Tiger, Rory and Jack

By Randall MellJune 20, 2011, 1:46 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Rory McIlroy did more than win the U.S. Open in spectacular fashion Sunday at Congressional Country Club. He threatened to change the nature of the question that’s captivated the sport for more than a decade.

You know the question: Will Tiger Woods break Jack Nicklaus’ record for major championship triumphs?

If Woods regains his health, if he regains his winning form, there’s a compelling new dimension to the challenge.

If Woods is going to bounce back and mount a run at Nicklaus’ record, the question becomes whether he can get through McIlroy to claim his life’s ambition.

That’s the intrigue that holds the most potential for captivating a new generation of golf fans. It’s the formula packed with the power to jolt another new wave of interest in the game.

If Woods, 35, finds his way back, the sport is electrified with the possibility he’s on a collision course with McIlroy, 22.

Yeah, there’s a lot of hoping in that possibility, a lot of fervent hope, because it depends on Woods finding his way back and on McIlroy building on the promise he mesmerized us with at Congressional. Neither is guaranteed, but you’ve got to like the probability that neither of these giant talents is done wowing us. And you’ve got to believe McIlroy and Woods want to measure themselves against each other in the way that heavyweight talents always do.

“It would be great,” McIlroy said. “I've watched Tiger over the last 15 years. When I was growing up, I always had putts to beat Tiger Woods in the Masters or U.S. Open. So it would be great to be able to get in contention one day, whether it be a major, or just a regular event, and go down the stretch with him, because I've never really had that experience before. Hopefully, he can get healthy and can get back playing good golf, because the game of golf is a better place with him playing well.”

There’s respect there from McIlroy, but there’s no fear. We heard that in the lad from Northern Ireland’s bravado before The Ryder Cup last fall, when he said he would love to face Woods, and that given Woods’ erratic form, everyone on the European team “would fancy his chances against him.”

Woods didn’t like the sentiment, and he made sure McIlroy knew. So, there’s an edge to that relationship.

Though Woods has won 14 majors and McIlroy just the one, momentum is on McIlroy’s side. Woods missed the U.S. Open mending knee and Achilles injuries. There’s no certainty he’ll be ready for next month’s British Open.

Pros see McIlroy’s confidence growing while Woods’ confidence weakens in a 19-month winless struggle.

“When Rory can go out and dominate a field like this at a U.S. Open, he’s going to gain a lot of confidence from the event,” said Steve Stricker, the highest ranked American in the world. “Confidence is a great thing, and he’s going to have a ton of it.”

Woods and McIlroy share a common path in the way they both broke through in record-shattering fashion to win their first majors. Woods broke through winning the Masters by 12 shots in ’97, McIlroy by smashing some of Woods’ U.S. Open scoring records.

Stricker was asked Sunday if he believed Woods cared what McIlroy did at Congressional.

“For sure,” Stricker said with McIlroy still making his way on the back nine. “I think he cares. I think he’s at home watching, and I think he’ll gain some motivation from this.”

Woods vs. McIlroy. It’s a hope worth nurturing because it holds the magical possibility of being a reincarnation of Nicklaus vs. Palmer.

Well, Nicklaus vs. Palmer in a nebulous sense. It intrigues as Nicklaus vs. Palmer not in the way personalities factored in that terrific rivalry, but in the way two eras clashed, in the way that rivalry saw a dominant new force emerge to stifle the reign of an established star.

“I knew how good Tiger was in 2000 to win by 15 at Pebble,” McIlroy said in Sunday’s trophy presentation. “I was trying to go out there and emulate him in some way.”

If Woods still has Nicklaus’ records tacked on a wall in his home as motivation, he might want to pull them down. He might want to tack up the long list of U.S. Open records McIlroy smashed in his tour de force performance. He might want to put a photograph of McIlroy on his wall with a bull’s-eye on it, because it feels like McIlroy’s the real deal. It feels like Woods won’t be able to beat Jack’s record without beating McIlroy.

It’s projecting a burdensome load on McIlroy, to be sure, but if you can’t see the promise in the young man’s game, you can’t see.

Yes, nothing’s guaranteed in golf, but McIlroy’s locomotive momentum goes beyond his record-shattering performance at Congressional. It goes to the upward trajectory of his big-event performances. It goes to the fact that he’s had a real chance to win the last four major championships, that he’s led seven of the last eight rounds played in majors, that his final-round 62 to win at Quail Hollow last year felt like a quasi-major and that his U.S. Open triumph came in a character-building rebound from a Masters’ collapse two months ago.

The praise for McIlroy, as expected, is gushing a bit over the top, and that’s sure to get Woods’ attention.

Padraig Harrington said he expected McIlroy to make a run at breaking Nicklaus’ major championship record. TV analyst David Feherty said he believed McIlroy’s U.S. Open performance at Congressional was more dominant than Woods’ at Pebble Beach. Graeme McDowell, a fellow native of Northern Ireland and winner of last year’s U.S. Open, called McIlroy the best player he’s ever seen.

