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 …

Getty Images

Merritt earns second win at rain-delayed Barbasol

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 5:44 pm

It took an extra day, but Troy Merritt found a way back to the winner's circle at the Barbasol Championship.

With much of the final round spilling into Monday because of inclement weather, Merritt shot a 5-under 67 to finish the week at 23 under par at Keene Trace Golf Club in Lexington, Ky. That total left him one shot clear of a group that included Billy Horschel, Tom Lovelady and Richy Werenski.

Merritt started the round in a four-way tie for the lead, and the highlight of his finale came on the par-4 eighth where he holed a 133-yard approach shot for an eagle. He didn't drop a shot over his final 13 holes, securing a narrow victory when Lovelady failed to make a lengthy birdie attempt on the final green.

Merritt broke through at the 2015 Quicken Loans National for his first career PGA Tour victory, but he struggled to maintain that form in the subsequent months. Merritt had only one top-10 finish in both 2016 and 2017 and had to return to Web.com Tour Finals last fall to keep his card.

His 2018 campaign wasn't much better, with a T-8 finish at Pebble Beach his lone top-10 result, and Merritt started the week ranked 131st in the season-long points race with his 2019 status very much in jeopardy. But after earning win No. 2, he's now exempt through August 2020 and has earned spots into the PGA Championship as well as the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions and Players Championship.

"You always ask yourself, 'Is this the time to move on?'" Merritt told reporters. "But to get a win like this, late in the season, and to move up to 65 on the points list and to secure a job for two more years, it's a pretty good feeling."

Tour veteran Brian Gay finished alone in sixth at 20 under, while Hunter Mahan tied for seventh. The Barbasol has been played opposite The Open every year since 2015, but this year marked the first time it was played in Kentucky after three years in Alabama.

Getty Images

Monday Scramble: Flawless Francesco outlasts them all

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 2:00 pm

Francesco Molinari outlasts the rest, Tiger Woods inches closer to an earth-shattering victory, Jordan Spieth lets a successful title defense slip away, Eddie Pepperell toasts his success and more in this week’s Open edition of Monday Scramble:

Forza Italia.

Amid a wild and windy afternoon at Carnoustie, where seemingly no less than a dozen players had a viable shot at the claret jug, it was a steady performance from Francesco Molinari that translated into breakthrough.

Molinari is no stranger to the big stage, and five years ago he played the final round alongside Phil Mickelson as Lefty stormed from behind to win at Muirfield. But this time, this day, it was his turn to shine as he put forth a ball-striking and scrambling clinic that yielded 16 pars and two birdies while the other leaders struggled around him.

It's the cap of an impressive heater for Molinari, who is now the first Italian to ever win a major. He outlasted Rory McIlroy at the BMW PGA Championship in May, won the Quicken Loans National by eight shots last month and now has finished first or second in five of his last six worldwide starts.

The soft-spoken veteran played the final two rounds without making a bogey, and he is a worthy champion. Expect the jug to receive a few refills of wine - and perhaps a little coffee - over the next year.


1. For about a 90-minute stretch Sunday, it seemed like Tiger Woods would finally find a way to silence the critics once and for all.

Playing alongside Molinari, Woods displayed the same tactical brilliance on the opening nine, carding two birdies while others struggled out of the gates and, at one point, taking the lead alone. But an errant approach and a poor flop shot led to a double bogey on No. 11, and his bid for the jug was diverted soon thereafter.

But man, what a ride it was through that opening stretch. For months the questions have lingered about exactly how and when Tiger might put all the pieces together, and after an early exit at Shinnecock it was easy to write him off. But his inner tactician shined for much of the week on a toasty layout, and he was steady in all facets over the weekend.

Just as Woods' five-win season in 2013 has been used as a recent example of just how high his ceiling reaches, so too this performance will be viewed like manna from heaven for Tiger apologists. He didn't quite pull it off, but there's every reason to expect that he can do so the next time around.

2. While he came up three shots short of catching Molinari, even Woods appeared to savor the final leg of a T-6 finish that serves as his best result in a major in five years and becomes the new high water mark for an already impressive season.

"It was a blast," Woods told reporters. "I was saying earlier that I need to try and keep it in perspective because, beginning of the year, if they'd have said you're playing the Open Championship, I would have said I'd be very lucky to do that."



3. A bit more on Molinari, the newest Champion Golfer of the Year who has turned into a weekend assassin over the last three months. 

Between his stirring victory at Wentworth, his rout at TPC Potomac and his comeback at Carnoustie, Molinari has now played six weekend rounds while making only a single bogey. One!

