Back and to the Future

By Rex HoggardJanuary 27, 2011, 2:00 am

Farmers Insurance OpenSAN DIEGO – When history is your litmus test and making records, not chasing them, is your job description, nostalgia can be an occupational hazard, which is why for much of his storied and recently stormy career Tiger Woods has avoided gratuitous trips down memory lane like a Royal Liverpool pot bunker.

There would be time for that kind of self-indulgence when the legacy was written.

But that kind of thinking was before things got sideways on a dark Isleworth street in late 2009. Before the once Teflon kid was tarnished by sordid controversy. Before a singularly focused man found out that what happens outside the ropes often has more impact on happiness than anything that transpires within its manicured confines.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods hopes to hold aloft another trophy at Torrey Pines. (Getty Images)
Pre-Nov. 25 Woods’ return to Torrey Pines, site of his last major triumph and watershed moment in a career littered with them, would not have rated much of a flashback. Pre-Nov. 25 Woods would have acknowledged the past, his one-legged OT victory at the 2008 U.S. Open over funnyman Rocco Mediate, and quickly moved on. This week, he probably would have stressed, was about the Farmers Insurance Open and another “W.”

But times, and tendencies, have changed.

Numerous times on Wednesday during his first media meet-and-greet of 2011 Woods referred to having “balance” in his life, and sometimes finding that kind of clarity requires an examination of the past.

When the subject inevitably turned to his thoughts on his first competitive trip back to Torrey Pines since 2008 – he participated in a Buick “caddie” ad campaign following the U.S. Open – something within a rested and relaxed Woods ignited.

“I haven’t watched much of Sunday or Monday (from the ’08 Open), but I do watch Saturday,” he smiled. “Saturday turned it all around.”

To recap, Saturday was indeed Moving Day at the ’08 Open for Woods. He posted a back-nine 33 highlighted by a chip-in birdie at the 17th and eagle at the 18th to move into the lead.

But, at least for Woods, Saturday was about more than just getting back into the game. It was about perseverance against all physical odds.

“Saturday probably hurt more than any other day,” Woods said referring to his broken leg. “It was stupid to play and go through that much pain . . . but I have a little bit of a hard-headed side.”

The exchange was remarkable only because it came from a man who has made his competitive “bones” in the moment. To revisit that painfully historic day with such clarity and conviction is musings of the best kind.

Retrospect can be liberating, and Tiger 2.0 is cherry picking the best from his past. Makes sense, really. At no other time in his Hall-of-Fame career has Woods needed more positive reinforcement.

By all accounts Woods’ swing, retooled to the extreme under the eye of new swing coach Sean Foley, is sound. What is not so certain is his putting and confidence, and what better way to deal with the demons that will inevitably crop up the next time he finds himself in a Sunday fray? Been there, done that.

One could fit a Rees Jones par 5 in the space between Woods’ last competitive trip to Torrey and this week. Prior to the ’08 Open he was fresh off his sixth victory on the SoCal muni, he was the runaway favorite and nearly incapacitated by a broken leg.

Despite a cortisone shot in December for an ailing right ankle, Woods set off on Wednesday in the pro-am healthy for the first time in six years and fresh from his first true off-season in at least that long.

“It’s nice to have an off-season where I wasn’t in pain,” he admitted.

Following last year’s largely self-induced turmoil it was also nice to have some peace. Divorce completed, life returning to at least a level of normalcy and a clear direction both professionally and personally.

“I went down a path I shouldn’t have gone, now my life is in balance,” he said.

And much of that balance was discovered via retrospection. Even when asked about the current state of his game, Woods stepped back in time to last month’s Chevron World Challenge where he lost to Graeme McDowell in a playoff.

“The whole year last year golf-wise came down to one golf shot, and that's what I'm so proud of,” said Woods, referring to his approach shot to the 72nd hole at Sherwood Country Club for birdie. “All the changes I made in my swing, I needed it the most. I needed to hit the 8-iron with that kind of shot, and I pulled it off. So under the most intense pressure I hit the shot I needed to hit when I needed to hit it.”

For those who think Woods is putting too much importance on one shot, consider the real-time reaction from Hunter Mahan, who watched Woods quietly from the scoring area at Sherwood.

“This means a lot to him,” Mahan correctly predicted at the time. “The way he’s practicing his swing, he really wants this.”

To be more precise, Woods really needed the approach that rolled to 3 feet. Much like he needs the memories from the ’08 Open this week. They are valuable reminders that he’s been here, done that.


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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."