I Miss You Man

By John HawkinsJuly 7, 2010, 5:53 am
I’m beginning to miss Tiger Woods more than I care to admit – the guy who finished 14 strokes out of first place in Philly last week had to be an impostor. The Dude in the Red Shirt, whoever he is, currently sits 74th on the money list. Not only is he winless in 2010, Woods really hasn’t worked himself into the thick of final-nine contention. Those T-4s at the Masters and U.S. Open are a bit misleading. Tiger was on the outside looking in as Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell claimed the year’s first two major titles.
 
Six starts, 21 rounds – Woods has been keen to remind us how little competitive golf he has played this year, which sounds like a lot like another one of those personal problems. Normally, he would have appeared in 10 events at this point in the season, but if Eldrick Almighty has made a rather nice career out of a limited PGA Tour schedule, he hasn’t done a thing in ’10 to make up for the four tournaments he lost in the first three months.
 
The guy flies to Ireland to participate in some celebrity pro-am, then jets home for a few days before returning for the British Open? I’ve never been one to question Woods’ major-championship preparation, but you’d think going back and forth would set him back in terms of the acclimation process. He’s such a terrific golfer that he can finish in the top five at the majors without his best stuff, especially when the winning score ends up close to par. But nothing he has done since his return can substantiate his 7-to-2 odds as the favorite at St. Andrews.
 
You can point to the eight-stroke romp on the Old Course in 2000, Woods first claret jug, and the follow-up triumph on the same venue in 2005. In both instances, however, Tiger was at the top of his game. He’s nowhere close to that level now. More than two years have passed since his last major title, making this the third such stretch in his 14 years as a pro, which makes this a good time to examine the two prior droughts: when and why they happened, and what Woods did to end them.
 
1998: Less than three months after his historic, 12-stroke Masters victory in ’97, Young Tiger picked up his fourth win of the year at the Western Open. His first full season on the Tour could not have been proceeding more smoothly, but just like that, Woods stopped hoisting trophies. He managed just one top-five finish in his final eight tournaments in ’97, then won just once in 20 starts in ’98. The first of his seven career wins at Torrey Pines got him back on track in early ’99, but it wasn’t until the second half of the year that Woods reached a level of dominance that would make him one of the greatest players ever.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods celebrates at the 2008 U.S. Open (Getty Images)
Among the dozens of statistics that help define his extraordinary accomplishments, Woods’ 10-1 playoff record is largely overlooked. That lone loss occurred at the 1998 Los Angeles Open, which was played at Valencia CC because Riviera’s greens were being rebuilt. In falling to Billy Mayfair on the first extra hole, Tiger debuted the wild, spin-out driver swing we’ve seen so often in recent years. To this day, my Golf Channel colleague Tim Rosaforte and I refer to Tiger’s reckless thrashing off the tee as his “Valencia swing.”
 
Early ’98, however, was a period of mechanical reconstruction for Woods. If his weak second half in ’97 was the result of rookie-season burnout, which Tiger has cited on numerous occasions, his woes the following year can be attributed to his adjusting to a shorter, more controlled backswing. Butch Harmon, Woods’ coach at the time, was steadfast in his belief that Tiger would not dominate consistently until he eliminated the excess action at the top, which often led to his “getting stuck” en route to the ball.
 
It took a while, but Woods obviously began to master the tighter move in 2000, when he won nine times in 20 starts, claimed three majors and finished the year with 47 consecutive rounds of par or better. If many regard Tiger’s 2000 as the greatest year in golf history, there is no question in my mind that three key occurrences in ’99 precipitated this unparalleled stretch of brilliance.
 
In late March, Tiger was unseated atop the World Ranking by David Duval, who finally reached No. 1 after winning the Players Championship. For a man who can find motivation in things no one else notices, this served as a five-alarm wakeup call. Woods needed to get better, and he needed to get better in a hurry.
 
In August, Tiger was taken to the wire at the PGA Championship by Sergio Garcia, the dashing Spanish teenager whose exuberance and shotmaking skill had quickly christened him as Woods’ competitive equal. Tiger would hold off Garcia to win his first major since the ’97 Masters, ending a 2 1/2-year famine, but again, there was a ton of incentive to be gleaned off the emergence of a player seemingly as talented as Woods – and four years younger.
 

John Hawkins appears on Golf Central every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and on the Grey Goose 19th Hole every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

About a month later, Tiger was part of the U.S. Ryder Cup team that rallied from four points down to beat Europe with a stunning rally in the Sunday singles. If nothing else, the experience wiped out the lousy memories of his inaugural Ryder Cup in 1997 and alerted Tiger to the precept that golf should be fun, that other Tour pros weren’t out to get him, that playing for your country (and winning) can be close to as satisfying as winning a stroke-play event by yourself.
 
2004: The second gap in the Woods Dynasty was far more scrutinized than the first, largely because Tiger had left Harmon in mid-2002 and operated without a swing coach for the better part of two years. The coachless stretch neatly coincides with the period of almost three years between Woods’ seventh and eighth major titles. Although 2003 was hardly a bust – five victories, a 68.41 scoring average – Woods’ only top 10 at a major came at the British Open, where he finished T-4.
 
At the Bay Hill Invitational in March ’04, Woods was seen working for the first time publicly with swing coach Hank Haney. This would lead to a pronounced transition in his swing, and predictably, the results, at least initially, were not what we had come to expect. Tiger’s only victory that year was at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. He didn’t threaten at any of the majors, a T-9 at the British was his best showing. When Vijay Singh stared him down that September in Boston, defeating Woods in a head-to-head Labor Day matchup, he had surrendered the top spot in the World Ranking once again.
 
It was the year of Butch vs. Hank, and many people, including some fellow Tour pros, wondered aloud why Tiger would attempt to grasp the theories of Haney when his work with Harmon had produced such a productive blend of power and control. While Sir Eldrick struggled to replicate the Haney’s “perfect plane” concept, however, he was also courting the woman he would marry that October. To say that Woods spent much of ’04 in a state of highly distracted bliss would not be a reach. Winning golf tournaments was what he did for a living, but for the first time ever, there was actually more to life than cashing a first-place check.
 
2010: Here we are, six years later, and the marriage is over. Woods appears agitated and short-tempered, his body language reflective of a man who would rather be somewhere else. Golf has given him everything, but much of that has been lost by virtue of his own selfish behavior, and a guy who has glided through life on a 30-year run of success now finds himself waking up every morning to a giant pile of personal issues. Maybe Tiger will win the British Open. Maybe he’ll break out of his funk with one of those stretches where he wins five times in six starts and leaves all his would-be rivals stranded in a cloud of late-summer dust.
 
Maybe, or maybe not. Until Phil Mickelson takes over the No. 1 position in the World Ranking, until the man still clinging to the top spot finally comes to terms with himself and the behavior that caused this entire mess, until the best golfer of this generation enlists the services of a swing coach who will offer advice and gentle suggestion, not instruction, Tiger Woods will continue to struggle. Sometimes, you can find the future hiding in the not-so-distant past.
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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the Nelson's future ...

If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray


On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta


On golf and gambling ...

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Web.com Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.