Hawk's Nest: Wear and tear of age affecting Tiger

By John HawkinsAugust 4, 2014, 3:10 pm

You certainly can’t evaluate his health by examining the state of his golf game. Tiger Woods used to win three or four tournaments a year from the right trees. Before the back spasms, the knee issues and the hydrant, Woods’ inability to drive the ball straight only made his dominance more astounding.

Time waits for no one, however, and when Woods returned to action earlier than expected at the end of June – Graham DeLaet needed almost twice as long to recover from the same surgery – the reaction was generally gung-ho. Rust removal? Makes sense. The next two majors at venues he once conquered? Gotta get ready for those.

You’re chasing history and you’re losing ground, so you proclaim yourself fit as a fiddle and gas up the jet. “Obviously, I’m going to get stronger and faster as time goes on, but the risk is minimal, just like every round we play,” Woods said at Congressional in his first start back.

He would repeat the stronger-and-faster thing several times, no doubt believing it, as people who will themselves to so much accomplishment tend to believe everything they say. There’s a reason most premier athletes retire in their mid- to late-30s, however. Their physical skills erode. Not only do their bodies betray them, they begin breaking down on a regular basis.

Woods broke down again Sunday at Firestone. Another funky shot from trouble after missing right, another mid-round departure, another poor performance punctuated by injury. There is a lot not to like about the situation, although one shouldn’t get the sense this latest setback occurred because Tiger came back too soon.

The man played nine full rounds of competitive golf before his back acted up. He put himself in more treacherous situations than a cat burglar over those 5 ½ weeks and emerged without a hitch. This isn’t about a premature return. It’s about the wear and tear of age and a guy who insists on going after the ball like someone half as old.

Speaking of which, the future of golf is tugging on our shirt like a restless child – and Tiger’s status will swipe much of the attention worthy of better causes: Rory McIlroy’s ride to greatness, Rickie Fowler’s vast improvement, Sergio Garcia’s re-emergence.

America’s Red Shirt infatuation wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if he was still performing at a high level, but that hasn’t been the case for a while. You blame the media? I can’t swing a 7-iron without hitting a pile of data that tells us Woods is the only golfer many, many people care about. It’s sad in a way, but I was saying five years ago that the Tiger Hangover would have a far-reaching effect on the game’s sensibilities.

Seriously, I hate it when I’m right about stuff like that.

DUSTIN JOHNSON’S LEAVE of absence from pro golf hit some folks like a locomotive. I was about halfway into a live chat last Thursday when the news broke, leading to a rash of insensitive reaction and unwitting ignorance to the situation overall.

Was I surprised by Johnson’s announcement? Not even a little bit. Whispers about his off-course behavior have been circulating on the PGA Tour for years – the tipping point occurred when he missed almost three months of the 2012 season with what was described as a back injury.

There was some chuckling that spring among those who knew better, and when I broached the subject of Johnson’s physical status with a member of his camp at Quail Hollow, I was shooed away like a rabid dog. Given the wonderful disposition of the person I approached, let’s just say it was a highly unusual response to a fairly standard inquiry.

So when Golf.com reported last Friday that Johnson was suspended by the PGA Tour after a positive test for cocaine, his third failed test since 2009, the whispers became a roar. The Tour would release a statement claiming Johnson is not serving a suspension, which is basically a moot point – a cross between damage control and semantics:

“This is to clarify that Mr. Johnson has taken a voluntary leave of absence and is not under a suspension from the PGA Tour.”

In other words, Johnson chose not to file an appeal and took the initiative of enrolling in some type of substance-abuse program. That basically takes precedent over any form of disciplinary action, at least for the time being, by Camp Ponte Vedra.

Why mention all this? Because the Tour’s policy of not releasing information regarding fines and suspensions is a joke. No other professional sports league dabbles in such obtuse paranoia. Out of respect for its fan base and the acknowledgement that it does business in the United States of America, every organization but the PGA Tour is forthright in its obligation to release pertinent information.

Our circuit carries on with its head in the sand. Why? Because the Tour cherishes its “sanitized reputation” perhaps more than any of its other qualities. The squeaky-clean factor goes a long way toward selling title sponsorships and driving corporate interest in general.

Someone such as John Daly isn’t necessarily tolerated, but commissioner Tim Finchem can look a CEO in the eye and tell him that such cases are very, very rare. Why feed the media something that can only smear the image, scare away primary investors and potentially jeopardize the revenue stream?

Nobody ever said pro golf lives in the real world. And if they did, they might want to consider a breakfast ball.

MY NEXT-DOOR neighbor is an outstanding human being. Nicest guy in town, a little tight with a buck, but he’ll drop what he’s doing on a moment’s notice if someone needs help. Oh, and he can’t stand Sergio Garcia.

Many of you get it, and a fair number of you surely agree with Tom. Garcia has done some stupid stuff over the years, pretty much running the table on everything from poor sportsmanship (spitting into a hole at Doral) and whining about bad breaks (2007 British Open) to his embarrassing comments about the color of Woods’ skin.