But even the most objective PGA Tour veterans see something special in McIlroy.

“Fundamentally, he’s as good as we’ve seen ever, in my era,” Stricker said. “When Tiger was going well, that’s as good as I’ve ever seen, and I think Rory’s in that same boat. His swing is mechanically sound, and he has a great short game, and he’s long. So he’s got all the tools.”

So does Woods, if he can reassemble them.

That’s what we’re waiting for, because when Woods does, if he does, the race to catch Nicklaus resumes with McIlroy looking like he’ll have something to say about how that race ends.

Getty Images

Links to the past: Tiger's return revives Open memories

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 12:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods rekindles his love affair with links golf this week at Carnoustie, which seems about right considering his introduction to the ancient ways of the game began here on the Angus coast.

It was here on the most brutal of the Open Championship rota courses that a 19-year-old Tiger first played links golf at the 1995 Scottish Open, an eye-opening and enlightening experience.

“I remember my dad on the range with me, saying, ‘Are you ever going to hit the ball past the 100 yard sign?’” Woods recalled on Tuesday at Carnoustie, his first start at The Open since 2015. “I said, ‘No, I'm just enjoying this. Are you kidding me? This is the best.’”

During this most recent comeback, Tiger has been all smiles. A new, relaxed version of his former self made calm and approachable by age and the somber influence of injury. But this week has been different.

During a practice round with Justin Thomas on Monday he laughed his way all the way around the brown and bouncy seaside layout. Much of that had to do with his return to the unique ways of links golf, the creative left side of his brain taking the wheel from the normally measured right side for one glorious week.

He talked of game plans and strategic advantages on a parched pitch that has seen drives rolling out over 400 yards. At his core, Tiger is a golf nerd for all the right reasons and this kind of cerebral test brings out the best of that off-the-charts golf IQ.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Although there are no shortages of defining moments in Tiger’s career and one can make all sorts of arguments for what would be his seminal moment – from the 1997 Masters to the 2008 U.S. Open –the 2006 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool stands out, based on near-perfect execution.

In ’06 at Liverpool, which played to a similar shade of dusty yellow as Carnoustie will this week, Tiger hit just a single driver, opting instead for a steady diet of long irons off tees. For the week he hit 48 of 56 fairways, 58 of 72 greens and rolled the field for a two-stroke victory and his third, and most recent, claret jug.

This Open has all the makings of a similar tactical tour de force. For this championship he’s put a new 2-iron into play that’s more like a strong 1-iron (17 degrees) and imagines, given the conditions, a similar low, running menu.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked the similarities between this week’s conditions and the ’06 championship. “I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees, just because I hit a 3-iron on Monday, down 18, I went 333 [yards]. It can get quick out here.”

If Tiger ever needed a major championship confidence boost the Carnoustie Open would be it, an inspiring walk down memory lane to a time when he was the undisputed king of golf.

“[The ’06 Open] is the closest you can compare to this,” David Duval said. “But I struggle to remember that golf course being as fast as this one. It was close, but this one is something else.”

Ernie Els had a slightly different take, albeit one that was no less ominous to the rest of the field this week.

“Liverpool is on a sand hill, this has a bit more run to it,” Els said. “But it’s got the same feel. It’s almost like St. Andrews was in 2000. Very, very fast.”

It’s worth noting that Tiger also won that ’00 Open at the Home of Golf with an even more dominant performance. It is the unique challenges of the links test that make many, even Tiger, consider the Open Championship his best chance to continue his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.

More than any other Grand Slam gathering, The Open is blind to age and the notion of players competing past their prime. In 2008 at Royal Birkdale, then-53-year-old Greg Norman flirted with the lead until the very end, finishing tied for third; a year later at Turnberry, Tom Watson came within one hole of history at 59 years young.

“It certainly can be done,” Woods said. “You get to places like Augusta National, where it's just a big ballpark, and the golf course outgrows you, unfortunately. That's just the way it goes. But links-style golf courses, you can roll the ball. Even if I get a little bit older, I can still chase some wood or long club down there and hit the ball the same distance.”

Whether this is the week Tiger gets back into the Grand Slam game depends on his ability to replicate those performances from years past on a similarly springy course. As he exited the media center bound for the practice putting green on Tuesday he seemed renewed by the cool sea breeze and the unique challenges of playing the game’s oldest championship.

Coming back to Carnoustie is more than a reintroduction to links golf; for Tiger it’s starting to feel like a bona fide restart to his major career.

Getty Images

Woods: New putter should help on slower greens

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 11:35 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods’ ice-cold putting showed at least a few signs of heating up earlier this month at The National, where he switched putters and ranked seventh in the field on the greens.

