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Keys to Tiger's return (including cutting him some slack)

By Phil BlackmarOctober 24, 2017, 3:22 pm

Like a forecasted volcanic eruption where every seismic tremor is analyzed to try and narrow down the actual eruption, Tiger tremors emanating from posted swing videos are now careening off the internet with a fury only a possible return can generate.

Next comes swing breakdowns ad nauseam where “experts” weigh in to tell us why his swing will not hold up and his back will blow out again. Arguments will erupt on Twitter and potentially on television because of energy created by the frenzy. It’s safe to say 99.9 percent of the golf world wants Tiger Woods to return, not just to play again, but to satisfy our unquenchable thirst to get another glimpse of his greatness. 

What will be the keys to his success should he return? The debate will include his swing, the supposed short game yips, his putting and many will wonder if his failing body can withstand the rigors of practice and competition. While these are all valid considerations, is there more that will determine his success if he is physically able to return?

It’s going to begin with whether he can find a one-way miss. People can argue mechanics until the end of time, but there is a reason most swings in the top 50 in the world rankings don’t fit the perfect mold; there is no mold. Since many consider Ben Hogan the most consistent ball striker of all time, let’s understand what he did. He bent his clubs flat, put a reminder in the grips to keep his grip weak, used stiff shafts and the faces on this clubs sat open.

Why? Because he didn’t want the ball to go left and he wanted a one-way miss. To borrow a phrase from Paul Azinger: “If you know you're not going to miss left, why would you ever miss right?”

The value of FEELING like you will not lose the ball one direction allows for swinging freely and with conviction even if lacking confidence. A one-way miss is a vehicle that can overcome fear and anxiety. There is only one person who knows what he needs to feel for a one-way miss and that’s Tiger. So, break it down all you want but know that no one person can feel for another. 

Next is attitude. No, attitude is not positive-ness. The right attitude, when it comes to competing at Tiger’s level is: optimistic, opportunistic, enthusiastic, strong, resilient, unwavering, fearless, accepting, patient and has a certain look in the eyes accompanied by a certain body language. Many of these attributes require reps to work and find them. It’s an attitude earned that, no matter Tiger’s greatness, cannot be assumed to come back. It will take him time, so cut him some slack. 

Tiger’s greatness was not born merely of being the best and longest ball striker. Tiger had an unworldly grasp on the nuances of trajectory control, distance control, combining modern golf with old-school shots, flighted wedges, impeccable touch and incredible pressure putting. Nuances made Tiger great. Nuances are not found in mechanics; nuances are found in practice with a willingness to look for them. Like the one-way miss, no one can feel what these nuanced shots feel like to Tiger. For this reason, it’s imperative that he takes an approach to coming back that is not founded just in his swing, but allows the freedom for experimentation with these hidden aspects of the game so that he can uncover and master them again. No teacher can do this work for him; this is a journey only Tiger can take.

Then, of course, there is the mind. In his prime, Tiger intentionally created a persona that instilled, at the very least, apprehension, and at full throttle, fear in his fellow competitors. These young guys like Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, along with a cast of others, have won a lot of tournaments in Tiger’s absence and their top-dog servomechanism is off the charts.

It is highly unlikely that Tiger will enjoy this same fearful respect he earned earlier in his career and that puts more pressure on his mental game than he’s ever felt. In his prime, he spoke of using meditation to develop his mental approach. Surely, there are also other mental secrets his father shared or taught Tiger along the way. Whatever processes Tiger may have used in the past to develop his persona, belief and overall mental game, it’s imperative he dedicates himself to these once again if he is to succeed at a level of which he will be proud.

Then there is his legacy, the final aspect of this saga. Already tarnished with injury and off-course struggles, Tiger’s legacy is at further risk if he comes back. He has recently shown an interest in helping the U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams to victory as well as establishing closer bonds with players than he did earlier in his career. Such acts and involvement help to return some of the lost luster. But if he goes out to play, he subjects his legacy to more fallout if he fails. Although we didn’t think so at one time, Tiger is human and at the mercy of many of the same feelings you and I endure. Early in his career, he mastered defeating those feelings. However, with absence of competition and Father Time chasing him down, winning those battles will be tough, even for Tiger. 

Fans want him back. Players want him back. If he decides to put it all on the line, how about we cut him some slack by understanding it’s a process that will take time and will not happen overnight? No matter what you may think, he’s earned that right.

For more from Phil Blackmar's blog, click here.

