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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Hovland finally puts 'it' all together for U.S. Am title

By Ryan LavnerAugust 20, 2018, 1:35 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Viktor Hovland had an hour and a half to decompress and regroup for the afternoon session of the 36-hole final at the 118th U.S. Amateur. During that downtime, he scrolled on his phone for 20 minutes, uninterrupted, before he finally headed toward the buffet line in The Lodge.

Every college kid is glued to his iPhone, of course, but Hovland wasn’t replying to texts or sifting through his Twitter mentions or checking out Snapchat.

He was reading a philosophical debate about affirmative action.

“He’s constantly on his phone, reading articles, gaining knowledge, and there have been times this year that it’s 20 minutes before his tee time and he hasn’t warmed up yet, so we’re thinking, ‘Is Viktor going to warm up today or is he going to roll out there cold?’” said Oklahoma State assistant coach Donnie Darr. “He would go to the range, literally hit 10 to 12 balls and off to the first tee he’d go. He knows what he’s working on – he’s not down there searching.”

Or as OSU head coach Alan Bratton put it: “If you’ve got it, you’ve got it.”

Hovland, 20, might be more interested in worldly matters than sports, but his own success story might pop up on his news feed Sunday night.

With one last commanding performance at Pebble Beach, he capped a near-perfect week by defeating Devon Bling, 6 and 5, to win the U.S. Amateur.

The new Prince of Pebble’s dominance this week was astounding.

The fifth-ranked amateur in the world, Hovland never trailed during his final 86 holes and was 1 down only once in six matches. His 104 total holes tied the fewest played by a U.S. Amateur champion since 1979.

You’d never have known it was just the Norwegian’s second career victory – at any level.  

“It wasn’t anything flashy,” he said afterward, “but this week it all came together, which is really cool.”

His championship match against the 302nd-ranked Bling wasn’t flawless, but he also didn’t need to be.

Hovland so thoroughly trounced his opponents this week that he played 15 fewer holes than Bling, a sophomore at UCLA. In front of a few dozen family and friends, Bling played the best round of his life in the semifinals, but he was 5 over par during the morning 18 Sunday and managed only one non-par 5 birdie all day.  

Hovland led outright for all but two holes, taking the lead for good after the signature shot of the championship. On the fourth hole, he blasted his tee shot over the cliff, into an ice plant. After sliding down the embankment to reach his ball, he saw it sitting perfectly.

“It was a hit-and-hope moment,” he said, “and it ended up pretty sweet.”

Hovland chopped out to 3 feet, the unlikely birdie jump-starting his day. He took a 4-up lead into the intermission and never came close to surrendering that advantage during the afternoon.


U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


His eventual 6-and-5 decision was the second-largest margin of victory since 2010.

“He’s been on a steady rise,” said Bratton, who caddied for Hovland this week, “and I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.”

Bratton was also on the bag for the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion at Chambers Bay. But unlike Peter Uihlein, the top amateur who wanted to play for the top program, Hovland was an underrated addition in Stillwater.

In the summer of 2013, Bratton took a trip to Scotland to watch one of his prized recruits, Kristoffer Ventura, at the European Boys Championship. While there Bratton watched the rest of the Norwegian national team practice, and the newest and youngest member of that squad stood out.

“I promise you I know what good is when I see it,” Bratton said, “and Viktor was good.”

Still, Hovland never won as a junior – a common theme, until recently – and was lightly recruited through his senior year of high school, only receiving interest from Texas Tech, TCU, Tennessee and Bratton’s Oklahoma State program. Though many of his friends chose the pro route, Hovland was dead set on college. “I just didn’t think I was good enough for the pros,” he said.

During recruiting, Hovland would talk on the phone with Bratton for hours, about almost everything – TV shows, politics, philosophy. He devours podcasts. He’s an ardent movie critic. He extensively researches and then welcomes a debate on the day’s hottest topics.

Even without any tournament titles on Hovland’s résumé, Bratton was so smitten that he didn’t bother to bring in another recruit for the class of 2016. He was all-in, with no backup option, and Hovland visited the campus for the first time a week before signing day his senior year.

The gamble paid off.

