Hawk's Nest: Welcome back, Boo Weekley

By John HawkinsMarch 18, 2013, 12:56 pm

A bunch of my buddies just got back from a golf trip, and though I wasn’t actually invited, I couldn’t and wouldn’t have gone, anyway. Having not touched a club in three months, a four-day bogey bender at PGA National isn’t how I want to start my season. I realize we’re not playing for a green jacket or even a hundred bucks, at least under normal circumstances, but my competitive psyche is fragile. My self-esteem is far from bulletproof.

There’s always the camaraderie factor, but I’m not much fun when I’m waking up in the company of seven men, drinking gas-station coffee and losing three or four balls every nine holes. Besides, that camaraderie thing can be a total mirage. Everybody arrives on the first tee with high hopes and a huge smile. By the fifth green, at least one guy in the foursome is very unhappy, wondering the whereabouts of the nearest ATM and if they’re mature enough not to ruin everyone else’s day.

Of course, PGA National features numerous bodies of water and a three-club breeze more persistent than the bag-drop crew, neither of which goes well with rust or horse manure. So I’ll just wait another month and play a bunch of bad golf close to home. It’s a whole lot cheaper. And so much easier to rationalize.


MAKE NO MISTAKE, there was a Boo Weekley sighting at Innisbrook last week. Largely absent from leaderboards of any size since helping the United States to a lopsided triumph at the 2008 Ryder Cup, Weekley’s closing 63 was easily the round of the tournament – maybe the best anywhere in 2013, all things considered.

To shoot three strokes lower than anyone else on a Sunday is very rare. On a golf course that continues to prove itself as one of the best on the PGA Tour, no less, that 63 carried Weekley into sole possession of second place, two strokes behind first-time winner Kevin Streelman.

But enough on the details. Boo’s emergence as golf’s favorite folk hero six years ago was as cool as stories get – and certainly not an accident. Among the dozens of tour pros described at one point or another as “one of the game’s best ball-strikers,” nobody’s clubface produced a more effective level of percussion than Weekley’s.

I stood on the practice range in Charlotte for 15 minutes one spring, watching him hit it with such purity that he basically stopped traffic. Grown men with a lot of money and things to do were turning their heads to see where that sound was coming from – Boo was flushing long irons like a robot with a pot belly.

His low-trajectory flight would serve him very well at breeze-friendly venues such as Harbour Town, where Weekley won back-to-back titles (2007-08), but a shoulder problem and an eternally inconsistent putter would take him off the map. Perhaps the clearest sign of Boo’s demise came in 2011, when he led the PGA Tour in greens hit in regulation but missed 12 of 23 cuts and had just one top-25 finish.

We’ll find out how “back” he is in due time, but regardless of how Weekley plays from here, he secured a spot in my personal Hall of Fame years ago. I spent a day with him in Milton, Fla., his hometown, where we managed to get through a couple of hour-long interview sessions on his grandparents’ porch, when we weren’t noodling around and doing absolutely nothing.

At one point that morning, Weekley and I were standing at the water’s edge, looking out over the river abutting the family property. “I’ve seen alligators come right up out of here and go after our cows,” he said matter-of-factly, to which I immediately suggested we go to lunch. The Weekleys owned 80 acres, every inch of it traversed by Boo as a kid – he hunted and fished hundreds of times before ever picking up a golf club.

If the setting wasn’t quite a Norman Rockwell postcard, it was down-home idyllic in a lovably plain sort of way, and Boo was purely a product of that environment. Even then, he talked about pro golf as if it were fifth or sixth on his list of things he liked to do. It was a job and he was really good at it.

When you quit school to spray the gunk out of tanks in a chemical plant, as Weekley had done in the early 1990s, you find that basting 3-irons for a living can have a distinct upside.

One of my favorite moments from the seven Ryder Cups I covered for Golf World occurred in the sixth singles match in 2008, when Weekley stuck his driver between his legs and playfully galloped off Valhalla’s first tee. The burst of laughter from the surrounding throng would symbolize a week of unabashed American joy – Weekley would clobber Oliver Wilson that afternoon and claim 2 ½ points in three matches to play a key role in the U.S. rout.

Alas, the horse would soon develop a little hitch in his giddy-up. Maybe he’s ready to run again.


DAN JENKINS IS an American treasure. Sometimes, you have to rummage through the chest to find a real gem, but Jenkins is one of them, and as the recipient of the 2013 Red Smith Award – without question the highest indigenous honor a sportswriter can receive – all I can say is: What the hell took so long?

Actually, that’s not all I can say. Jenkins has been on my short list of heroes for three decades, give or take an hour, a typist of unparalleled wit and uncompromised brilliance. His work has made me laugh out loud more than that of any other person, living or dead (Eddie Murphy, primarily because of his performance in “Delirious,” ranks a distant second).

At the ripe young age of 83, Jenkins still covers golf with equal parts intellect and attitude, swerving through the happy talk and B.S. like a Manhattan cabbie in 5 p.m. traffic. He has combined humor and candor like no other in my industry, which is why his personal inscription on my copy of “Slim and None” makes the novel one of my most cherished possessions.

Jenkins’ uncluttered style has always worked particularly well in long form. “Dead Solid Perfect” and “You Gotta Play Hurt” are two of the best sports book ever written, but I have yet to find a Jenkins offering I could put down easily. If you’re a serious golf fan over the age of 45, you know exactly what I mean. And if you’re a young golf nut, you need to head to amazon.com immediately.

Back when a pack of Marlboro Lights helped me get through a 2,200-word British Open game story, I’d step outside the press tent to have a smoke with Jenkins, a man of whom I was truly in awe. “When I grow up, I wanna be half as good as you,” I said to him once.

“You got something funny in that cigarette?” he replied.


THE MASTERS IS now squarely on the horizon, just 3 ½ weeks away and, in my estimation, the finest sporting event known to mankind. Because I am so fond of the tournament, it holds a reserved spot in every Hawk’s Nest for the next month. We begin with a little recent history and how it might factor into the not-so-distant future.

For all the trigger-happy projectionists looking to dominate the office pool, let it be known: The last six Masters champions had not won a PGA Tour event that year, prior to arriving at Augusta National. Phil Mickelson was the last to do it – he demolished the field at the 2006 BellSouth Classic, then claimed the green jacket for a second time the following week.

In fact, of those six winless winners-to-be, only Bubba Watson (2012) came to the Masters as a “hot golfer.” He’d finished T-4 at Bay Hill two weeks earlier – two weeks after a solo second at Doral. It’s worth noting that Bubba took a three-stroke lead into the final round in Miami and quickly became unglued, then pulled himself together and almost forced a playoff with Justin Rose.

Here’s a killer stat for you: Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman, Angel Cabrera, Mickelson and Charl Schwartzel combined for 33 pre-Masters starts in the years they won the title. How many top-10 finishes did they amass in those 33 events?

Two.

As Jenkins might tell you, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

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Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”

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Woods does everything but win at The Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:57 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and moral victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.

Sure, after a round in which he took the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.

“Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”

But here’s where we take a deep breath.

Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with eight holes to play.

Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.

The scenario was improbable.

Inconceivable.

Impossible.

At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.

Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.

This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.

One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?

“Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.

Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.

Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.

Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.

Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.

Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.

Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.

“For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”

So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”

But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, the ball ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.

“It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”

Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.

“Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the 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.”

Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.

“She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”

But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.

Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.

“To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”

His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two young, cute members of his clan.

Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:

LOVE THE HATERS.

After this riveting performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?