Much has changed since Thanksgiving 2009, but not Tiger

By John FeinsteinNovember 29, 2011, 8:56 pm

Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing the day after Thanksgiving two years ago. At some point during that afternoon, either on the Internet, TV or from a phone call, we heard that Tiger Woods had been involved in a minor accident early that morning.

No one knew that day how much that collision with a fire hydrant would change Woods’ life or how the ensuing seismic shock waves would resonate through the entire game of golf.

Now we know.

Woods has never been the same golfer. His personal life was blown to bits. His image took a hit that will never recover regardless of how many more majors he might win or sponsorship deals he might sign.

Golf has never been the same either. No longer does PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem proudly proclaim that the most famous and popular athlete in the world plays our game. No longer is every major reduced to a simple formula: Do you want Tiger or the field?

The question most asked about Woods’ golf game has gone from, “Will the man EVER miss a clutch putt?” to “Will he ever MAKE a clutch putt again?”

Everything, it seems, has changed. Except for one thing: Tiger Woods.

Even as he continues to keep the world at arm’s length, the only thing about Woods that is transparent is his transparency. He said he would be different, that he had learned a lot about himself and his failings in rehab. He was going to show more respect for the game; try to be more open and accommodating with fans and the media. He asked Finchem to stand behind him when he made his first public appearance and the commissioner – much to the dismay of many – did that. The implication, at the very least, was that Woods would be more supportive of Finchem’s Tour in the future.

Finchem’s one specific request was for Woods to announce where he was playing in advance so tournament directors and sponsors could use Woods’ presence to sell tickets and punch up corporate sales. Woods complied for a few months then went back to his secretive ways of the past.

Woods told the world he was sorry. He put his hand on his chest and clearly said, “I am SO sorry.”

One could almost picture him standing in front of a mirror rehearsing those words, putting his hand on his heart at the precise moment when he got to the word, ‘sorry.’

And he was sorry. Sorry he got caught. Sorry he had to act, for a little while at least, as if he had been humbled. Sorry he had to say he was wrong about anything, very sorry that the debacle affected his golf game.

He fired his swing coach. He fired his management company, and then fired his caddie.

His newfound ‘respect’ for the game lasted as long as his promise to Finchem. If the old Tiger didn’t come back when he was standing over a putt, it came back when he missed putts or mishit shots.

He continued to sign autographs at a rate of about one to every 1,000 Phil Mickelson signed. His mastery of the non-answer continued unabated. His priorities are still difficult to decipher. He talks constantly about the need for “more reps,” to get his golf swing where he wants it, then disappears from the game for lengthy periods. He could have played in Greensboro to give himself the chance to play in the PGA Tour playoffs but opted out using “family obligations,” as the excuse.

Completely healthy now he has played three times since the PGA Championship in August: Once, at Fred Couples request, in a Fall Series event to justify Couples selecting him for the Presidents Cup; once for a huge appearance fee in Australia; once in the Presidents Cup. He will play this week in an 18-man exhibition that he hosts for a considerable fee.

He won’t begin 2012 at Torrey Pines in San Diego, where he has started most years during his career, has won seven times and was the host of his last major title, the 2008 U.S. Open. Instead, he will go to Abu Dhabi for a $3 million appearance fee. That money will replace the money he received in the past to go to Dubai.

Why did he choose Abu Dhabi over San Diego and Dubai? His website says it is because he likes to travel to different places. If you believe that, you will be trying to stay awake waiting for Santa Claus to arrive on Christmas Eve. The change was simple: Dubai is sponsored by Omega. Woods just signed a new deal with Rolex. Woods may not be loyal to many people but he is loyal to those who pay him.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with making a business decision. Even for Woods, $3 million is a lot of money and, as he continues his rehab in the corporate world, it is understandable that he’d want to keep a new corporate sponsor happy.

One of the most honest moments in Woods’ life came in 2002 watching it rain during a pre-tournament practice round for the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. A member of Bethpage’s grounds crew caddied for him that day and, while they were waiting out some rain, he said to Woods, “It must be great to travel all over the world the way you do.”

Woods looked at him and said: “I get to see a lot of airports, a lot of high-priced hotels and a lot of golf courses. That’s it.”

Candor like that wasn’t often a part of who Tiger Woods was back then. It isn’t part of who he is now. He is the same person today as he was before that fire hydrant intervened two years ago.

That moment changed Woods’ life forever. It changed golf forever.

But it didn’t change Tiger Woods at all.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.