Doubting Thomas

By Rex HoggardJuly 14, 2011, 3:10 pm

SANDWICH, England – Where do you turn when the rock you’ve leaned on for so many years is gone? Where do you hide when the world’s spotlight swings in your direction? Where do you find peace when you’re surrounded by demon of deeds past?

For Thomas Bjorn the answers came with each of his 65 swings on Thursday at Royal Wind Whipped. From the moment the Dane arrived for his opening round long before the sunrise broke over the White Cliffs of Dover something was different.

“On the range this morning he was very quiet, which is unusual for Thomas,” said his swing coach Pete Cowan. “You could see it on the course when things wouldn’t go his way. Normally that would cause him problems, but not today.”

Not on Thursday, not on this golf course, not even with the ghosts of Opens past swirling about in the cold, wet wind.

When Bjorn’s 9-iron tee shot at the par-3 16th hole soared into the gale and settled within 8 feet for birdie he smiled sheepishly. As he is quick to point out golf owes no one anything, but it was impossible not to score one for karma. For the second consecutive round he’d stepped to Royal St. George’s 16th tee with a two-shot lead, but this time he signed for a 2. This time was different.

Not that Bjorn has any interest in living in the past and for good reason. He’s an “old” 40 with more peaks and valleys in his career than St. George’s first fairway. For nearly a decade he’s been defined by what transpired on the English coast in 2003.

There was the misplayed tee shot at the 16th hole on Sunday, followed by two unproductive swipes to exit a greenside bunker, which resulted in a double bogey, a standing three count or so it seemed. From there his game, if not his mind, spiraled into a deep, dark place.

A year after his St. George’s snafu, Bjorn walked off the golf course during a round at the European Open. He said he was “fighting demons at the moment” and has been ever since.

By 2008 he’d dropped all the way to 195th in European Tour earnings and his best Open finish since ’03 was a tie for 41st in ’06. “I’ve been very uncomfortable on the golf course for a long time,” he said on Thursday.

Whether his prolonged slump and the collapse at St. George’s in ’03 were mutually exclusive, Bjorn couldn’t say. Nor did it really matter. Bad golf, whatever the culprit, is difficult enough without unwanted self analysis.

But then Vijay Singh’s aging back began acting up and Bjorn, an Open alternate, was told to be ready to play. He arrived on Tuesday, played just a single practice round and committed himself to toeing the line between unrealistic expectations and the psychological trap doors that awaited him when he made his first trip back to St. George’s since ’03.

“It’s tough for him coming here,” Cowen said. “You think, do you want to come here? But it’s like falling off a bike.”

For Bjorn it was a no-brainer and considering everything he’s had to deal with in his career maybe a return trip to Sandwich is just the tonic he’s been looking for.

It also helps that his game had been starting to come around this year. He served as one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains in 2010, won the Qatar Masters in February, defeated Tiger Woods at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, and was well on the path to a comeback when his father, Ole, died in May.

It was a particularly painful blow for Bjorn who was asked what Ole would have made of his Thursday 65 and at the time, his one-shot lead. The often stoic Bjorn paused, tried unsuccessfully to gather himself and finally managed a simple and emotional, “He would have been very proud of what I did today.”

Bjorn’s news conference felt more like an intervention, each question cutting deeper into a fragile psyche.

“I never really expected to play so there’s no reason to get too uptight,” he reasoned. “Today was a massive step in the right direction for me because mentally I was very strong on the golf course and that seems to be the problem.”

At this pace Bjorn may be a problem for the rest of the wind-whipped field. In theory, he soared atop the leaderboard from the “bad side” of the draw, with Thursday’s forecast windy in the morning with calmer conditions as the day wore on. It’s a truth that didn’t escape those playing catch-up.

“That's exceptional. That won't be caught, I promise you that,” said Mark Calcavecchia, who posted an opening 69.

For the day Bjorn had seven birdies and two bogeys, at Nos. 9 and 18, with just one birdie putt over 12 feet. Heady stuff considering he opened his charge in 2003 with a 73 and yet was in complete control through 67 holes. And he could have been even further ahead had he not suffered a two-stroke penalty at the 17th hole in the first round after grounding his club in a bunker.

Early Thursday as Bjorn and Cowen began their work day the swing coach noticed a line of flags rippling in the cold wind, a reason for some to stay in bed but not Bjorn.

“I tried to remind him on the range this morning, you need to remember in Qatar the wind was horrible and you played fantastic,” Cowen said. “He plays his best golf in the wind.”

Bjorn didn’t find the answers to all the questions that regularly swirl about his busy mind, and true redemption comes on Sundays, not Thursdays. But there was no escaping the idea that he may finally be asking himself the right question.

“I never let my mind wonder. I’m quite proud of that,” he said.

Celia Barquin Arozamena Iowa State University athletics

Pros share condolences for slain Iowa State player

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 19, 2018, 5:01 pm

As details continue to emerge surrounding the murder of 22-year-old Celia Barquin Arozamena, multiple professional athletes took to Twitter to share their condolences for the former Iowa State star.

