Hawk's Nest: Will Tiger make a Texas pit stop?

By John HawkinsMarch 17, 2014, 1:30 pm

Call me a dunce, or at the very least, call this a silly hunch, but if Tiger Woods doesn’t regain his once-customary form this week at Arnie’s Place, where he’s won only eight times, I suspect he might play in the Shell Houston Open – the week before the Masters.

My God, Hawkins, you’ve finally lost whatever mind you had left. Tiger Woods doesn’t play the week before a major championship. He hasn’t played a PGA Tour event in Texas since 2005 – a year before his old man passed away! Do us a favor…. lay off the hallucinogens next time before you sit down to write.

Hmmm, funny you mention 2005. It’s the last time Woods won the Masters, but the Lone Star State has nothing to do with it. The man needs another start, and besides, the long-prescribed, pre-major routine hasn’t exactly shortened his climb up Mount Nicklaus in recent years.

Time to mix things up, folks. Even Eldrick Almighty can see that.

What about those back spasms? Couldn’t an extra event do more harm than good?

Of course, but there are several things to take into consideration here. One, Tiger wasn’t exactly burning it up before he withdrew at the Honda – his last top-10 was at The Barclays almost seven months ago. Healthy or hurt, he hasn’t come close to performing at his highest level, so the possibility of four competitive rounds in Houston is well worth whatever risk might exist.

Two, he made it through 72 holes at Doral without needing a wheelchair. Back spasms, like college girlfriends, have a tendency to come and go without reason or notification.

Three, you can aggravate an injury practicing or lifting weights as easily as you can while playing in a real event. In this context, the back is a non-issue.

Dude, I hear you, but I just counted the number of cards in your deck and I came up with 49. Tiger Woods is the most stubborn man on earth. He has never played in the Houston Tour stop and he never changes his schedule. Hydrant or high water, the man sticks with what got him to Superior City.

Au contraire, gophaire. Red Shirt has made two significant scheduling adjustments in the last three years. Who can forget that he participated in the 2011 Frys.com Open, finishing T-30 in his lone career appearance in the Fall Series? And as much as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am has annoyed him over the years, Tiger’s very next Tour start occurred four months later in the hit-and-giggle at Pebble Beach.

Big deal. That was two years ago.

True, but there was also this easy-to-miss breadcrumb from Woods’ pre-tournament news conference at the Honda. Asked if he might do anything different in his preparation for the Masters, Tiger responded: “Still looking into that, yeah. Still looking to possibly make some changes going in there.”

Well, it doesn’t exactly sound like he’s engraved it into his daytimer.

Agreed. If Tiger wins at Bay Hill for the ninth time, I can see him chilling out in Jupiter and gassing up his confidence, not his jet. But if he slops together another out-of-it-by-Sunday-afternoon performance like he’s been doing for a while, Houston becomes a possibility. A very real possibility.

NO SUBJECT IN pro golf is more aggravating or persistent than the slow-play issue. At the recreational level, pace is a problem for different reasons: poorly spaced tee times, 15 handicaps looking for balls, a lack of awareness, etc. None of those scourges, however, exist on the PGA Tour. Every professional tortoise knows he’s slow.

So when Kevin Na says things like, “[Given] what we’re playing for and what’s on the line, how much more can you really expect,” I know a cop-out when I smell one. Talk about faulty rationalization – slow play is as much a violation of golf’s etiquette as stepping in someone’s putting line or hitting out of turn.

Never mind that it’s a rule the Tour simply doesn’t enforce. Na is slow because he’s allowed to be, enabled by the lack of a sufficient deterrent, and he takes advantage of that situation to the detriment of his fellow competitors.

When he’s playing in the final group, as was the case Saturday at Innisbrook, Na doesn’t hold up the groups behind him because there are none, but it’s fair to think he knocked Robert Garrigus out of his rhythm during their 36 holes together over the weekend. Garrigus took the high road, claiming Na has gotten quicker since the fiasco at the 2012 Players Championship.

The fact of the matter is, Na and Garrigus were on the clock for most of the third round’s back nine, and Garrigus is no snail. Besides, that high road becomes the path of least resistance when you hold the 54-hole lead – and you’re paired with the same guy the following afternoon. No need to compound the Sunday pressure with a little personal friction.

“I even had a little talk with him on the range,” Na said, referring to an exchange with Garrigus before the final round. “I’m like, ‘Thanks for backing me up,’ and he said, ‘No problem, bud.’ He felt like it wasn’t an issue. For as much criticism as I got, I hope people talk about how we were waiting on every hole [Sunday].

“Robert was 5 over on the front and I was 3 over, and we were waiting on every shot. If people don’t talk about that, I don’t know what to tell you.”

Slow Tour pros tend to be refreshingly honest but blithely unapologetic. They have a habit of justifying their poor pace by saying they’re trying to get faster – or citing instances when others are guilty of the same crime. Seeing how his lone Tour victory occurred during the 2011 Fall Series, perhaps Na remains winless in 240 regular-season starts because of the mental burden that comes with being a renowned tortoise.

