Remembering Tiger, forgetting Donald

By Randall MellOctober 4, 2011, 2:44 pm

Setting the agenda for the week ahead with five questions for the men’s and women’s games ...

Can Tiger Woods finally find his winning form?

Listen to folks inside Isleworth, where Woods has played more than anywhere else the last two years, and you would suspect he never really lost his edge.

Inside the cozy confines of the posh development’s walls, at least, he could still play like the Tiger of old.

Listen to John Cook and Arjun Atwal talk about their practice rounds with Woods there over the last couple years, and you hear evidence Woods still has what it takes to win majors. They’ve seen the old Tiger we haven’t since the infamous crash. They’ve seen the old shot making and the old confidence at work. They’ve seen it’s all still in him.

And yet Woods’ inability to find his form outside the walls of his former home of Isleworth merely reinforced the belief that his biggest problems were still in his head, not in his swing. For whatever reason, he couldn’t take his best outside Isleworth.

So what are we to make of news that Woods shot a course-record 62 at The Medalist last week near his new Jupiter Island home in South Florida? Is his comfort zone beginning to extend into the larger golf world? Or is this more of the same? Has Woods’ simply found a new safe haven to play the game the way he used to play it?

Woods hasn’t found his winning form on his favorite PGA Tour venues since his game went sideways, and so maybe new venues are just what he needs.

Woods will make his first appearance at the Open and CordeValle Golf Club this week against what may be the weakest PGA Tour field he’s faced since playing the Quad Cities Classic as a rookie in ’96. Just three players among the top 50 in the world rankings are playing this week, and Woods isn’t among them. No. 20 Paul Casey, No. 45 Ernie Els and No. 49 Louis Oosthuizen are the highest ranked players in attendance, but at No. 51 Woods is the headliner as he seeks to find some form before heading off to the Presidents Cup next month.

Does Luke Donald get the respect he deserves as the world’s No. 1?

Donald returns to the Madrid Masters looking to build on his quest to win this year’s money titles on both the European Tour and PGA Tour.

Though Woods would have won the money titles on both tours six times in the same season had he been a European Tour member, Donald’s seeking to become the first to officially do so. Donald is the defending champ in Madrid, where he started his run to the top of the world rankings.

Donald can build on a comfortable lead in the Race to Dubai with another title this week, but he’ll be holding his breath to win the PGA Tour money title with Webb Simpson just $68,971 behind him and Simpson looking as if he’ll make another Fall Series start to try to capture the lead. Donald said last week he’ll be tempted to make another PGA Tour start if Simpson does.

Donald, you sense, wants the money titles as more evidence he’s worthy of the world’s No. 1 ranking.

“I don't know how anyone can argue against the world rankings system,' Donald told BBC Sport at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last week. “I've played better than anyone else over a two-year period, and no one has been as consistent as I have. I've beaten the top players week in week out, and, other than maybe one or two guys, I've earned double the amount of points than most players. Obviously, it has been a great year, and I'm not only at the top of the world, I'm increasing my lead as well.'

Without a major championship, Donald will likely continue to feel as if he’s not getting his full due.

“Yes, there are a few times where I feel a little bit forgotten, but I'll keep pressing on and let my clubs do the talking,' he said.

Will we see a Solheim Cup bounce or hangover this week?

Suzann Pettersen will make her first tournament appearance this week since helping the Europeans win the Solheim Cup in Ireland with her dynamic singles victory.

A hole down to Michelle Wie with three to play, Pettersen turned around her match with a three-birdie finish to defeat Wie and give the Euros a vital point in their victory two weeks ago.

Pettersen is among eight European Solheim Cup team members who will tee it up Friday at the LPGA Hana Bank Championship in the start of the tour’s fall Asian swing. She’s among the contingent looking to use that team victory as fuel for a strong finish this season. Eleven of the 12 Americans in the Solheim Cup will be looking for some healing salve in South Korea this week.

What kind of fuel did Ryann O’Toole get at the Solheim Cup?