He’s on the short list of the greatest antagonists in Ryder Cup history, but of all the roles Garcia has played over the years, he’s probably best known as Woods’ pigeon – or Tweety Bird, as the case may be. Sergio would have been a superstar if Red Shirt hadn’t thumped him so often in the good old days.

Instead, he’s become the handsome villain, and pro golf has always been more interesting when someone wears the black hat. Jack Nicklaus as the young predator to Arnie in the early 1960s. Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, who piloted the evil empire’s migration from Europe in the 1980s …

What makes Garcia such an ideal bad guy is the Wile E. Coyote factor. The anvil always seems to land on his head come Sunday afternoon. We saw it happen again at Firestone. The putts stopped falling, and though Garcia didn’t miss any short ones, he did little enough to let McIlroy wipe out the three-stroke deficit almost immediately.

For all the anti-Sergios, it was another reason to rejoice, but I have a funny feeling about this week, and it’s telling me Garcia will finally win his first major title. We’re talking about a guy who has always played his best golf in binges, and he’s certainly playing well this summer. The greens at Valhalla are not severe, although Sergio has proven he can miss them just about anywhere. Still, it should be a ball-striker’s PGA.

Valhalla isn’t a long course by today’s standards. All three tournaments I covered there were notable for the great atmosphere. “It may not be a great golf course, but it’s a great place to play golf,” said Paul Azinger, who captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team to victory at Valhalla in 2008.

It should be an interesting week. With or without Woods.

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Koepka: Second-place finishes becoming 'annoying'

By Al TaysMay 28, 2018, 12:02 am

Brooks Koepka didn't go down without a fight.

Trailing Justin Rose by four shots going into the final round of the Fort Worth Invitational, Koepka shot his second 7-under 63 of the week - and made up precisely one shot. He finished solo second at 17 under par, three shots behind Rose.

He could only marvel at the Englishman's performance in closing with a 6-under 64.

"It was pretty impressive," he said. "Justin played well. Hat's off to him. Any time you can come into a lead with four shots and play the way he did today, that's impressive."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Although Koepka was pleased with his own play - especially his putting - he said it felt "annoying" to come in second. Again.

"I feel like we've had so many second-place finishes," he said. "Always seem to run into a buzz saw, whatever it is."

Since May of 2016, Koepka has five solo second-place finishes and one T-2. But he also has a U.S. Open title, won last year at Erin Hills. He'll attempt to defend that title June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills. "It's nice to finally be playing well and get going into the season," he said. "Kind of peaking right where I need to be."

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Minjee Lee birdies 18 to win on her birthday

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:59 pm

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Minjee Lee's task was simple: A birdie on No. 18 would win her the tournament. It was a manageable par 5, the easiest hole on the course in the final round.

After a good drive, her second shot came closer to trouble than much of the gallery probably realized.

''I almost clipped the tree,'' Lee said. ''I overcut it a little bit, but it finished out in a good position.''

Lee's shot came to rest just to the right of the green, and from there it was a simple chip and putt for the birdie that gave her a one-stroke win over In-Kyung Kim at the LPGA Volvik Championship on Sunday. Lee, who turned 22 on Sunday, won for the first time since 2016. It was the Australian's fourth career victory.

Lee three-putted for a bogey on No. 17, dropping into a tie with Kim, who finished her round about the same time. So Lee needed a birdie to win on 18. The 18th hole was 470 yards Sunday. There were 44 birdies there in the final round.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

''The tee was up,'' she said. ''I was pretty confident that I could get there in two if I had a good drive.''

Lee made her winning putt from about 3 feet. She finished at 4-under 68 and 16 under for the tournament. Kim (67) shot a 32 on the back nine and birdied No. 18, but it wasn't enough to force a playoff at Travis Pointe Country Club.

''I kind of knew that 16 was the number and I mean, I give my best,'' Kim said. ''I make some good shots and birdies.''

Moriya Jutanugarn (65) finished third at 14 under.

Lee took a two-stroke lead into the final round, and that was her margin over playing partner Stacy Lewis before Lewis (71) bogeyed No. 7 and 8. Kim emerged as the biggest threat to Lee when she birdied four of the first five holes on the back nine. Lewis is playing four months' pregnant with her first child.

Kim and Lee were briefly tied at 15 under, but then Lee made a tap-in birdie on the par-5 14th, while Kim bogeyed 15. Lee saved par on 15 despite a wayward drive into a bunker.

''I wasn't sure where I was score-wise then. That par 5 is reachable in two, so I think a lot of people would have made birdie there,'' Lee said. ''The next tee shot I just pulled into the bunker. ... I think that was really important for me to hole that par putt just to keep the momentum going.''

Lee had gone 38 consecutive holes without a bogey before making one on the par-4 17th. That, combined with Kim's birdie on 18, left the two golfers tied, but Lee still had the 18th to come.

