Hawk's Nest: Reader questions from Bubba to Tiger

By John HawkinsNovember 10, 2014, 3:00 pm

The PGA Tour in China is like the NFL in England or pickles on an ice cream sundae. Seriously, what’s the point? It’s kind of scary to think that last week’s WGC gathering in Shanghai will likely produce pro golf’s only quality field until next March.

Camp Ponte Vedra must be delighted that 40 of the world’s top 50 players made it to Sheshan International, a total which doesn’t include Patrick Reed’s etiquette coach. And it was a bang-up finish - Bubba Watson won it, lost it, then won it again, all in typically demonstrative fashion.

So there is some slightly relevant golf during the offseason. Just don’t blink. Or go to bed before 3 a.m.

The cynic would like to step up to the soapbox. How is it that prime U.S. markets such as Seattle, Detroit and Philadelphia can go years without hosting a Tour stop ... but we can find room in the schedule for a bank with a gigantic marketing budget? The tail doesn’t just wag the dog in our game. It tells it when to bark, when to bite and how to not make any sense.

Oh, well. The latest Tiger’s Return countdown ought to be starting any day now, so I’m off to check in with my adoring fans and find out what inquiring minds want to know.

Hey Hawk,

Saw your report card last week … How can you give Woods and Mickelson the same grade when Tiger hardly played? I mean, my man Phil almost won the PGA! Seriously, dude - you smokin’ something? - Left Over from Los Angeles

Not a chance, Cheech. The reason I gave Red Shirt a ‘D’ and didn’t go lower is because he battled injuries for much of the season. He did play like crud before his back started bothering him, but you have to factor in his health when considering his overall level of performance. Bottom line? Neither man came close to matching his standard.

Dear Hawk:

What’s your take on Reed’s profane outburst last Thursday in China? It sure sent Twitter into a tizzy! - Potty Mouth Marshal from Missouri

Unfortunate and inexcusable, but what bothers me is that Reed initially played dumb when asked about the incident - which tells me he didn’t think twice about the matter, or that he uses abusive language quite often. Calling yourself young and hotheaded doesn’t legitimize any form of behavior. Reed’s subsequent apology certainly doesn’t erase the damage done.

The kid needs to grow up, effective immediately, but there are perils involved in a game where TV takes us so close to the actual competition. Tiger’s on-course comportment has been an issue for almost two decades, but most of his theatrics were simply childish.

This was juvenile and offensive. Bad combination.

Yo, genius!

How much of an impact will Steve Williams’ so-called retirement have on Adam Scott’s game? - Just Wondering from New Jersey

I subscribe to the theory that caddies impart a very modest effect on almost every Tour pro’s performance, but Williams seemed to infuse Scott with a competitive fire and self-belief that were previously lacking. This is one of those things you can’t measure - and Scott certainly isn’t going to admit he misses Williams after he plays poorly - but I suspect it could become an issue.

Just wait until the anchored-putter ban arrives at the start of 2016. That could really stir things up in the Scott pot.


How good was Bubba’s bunker shot on the 72nd hole in Shanghai? When’s the last time somebody pulled off something like that at such a crucial time? - Sweet Sandy from Colorado

Pretty dadgum good. Bubba’s hole-out for eagle to force a playoff would make my short list of shots of the year - but this year is already next year, if you know what I mean. Matt Jones jarred a chip to beat Matt Kuchar in Houston back in April, but we’ve also had plenty of seasons where it didn’t happen at all.

The takeaway from Watson’s triumph is that he picked himself up and dusted himself off to reclaim a victory, which is something he hadn’t done before. We’ve all seen the guy unravel emotionally. Bubba blew big leads at Doral and Hartford in 2012, so to see him rally from a crisis situation amounts to a significant step forward.

He even had a little fun with the guy who asked him about it afterward.

“Coming from behind? Choking? Is that what you’re saying?” Watson replied.

“No, you said it,” the reporter answered.

