “I’m hitting the ball much, much more solidly.”

OK, no, it’s not really news that Tiger is talking about winning, about feeling healthy, about hitting the ball way better, about “getting his feels back.” That has been more or less a constant refrain for a couple of years now, along with some, well, let’s call them rose-colored memories.

Woods memory: “I hit the ball great at Greenbrier … and as bad as I putted that week, I was only four shots out of a playoff.”

Actuality: Well, to be exact, six shots out of a four-way playoff. And in a five-way tie for 32nd place.



Woods memory: “You know, I had some pretty apparent flaws in my technique. That's one of the reasons why I shut it down after Torrey and Pebble and consequently I was able to turn things around, and I had a chance to win the Masters this year.”

Actuality: Woods was nine shots off the lead the first day at Augusta, 12 shots off the lead after the second round, 10 shots off the lead going into Sunday, and he finished 13 shots back. So, you know …

Woods memory: “(At Greenbrier) I hit the ball the best I’ve hit it in probably two years. … It was the first time I’ve led proximity to the hole with my iron play in I don’t know how many years. So that was a very good sign.”

Actuality: Well, it certainly IS a good sign that Tiger Woods led the field in that somewhat obscure “proximity to the hole” stat and it’s a good sign he is hitting his irons closer. But how good is it really? According to the PGA Tour, here are the leaders in “proximity to the hole” the last few PGA Tour events:

  • John Deere: Tom Gillis and Danny Lee (tied for third in the tournament)
  • Greenbrier Classic: Tiger Woods (tied for 32nd)
  • Travelers Championship: Tom Hoge (tied for 64th)
  • FedEx St. Jude Classic: Jason Gore (tied for 29th)
  • The Memorial: Russell Knox (tied for 18th)
  • AT&T Byron Nelson Classic: Vijay Singh (tied for 39th)

So, maybe it’s not THAT good a sign.

This, though, is how Tiger Woods’ mind seems to work. He craves positivity. He hungers for good signs, even when they are hard to see. There’s an image we build of many of the world’s most dominant athletes – Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Albert Pujols, Serena Williams – that they feed off negativity and are fueled by doubters. It’s probably true for many of them.

But it seems to me that, no matter how much people try to build him up that way, Tiger Woods is not like that at all. He does not get pumped up on doubts. He does not play to prove people wrong. He feeds on good feelings. He is driven by optimism and certainty and what was once an unshakeable confidence that the putt was going in. There’s a great story about him from a few years ago: He was playing in an American Express sponsored exhibition with some fans at Oakmont. Someone asked if he would hit a shot out of the Church Pews bunker. Woods refused.

“Will you teach us how to do it?” someone else asked.

“Hit it over there,” Woods said, pointing toward the fairway.

Some people laughed, but he was not joking. The bunker was a negative. Tiger Woods won 14 major championships and played golf at a level no one had ever reached in part because he did not let negatives into mind. He knew he was the best. His opponents knew he was the best. The fans knew he was the best. He lived inside a cocoon of conviction, and bunkers had no place inside that cocoon. When he won at St. Andrews in 2000, shooting 19 under and winning by eight shots, he did not hit a golf ball into a bunker all week.

So while it has been alternately comical and poignant listening to Tiger Woods try to make happy news of his decline – with weekly repetitions of “I’m not far off,” and “I made progress,” and “I hit it better but just didn’t make any putts” – it is also perfectly in line with the attitude of the young Tiger Woods. He never felt like he was out of a tournament. He always felt like, in the end, he would win. This is how he is wired. He still believes that good things will happen.

“I know some of you guys think I’m buried and done,” Woods said with a little smile. “But I’m still right here in front of you.”

Will good things finally happen for Tiger Woods? Well, this is the week to find out. He finally has everything pointing in at least an optimistic direction. He seems to actually be healthy and feeling good. While it’s easy to overstate how well he played at Greenbrier compared with other professionals, he did finish off with his first bogey-free round in almost two years. And this is legendary St. Andrews, a place where, more often than not, legends win. Jack Nicklaus won twice at St. Andrews, Nick Faldo won here, Sam Snead won here, Seve Ballesteros won here. And, of course, Woods won here twice.