Hovland closed out his freshman season with five consecutive top-10s and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors, but as a sophomore he truly became an elite player.

During his freshman year his swing was too shallow and he struggled to get the ball airborne. At OSU’s event at Southern Highlands in Las Vegas, Hovland bubbled with frustration when he couldn’t stop his shots on the firm greens.

“For the life of me I could hit a 3-wood off the deck,” he said. “It was disgusting to look at.”

He finally had enough last fall, when he flew to South Florida to see his swing coach, Denny Lucas, for three days over the Thanksgiving break. They worked to get Hovland more into his left side at impact and compress the ball. 

The difference was significant and immediate. He won his first college tournament in the spring, only once placed outside the top 25 in an event and became a first-team All-American. He also saved his best for the biggest stages, leading off the Cowboys in match play and going a perfect 3-0 as they cruised to the NCAA title.

“Prior to that he got a lot out of that because his mis-hits were so good, but his good shots are way better now,” Darr said. “His ball flight is higher, so he’s more versatile as a player. He can hit it farther and hit it both ways. I think you’re going to see he’s going to win a lot of tournaments moving forward.” 

This summer, Hovland reached the Round of 16 at the British Amateur and tied for second at the European Amateur before his resounding performance here at Pebble Beach. He’s the first player since Florida’s Bubba Dickerson (2001) to be part of a NCAA title team and win the U.S. Amateur in the same year.

“I always thought I had a pretty good vocabulary,” Hovland said, “but I’m at a loss for words. It’s really special. I just hope it’s the start of something great.” 

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After Further Review: Women's No. 1 ranking a precarious perch

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 20, 2018, 1:20 am

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

On musical chairs at the top of the women's rankings ...

Women’s golf is a game of musical chairs these days. The Rolex Women’s World Rankings are a testament to the depth of the tour, with seven changes at No. 1 in the last 14 months. Ariya Jutanugarn looked as if she might be on her way to  dominating this season, but her latest run at No. 1 lasted three weeks. Sung Hyun Park’s victory Sunday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship helped her take back the top ranking. Park lasted a week at No. 1 the first time she got there late last fall. Jutanugarn lasted two weeks at No. 1 the first time she got there last summer. Sung Hyun Park, Jutanugarn, Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Lydia Ko have all taken turns at the top since June of 2017, and there’s no reason to believe anyone should get too comfortable on the game’s throne the rest of the year. - Randall Mell


On a promising day for U.S. Ryder Cup chances ...

This year’s Ryder Cup is still weeks away, but Sunday was a good day for the U.S. team.

Brandt Snedeker birdied two of his last four holes to win the Wyndham Championship and set the stage for a potential captain’s pick and his third start at the biennial matches.

If U.S. captain Jim Furyk can rest easier with his four picks coming into focus, he can also take solace in Webb Simpson’s play at the Wyndham. Simpson, who held on to the final automatic qualifying spot at the PGA Championship, closed with a 62 at Sedgefield Country Club to finish tied for second place.

And Furyk shot a final-round 63 to tie for fourth at the Wyndham, so a good day all the way around for the U.S. captain. - Rex Hoggard

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S.H. Park tops Salas for Indy title, takes over No.1

By Randall MellAugust 20, 2018, 12:03 am

Sung Hyun Park moved back to Rolex world No. 1 with her victory Sunday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

With her 10-foot birdie defeating Lizette Salas on the first sudden death playoff hole at Brickyard Crossing, Park knocked Ariya Jutanugarn off the top of the world rankings.

It marks Park’s second ascension to world No. 1.

Park lasted a week at the top the first time she moved to No. 1 in November of last year. Jutanugarn’s second run at No. 1 ends after three weeks.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


There has been a lot of movement at the top of the world rankings in the women’s game the last two seasons, with Park marking the seventh change at the top in the last 14 months.

The victory was Park’s third LPGA title of the year, matching Jutanugarn for most on tour this season.

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Playoff qualifiers: 2018 FedExCup Top 125

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 20, 2018, 12:00 am

Top 125 in the 2017-18 FedExCup point standings, through the final regular-season event, the Wyndham Championship. These players qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs.