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Snedeker leads by one heading into final round

By Associated PressAugust 19, 2018, 3:26 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Brandt Snedeker took a one-stroke lead into the final round of the weather-delayed Wyndham Championship after finishing the third round Sunday with a 2-under 68.

Snedeker was at 16-under 194 through three rounds of the final PGA Tour event of the regular season. Brian Gay and David Hearn were at 15 under, with Gay shooting a 62 and Hearn a 64.

Thirty players were on the course Saturday when play was suspended because of severe weather. After a delay of 3 hours, 23 minutes, organizers chose to hold things up until Sunday morning.

Snedeker, who shot an opening-round 59 to become just the 10th tour player to break 60, is chasing his first victory since 2016 and his second career win at this tournament.

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Olesen edges past Poulter in Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayAugust 19, 2018, 3:10 pm

With only two weeks left in the qualification window, Thorbjorn Olesen is now in position to make his Ryder Cup debut.

Olesen finished alone in fourth place at the Nordea Masters, two shots out of a playoff between Thomas Aiken and eventual winner Paul Waring. Olesen carded four straight sub-70 rounds in Sweden, including a final-round 67 that featured three birdies over his final seven holes.

It's a tight race for the fourth and final Ryder Cup spot via the World Points list, and Olesen's showing this week will allow him to move past Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, both of whom didn't play this week, into the No. 4 slot. Olesen is now also less than 40,000 Euros behind Tommy Fleetwood to qualify via the European Points list.

The top four players from both lists on Sept. 2 will qualify for next month's matches, with captain Thomas Bjorn rounding out the roster with four selections on Sept. 4. Poulter and Casey will both have a chance to move back in front next week at The Northern Trust, while the final qualifying week will include the PGA Tour event at TPC Boston and Olesen headlining the field in his homeland at the Made in Denmark.

Even if Olesen fails to qualify automatically for Paris, the 28-year-old continues to bolster his credentials for a possible pick from his countryman, Bjorn. Olesen won the Italian Open in June, finished second at the BMW International Open three weeks later and has now compiled four top-12 finishes over his last five worldwide starts including a T-3 result at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational earlier this month.

In addition to the players who fail to qualify from the Olesen-Poulter-Casey trio, other candidates for Bjorn's quartet of picks will likely include major champions Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.

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Thompson bounces back from rule violation

By Randall MellAugust 19, 2018, 2:22 am

If Lexi Thompson’s trouble in the sixth fairway brought back any painful memories Saturday at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, she shook them off in a hurry.

If the approach of another rules official amid a spirited run of brilliant play rattled her, she didn’t show it.

Thompson posted an 8-under-par 64 in the third round despite another awkward rules infraction.

Her round was impressively bogey free but not mistake free, and so her work will be a little harder Sunday chasing Lizette Salas.

After incurring a one-shot penalty for violating a local rule in effect for preferred lies, Thompson will start the final round five shots back instead of four.

She knows she’s fortunate she isn’t six back.

If a rules official hadn’t witnessed Thompson in the middle of committing the infraction, she could have been assessed an additional penalty shot for playing from the wrong spot.

Thompson got the penalty after stepping on the 10th tee and blowing her drive right, into the sixth fairway. She got it after picking up her ball over there and lifting, cleaning and placing it. She got it because she wasn’t allowed to do that in any other fairway except for the fairway of the hole she was playing.

The preferred-lie rule was distributed to players earlier in the week.

The story here isn’t really the penalty.

Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship

It’s Thompson’s reaction to it, because she opened this week in such heartfelt fashion. After skipping the Ricoh Women’s British Open to take a month-long “mental break,” Thompson revealed this week that she has been struggling emotionally in the wake of last year’s highs and lows. She opened up about how trying to “hide” her pain and show strength through it all finally became too much to bear. She needed a break. She also candidly shared how the challenges of being a prodigy who has poured herself into the game have led her to seek therapists’ help in building a life about more than golf.

That’s a lot for a 23-year-old to unload publicly.

Last year may have been the best and the worst of Thompson’s career. She said dealing with that controversial four-shot penalty that cost her the ANA Inspiration title, watching her mother battle cancer and losing a grandmother were cumulatively more difficult to deal with than she ever let on. There was also that short missed putt at year’s end that could have vaulted her to Rolex world No. 1 for the first time and led to her winning the Rolex Player of the Year title. She still won twice, won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and was the Golf Writers Association of America Player of the Year.

That’s a lot of peaks and valleys for a young soul.

That’s the kind of year that can make you feel like an old soul in a hurry.

