Hawk's Nest: Half empty, half full for Tiger and Rory?

By John HawkinsMarch 3, 2014, 4:00 pm

Tiger’s back!

Tiger’s back?

Tiger’s back.

From career-threatening chasms to pesky muscle spasms, few two-word sentences reverberate across golf’s landscape to more widespread interpretation. Just when some were getting comfortable with the idea that Eldrick T. Woods might start winning majors again, he misses a Saturday cut at Torrey Pines, a course he owns, and then walks off PGA National with five holes to play.

Not so suddenly, the “T” stands for trauma. But before we go overboard with Woods’ latest injury-related withdraw, it stands to reason that he’ll show up at Doral this week. Sunday marked the fourth time in less than four years that Red Shirt has pulled out of a tournament with health issues. Only once has he failed to make his next scheduled start.

Inconclusive data, mind you, but I don’t doubt for a minute that Woods’ back is bothering him. The weight of expectations hasn’t gotten any lighter. The burden of outrageous competitive standards has always been a 500-pound knapsack on the climb up Mount Nicklaus, and the man isn’t getting any younger.

So a week that began with Tiger griping about slow greens ended with him 5 over through 13 holes. A final round that began with him on the fringe of contention quickly capsized with a double bogey at the par-5 third. And a man who once bristled over “slump talk” has just one top-10 finish in the last seven months.

He’s made just six starts over that stretch, of course – less than one tournament per month on a tour where the seasons never really end. Less production or more inconclusive data? Half empty or half full? All I know is, that glass of water can break pretty easily.


LAST YEAR, IT was a toothache. This year? Heartbreak. Somewhere between quitting on the 2013 Honda Classic after 26 ½ holes and losing the same tournament in a playoff Sunday evening, Rory McIlroy repaired his golf swing, bought an engagement ring and figured out the fame thing.

When you win two major titles by eight shots apiece before your 24th birthday, acting like a kid is no longer an option. And as much as we beat on the Irish Lad for looking nothing like one of the world’s best players in ’13, it makes sense to cut him some slack for crumbling down the stretch at the Honda.

McIlraunch threw up on himself with a four-stroke lead after 54 holes at the 2011 Masters, and then rebounded to crush the field at the very next major. He played very poorly at the U.S. and British Opens the following summer, then dusted himself off and won three of his last five starts, including the PGA Championship.

The fact that McIlroy gave NBC a few minutes of his time after losing to Russell Henley, and then met with the media for a full-length interview, says something about his maturity and ability to deal with failure. A lot of top-tier players aren’t willing to discuss such matters so soon afterward, and the PGA Tour isn’t all that persistent when it comes to pressing the issue with agitated runner-ups.

“I counted myself very fortunate just to be in the playoff,” McIlrighteous admitted. “I didn’t play well enough at all to deserve to win this tournament. I wasn’t in control of my golf ball coming down the stretch.”

Those are the type of money quotes that make a golf writer’s job a lot easier. More importantly, it’s hard to imagine a player extracting more value from a blown final-round lead than McIlroy did Sunday. He looked wobbly all afternoon, but because almost everyone else was moving backwards, he held at share of the lead until making a mess on the 16th.

His second shot into the par-5 closer was one of the best fairway woods you’ll ever see, but McIlroy missed a 12-footer to win after Henley gave him a read. Some will see a guy who needed a win and let a big one get away. I see a guy who drove it wonderfully all week, fought his nerves on Sunday and will be armed and dangerous the next time a similar situation arises.

Glass half full.


MY EARLY MASTERS line, although keep in mind, my wagering window does not open until April 1. No credit cards accepted.

McIlroy (12-1): He’s going to win this tournament three times before all is said and done. Next month would be a good time to start. Swinging the long clubs with an awesome blend of fluidity and speed.

Henrik Stenson (16-1): T-17 is his best finish in seven Masters starts, but this is a very different guy now. Hits it a mile high. Distance has never been an issue.

Phil Mickelson (17-1): He’ll be ready, I assure you. Reserves highest level of focus for second week in April. Twelve top-10s at Augusta National in the last 15 years.

Woods: (20-1): Hasn’t done anything to suggest nine-year Masters drought is about to end. Short game still turns 73s into 69s, but the putts haven’t been falling in Georgia for quite a while.

Bubba Watson (22-1): Victory at Riviera puts him back on the map. A streaky, high-strung player who could use another high finish in Florida. Bubba reminds us – we’re all day-to-day in this world.


LOST AMID THE commotion of that better-late-than-never West Coast swing, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson named Raymond Floyd as one of his assistants for the big matches this September in Scotland. Floyd joins Andy North on the skipper’s staff, and if the choice of Watson himself was a notable diversion from the formula used by the PGA of America to select its captains, neither of Watson’s appointments was exactly conventional.