1. Dustin Johnson 2,717
2. Justin Thomas 2,634
3. Brooks Koepka 2,012
4. Justin Rose 1,991
5. Bubba Watson 1,879
6. Jason Day 1,771
7. Webb Simpson 1,710
8. Francesco Molinari 1,682
9. Bryson DeChambeau 1,617


10. Patrick Reed 1,555
11. Phil Mickelson 1,546
12. Tony Finau 1,509
13. Jon Rahm 1,430
14. Patrick Cantlay 1,388
15. Patton Kizzire 1,386
16. Paul Casey 1,319
17. Rickie Fowler 1,302
18. Kyle Stanley 1,198
19. Kevin Na 1,183


20. Tiger Woods 1,162
21. Rory McIlroy 1,154
22. Marc Leishman 1,148
23. Tommy Fleetwood 1,130
24. Chesson Hadley 1,122
25. Pat Perez 1,116
26. Andrew Landry 1,116
27. Aaron Wise 1,086
28. Xander Schauffele 1,081
29. Luke List 1,080


30. Brandt Snedeker 1,077
31. Austin Cook 1,060
32. Brian Harman 1,056
33. Gary Woodland 1,044
34. Ian Poulter 1,030
35. Andrew Putnam 1,026
36. Chez Reavie 1,020
37. Ryan Armour 1,006
38. Brendan Steele 998
39. Alex Noren 989


40. Kevin Kisner 971
41. Billy Horschel 960
42. Beau Hossler 957
43. Jordan Spieth 945
44. Byeong Hun An 913
45. Emiliano Grillo 901
46. Si Woo Kim 893
47. Charles Howell III 885
48. Brian Gay 880
49. Keegan Bradley 872


50. Henrik Stenson 868
51. J.J. Spaun 849
52. Zach Johnson 839
53. Cameron Smith 821
54. Scott Piercy 802
55. Ryan Moore 795
56. Rafa Cabrera Bello 784
57. Whee Kim 764
58. Stewart Cink 758
59. Chris Kirk 756


60. Ted Potter Jr. 744
61. Jimmy Walker 719
62. Jason Kokrak 700
63. C.T. Pan 693
64. Matt Kuchar 679
65. Joel Dahmen 676
66. Michael Kim 675
67. Kevin Streelman 673
68. Keith Mitchell 659
69. J.B. Holmes 640


70. Adam Hadwin 638
71. Brice Garnett 634
72. Kelly Kraft 627
73. Adam Scott 623
74. Louis Oosthuizen 620
75. Troy Merritt 616
76. Hideki Matsuyama 607
77. Satoshi Kodaira 600
78. Kevin Chappell 597
79. James Hahn 596


80. Tom Hoge 594
81. Peter Uihlein 593
82. Branden Grace 590
83. Abraham Ancer 589
84. Russell Knox 585
85. Kevin Tway 577
86. Jamie Lovemark 576
87. Ollie Schniederjans 573
88. Russell Henley 569
89. Daniel Berger 565


90. Jason Dufner 557
91. Anirban Lahiri 555
92. Tyrrell Hatton 550
93. Patrick Rodgers 541
94. Brandon Harkins 528
95. Trey Mullinax 528
96. Charl Schwartzel 528
97. Rory Sabbatini 521
98. Charley Hoffman 515
99. Alex Cejka 502


100. Ryan Palmer 500
101. Richy Werenski 498
102. Nick Watney 491
103. Danny Lee 481
104. Sung Kang 480
105. John Huh 480
106. Harold Varner III 474
107. Scott Stallings 470
108. Tyler Duncan 457
109. William McGirt 449


110. J.T. Poston 448
111. Bronson Burgoon 446
112. Vaughn Taylor 445
113. Martin Laird 443
114. Sam Ryder 442
115. Grayson Murray 438
116. Ryan Blaum 433
117. Scott Brown 422
118. Brian Stuard 421
119. Nick Taylor 420


120. Sam Saunders 420
121. Sean O'Hair 417
122. Bud Cauley 405
123. Jhonattan Vegas 394
124. Harris English 383
125. Seamus Power 377