Breakups! Scandals! 2014 season full of soap operas

By John FeinsteinDecember 9, 2014, 9:30 pm

A lot of soap operas played out in the golf world in 2014.

Tiger Woods, still the game's most transcendent figure, hurt his back and had surgery in March. He came back in June. He hurt his back again in August. He came back the next week. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship and then said he actually was still hurt and took off almost four months.

He came back again in early December looking healthy – and like a 20-handicapper around the greens.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Ryder Cup team imploded, first on the golf course, then off the golf course.

Tom Watson, one of the game's most revered figures, was thrown under the tires of an 18-wheeler by Phil Mickelson, one of the game's best-liked and most respected figures.

Then, just in case anyone thought the one-sided loss to Europe and the embarrassing aftermath wasn't enough, Ted Bishop, the president of the PGA of America, got himself fired for a reckless tweet defending – of all people – Nick Faldo.

Heard enough?

Wait, there's more.

Dustin Johnson, who would have been on the U.S. Ryder Cup team and might have played a key role, suspended himself from the Tour in August just prior to the PGA Championship, saying he needed to take a break to deal with "personal issues." The PGA Tour denied a report that he had been suspended because of drug infractions. Johnson is expected to play again at Torrey Pines, teeing it up – purely by coincidence no doubt – six months and four days after he last played.

All of which reminds us that the No. 1 soap opera of the year could have been – perhaps should have been – Rory McIlroy's decision to break off his engagement from Caroline Wozniacki a few days after the wedding invitations went out.

On the day he made the announcement, McIlroy showed up at a scheduled pre-tournament news conference in London and did not play the "I don't want to talk about my personal life" card. He answered questions, took the blame for the break-up and then went out and won the golf tournament five days later.

Coincidence or not, that week was the beginning of one of the most torrid streaks golf has seen since Woods stopped being Woods. McIlroy went on to win the British Open and the PGA. Sandwiched between those two majors, he won the WGC event in Akron and reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking.

Then he helped Europe win the Ryder Cup and said his No. 1 goal for 2015 was to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the Masters – which will end three weeks before he turns 26.

In short the McIlroy soap opera was cancelled by his brilliant golf. While Woods, the Ryder Cup and Johnson were left with cliff-hangers: Can Tiger ever be Tiger again?; Can the U.S. ever win the Ryder Cup again?; Will Johnson ever live up to his vast potential and find happiness with Paulina Gretzky?

The answers may – or may not – come in 2015. There will be no Ryder Cup answer next year; although, there should be a U.S. captain for 2016 at some point in the near future.

McIlroy's story is also far from over, but clearly he had several happy endings in 2014. More important, he emerged as the first serious, potentially long-term No. 1 player since Woods came off the pedestal he sat on for most of a dozen years.

Since the early morning when Woods' Escalade collided with the fire hydrant in late 2009, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and Adam Scott have all held the No. 1 ranking. All are fine players, and only McIlroy had a better year in 2014 than Kaymer. But McIlroy is a star in ways that none of those four can or will be.

Westwood and Donald have never won a major and are now deep into their careers and may never win one. Kaymer has won two, but is so quiet and un-assuming he is unlikely to ever be a huge star – especially in the U.S.

Scott has won a major and has the movie-star looks, but he is 34 and may never putt well enough – regardless of what putter he is using – to win multiple majors.

McIlroy has already won more majors – four – than those four players combined. He's 25 and understands that along with the perks of stardom come responsibilities. He's had one truly bad moment on the golf course, his walk-off at the Honda Classic in 2013, and he instantly apologized for his behavior and admitted that his agent's excuse – a bad tooth – was a bunch of hooey.

"I lost my cool," he said. "It won't happen again."

In all likelihood, it won't happen again because McIlroy learns from his mistakes – on and off the golf course. It is easy to forget how young he is because of all he has already accomplished and because he is so mature. He's probably going to make more mistakes – blow some tournaments, say something he shouldn't – because everyone who lives in the public eye and competes at the highest level of any sport has those moments.

But he isn't likely to blame any of those moments on others. He's likely to keep getting better. Regardless of what any numbers say, it is not fair to compare him to Woods. What Woods accomplished between 1997 and 2008 was mind-boggling, the kind of dominance that isn't likely to be seen again. As remarkable as McIlroy's 2014 was, he won four times worldwide. Woods has won at least five times in a year 10 times in his career.

The Woods soap opera of 2014 was minor compared with what has happened in his past in that it was entirely centered on his golf. That's the good news. What will happen with the Johnson soap opera is anybody's guess.

And the Ryder Cup? Who knows what brilliant decisions the 11-man PGA of America task force will reach. One thing's for sure, though – that's a story that isn't going away for a long time.

Then again, neither is McIlroy. And that may be the best news there was in golf in 2014.

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Kang 'going with the flow,' one back of A. Jutanugarn

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2018, 9:43 am

SHANGHAI – Ariya Jutanugarn shot a 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the Buick LPGA Shanghai tournament on Thursday.

The Thai player had six birdies in a bogey-free round, including three straight on Nos. 4, 5, and 6.

''I always have so much fun when I play in Asia,'' said Jutanugarm, who added her key was ''just not to expect anything. Just go out have fun and enjoy everything.''