The mallet-style putter is still in the bag as Woods prepares for The Open, and he’s hoping the heavier model with grooves will prove valuable at Carnoustie.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“To be honest with you, I’ve struggled on slower greens throughout my entire career,” Woods said Tuesday. “So for me, it’s going to help on these greens, for sure.”

To combat the slower greens, Woods usually applied a strip of lead tape to his putter. But this heavier model of putter doesn’t need the extra weight, and the grooves on the putter face allow the ball to get rolling faster and hotter.

“You don’t necessarily have to do that with the grooves,” he said of the lead tape. “When I putted with the Nike putter, I didn’t have to put lead tape on the putter to get a little more weight to it. I could just leave it just the way it was. This is the same type.”  

For all of the talk about his putting woes this season, Woods still ranks 56th in strokes gained: putting. More crucial this week: He’s 102nd in approach putt performance, which quantifies how well a player lag putts.

Getty Images

Woods: Open best chance for long-term major success

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 11:26 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods is more than a decade removed from his last major title, but he said Tuesday that The Open is the major that gives him the best chance for long-term success.

“I would say yes, because of the fact that you don’t have to be long to play on a links-style golf course,” Woods said during his pre-tournament news conference. “It certainly can be done.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Woods pointed to the late-career success for both Greg Norman (2008) and Tom Watson (2009), both of whom challenged for the claret jug deep into their 50s.

“Distance becomes a moot point on a links-style golf course,” he said.

That’s certainly not the case, however, at the Masters, where bombers long have thrived, or the U.S. Open, which places a premium on long and straight driving.

“You get to places like Augusta National, which is just a big ballpark, and the golf course outgrows you, unfortunately,” he said. “But links-style courses, you can roll the ball. I hit a 3-iron that went down there 330. Even if I get a little bit older, I can still chase some wood or long club down there and hit the ball the same distance.”

Getty Images

"Vantage Point with Mike Tirico" set to debut Tuesday, July 17 at 9 p.m. ET on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJuly 17, 2018, 10:15 am

Special Hour Complementing the Network’s Week-Long Golf Central Live From The Open News Coverage; Premiere Scheduled to Include Interview with 2014 Open Runner-Up Rickie Fowler On-Site from Carnoustie

Features Include Tirico and Curtis Strange Re-watching ’99 Open at Carnoustie & Jim “Bones” Mackay Facilitating Exclusive Conversation with Caddies Michael Greller, John Wood Recounting Final Round Pairing at 2017 Open

To help set the table ahead of The 147TH Open at Carnoustie, Golf Channel will premiere Vantage Point with Mike Tirico on Tuesday, July 17 at 9 p.m. ET. An extension of the network’s week-long Golf Central Live From The Open comprehensive news coverage, Vantage Point will revisit landmark moments in The Open’s history, uncover personal stories relevant to the fabric of the week and feature a roundtable discussion with past “Champion Golfers of the Year” on golf’s original championship.

“It’s a thrill to be going back to The Open again this year, which is a fitting setting to launch this new opportunity,” said Tirico, NBC Sports host who this week will celebrate his 22nd consecutive year covering The Open. “I love being a part of the Golf Channel team during golf’s biggest weeks, and anticipate contributing to our commitment to great storytelling with Vantage Point.”

Kicking off the premiere of Vantage Point will be Tirico’s exclusive interview with 2014 Open runner-up and 2015 PLAYERS champion Rickie Fowler on-site from Carnoustie. One of Fowler’s favorite events, he has missed just one cut in eight previous appearances at The Open. Other highlights within the show include:

  • Jim “Bones” Mackay facilitating an exclusive conversation between caddies Michael Greller (Jordan Spieth) and John Wood (Matt Kuchar) recounting the final round pairing at The Open last July.
  • Tirico hosting a roundtable discussion with past “Champion Golfers of the Year”: David Duval, Tom Lehman and Justin Leonard.
  • A recollection of one of the most unforgettable collapses in major championship golf, when Jean van de Velde surrendered a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole in 1999 at The Open. Tirico and Curtis Strange – both on the live tournament broadcast that year for ABC/ESPN – recently re-watched the telecast together for the first time since calling it live.


“This is harder to watch than I thought it was going to be. I’ve never seen anything like

that in my life. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like that again.” – Curtis Strange


“I think I got caught up in the whole deal and felt human for the guy.” – Mike Tirico


Vantage Point with Mike Tirico will complement the network’s Golf Central Live From The Open, which will feature nearly 60 hours of comprehensive news coverage from Carnoustie. In total, NBC Sports will dedicate more than 350 hours to showcasing the third men’s major championship of the year, including nearly 50 live hours of the network’s Emmy-nominated tournament coverage – annually the most live hours of coverage from any golf event – spanning from Thursday’s opening tee shot to Sunday’s final putt.