Why we still care about Tiger Woods

By Joe PosnanskiMay 8, 2015, 9:01 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods stood on the ninth tee, his final hole of the day, and he knew what he had to do. How many times had he faced this exact situation? It had to be birdie … nothing else would work. He looked over the fairway of this par 5 and went into that concentration sector where few have been able to go. He needed a good drive. And he got one — he hit his drive down the left side, 269 yards, just where he was aiming.

That put him too far from the pin to go for it. He hit his layup shot in the center of the fairway, and when he got to the ball he realized that it was 103 yards from the pin … this is what players call “a bad number.” Players would like to have a distance that perfectly fits the full swing of a certain club. A shot of 103 yards would normally be a good fit for a Tiger sand wedge, but because of the wind, because he was hitting uphill, the right club was sort of a quiet little pitching wedge. This was a shot that required all the finesse and touch and feel that Woods has developed in his many years as the world’s singular golfer.

He choked down on the pitching wedge and feathered a little shot that hopped and rolled to 9 feet from the cup. Wonderful stuff. The crowd — the biggest crowd by far for anyone — was ecstatic. Then the fans were quiet. They watched nervously as Woods studied his putt. He had to make it, everyone knew it, and few in the history of this game have ever been better at making putts that had to be made. Hearts were in throats.

He stood over the putt with the steadiness we have come to know and admire. Has anyone ever looked so sure? He hit it. The ball rolled toward the cup like a child running to her father. There was never even the slightest doubt it would drop, and it did drop, and the roar was enormous, and Woods pumped his fist happily, then reached into the hole for the ball and pumped his fist again.

“It felt good,” Woods said happily when it was all over. “I hit a really good putt there.”

And that is the story of how Tiger Woods made the cut at The Players Championship.

The Players Championship: Articles, videos and photos

Why do we still care so much? Why does he still matter even when he is playing simply to make cuts? It has been seven years since Woods has won a major championship. It has been almost two years since he has won any sort of golf tournament. Since his glorious, one-legged victory at the 2008 U.S. Open, he has had as many cuts and DNPs at major championships as top-10 finishes (nine each). He is, at this moment, ranked 125th in the Official World Golf Ranking, right between Freddie Jacobson and Andrew Dodt, two players who get mentioned only when used as a barometer for how far Tiger Woods has fallen in the ranking.*

*Much in the way Rhode Island gets mentioned only when someone is trying to prove how small an area is.

So why do we still care? We do, you know, even if there will be those who will write in the comments that they do not care about Tiger Woods (as they write often in the comments). At The Players, the tournament smartly paired the two hottest players in the world, No. 1 Rory McIlroy and No. 2 Jordan Spieth. The following for Tiger Woods was noticeably bigger. When McIlroy wins the match play, it’s news. When Woods and Lindsey Vonn split up, it’s NEWS, all capital letters. The ratings when Tiger Woods plays in a tournament barely even resemble the ratings when he doesn’t; the Masters this year saw a 48 percent surge with Woods in the field. This was true even though Woods had taken months off because his game was so erratic.

All of this isn’t just because Woods was such a great player. In the declining days of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and the like, sure, they had nice followings but they did not overshadow the best players of the time.

It isn’t just because Woods was such a social and pop-culture phenomenon either; Even Michael Jordan stopped being the biggest thing in the game in the last year of his career. By then, Kobe, Shaq, Duncan and a high school kid named LeBron had passed him by.

But no one passes by Woods, not in the public’s mind, and I have a theory why: I think it has something to do with an unfulfilling end, the same reason people took so long to give up on Mike Tyson. With every great athlete, there’s a scope we come to expect. They show youthful promise. They grow into stardom. They do extraordinary things at their best. They begin to show signs of age. Then all of us clearly see the end. Then, if we’re lucky, they give us one lasting moment, and they gracefully fade away into our memories.

Think of how it ended for Derek Jeter. Think of how it ended for Greg Maddux. Think of how it will end for Tim Duncan or Roger Federer; there will be sadness, sure, but it will feel right, feel like it had been a full career.

No one had a fuller career than Jack Nicklaus, of course. He had his time as the young upstart who blew a couple of tournaments. He was a phenomenon who could hit the ball higher and longer than anyone. He became the smartest golfer, and because of that his peak lasted longer than anyone’s.

Then when he was 40, he reinvented his swing and he won two more major championships. Then he played some good tournaments — proved the foil to Tom Watson’s chip shot at Pebble Beach — and finally he had the last great victory at the Masters in 1986 to make golf fans everywhere cry. Players felt like they grew up with him and, then, grew older with him. Every single thing about Jack Nicklaus’ career was fulfilling.

But with Tiger, there’s so much unfinished business. There had never been a player as good as he was when he was playing that U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. There were times he could barely even stand up, his knee hurt so badly (and shortly after the tournament ended, he had ACL surgery). Still, on the 72nd hole, he needed to make a 12-foot putt over a chewed-up green to force a playoff, and the story was not that he made it but that everyone KNEW he would make it. When he beat a game Rocco Mediate in the playoff, it was his 14th major championship, and he was not yet 33 years old, and even after the knee surgery it still felt like there would be so many more highs.

What we could not know then was this: There were no more highs. A year later, he would lose a duel to Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship. Then, things would come apart after the tabloids pulled the curtains back on his out-of-control private life. He has won some tournaments since then. He even made it back to the official No. 1 spot in the world rankings for a time. But he was never Tiger Woods again, not in the biggest tournaments, not in the ways that really matter to most of us. His career has felt so … unfinished.

And so, it seems to me, we keep waiting for the proper finish. Every good shot he hits spurs the hope that it will magically bring him back. Every optimistic statement he makes — “I haven’t gotten anything out of my rounds,” he said Friday after a heroic finish got him inside the cut number. “I should be a few under par each day” — sparks the belief that he’s really figured it out this time.

Woods’ play has given no reason for any of those hopes or beliefs; we’re talking about dreams now. If he wasn’t named Tiger Woods, we would not have watched his 17th-place finish at Augusta or his birdie on the last hole at The Players and thought: “Yes, this is a player to watch.”

But his name IS Tiger Woods. And we can’t give up on the finish that once seemed so certain. How great would it be to see Woods dueling with McIlroy and Spieth and these young players who grew up watching him? How great would it be to see Woods win a major championship again and threaten that extraordinary Nicklaus record of 18 majors? How great would it be even for his critics to just root against him again?

So, yes, everyone in the gallery stood and cheered and high-fived as he made the putt to make the cut. He’s only eight shots back at The Players Championship

“Do you still feel like you have a chance?” he was asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Absolutely. … I feel like I’m playing well enough to get myself up there. I just need one good round and narrow the gap between myself and lead, and I feel I can do that.”

Right. What is eight shots when we are talking about dreams?

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

Getty Images

McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

Getty Images

Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

Getty Images

Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.