Floyd is 71 years old. North turns 64 next week. And though North is a member of ESPN’s coverage team at three of the four majors, neither guy is an active Tour pro, as is usually the case with most assistants. It would not annoy me if Watson added someone like Jim Furyk to his staff – someone who still competes against the big boys on a regular basis.

At this point, I’d like to totally contradict myself by saying the Ryder Cup captaincy is one of the most overrated elements in golf. I loved the Watson pick for cosmetic reasons – outside-the-box thinking, a fresh start, etc. – but will it really make a difference at Gleneagles? We’ll see.

I suppose this old-school administration will simplify things, which could reduce the pressure on the players, but I’ve talked to a bunch of U.S. Ryder Cuppers over the years, and when I’ve asked them to name their favorite captain, even off the record, no one answers. Every skipper did a great job, they will tell you. Not one of them did a single thing wrong.


FINALLY, A ROBUST shout-out to the good folks who run the Honda Classic. For all the once-prominent tournaments that now struggle to draw premium fields and move the needle, this PGA Tour event has become the exact opposite.

Over a span of about two decades, the Honda was basically the can-miss stop on the Florida swing. It struggled through five venue changes – a couple of them pretty bad courses – while the title sponsor remained loyal to the cause. Honda has been the Tour’s corporate partner here for 32 years, displaying amazing loyalty to Camp Ponte Vedra when you consider the actual parameters of the product.

The 2007 move to PGA National, and the involvement of Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, has turned everything around, and in that respect, the Honda Classic is very unique. During the WGC/FedEx Cup era, no other Tour stop can come close to matching the Honda’s rags-to-riches profile.

Now if they can just get that guy with the bad back to come back next March …

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CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Web.com Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."

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CIMB champ Leishman hopes to improve on CJ runner-up

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Marc Leishman is back in Korea with momentum on his side, hoping to fare a little better than a year ago.

Leishman nearly took home the trophy in the inaugural CJ Cup, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Justin Thomas. But the Aussie put his approach into the water on the second extra hole, allowing Thomas to wrap up the win a few minutes later.

"Excited to be back in Korea. I have a lot of good memories here at this golf course," Leishman told reporters. "Hopefully I can play well again and go one better than last year."

Leishman's playoff loss kick-started a strong opening stretch to his wraparound season, but he closed it without a victory. That drought ended in emphatic fashion last week, as he cruised to a five-shot win at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia for his fourth career PGA Tour win and his third since March 2017.


CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos


Leishman told reporters last week in Malaysia that before the week started, his driving was so crooked that he feared his equipment reps might need to add a few golf balls to his locker. Instead, he found his groove en route to shooting 26 under par at TPC Kuala Lumpur and leaving the field in his wake.

"Golf's a funny game. It can change very quickly from bad to good or from good to bad," Leishman said. "It was certainly a goal of mine to win this season, and to win my first event of the season is great. Also to be going back to Maui puts me in a different frame of mind for the whole year. For a lot of reasons, I'm really happy with what last week brought."

Leishman played on the Korean PGA Tour in 2006 while getting his pro career off the ground, but even with that experience he expects a learning curve while going from the steamy conditions of Malaysia to the cool and wet climate that has greeted players this week on Jeju Island.

"It's a big adjustment going from so hot and humid last week to fairly cold and hopefully not wet, but it was wet this morning," Leishman said. "The ball goes different distances, your body's not quite as loose as what it is when it's hot. Just little things like that that you have to adjust to."

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Bowditch eyes same fusion surgery as Tiger

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:03 pm

After struggling through a couple lean years on the course, Steven Bowditch is ready to go under the knife.

Bowditch has won twice on the PGA Tour, and the Aussie was a member of the International Team at the 2015 Presidents Cup in South Korea. But his game fell apart shortly thereafter, as Bowditch has made just two cuts in his last 40 starts dating back to July 2016 while putting up some eye-popping scores.

Bowditch's exemption for his win at the 2015 AT&T Byron Nelson expired in August 2017, and he spent last season without full-time status on Tour for the first time since 2010. He made eight starts, notably finding a caddie via Twitter search before missing the cut at the John Deere Classic in July.

But the 35-year-old revealed Tuesday that his on-course struggles have been tied to some health concerns that have been difficult to pinpoint. Having finally received the appropriate diagnosis, he is preparing for a spinal fusion surgery next month between the L5 and S1 vertebrae - the same two that Tiger Woods successfully fused last year:

Bowditch's estimate of a "late 2019" return likely means he'll miss the entire 2018-19 season. When he returns he would do so with past champion status based on his wins, which also included the 2014 Valero Texas Open.