O’Toole, the highly scrutinized rookie American, was terrific in her Solheim Cup debut, surpassing expectations with a 2-0-2 record, and yet she left in tears in a difficult finish.

It was almost cruel that the competition came down to O’Toole, who was 2 up with two holes to play in Sunday singles and ended up halving with Caroline Hedwall after getting in trouble behind the 18th green.

What will O’Toole take away from Killeen Castle? The confidence gained going undefeated on such a pressure-packed stage? Or the disappointment of failing to close out Hedwall to secure the American victory? We’ll get a better sense of that with O’Toole playing the LPGA Hana Bank this week.

O’Toole and teen phenom Lexi Thompson should be two of the most compelling LPGA stories heading into 2012.

Healing or hurting? What’s ahead this week for Cristie Kerr?

Less than two weeks after leaving Ireland in tears, Kerr is trying to rebound from a wrist injury in South Korea.

Kerr, unable to play her Sunday singles match because of tendinitis in her right wrist, conceded a vital point to Karen Stupples in the anchor match with the Americans losing the Solheim Cup in a tight finish.

U.S. captain Rosie Jones and assistant captains Sherri Steinhauer and Juli Inkster closely monitored Kerr, who played four matches in two days before being overcome with pain on the driving range before her scheduled singles match.

“Sunday was a very traumatic day for me,” Kerr said in her interview with media at the LPGA Hana Bank on Tuesday. “Very disappointing not only that we lost but that I couldn’t play. I know mentally for the team not having me out there playing was hard. It was just not a good situation all around …

“It’s not anybody’s fault that it happened this way. It’s not Rosie’s fault or Sherri’s or Juli’s or even my fault. It’s nobody’s fault. With my husband’s medical background and seeing the physios and the doctors, it could have flared up on Sunday like that having only played one match a day. So you just don’t know.”

Kerr said she hit balls for the first time since the Solheim Cup on Tuesday. She said she hit just 30 balls but was pain free. She’s been in a protective splint for nine days while being treated with anti-inflammatory medication and therapy.

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Miller's biggest on-air regret: Leonard at Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:00 am

Johnny Miller made a broadcasting career out of being brutally honest, calling golf tournaments exactly like he saw them.

His unfiltered style is what kept him on the air for nearly 30 years, but it wasn't always the most popular with players.

After announcing his upcoming retirement, Miller was asked Tuesday if there were any on-air comments he regretted over the last three decades. One immediately came to mind.

"I think that I didn't say the right words about Justin Leonard at Miracle at Brookline about he should be home watching it on TV. I meant really - I did say he should be home, but I meant the motel room. Even then I probably shouldn't have said that," Miller recalled. "I want so much for the outcome that I'm hoping for that I actually get overwhelmed with what I want to see. Almost the kind of things you would say to your buddies if you were watching it on TV, you know? He just couldn't win a match."

After struggling on Friday and Saturday in team play, Leonard ended up the U.S. hero after halving his Sunday singles match with José María Olazábal by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole - one of the most famous shots in Ryder Cup history.

"Of course he ended up - after the crappy comment I made that motivated maybe the team supposedly in the locker room, and he ends up making that 45-, 50- foot putt to seal the deal," Miller said. "Almost like a Hollywood movie or something."

Not only did the putt seal the comeback for the U.S., but it also earned Leonard an apology from Miller. 

"I apologized to him literally the next day; I happened to see him. I tried to make a policy when I go over the line that I get ahold of the guy within 24 hours and tell him I made a double bogey, you know. That's just the way I have done it through the years."

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Love him or not, Miller's authentic style stood out

By Doug FergusonOctober 16, 2018, 10:11 pm

The comment was vintage Johnny Miller, raw enough to cause most television producers to wince.

Miller was in the NBC Sports booth at Doral in 2004 when he watched Craig Parry hit another beautiful shot to the green. Miller said what he saw. That was his job.

He just didn't say it like other golf analysts.