The hare doesn’t always finish first, but he doesn’t step all over anybody else’s chances, either. Na has become his own worst enemy – a talented player whose greatest liability is loitering between his ears.

ONCE UPON A time, Bay Hill was as close to a must-play as there was on the Florida swing. A couple of questionable course setups in the mid-2000s led to some defections, however, and this week, eight of the top 17 players in the world ranking will be absent.

Apparently, thanking Mr. Palmer for all he did isn’t as important as it used to be.

I’m half-kidding, sort of, but what I don’t understand is the weak field last week. In terms of visuals off the tee, shot-making demands and overall difficulty, Innisbrook bears a stronger resemblance to Augusta National than anywhere else on the March docket. I’m not saying it’s a dead ringer, but if you’re looking to win the year’s first major, you can do worse than to take a test drive at Palm Harbor.

What we ended up with was a classic case of Sunday afternoon hot potato – a bunch of guys who rarely win (or haven’t won at all) passing the lead back and forth, almost everyone sliding backwards, reviving the hopes of infrequent winners (Na, Garrigus) who’d disappeared from contention an hour earlier.

You can call it a fascinating mess and say John Senden earned the victory a lot more than anyone gave it to him – and you’d be right. You can also wonder why more top-tier guys didn’t show up. Either way, Innisbrook proved itself once again as the most underrated venue on the PGA Tour.

FOR THOSE WHO might have missed it or have simply forgotten, the points system used to compose the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team remains basically the same as that used by victorious 2008 skipper Paul Azinger. Of utmost importance is that players receive no credit for anything they did during the 2013 season – other than their performances in the four majors.

Tiger and those five victories? Meaningless. Woods was 35th in last week’s standings, and I must admit, it looks a bit funny to see him 18 spots behind Brian Stuard. There are five major champions in the U.S. top nine: Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson and Webb Simpson. Jordan Spieth, meanwhile, for all he has done since last summer, ranks 13th.

Because the ’08 and ’10 teams were very strong representations of America’s best, I never had a reason to question the current system, although it’s definitely on my keep-an-eye-on list now. Yes, it’s still very early in the process, but to give zero points for last year’s World Golf Championships and FedEx Cup playoff events – that doesn’t make sense.

For instance, Tiger’s eight-stroke victory last August at Firestone should be worth something if Ryan Moore (currently 10th) earned more than half of his 2,161 points for beating a mediocre field 2 ½ months later at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur. Big picture? This is another reason not to love the Tour’s wraparound season – turning a bunch of Fall Series events into official tournaments that the top-tier guys generally ignore.

Hmmm … maybe I just came up with another reason why Tiger should play Houston.

Getty Images

Romo rallies to win American Century Championship

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:42 am

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rallied from four points back to win his first American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

Romo, who retired after the 2016 NFL season and is now an NFL analyst, had 27 points on the day to beat three-time defending champion Mark Mulder and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, the the leader after the first two rounds.

''It's a special win,'' said Romo, who had finished second three times in seven previous trips to the annual celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. ''It feels like you're playing a tournament back home here. The day felt good for a lot of reasons.''

Romo tapped in for par, worth one point, on the 18th hole to finish with 71 points, three ahead of Mulder, the former major league pitcher. He then caught a flight to Berlin, Wis., where he was to compete in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament on Monday.

The American Century Championship uses a modified Stableford scoring system which rewards points for eagles (six), birdies (three) and pars (one) and deducts points (two) for double bogeys or worse. Bogeys are worth zero points.

Pavelski had a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th that could have tied Romo, but it slid by. He finished with 66 points, tied for third with Ray Allen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 7.

Full-field scores from the American Century Championship

''It feels like nothing went in for me today,'' Pavelski said. ''But I couldn't ask for more than to have that putt to tie on the last hole.''

Romo plays as an amateur, so his $125,000 first-place check from the $600,000 purse will go to local charities and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the primary charitable arm of title sponsor American Century Investments.

Rounding out the top five were Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and former tennis player Mardy Fish. Each had 62 points.

Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who fell out of contention with a mediocre round Saturday, jumped into Lake Tahoe amidst much fanfare after losing a bet to his father, Dell. The elder Curry jumped into the lake last year, so he negotiated a 20-point handicap and won by two points.

Other notable players in the 92-player field included John Smoltz, the MLB hall of Fame pitcher who two weeks ago competed in the U.S. Senior Open and finished 10th here with 53 points; Steph Curry, who finished tied for 11th with retired Marine and wounded war hero Andrew Bachelder (50); actor Jack Wagner (16th, 47 points); Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (tied for 18th, 44 points); actor Ray Romano (tied for 71st, minus-26 points); comedian Larry the Cable Guy (tied for 77th, minus-33 points); and former NBA great Charles Barkley, who finished alone in last with minus-93 points.

The tournament drew 57,097 fans for the week, setting an attendance record for the fourth straight year.