That includes 36 bogey-free holes over the last two days in Scotland, as Molinari methodically took apart the demanding links layout while turning in the only bogey-free scorecard out of the entire field on Sunday.

"To go the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest," Molinari said. "But I felt really good this morning. When I came here, I felt ready for the challenge."

4 While many players would quiver at the thought of a final-round tee time alongside Woods with a major on the line, Molinari didn't blink. Perhaps because he's been in similar situations before.

In addition to his supporting role during Mickelson's win in 2013, Molinari has twice faced off with Woods in the Ryder Cup - including a 2012 singles' draw that remains Woods' most recent Ryder Cup match. So stepping to the tee Sunday, Molinari was fazed neither by his playing partner nor by the three co-leaders that sat three shots ahead of him.

"Clearly in my group, the attention wasn't really on me, let's put it that way," Molinari said. "If someone was expecting a charge, probably they weren't expecting it from me, but it's been the same the whole of my career."

5. How times change. Just a few weeks ago, Molinari opted to tee it up at the Quicken Loans National instead of the French Open at Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National. The reason? He was concerned about his FedExCup standing.

Molinari hadn't done much in the States this year, and he was 123rd in points with his 2019 status very much in limbo. Fast forward a few weeks - including two wins and a runner-up - and Molinari can safely book travel plans on both sides of the Atlantic for years to come.



6. It was a week of what might have been for Jordan Spieth.

Spieth started his stint in Scotland by handing back the claret jug in a ceremony he admitted was more bitter than sweet. But through 54 holes, he was the betting favorite as one of three co-leaders, equipped with a great chance to go back-to-back and end a victory drought that extended back to Royal Birkdale.

Amid a disappointing campaign, it was the first time he started the final round closer than four shots to the lead.

But Spieth apparently used up his magic last year in Southport, as he seemed out of sorts from the start and quickly faded. Spieth didn't make a birdie all day, and he found a gorse bush at an inopportune time en route to a double bogey on one of the easiest holes on the course.

It added up to a 76 and a tie for ninth, another disappointing finish in a year of mixed results. Now he'll have to wait another year for a potential reunion with the jug.

7. Of course, Spieth wasn't the only player who watched a share of the 54-hole lead slip away.

Kevin Kisner held at least a share of the lead after each of the first three days, but his bid for a maiden major went sideways in a bunker on the second hole Sunday. Xander Schauffele's bid lasted significantly longer, as he kept pace with Molinari until the 17th hole.

But in the end, it was a 3-over 74 and a share of second place for both men, who now find themselves firmly in the Ryder Cup mix heading into the homestretch of the selection process.



8. For the first time in his career, Rory McIlroy has a runner-up finish in a major championship. But good luck making sense of his week at Carnoustie years from now.

McIlroy was barely a factor over the weekend, having seemingly forfeited his shot at a second Open title during benign third-round conditions. But when his lengthy eagle putt fell on the 14th hole Sunday and sparked a celebration reminiscent of Hazeltine, hope was once again alive.

Ultimately, it was too little too late for the Ulsterman, who couldn't convert a lengthy birdie putt on the 72nd hole that could have putt pressure on the leaders behind him. He'll leave Scotland with a healthy check, but without the feeling that he ever got both feet planted in his quest for the claret jug.

"I just ran out of holes," McIlroy said.

9. If McIlroy's runner-up felt like somewhat of a disappointment, Justin Rose's T-2 finish was nothing short of found money.

Rose needed to birdie the difficult 18th on Friday simply to make the cut on the number, and he rebounded with a third-round 64. The Englishman added a Sunday 69 to lend credence to the notion that, despite only two top-10s in the tournament as a pro, Rose might still have an Open title in him after all.

"I just think having made the cut number, it's a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday," Rose said.

The weekend close continues a recent run of solid form for Rose, who won a few weeks back at Colonial and now has reached a career-best No. 2 in the world rankings.


So the Champion Golfer of the Year walks into a coffee shop...

Sadly, it seems we may not see these creative retirement plans come to fruition - at least not for a few years. But credit to Molinari for thinking outside the box, and credit to Wesley Bryan for a timely share.

This week's award winners ... 


Hair of the Dog: Eddie Pepperell. The 27-year-old Englishman admitted he was "a little hungover" during the final round, but he still put up the day's best score with a 4-under 67 that gave him a share of sixth and his first ever top-10 finish in a major. Drinks all around.

Paris Bound?: Webb Simpson. The Players champ tied for 12th to move past Bryson DeChambeau at No. 8 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically. Schauffele moved to 11th, while Kisner moved to 13th.

Quiet Consistency: Tony Finau. Finau tied for ninth at Carnoustie and has now cracked the top 10 in each of the three majors this year. In fact, six of his 10 career major starts have gone for T-18 or better. Perhaps something for Captain Furyk to consider.