So seeing a rules official approach her on Saturday, you wondered about Thompson gathering herself so quickly. You wondered what she was thinking stepping up and ripping her next shot 215 majestic yards, about her hitting the green and saving par. You wondered about how she  bounced back to birdie 13 and 14 and finish bogey free.

With this week’s soul bearing, you wondered a lot about what rebounding like that meant to her.

We’re left to wonder from afar, though, because she wasn’t asked any of those questions by local reporters afterward. The transcript showed three brief answers to three short questions, none about the penalty or the challenge she met.

Of course, there were other questions to be asked, because local rules have been an issue this year. Did she read the local notes with the preferred lies explanation? She got hit with another local rules issue in Thailand this year, when she hit her ball near an advertising sign and moved the sign, not realizing a local rule made the sign a temporary immovable obstruction.

Of course, there were other good stories in Indy, too, with Sung Hyun Park poised to overtake Ariya Jutanugarn and return to Rolex world No. 1, with Salas holding off Park so brilliantly down the stretch Saturday.

Thompson, though, is the highest ranked American in the world. She’s the face of American women’s golf now. A face more tender, resolute and vulnerable than we have ever seen it.

Folks along the ropes watching her on the back nine in Indy Saturday got to see that better than any of us.

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Salas capitalizes on Park gaffe to take Indy lead

By Associated PressAugust 19, 2018, 2:07 am

INDIANAPOLIS – Lizette Salas waited patiently for Sung Hyun Park to make a rare mistake Saturday.

When the South Korean mishit her approach shot into the water on the par-4 16th, Salas capitalized quickly.

She rolled in her birdie putt then watched Park make double bogey – a three-shot swing that gave Salas the lead and the momentum heading into the final round of the Indy Women in Tech Championship. Salas closed out her 8-under 64 with a birdie on No. 18 to reach 21 under – two shots ahead of Park and Amy Yang.

“I have been striking the ball really well, and I just had to stay patient,” Salas said. “And yeah, putts dropped for sure. I just really felt comfortable.”

If she keeps it up one more day, Salas could be celebrating her first tour win since the 2014 Kingsmill Championship and her second overall. With five of the next six players on the leader board ranked in the world’s top 30, Salas knows it won’t be easy.

The changing weather conditions weather might not help, either. If the forecast for mostly sunny conditions Sunday holds, the soft greens that have kept scores at near record-lows through the first three rounds could suddenly become quicker and less forgiving.

But the 29-year-old Californian seems to have the perfect touch for this course, which weaves around and inside the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

She shot three sub-par rounds and finished tied for fifth last year here. This year, she has three more sub-par rounds including a course record-tying 62 on Thursday and has been atop the leader board each of the first three days.

“I have been so confident the whole year,” Salas said. “I have a different mentality, I’m a different player. So I’m just going to go out and play as if I’m behind.”

Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship

Salas’ toughest challenge still could from Park, who spent most of Saturday flirting with a 54-hole scoring record.

She birdied the last four holes on the front side and made back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to reach 21 under with a chance to become the sixth LPGA player to ever finish three rounds at 23 under.

The miscue at No. 16 changed everything.

She never really recovered after dropping two shots, settling for par on the final two holes for a 66 after shooting 68 and 63 the first two days. Yang finished with a 65 after going 68 and 64.

“I was a little weary with right-to-left wind,” Park said. “I think a little bit of weariness got to me, but overall, it’s OK.”

Defending champion Lexi Thompson was five shots back after completing the final nine of the second round in 2 under 34 and shooting 64 in the afternoon.

She made up ground despite being assessed a one-stroke penalty after hitting her tee shot on No. 10 into the sixth fairway and lifting the ball without authority. Rules officials had implemented the preferred lies rule because more than an inch of rain had doused the course.

Thompson still made her par on the hole though it temporarily broke her momentum after making six birdies on the front nine in her first appearance since taking a monthlong break to recover from physical and mental exhaustion.

“Twenty-seven holes, I definitely had a few tired swings toward the end,” said Thompson, who finished each of the first two rounds with 68s. “But overall, a lot of positives. I hit it great. I made some really good putts.”

Three players – Nasa Hataoka of Japan, Jin Young Ko of South Korea and Mina Harigae – were tied at 15 under. Ko started the third round with a share of the lead but had three bogeys in a round of 70.

Now, all Salas has to do is cash in one more time.

“I’ve been knocking on the door quite a bit in the last four years, haven’t been able to get it done,” Salas said. “I’ve got good players behind me, I’ve just got to play my game.”