''The last time you see that swing is in a pro-am with a guy who's about a 15-handicap,'' Miller said. ''It's just over the top, cups it at the bottom and hits it unbelievably good. It doesn't look ... if Ben Hogan saw that, he'd puke.''

Parry got the last word, of course, holing out a 6-iron from 176 yards in a playoff to win.

Except that wasn't the last word.

''I was in Ponte Vedra going back to the Honda Classic, and my phone is blowing up,'' said Tommy Roy, the longtime golf producer at NBC. ''It started percolating down in Australia, and you had radio stations demanding Johnny Miller be fired.''

Miller could make golf more fun to hear than to watch.

''He doesn't have a filter. That's why he's so good,'' Roy said. ''What he's thinking comes out. And 99.5 percent of the time, that was a great thing for viewers, and for me. And 0.5 percent of the time, it was a problem for our PR department and for me.

''And it was worth it.''

Roy was in Wisconsin on Monday night for his first look at Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup. It will be the first Ryder Cup since 1989 that doesn't have Miller in the booth weighing in on good shots and bad with thoughts that immediately become words.

He often entertained. He occasionally irritated. He was rarely dull.

Miller is retiring after three decades calling the shots for NBC. His last tournament will be the Phoenix Open, the perfect exit for a Hall of Fame player once known as the ''Desert Fox'' for winning six times in Arizona. Miller was so good for so long that it was easy for younger generations to forget about that other career he had.

Miller to retire from broadcast booth in 2019

Best of: Photos of Miller through the years

And to think that was nearly his only career in golf.

Miller said he wasn't interested when NBC first approached him, but then his wife stepped in and told him it would be nice to have a steady paycheck. Even then, it took time for him to realize his audience was in the living room, not the locker room.

He made his debut at the Bob Hope Classic in 1990 and it didn't take long for him to leave his mark. Peter Jacobsen faced an awkward lie to the 18th green with water to the left.

''The easiest shot to choke on,'' Miller said.

People thought about choking. Miller said it because that's what he was thinking.

''What came into his brain came out of his mouth,'' said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports. ''He was the first to really talk about the pressure. It's the most important element of the game, especially in those really big moments. He was doing it at a time when others weren't.''

It wasn't just the word ''choke.''

Phil Mickelson was getting up-and-down from everywhere at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Miller suggested that if Lefty weren't such a good putter he'd be selling cars in San Diego. Justin Leonard and Hal Sutton were losing a fourballs match at the 1999 Ryder Cup when Miller blurted out, ''My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television.''

During the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines that Tiger Woods won in 19 holes over Rocco Mediate, Miller suggested that guys named ''Rocco'' don't get their name on the trophy, and that Mediate looked like ''the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool.''

It wasn't all bad.

Roy, who also has produced NBA Finals and Olympics, said he wants analysts who first-guess, not second-guess. The latter is for talk radio. First-guessing means sharing instincts, and Miller had plenty of them.

Woods was playing the final hole at Newport in the 1995 U.S. Amateur when Miller said, ''It wouldn't surprise me if he knocked this thing a foot from the hole.''

And that's just what Woods did.

McCarley remembers how retired NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol used to worry whenever Miller called because he thought it was about retirement. McCarley soon inherited that feeling.

''Every time I'd see Johnny's number pop up on my cellphone, my heart would skip a beat,'' McCarley said. ''Two years ago, he made that call I had been dreading.''

McCarley kept him working a slightly reduced schedule, but no longer. Miller is 71 and has been on the road for 50 years. His 24th grandchild was born on Sunday. He wants to teach them fly fishing in Utah, perhaps even a little golf.

Miller wasn't sure he would last a week when he started. He never imagined going nearly 30 years.

He leaves behind a style all his own.

Most loved it. Some didn't. But everyone listened, and that might be his legacy in the broadcast booth. Roy said what he has heard from viewers he knows is that 70 percent really like Miller, and 30 percent really don't.

''But they all have an opinion,'' he said.

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CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."