Also: The Open Championship bows to experience in a way that the other major championships do not. In the last 10 years, no 40-year-old has won the Masters, U.S. Open or PGA Championship. But three 40-somethings have won the Open Championship (Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson) and Tom Watson almost won it at age 59. Tiger’s not 40 yet (he turns 40 in December) but his golfing body is much older than 40. Perhaps there’s something about the wind and the bad bounces and ever-changing weather patterns that evens things up and offers older and more experienced a fighting chance.

Whatever the case: This is about as good a chance as Woods is likely to have for a while. Maybe the stars really are aligning. Odds on Woods are dropping in British betting parlors – BetFair, for instance, has him as a better bet than four of the world’s top-10 players, including No. 3 Bubba Watson. Several people, including Hall of Famer Colin Montgomerie and golf-loving comedian Norm Macdonald, have come out this week to say Woods can win.

And, of course, we know where Tiger Woods stands on the subject.

“Retirement?” he said incredulously when asked if, at his worst moment, he considered giving the game up. “I don’t have my AARP card yet, so I’m a ways from that. … I’m still young. I’m not 40 yet. … I’m hitting it well. I’m ready. I’m excited.”

Well, he’s been ready and excited before. Now Woods needs to go out there and actually play well and get himself into contention. And he has to do it for real because Woods is no longer an option on a video game.

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After Further Review: Spieth needs a break

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 1:11 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...

Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.

Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.

A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.

So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray


On the difference between this week and last week ...

There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.

Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.

At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard


On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...

Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.

Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.

Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell

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Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:39 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.

Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.

After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”

Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.

“Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”

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Casey comes up short (again) to Bubba at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:07 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Staked to a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Travelers Championship, Paul Casey watched his opening tee shot bounce off a wooden wall and back into the middle of the fairway, then rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt off the fringe.

At the time, it appeared to be a not-so-subtle indicator that Casey was finally going to get his hands on a trophy that has barely eluded him in the past. Instead it turned out to be the lone highlight of a miserable round that left the Englishman behind only Bubba Watson at TPC River Highlands for the second time in the last four years.

Casey shot the low round of the tournament with a third-round 62 that distanced him from the field, but that opening birdie turned out to be his only one of the day as he stalled out and ultimately finished three shots behind Watson, to whom he lost here in a playoff in 2015.

Casey’s score was 10 shots worse than Saturday, as a 2-over 72 beat only five people among the 73 others to play the final round.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I mean, I fought as hard as I could, which I’m proud of,” Casey said. “Not many times you put me on a golf course and I only make one birdie. I don’t know. I’d be frustrated with that in last week’s event, but it is what it is.”

Casey led by as many as five after his opening birdie, but he needed to make a 28-foot par save on No. 10 simply to maintain a one-shot edge over a hard-charging Watson. The two men were tied as Casey headed to the 16th tee, but his bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 combined with a closing birdie from Watson meant the tournament was out of reach before Casey even reached the final tee.

Casey explained that a “bad night of sleep” led to some neck pain that affected his warm-up session but didn’t impact the actual round.

“Just frustrating I didn’t have more,” he said. “Didn’t have a comfortable swing to go out there and do something with.”

Casey won earlier this year at the Valspar Championship to end a PGA Tour victory drought that dated back to 2009, but after being denied a second victory in short succession when he appeared to have one hand on the trophy, he hopes to turn frustration into further success before turning the page to 2019.

“I’m probably even more fired up than I was post-Tampa to get another victory. This is only going to be more fuel,” Casey said. “I’ve got 12 events or something the rest of the year. So ask me again in November, and if I don’t have another victory, then I will be disappointed. This is merely kind of posturing for what could be a very good climax.”

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Bubba thrives in his comfort zone

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:02 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – The 1:20 p.m. pairing Sunday at TPC River Highlands spanned the spectrum on the PGA Tour. In one corner stood science. Bryson DeChambeau, whose quantitative approach to golf seemingly knows no bounds, was looking to add another victory after winning a playoff earlier this month at Jack’s Place.