Sei Young Kim and Danielle Kang (both 67) were one shot back, with six other players only two shots off the lead.

Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

Kang credited her improved play to new coach Butch Harmon.

''We just kind of simplify the game a lot,'' the American said. ''Just trying to calm it down and get back to how I used to play. Just more feel golf. Thinking less mechanics and going with the flow.''

Kang tied for third last week at the KEB Hana Bank championship in Incheon, South Korea.

''Today's round went very smooth,'' Kang said. ''Coming off very good momentum after last week, and I've been hitting the ball really well, playing great. I've just been trusting my game and just keep giving myself birdie chances. They kept rolling in.''

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Sharpshooting Reavie (68) leads tough CJ Cup

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2018, 9:34 am

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Chez Reavie overcame cool, windy conditions for a 4-under 68 and a one-stroke lead after the first round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges on Thursday.

In the breezy conditions, the back nine of the course posed the most difficulty, but the 36-year-old American made two birdies and negotiated it in 35 after starting on the 10th tee, and then picked up three shots on his final nine.

Danny Willett and Si Woo Kim shot 69 while the large group at 70, and tied for fourth, included Ian PoulterNick Watney and Michael Kim.

Brooks Koepka, playing in his first tournament since being voted PGA Tour Player of the Year, shot 71 and was in a group three strokes behind and tied for 11th, which included Paul Casey and Hideki Matsuyama.

Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker shot 72. Defending champion Justin Thomas had a 73, as did Jason Day, Ernie Els and J.B. Holmes.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

Marc Leishman, who won last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and Adam Scott had 75s.

Reavie's only PGA Tour win came at the 2008 Canadian Open, and he finished second in back-to-back starts last year in Phoenix and Pebble Beach, losing at Phoenix in a playoff.

''It was a great day, I hit the ball really well,'' Reavie said of Thursday's round. ''The wind was blowing really hard all day long so you had to really start the ball well and keep it out of the wind. Luckily, I was able to do that.''

Despite the windy conditions, Reavie found all 14 fairways off the tee and hit 15 out of 18 greens in regulation, which he felt was the key to a good score.

''It's tough because once you get above the hole with this wind, it's really hard to chip it close,'' he said. ''The more greens you can hit, the better and that was key to my game.''

Willett, who has struggled with injuries and form since winning the 2016 Masters and has dropped to No. 342 in the world, made five birdies and two bogeys in his 69. Willett has just one top-five finish since finishing second in the Italian Open in September 2016.

Having committed to play on the PGA Tour by taking up membership this season, Willet said it was important to make a quick start to the season.

''I've done two tours for a couple of years, and it's very difficult,'' Willett said. ''We committed to play on the PGA Tour, to play predominantly over here this year and next. It's nice to kind of get in and get some points early if you can.''

The second of three PGA Tour events in three weeks in Asia has a 78-player field and no cut. Only 19 players broke par on Thursday.

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Koepka takes edge over Thomas in race for world No. 1

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 5:50 am

Brooks Koepka got the inside track against Justin Thomas in their head-to-head battle this week for world No. 1.

Koepka shot 1-under 71 on Thursday at the CJ Cup, while Thomas shot 1-over 73.

Chez Reavie leads after 18 holes at Nine Bridges in Juju Island, South Korea, following a 4-under 68.

Koepka, currently world No. 3, needs to win this week or finish solo second [without Thomas winning] in order to reach the top spot in the rankings for the first time in his career. Thomas, currently No. 4, must win to reclaim the position he surrendered in June.

One week after 26 under par proved victorious in Malaysia, birdies weren’t as aplenty to begin the second leg of the PGA Tour’s Asian swing.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

In chilly, windy conditions, Koepka and Thomas set out alongside one another – with Sungjae Im (73) as the third – on the 10th hole. Koepka bogeyed his first hole of the day on his way to turning in even-par 36. Thomas was one worse, with two bogeys and a birdie.

On their second nine, Koepka was steady with two birdies and a bogey to reach red figures for the day.

"I felt like I played good. I hit some good shots, missed a couple putts early and kind put myself in a little bit of trouble on the back nine, my front, but rallied pretty nicely," Koepka said. "I felt like I found a bit of rhythm. But it's a difficult day, anything under par, level par is a good score out there today. I'm pleased with it."

Thomas, however, had two birdies and a double bogey on his inward half. The double came at the par-4 fourth, where he four-putted. He nearly made up those two strokes on his final hole, the par-5 ninth, when a wild approach shot [as you can see below] traversed the contours of the green and settled 6 feet from the hole. But Thomas missed the short eagle putt and settled for birdie.

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Watch: Thomas' approach takes wild ride on CJ Cup green

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 5:17 am

Two over par with one hole to play in Round 1 of the CJ Cup, Justin Thomas eyed an eagle at the par-5 ninth [his 18th].

And he nearly got it, thanks to his ball beautifully navigating the curves of the green.

Thomas hit a big draw for his second shot and his ball raced up the green's surface, towards the back, where it caught the top of ridge and funneled down to within 6 feet of the hole.

Unfortunately for Thomas, the defending champion, he missed the eagle putt and settled for birdie and a 1-over 73.