“You wanted to say it,” Bubba retorted, and a good laugh was had by all.

Hey Johnny the Hawk,

What’s your over/under on Woods’ total number of PGA Tour victories in 2015? - Bookem Danno from Hawaii

My gut and my head just came out of a meeting to discuss the matter, and the answer is 2.0. Tiger needs four wins to pass Sam Snead and become the winningest golfer in PGA Tour history - I’ll give you 5-to-2 odds on that happening in ’15.

In the five seasons since the Woods dynasty came to a halt in 2009, Eldrick has gone winless three times but piled up a total of eight victories in the other two. Not counting his rookie season, when he won twice in eight starts, Tiger failed to pick up four Ws just twice (1998 and 2004) before the hydrant intervened.

Odds on him winning a major, you ask? Well, it’s been awhile, but if dumping Sean Foley and taking all this time off doesn’t recharge Woods’ batteries, nothing will. With that in mind, the best I can do is 3-1.

Hey Hotshot,

I recently saw where an 81-year-old Pennsylvania man made four aces in 33 days. How many hole-in-ones do you have? - Bar Tab Bobby from Chicago

My seventh occurred July 27 on the 17th at the L’il Brown Dog, a hole I absolutely despise but have now aced three times. Not to be a total crabapple or anything, but holes-in-one are pure luck. You could hit a thousand balls close from 158 yards and not have any go in, which is another way of saying the ace possesses both mystical and mythical powers.

The first one I made back in 1994 left my hands trembling for several holes. This time, I even forgot to save the ball. Like getting pulled over for speeding, aces used to make my heart race, but not anymore. Which I suppose is a good thing.

Mr. Hawkins,

What are we to make of Billy Horschel after his stellar showing in the 2014 FedEx Cup playoffs? Is he a star in the making - or teasing and faking? - Crystal Ballinger from Nevada

We certainly have a right to wonder. Horschel looked like he was ready for the top tier after a terrific stretch in the spring of 2013, which he capped with a win in New Orleans. He finished T-4 at the U.S. Open two months later, then basically disappeared until his end-of-summer run.

Having recently become a dad for the first time, he’s off to a weak start this season, but without question, the guy has a very high ceiling. Horschel has the statistical birthmarks of a star, ranking high in virtually every category in each of the last two years.

He drives the ball exceptionally accurately for a guy who ranks comfortably inside the top 100 in distance. He hits a ton of greens and gives himself a lot of scoring chances. Horschel is a U.S. Open champion waiting to happen, but sometimes, the waiting is the hardest part.

Dear Mr. Know It All,

Having covered pro golf for the last 97 years, or however long you’ve been doing it, is there anything in particular that really drives you nuts? I mean, we all know you’re not exactly Sammy Sunshine, but what stands out among your plethora of annoyances? - Glass Half Full from Florida

All those people who clap after a guy taps in a 1-footer for bogey. They don’t do that in Great Britain, hombre. They expect better.

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Woods on firing shot into crowd: 'I kept moving them back'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 3:14 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It added up to another even-par round, but Tiger Woods had an eventful Friday at The Open.

His adventure started on the second hole, when he wiped a drive into the right rough. Standing awkwardly on the side of a mound, he prepared for a quick hook but instead fired one into the crowd that was hovering near the rope line.

“I kept moving them back,” he said. “I moved them back about 40 yards. I was trying to play for the grass to wrap the shaft around there and hit it left, and I was just trying to hold the face open as much as I possibly could. It grabbed the shaft and smothered it.

“I was very, very fortunate that I got far enough down there where I had a full wedge into the green.”

Woods bogeyed the hole, one of four on the day, and carded four birdies in his round of 71 at Carnoustie. When he walked off the course, he was in a tie for 30th, six shots off the clubhouse lead.

It’s the first time in five years – since the 2013 Open – that Woods has opened a major with consecutive rounds of par or better. He went on to tie for sixth that year at Muirfield.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.