Golf's landscape shifts from Tiger to the pack

By Rex HoggardFebruary 11, 2015, 11:30 pm

Charles Howell III was feeling nostalgic and it had nothing to do with the veteran’s sordid history with the 18th hole on Torrey Pines’ South Course.

The view of the PGA Tour landscape had shifted dramatically long before Tiger Woods announced on Wednesday he was stepping away from professional golf until "my game is tournament-ready."

To be clear, Howell, despite Woods’ early exit from Torrey Pines with a back injury, his third early exit in his last eight official Tour starts, is not among the growing number who have declared the end of the Tiger era on Tour.

“I’d still like to see Tiger get healthy and make another big run. I’d like to see him play another five years or so,” Howell said Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open.

But that still doesn’t change the reality on the ground. Best intentions aside, Woods – at least the current version who has played just nine Tour events in almost a year and a half – is no longer the gold standard.

“I am so used to seeing him beating my generation’s head in,” said Howell, who once ricocheted his approach shot off the flagstick on the 18th hole and into Devlin’s Billabong for a bogey to finish runner-up to Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open.

“I’m used to looking up and seeing him shooting 61, 62 on the North Course [at Torrey Pines] and you’re just waiting for that Woods [name] to pop up on that leaderboard. That’s what generation I’m in.”

Howell joined the Tour in 2001, the same year Woods won his second Masters and his fourth major in his last five Grand Slam starts. Over the next nine seasons the guy in red and black would win 47 Tour titles, all before turning 34 years old.

It wasn’t a question of if he would run down Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major championships or Sam Snead’s 82 Tour titles; it was a matter of when.

Since turning 35, however, Woods has managed just eight Tour victories in 53 starts and has been plagued by a litany of injuries, most recently back surgery last season. Age and injury have combined with a growing list of would-be world-beaters to create a drastically altered reality.

“You look at all these good young players coming up now – the Justin Thomases and Jordan Spieths – everybody hits it 300 yards now, so that’s the motivation for me to work as hard as I do,” Howell said. “For a while there my biggest motivation was Tiger; now my motivating factor is all these 20-year-olds out here. It’s amazing how that changes.”

Most of Woods’ Tour frat brothers, at least publicly, warn that it would be a mistake to send Tiger into an early retirement just yet. He is, after all, just a year removed from a five-win season and his 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

Privately, however, there is a growing sense that even if Woods can emerge from his current medical malady he no longer has the tools to dominate the way he once did.

Despite all the recent talk about Woods’ increased swing speed under new “consultant” Chris Como, he’s closer to the middle of the pack in driving distance (he ranked 50th, 49th, 32nd and 71st in driving distance the last four seasons) and his short-games woes since his return last December at the Hero World Challenge have been well documented.

Even PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem seemed to acknowledge the changing winds. While the “fan” in Finchem would rather see the former world No. 1 continue to challenge the history books, the executive seems to have come to grips with the distinct possibility that even if he’s not as prolific as he once was, he is still the game’s top draw.

“Candidly, I think when he tees it up, everybody in the world's going to want to see how he's going to play, because here you had a guy who was so incredibly good for such a long time, and he's struggling out there,” Finchem said last week at Torrey Pines. “I've said this before, but I think that Tiger has about a 10-year shelf life, in my view, in terms of, if he's not winning golf tournaments, people still want to watch Tiger Woods play golf.”

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement that the former alpha male will reconnect with his winning ways, nor does it seem likely Tiger would have any interest in a 10-year farewell tour. But such is life in the post-back surgery era. While most inside the game hope for the best many have started to prepare for something that’s less than ideal.

Some have said Woods’ woes are the byproduct of injury, others contend it’s a loss of motivation and confidence. Whatever the culprit, it will take years, not months, for this final chapter to be written. If nothing else, the man has proven himself infinitely resilient and a dogged competitor, regardless of the opponent.

But what is certain, his mere presence is no longer the primary driving force on the Tour. That target has shifted to a younger, healthier benchmark.

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

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In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.