Su Oh (68) and Lindy Duncan (69) finished at 13 under, and Megan Khang (67) was another stroke back. Lewis finished at 11 under along with Ariya Jutanugarn (69) and Danielle Kang (70).

Lewis birdied three of the first six holes, but Lee did as well.

''It's hard to get close when somebody does that,'' Lewis said. ''She played great all day and played solid. When she needed to make a par putt, she did, and didn't make any mistakes.''

Lee lost this event by one stroke last year. Shanshan Feng, the 2017 winner , finished tied for 21st this time.

The LPGA has had a different winner in each of its 13 tournaments this year. The U.S. Women's Open starts Thursday at Shoal Creek.

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Spieth: Improvement is 'right around the corner'

By Al TaysMay 27, 2018, 10:50 pm

Not that Dallas native Jordan Spieth didn't enjoy the two-week home game that is the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Fort Worth Invitational - he certainly did. But he's eager to get out of town, too.

"It was a great showing these last couple weeks by the fans," Spieth said after closing with a 2-under 68, a 5-under total and a T-32 finish. "Obviously extremely appreciative here in DFW. Wish I could do more. These couple weeks can be a bit taxing, and it's awesome to kind of have that support to carry you through.

"So, you know, I had a great time these couple weeks on and off the golf course as I always do, but I'm also really excited to kind of get out of town and kind of be able to just go back to the room and have nothing to do at night except for get ready to play the next day."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth will have that experience this coming week in Dublin, Ohio, site of the Memorial. He's hopeful of improving on his T-21, T-32 finishes the past two weeks, and he thinks the main thing holding him back - his putting - is ready for a turnaround.

"I think good things are about to come," he said. "I feel a good run coming for the second half of the season. Today was - each day I've felt better and better with the wedges and the putter and the short game; today was no different. My only bogey being just kind of trying to do too much on a par-5; 3-wood into the hazard.

"So, you know, I'm getting into where I'm not making bogeys, and then soon - the not making bogeys is great, and soon I'll get back to the five, six birdies around and shoot some low rounds.

"So I know it's right around the corner."

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Broadhurst fires 63 to easily win Senior PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:45 pm

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Paul Broadhurst wishes he had played this well in his 23 years on the European Tour.

''I know a lot more about my swing now and I guess you get that with age and experience,'' the 52-year-old Englishman said after shooting an 8-under 63 on Sunday to win the Senior PGA Championship by four strokes and match the best 72-hole score in tournament history.

Broadhurst finished at 19-under 265 at Harbor Shores for his second senior major victory. The 63 was the best fourth-round score by a winner. Rocco Mediate also shot 19 under at Harbor Shores in 2016.

Also the 2016 British Senior Open winner, Broadhurst led the field with 26 birdies and passed third-round co-leaders Tim Petrovic and Mark McCarron with a 4-under 31 on the back nine.

Petrovic was second after a 69. McCarron had a 70 to tie for third at 14 under with Jerry Kelly (65).

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Broadhurst earned a career-high $585,000 for his fourth PGA Tour Champions victory and moved to the top of the money list. He won six times on the European Tour, was a 1991 Ryder Cup player for Europe and has three European Senior Tour victories.

''It was really a special week,'' he said. ''It got a little bit tense out there. I knew I was playing well but I didn't seem to making any progress against Tim Petrovic. He was side-by-side on the back nine it seemed.''

He learned his lead was three strokes standing on the 18th tee when his caddie asked a television announcer.

''So we put my driver away and reached for the rescue club,'' he said. ''If I made a 5 there that would be fine.''

Broadhurst started the round two strokes behind Petrovic and McCarron, birdied the first hole and was tied with Petrovic for the lead by the turn. He took his first lead with a birdie on the 12th hole, led by two after 16 and birdied the final two holes, including a dramatic 40-foot putt for birdie at the 18th hole.

''I guess it would have been a bit of anti-climax if I would have three-putted the last green, but that would have given Tim a chance of holing his second shot,'' he said. ''I actually spoke to my caddie about that going down the last - we don't want to three-putt and five him the opportunity because stranger things have happened in golf. To see it go in the middle of the hole was just a special feeling.''

Petrovic said missed birdie putts on Nos. 7 and 8 were costly, but it might not have mattered with the way Broadhurst was playing.

''In hindsight it was all for naught,'' he said. ''He was so far ahead of us. Hat's off the guy. It was a great week - we just got beat. When he made the putt on 18 ahead of us I almost started clapping in the fairway and waving a white towel. It was well-deserved. That was great playing. He won the championship for sure.''

Broadhurst shot 72 in the first round, started rolling in putts with a 66 in the second round and was 15 under on the weekend. In addition to the leading 26 birdies, he topped the putts per greens in regulations numbers for the tournament as well with a 1.574 average.

''I wasn't aware I made that many birdies,'' he said. ''That's pretty impressive around this course.''

He said his game has long been unpredictable.

''I'm not blessed with a consistent swing like Bernhard Langer, but when it's on, it works,'' he said. ''If I'm putting well, then anything can happen, really.''