Arozamena was found dead Monday at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, Iowa, where she was playing a round of golf by herself when she was allegedly attacked by a nearby homeless man. Twenty-two-year-old Collin Daniel Richards is charged with first-degree murder after allegedly stabbing Arozamena and leaving her body in a pond on the golf course.

Arozamena was the 2018 Big XII champion and Iowa State Female Athlete of the Year, and she was a native of Spain. As the Iowa State community mourned her death, fellow Spanish athletes shared their thoughts, including former Masters champ Sergio Garcia and NBA star Pau Gasol:

Arozamena's amateur accomplishments extended beyond the collegiate setting, as she also won the European Amateur Championship in July. Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam tweeted a photo she took with Arozamena at a previous event, calling the incident "horrendous."

Iowa State is planning to honor Arozamena Saturday during their home football game against Akron, with the team wearing "CBA" decals bearing her initials.

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'It's been fun': Tiger embracing this year's moral victory

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 3:52 pm

ATLANTA – The aura of Tiger Woods has always demanded that his accomplishments, or failures, be graded on a unique scale. When your only competition is a record book and a guy named Jack, normal benchmarks just won’t cut it.

When you’ve won 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour titles, there’s no such thing as a moral victory.

Well, there didn’t used to be. But this is different.

It was a year ago next week that Woods first offered an unfiltered glimpse into the state of his body and his game following fusion surgery on his lower back in April 2017.

“The pain's gone, but I don't know what my golfing body is going to be like, because I haven't hit a golf shot yet,” he said at last September’s Presidents Cup. “So that's going to take time to figure that out and figure out what my capabilities are going forward, and there's no rush.”

As timelines go, it’s telling that it was shortly after those matches in New Jersey that Woods reached out to PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to ask about the possibility of being the captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2019. With Tiger, it’s always about reading between the lines, but it’s a relatively straightforward message that less than a year ago he was contemplating life as a captain, not necessarily a player.

Tiger has spoken often this year about the uncertainty he felt entering this season, about the unknowns that awaited him during this most recent comeback. He’s even suggested that for the first time in his career, he began a season with dramatically tempered expectations.

Yhat outlook began to change, albeit slowly at first, following a pedestrian West Coast swing that included a missed cut at the Genesis Open.

“The beginning of the year was such an unknown, I didn't know if I would be able to make it to Florida and to play the Florida Swing. Let's just start out at Torrey and see how it goes,” Woods explained on Wednesday at the Tour Championship.

He not only remained upright throughout the spring, but he also showed flashes of his former self with a runner-up showing at the Valspar Championship.

Unlike Justin Thomas, who studiously thumbs a lengthy list of goals into his cell phone each season, Woods keeps his vision board largely to himself. Nonetheless, there have been milestones throughout the season that have checked the right boxes.

For starters, Tiger will finish this season with 19 starts, the most he’s played since 2012. In fact, just once since 2000 has he played more than 19, which is as good a sign as any that his health, if not his game, is up to the task.

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His performance on the course has also steadily progressed. Although he’s not won since 2013, and that will always be the standard by which he’s judged, his world ranking tracks quite steeply in one direction. When he finished 15th at the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial, limited-field event in December, he was 650th in the world. Before the season’s first major, he cracked the top 100. Last month, his runner-up showing at the PGA Championship moved him back into the top 30.

That progression paved the way for a return to the World Golf Championship at Firestone and this week’s Tour Championship.

“Just to have that opportunity to be able to add a tournament, I thought I was going to be taking tournaments away, but to have added a couple and to have earned my way into Akron, I look at this year more as I've exceeded a lot of my expectations and goals because so much of it was an unknown,” he said.

This week’s start at East Lake is particularly rewarding considering it’s been five year’s since he played the finale. To Tiger, the Tour Championship is a straightforward meritocracy.

“What I've missed most about playing this event is that in order to get into this event, I would have earned my way being part of the top 30 most consistent players of the year and the best players of the year,” he said. “No exemptions into this event. Either you get here or you don't. It's a very hard line.”

There’s still plenty of work to do. On Wednesday, he talked of getting all of the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place at the same time, something that’s been an issue even during his best weeks.

The scale is always going to be wildly tilted when it comes to Tiger and for many that’s not going to change. It’s the price he must pay for unparalleled success. But for Woods and those around him, it’s impossible and frankly unfair to grade this season based entirely on wins and loses.

In sports, you are what your record says you are. Maybe when Woods calls it a career, 2018 will be nothing more than a bridge to bigger and better things. But as Tiger took mental inventory of his 22nd full season on Tour on Wednesday, the smile that spread across his face went well beyond the standings and statistics – “It’s been fun,” he beamed.

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Stanford suddenly a potential Solheim captain

By Randall MellSeptember 19, 2018, 3:06 pm

Angela Stanford’s first major championship brought more than a large trophy, a large paycheck and an extra-large jolt of confidence going forward.

It bolstered her hopes for a larger Solheim Cup future.

Stanford, 40, wondered if her Solheim Cup days were over when she failed to make the American team going to Iowa last year, but Sunday’s victory at the Evian Championship vaults her into the picture to make the team going to Scotland next year.