Getty Images

Singh tops Maggert in playoff for first senior major

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:10 am

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Vijay Singh birdied the second playoff hole to beat Jeff Maggert and win the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday.

Singh knocked in a putt from about 2 feet after a nearly perfect approach on the 18th hole at Exmoor Country Club, giving an understated fist pump as the ball fell in. That gave him his first major title on the PGA Tour Champions to go with victories at the Masters and two PGA Championships.

Singh (67) and Maggert (68) finished at 20-under 268. Brandt Jobe (66) was two strokes behind, while Jerry Kelly (64) and defending champion Scott McCarron (71) finished at 17 under.

Maggert had chances to win in regulation and on the first playoff hole.

He bogeyed the par-4 16th to fall into a tie with Singh at 20 under and missed potential winning birdie putts at the end of regulation and on the first playoff hole.

His 15-footer on the 72nd hole rolled wide, forcing the playoff, and a downhill 12-footer on the same green went just past the edge.

Full-field scores from the Constellation Energy Senior Players

The 55-year-old Singh made some neat par saves to get into the playoff.

His tee shot on 17 landed near the trees to the right of the fairway, and his approach on 18 wound up in a bunker. But the big Fijian blasted to within a few feet to match Maggert's par.

McCarron - tied with Maggert and Bart Bryant for the lead through three rounds - was trying to join Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners of this major. He came back from a six-shot deficit to win at Caves Valley near Baltimore last year and got off to a good start on Sunday.

He birdied the first two holes to reach 18 under. But bogeys on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes knocked him off the lead. His tee shot on No. 7 rolled into a hole at the base of a tree and forced him to take an unplayable lie.

Getty Images

Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship

By Randall MellJuly 15, 2018, 11:26 pm

Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.

The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.

The week was more than nostalgic. 

It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.

In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.

“I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”

Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.

“It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”

Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.

Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open

The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.

“It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”

Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.

“Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”

She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.

“Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.

At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.

With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.

This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.

“A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”

Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.

“It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.

In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.

Getty Images

Suwannapura beats Lincicome in playoff for first win

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2018, 10:49 pm

SYLVANIA, Ohio - Thidapa Suwannapura's main focus going into the Marathon Classic was trying to put together four solid rounds that would help her keep her LPGA card.

She doesn't have to worry about that any longer.

Suwannapura picked up her first win on Sunday, closing with a 6-under 65 and birdieing the first playoff hole to defeat Brittany Lincicome at Highland Meadows.

In the playoff, Suwannapura converted a short birdie putt after Lincicome hit her second shot into a water hazard and scrambled for par.

''I never expect it was going to be today at all. I've just been struggling the whole year,'' said Suwannapura, whose previous best finish was seventh at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship. ''Finally all my work I've been doing has come out and shown up today. After I knocked that last putt in, it just felt like a dream come true.''

With the win, the 25-year-old Thai player has an exemption through the 2020 season. She is also the sixth first-time winner on tour this year

Suwannapura picked up three strokes over her final two holes, making eagle on the par-5 17th and closing with a birdie on the par-5 18th to finish at 14-under 270. She then had to wait for the final seven groups to finish.

''I did not think or expect that 14 would be good enough, because I know there were two par 5s coming in on 17 and 18, and it's a good opportunity for players to make birdie,'' Suwannapura said. ''I was just chilling in the clubhouse, you know, being silly and stuff, trying to relax, and see what they're doing. Now, like, 'Oh, I have to go warm up and try to win the tournament.'''

Full-field scores from the Marathon Classic

Lincicome shot 67. She had a chance to win in regulation, but her birdie putt from about 10 feet did a nearly 360-degree turn around the edge of the cup and stayed out.

Despite having eight career victories, including this season's opener in the Bahamas, the 32-year-old Lincicome said she was extremely nervous standing over that putt.

''I was shaking so bad. I had to take so many deep breaths. So it's kind of cool to have those nerves, but learning how to play through them after 12 years of being a pro ... 14 years of being a pro, I still haven't figured it out, so that's a little disappointing,'' she said. ''(The putt) caught a lot of the hole, so I feel like I hit a pretty good putt for how nervous I was. I really haven't seen one that aggressive in a long time, so that was just unfortunate, really.''

Next up for the big-hitting Lincicome: a start against the men at the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship in Kentucky. She will become the first woman since 2004 to play in a PGA Tour event.

Third-round leader Brooke Henderson led by two shots after six holes, but struggled the rest of the way. Back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes dropped her out of the lead. The 20-year-old Canadian finished with a 2-under 69, one shot out of the playoff.

''Sometimes golf is weird. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way, and that was kind of me the last four holes,'' said Henderson, who lost for only the second time in six occasions she has led after 54 holes.

Besides the tour exemption, Suwannapura's win came with another bonus. She was one of five players to earn a spot in the Women's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

The top five players not already exempt earned spots. The other qualifiers were Daniela Darquea, Celine Herbin, Mina Harigae and Mel Reid.