Demoralizer to Demoralizing

By Randall MellJune 14, 2010, 10:39 pm
2010 U.S. OpenTiger Woods did more than win in a 15-shot romp at Pebble Beach the last time the U.S. Open was played there a decade ago.

He demoralized a generation of players.

Paul Azinger said he felt sorry for the young players entering the game with Woods because they would never know what it’s like to have a chance to be No. 1.

“He’s probably the most dominant athlete in the history of sports,” Azinger said at the time.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' 2000 U.S. Open romp was the first of four consecutive major victories. (Getty Images)
Woods did more than beat up his competition at Pebble Beach. He beat them down. He began knocking the confidence out of one challenger after another in the unprecedented run of four consecutive major championship triumphs Woods started that week.

With the U.S. Open returning to Pebble Beach this week, the buzz around Woods is considerable again, this time over the demoralizing effect a sex scandal is having on the state of Woods’ game and life. The story today is the lack of confidence Woods may be experiencing, and the confidence his competition is gaining.

It’s possible, for the first time in 262 consecutive weeks, that Woods could leave Pebble Beach without his No. 1 ranking.

Phil Mickelson doesn’t even have to win to take the top spot from Woods. He can do it with a tie for third if Woods misses the cut this week.

Oddsmakers haven’t shown this little confidence in Woods in 13 years.

For the first time since Woods won the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, there are oddsmakers who don’t have Woods listed as the favorite in a major he's playing.

Skybet makes Phil Mickelson this week’s favorite at 7-to-1 with Woods at 7½-to-1. Bookmakers Betfred and Coral also make Mickelson their favorites. Ladbrokes makes Woods and Mickelson co-favorites at 8-to-1, the highest odds on Woods in 13 years.

It’s enough to make today’s players want to pull aside all these twentysomethings on the rise this season to make sure they understand the historic turn of events. Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler (not in this week's field) and Ryo Ishikawa are enjoying a window, perhaps just temporary, where they can grow up without having to deal with the kind of scars the generation before them dealt with.

At Pebble Beach in 2000, Woods did more than run up the score. He became the biggest, baddest bully golf’s ever seen. He took something more valuable than lunch money. He robbed men of confidence and the respect of much of the golfing public.

“He’s the best in the game, by a long shot,” Ernie Els said after finishing a distant second at Pebble Beach. “It seems like we’re not even in the same ballpark.”

If those record victory margins in majors weren’t discouraging enough, Woods’ competition endured being buried beneath the mountain of praise that legends of the game were heaping on Woods.

“He’s supernatural,” Tom Watson said before Woods won the PGA Championship at Valhalla in the same summer as his Pebble Beach romp. “One day I’m going to tell my grandchildren that I played in the same tournament as Tiger Woods.”

After Jack Nicklaus questioned the failed challenges a generation was mounting against Woods, Lee Trevino defended Woods' competition. In doing so, though, Trevino managed to enlarge the giant shadow Woods cast over his peers.

“Tiger would have kicked the hell out of us, too,” Trevino said of his generation. “This guy is the most amazing athlete in any sport, ever. Jack might have put a dent in his fender here and there, but I wouldn’t have beaten him.”

Al Besselink, a six-time PGA Tour winner who played with Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, said his generation couldn’t have competed with Woods, either.

“Ben Hogan had to have the smartest brain in golf,” Besselink said. “Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, they're great, great players, and I'm not knocking any of them, but if you put them all in a horse race with Tiger Woods, Tiger would beat them by eight lengths.”

Three-time major championship winner Nick Price saw the impact all of this was having on young careers.

“I feel sorry for the young guys,” Price said. “Basically, I’ve had my day. The young guys are taking a pounding from this guy. I don’t know how to describe it.”

There is no player in his 20s today who holds a major championship trophy, but the opportunity’s there this week that wouldn’t have been there a decade ago.

McIlroy, Ishikawa, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwarztel and Alvara Quiros are among the youngest challengers hoping to break through.

Pre-scandal, the golfing public wouldn’t have given a young pro any chance against Woods at Pebble Beach.

At his best, Woods did everything but knock the hope out of youthful challengers.

Luke Donald dared to wear red in his final pairing with Woods in the last round of the PGA Championship at Medinah in 2006. It felt like a challenge with Woods claiming red as his power color on Sundays. Tied with Donald when Sunday opened, Woods birdied the first hole to take the lead and never looked back. He shot 68. Donald didn’t make a birdie all day and shot 74.

Back in Great Britain, somebody cruelly dubbed unfulfilled potential as “Luke Donald’s Disease.” Maybe it should have been called “Tiger Woods' disease.” Who knows what damage Woods really caused in the development of young potential.

Aaron Baddeley was putting together his best major championship effort at the U.S. Open at Oakmont three years ago when he was paired with Woods in the final twosome off in the final round. Baddeley triple-bogeyed the first hole and went on to shoot 80. Woods didn’t win, but he left his mark on Baddeley.

Who will ever forget Matt Gogel’s reaction when Tiger Woods came from seven shots back with seven holes to go to beat him at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2000? Gogel didn’t know what hit him. It wasn’t a major, but the loss didn’t just affect Gogel. It reverberated through golf.

Sergio Garcia was 19 when he mounted that bold challenge to Woods at the PGA Championship at Medinah in '99. Garcia hasn’t only failed to win a major. In the 41 majors he’s played as a pro with Woods in the field, he’s finished ahead of Woods just five times, four them at the British Open.

Anthony Kim, 24, who won’t play this week while recovering from a thumb injury, is developing well with three PGA Tour victories, but in the first 24 events he played with Woods in the field he never finished higher than Woods. He didn’t top Woods until he finished third at this year’s Masters, a spot ahead of Woods.

Before the scandal, when Woods’ name hit a leaderboard, it impacted every player on that board.

“He’s a freak of nature, worlds apart from the rest of us in every way,” Michael Campbell said back when Woods ran away at Pebble Beach.

When Woods tees it up this week, all those players with scars inflicted by Woods will be checking to see if the bully shows any signs of stirring.

All those players who got whipped by Woods at Pebble Beach a decade ago will probably tell you they're glad Woods is back playing, but they hope the bully’s gone forever.
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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

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

Each week, 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 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.