More than that, it bolsters her burning ambition to one day lead the U.S. Solheim Cup team as its captain.

“When you’ve played in some Solheim Cups and you miss one, it hurts,” Stanford told “They’re very special.

“Hopefully, next year, I’m playing well enough to help the team win. I would like to play in another one, and, yes, I would like to be a captain someday.”

It was fitting Evian officials wrapped Stanford in the American flag during the trophy presentation Sunday in France. She loves team golf and playing for her country, but before winning there she wondered about more than her prospects for making another U.S. team.

She wondered about her qualifications to be captain.

“I always heard winning a major was one of the requirements,” said Stanford, a six-time LPGA winner “I don’t know if that’s true or not.”

While it’s not a requirement, LPGA officials acknowledge it’s a consideration.

There have been 11 different American captains in Solheim Cup history, and Rosie Jones is the only one who didn’t have a major on her resume, though she did have 13 LPGA titles.

So Stanford’s victory Sunday in France opens a door. She needed it because her Solheim Cup record isn’t the most stellar. She’s 4-13-3 in the matches, but the record almost doesn’t matter now with her major. Plus, Stanford created a Solheim Cup memory that trumps her playing record. She prevailed in one of the most monumental singles matches in Solheim Cup history. She took down Suzann Pettersen in the historic American comeback in Germany three years ago. That’s the year Pettersen, the undisputed European leader, was embroiled in controversy over American Alison Lee’s mistake scooping up a putt that wasn’t conceded. Pettersen was the heart and soul of the European team that appeared to be rolling toward a third consecutive team title that year.

Stanford beat Pettersen 2-and-1 during the epic American comeback.

“That really changed how I felt about how I performed on the Solheim stage,” Stanford said. “I was really hoping to make last year’s team, to ride that momentum. Hopefully, I will get another chance.”

Stanford has the memory of her role in that comeback to draw upon forever. She arrived on the first tee to play Pettersen with the same attitude she took to Evian on Sunday. Her record didn’t matter; she was going to fight to the end.

“I came out that morning in Germany with the attitude that, 'I’m sick of losing. I’m sick of being pushed around. I’m sick of coming up on the short end,'” Stanford said. “I showed up with the attitude, 'This isn’t going to happen to me again. I’m not going to be the reason we don’t pull this off.’

“I didn’t like what happened to Alison, and I really wanted to help the team.”

Juli Inkster will captain the American team for an unprecedented third time in Scotland next year. When Inkster’s reign ends, Stanford’s name will move up the short list of future candidates.

It’s a list that should include Dottie Pepper, Pat Hurst and Sherri Steinhauer, though Pepper’s history with today’s players and her heavy criticism of the Americans in the past makes her future selection highly doubtful, if she even wanted the job.

After that, the most relevant choices are Cristie Kerr and now Stanford. Like Stanford, Kerr is 40 and still very much focused on playing.

“I probably have one of the rougher Solheim Cup records in history, but personally I never looked at it like that,” Stanford said. “I look at our team record. I’ve been on three winning teams and three losing teams. I want to make it on another team and make that a winning record.”

Stanford’s confidence after winning Evian and her desire to win another Solheim Cup should make for potent fuel to drive her over the next year.

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Tiger: Back was an issue in 2012 Ryder loss at Medinah

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 2:39 pm

ATLANTA – On Tuesday at East Lake, Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round with Bryson DeChambeau, adding to the notion that the two could end up partnering at next week’s Ryder Cup.

Of course, he also played with Tony Finau. And - let’s face it - there are no shortage of potential teammates for Woods in the U.S. team room.

But DeChambeau does seem to have his interest.

“I've gotten to know Bryson very well, and what an amazing talent, and an unbelievable hard worker,” Woods said. “He has figured out a way to play this game his own way, and he's very efficient at what he does, and he's not afraid to think outside the box on how he can become better.”

After missing the last two matches because of injury, finding the right partner is a good problem to have.

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Being one of Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks is particularly rewarding for Woods, who endured one of his toughest losses in the matches in his last start in 2012, when the U.S. team took a four-point lead into Sunday singles but lost, 14 1/2 to 13 1/2.

The ’12 matches were where Woods' back prompted him to request a late tee time Sunday, rendering his anchor match with Francesco Molinari ultimately irrelevant once Europe retained at least a share of the cup. Woods eventually conceded the 18th hole to Molinari, ending their match in a halve and allowing Europe to win outright. 

“I wasn't feeling physically well at that Ryder Cup, and it's where my back started bugging me,” Woods said. “That's the only wave I've ever missed was [that] Saturday afternoon wave, because I told [U.S. captain Davis Love III] I just really couldn't go. And I said, 'Can you put me out later on Sunday? Because I need the time to get my back organized here.'

“It was tough watching them celebrate in the 18th fairway when I thought we should have won that one."

Woods actually missed the morning foursomes session on Day 2 in at Medinah. It marked the first time in his Ryder Cup career he didn’t play all four team sessions. He finished with a 0-3-1 record for the week.