Quietly Slumping: Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard is barely a year removed from his watershed win, but he has now missed the cut in four straight majors and has missed six of nine cuts overall dating back to the Masters.

Role Reversal: Molinari, who won The Open while playing alongside Tiger 12 years after he caddied for his brother, Edoardo, in a group with Woods at the 2006 Masters. Woods was the defending champ, and Edoardo was the reigning U.S. Amateur winner:

King of Yelp: To the Carnoustie barber that gave Spieth a trim before the third round that set social media ablaze. While Spieth admitted it was a little "high and tight," it became the most famous £9 haircut in years.

Make Your Own Bed: To the frat house of American stars that has become something of an Open annual tradition. While Spieth, Kisner and Zach Johnson fell short of winning the jug for the house, hopefully they all got a few good shots in on all-time goalie Jason Dufner during intra-squad soccer scrimmages.

Kick Him Out: To the obnoxious fan that nearly derailed Tiger's final tee shot. One-upsmanship has become somewhat of a plague among American crowds, but Sunday showed that even the revered Scottish faithful have a few bad eggs in the bunch.

Place Your Bets: With only 17 days until the opening round of the PGA Championship, the Westgate Las Vegas installed Dustin Johnson as a 12/1 co-favorite alongside Spieth and McIlroy. Woods headlines the group next in line at 16/1.


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. For the second year in a row, Thomas' Open chances fell apart during a rainy second round. It was 67-80 at Birkdale, and this time 69-77 to miss the cut by a shot at Carnoustie. Watching what Rose did after finishing only one shot better through 36 holes only adds salt to the wound.

Getty Images

DJ, McIlroy, Spieth listed as PGA betting favorites

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 1:38 pm

Three majors are in the books, but there's still one more trophy up for grabs in two weeks' time.

While next year The Open will signal the end of the 2019 major season amid a revamped calendar, this is the final year that the PGA Championship will be held in August. The tournament returns next month to Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis, which last hosted the PGA when Nick Price won in 1992 and hasn't hosted a PGA Tour event since Camilo Villegas won the 2008 BMW Championship.

Oddsmakers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook published PGA betting odds shortly after the final putt dropped at Carnoustie and Francesco Molinari left with the claret jug. Topping the board are a trio of major champions: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, all listed at 12/1.

McIlroy won the PGA in both 2012 and 2014, while Spieth needs only the Wanamaker Trophy to round out the career Grand Slam. Johnson has recorded four top-10s in the PGA, notably a T-5 finish at Whistling Straits in 2010 when a few grains of sand kept him out of a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

Fresh off a T-6 finish in Scotland, Tiger Woods headlines the group listed at 16/1, behind only the three co-favorites as he looks to win a 15th career major.

Here's a look at the betting odds for a number of contenders, with the opening round of the PGA just 17 days away:

12/1: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth

16/1: Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

18/1: Justin Rose

20/1: Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Jason Day

30/1: Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama

40/1: Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, Paul Casey

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson

80/1: Adam Scott, Zach Johnson, Kevin Kisner

100/1: Ian Poulter, Thomas Pieters, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Daniel Berger, Kevin Chappell, Brian Harman, Brandt Snedeker, Charley Hoffman

Getty Images

Molinari moves to No. 6 in world with Open win

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:31 pm

After breaking through for his first career major title, Francesco Molinari reached some rarified air in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Rankings.

The Italian's two-shot win at Carnoustie moved him up nine spots to No. 6 in the world, not surprisingly a new career high. But it's also a quick ascent for Molinari, who has now won three of his last six worldwide starts and was ranked No. 33 in the world after missing the cut at The Players Championship two months ago.

A share of second place helped Xander Schauffele jump from No. 24 to No. 18 in the updated standings, while the same result meant Kevin Kisner went from No. 33 to No. 25. Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy both went up one spot after T-2 finishes to No. 2 and No. 7, respectively - a new career high for Rose.

The drama in the rankings unfolded at No. 50, as Tiger Woods moved up 21 spots to exactly No. 50 following his T-6 finish. While some projections had him moving to 51st, Woods was able to sneak into the top 50 just in time to qualify for a return to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, as the top 50 in the rankings both this week and next qualify for Akron.

That includes Zach Johnson, last year's runner-up who was not yet qualified but moved from No. 52 to No. 49 this week. It also includes Kevin Chappell, who went from 61st to 47th with a T-6 finish in Scotland.

Despite missing the cut at Carnoustie, Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1 for another week followed by Rose, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Molinari is now at No. 6, with McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day rounding out the top 10.