On the other side was art.

Bubba Watson doesn’t float golf balls in Epsom salt to identify minor imperfections. He doesn’t break out a compass to find the slightest errors in the Tour-supplied pin sheet. Even when he texts caddie Ted Scott, he prefers to use voice text rather than rely on his admittedly sub-optimal spelling.

But strolling along one of his favorite landscapes, Bubba the artist came out on top. Again.

Watson is in the midst of a resurgent season, one that already included a third victory at one of his favorite haunts in Riviera Country Club. It featured a decisive run through the bracket at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a return to the leaderboards at Augusta National where he fell short of a third green jacket.

It only makes sense, then, that he’d build upon that burgeoning momentum at the Travelers Championship, where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2010 and Sunday joined Billy Casper as the tournament’s only three-time champ with a final-round 63 to catch and pass Paul Casey.

This is a place where Watson can bomb drives by feel and carve short irons at will, and one where he officially put his stamp on the best season to date on Tour.

“His hand-eye coordination is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen,” DeChambeau said. “You’ve got me who was just struggling off the tee, and he’s just swiping shots down there. It was cool to watch. I wish I could do that. I probably could do that, but I just don’t feel like I’d be as consistent as he is.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Consistency wasn’t an apt descriptor a year ago, as Watson went from two-time major champ to completely off the radar. His world ranking, which began last year at No. 10 and is now back up to No. 13 after he became the first three-time winner this season, fell as far as 117th before his win at Riviera in February.

Watson attributes much of the turnaround to a change in health. Never really one to tip the scales, he lost 25 pounds in a three-month span last year while battling an undisclosed health concern. After putting some of the weight back on, he’s now able to focus more of his time and energy on fine-tuning one of the Tour’s most distinctive approaches.

“Anytime any of these guys kind of get comfortable with just being them, and golf is secondary in a sense, it helps them reach their potential,” said Scott. “I think the hype and the pressure can sometimes put things out of sort. And right now he’s just very comfortable with who he is as a person, and I think in his life. It helps him relax on the golf course.”

What Watson doesn’t prefer to mention is the equipment change he made that serves as a not-so-subtle line of demarcation. The southpaw turned heads at the end of 2016 when he agreed to play a colored Volvik ball on Tour during the 2017 season, only to watch his results fall off a cliff. A return to the Titleist ball he previously used has coincided with some of the best results of his 12-year career.

“I don’t think it has had any (role) in my success,” Watson said. “My clubs weren’t going the distance that I used to. I couldn’t shape it the way I want to. Luckily for me, I know the problem, and the problem was with health and not all these other things.”

But regardless of the true source of his turnaround, Watson is back to doing what he does best. That includes carving up the handful of venues that most fit his unique eye, be they lined by thick kikuyu rough outside Los Angeles or dotted with menacing water hazards outside Hartford.

The artistic touch was on full display with his final swing of the day. Facing exactly 71 yards to a pin tucked barely over the edge of a yawning bunker on No. 18, Watson laid the face open on his 63-degree wedge and hit a cut shot that spun and checked to inside 3 feet.

“Teddy put his arm around me, like, ‘That was an amazing shot,’” Watson said. “He’s seen a lot of shots, he’s been out here for many years. So for him to realize it, and other players to text me and realize it, it was special.”

While it seemed at the time like a shot that gave Watson a glimmer of hope in his pursuit of Casey, it ultimately turned out to be the final highlight of a three-shot victory. It’s the type of shot that few, if any, of his peers can visualize, let alone execute with such exact precision with the tournament hanging in the balance.

It’s the type of shot that separates Watson – the quirky left-hander with the pink driver who openly talks about his struggles with on-course focus and abhors few things more than trying to hit a straight shot – from even the best in the game when things are firing on all cylinders.

“The skills have always been there, as you know. But he’s just more relaxed now,” Scott said. “And when these guys, obviously when they enjoy it, they can play at their best and not get too stressed.”