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This new Tiger is having the same old Ryder Cup problems

By Rex HoggardSeptember 29, 2018, 6:08 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The new-and-improved Tiger Woods is approachable, healthy, competitive and above all appreciative. But if the last 48 hours in France have proven anything, it’s that he still doesn’t play well with others.

The best player of his generation, perhaps of all time, added to the most confounding record in golf,  losing all three team matches he played this week at Le Golf National to the unstoppable freight train of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, who have become known to the Parisian masses as “Moliwood.”

At this rate, neither Molinari nor Fleetwood should expect an invitation to Woods’ annual money grab in the Bahamas later this fall. But then that would be pointing all the blame in one direction, and this really had only so much to do with either the Englishman or the Italian.

Woods said after his 5-and-4 foursomes loss to Fleetwood and Molinari that he is “just pretty pissed off, the fact that I lost three matches, and didn't feel like I played poorly. That's the frustrating thing about match play. We can play well and nothing can happen. We ran against two guys that were both playing well and when one was out of the hole, especially in best-ball, the other one made birdie and vice versa. They did that a lot to us.”

Tiger's 2018 has been fully transformative, as a broken and aging former star with no shortage of baggage turned in one of the best comeback stories in all of sports. What hasn’t changed, however, is a team record at the Ryder Cup that is just south of awful.

Woods has now lost seven consecutive team matches against Europe, dating back to 2010. His record with a partner after another wasted week is now 9-19-1.

Eight U.S. Ryder Cup captains have tried desperately to find a partner for Woods and they have all largely failed.

At Le Golf National, Furyk went with a hunch and sent Woods out for the week’s two foursomes sessions with Patrick Reed. As experiments go, this was a bust, with the tandem dropping 3-and-1 and 4-and-3 decisions.

The American frontman switched things up on Saturday afternoon, pairing Tiger with the mad scientist, Bryson DeChambeau, to similarly disappointing results.

Asked why Woods has struggled in team play at the Ryder Cup, Furyk answered: “This week, I'd have to say Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. Those guys played incredible golf. The scores that they shot in both formats were very impressive. It's been a while since we've seen Tiger on one of these teams and healthy enough, but this week I would have to say it's due to the play of the folks he played against.”

Match scoring from the 42nd Ryder Cup

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With his team trailing, 10-6, Furyk, barring an epic comeback, is certain to suffer his share of slings and arrows for some of his decisions this week; but his attempt to find Woods a productive partner shouldn’t be criticized.

In his Ryder Cup career, Woods has plowed through partners as if were speed dating. DeChambeau was Tiger’s 14th partner. Woods has a record above .500 with exactly two of those teammates, Davis Love III (2-1-0) and Chris Riley (1-0-0).

He’s played the most Ryder Cup matches with Steve Stricker (1-4-0) and had a decent week when paired with Furyk in 2006 (2-2-0), but little has worked and none of it has lasted.

Many consider the low-water mark of Woods’ Ryder Cup career the failed experiment with Phil Mickelson at Oakland Hills in 2004. But it’s not as though he and Lefty – who lost his only match thus far – could have done any worse this week.

Dropping the odd point is one thing. Having what should be your anchor regularly drop crucial points is a psychological blow many teams haven’t been able to withstand.

The kneejerk narrative throughout his career has been that Woods is indifferent to the biennial matches, but that’s as unfounded as it is unfair. That notion ignores his 4-1-2 singles record, along with his 18-13-1 team record in the Presidents Cup, and the way he’s embraced a leadership role in recent years.

For two days, Woods has played the part. He’s high-fived partners, pointed defiantly at adversity and sulked following his mounting losses. As a vice captain at recent matches, his status as an effective leader is no longer questioned. The same goes for his motivation.

And it’s not as though Woods chopped his way around Le Golf National. He was the reason his fourball match early Saturday lasted as long as it did, and in the twilight session he pulled his team to within 3 holes with back-to-back birdie putts at Nos. 10 and 11.

But the results speak for themselves.

This week it’s been key and uncharacteristic mistakes that have plagued Tiger, like a pulled tee shot into the water at the ninth hole during his morning match and a wedge to the 13th that also wound up wet. He missed a 5-footer for par at the eighth in his afternoon bout to go 4-down and an 8-footer for birdie at the ninth.

Simply put, this is not the same guy who rolled the field last week at the Tour Championship.

Woods ran up against the toughest European duo and didn’t have much help from Reed, who couldn’t hit a fairway, or DeChambeau, who couldn’t make a putt. Le Golf National’s tight fairways and relatively slow greens also weren't going to be a good fit for Tiger.

Historically, many have figured that his difficulties in Ryder Cup team play were the byproduct of his individual brilliance.

“The guy that got paired with Tiger in the old days had a lot of pressure on them because they were used to Tiger beating their brains out every week in tournaments. And they tried too hard,” Woods’ former swing coach Butch Harmon recently said. “These young kids on the team now, they idolize Tiger Woods. They love playing with Tiger Woods.”

It might be a new generation, but it was certainly an old story for Tiger in France, and it all leads to a familiar question – at what point do you look around the party and realize that you’re the problem, albeit through no obvious fault of your own?

The frustration was evident as another team session ended for Tiger on the 14th green late Saturday, and he hung a heavy arm around DeChambeau’s shoulders. Individually, his world has return to something approaching normal. But as a teammate at the Ryder Cup, Woods is still searching for answers.

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Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

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Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.

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Woods admits fatigue played factor in Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:35 pm

There was plenty of speculation about Tiger Woods’ health in the wake of the U.S. team’s loss to Europe at last month’s Ryder Cup, and the 14-time major champ broke his silence on the matter during a driving range Q&A at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

Woods, who went 0-4 in Paris, admitted he was tired because he wasn’t ready to play so much golf this season after coming back from a fourth back surgery.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

The topic of conversation then shifted to what's next, with Woods saying he's just starting to plan out his future schedule, outside of "The Match" with Phil Mickelson over Thanksgiving weekend and his Hero World Challenge in December.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods said. “Flying out here yesterday trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”

While his exact schedule remains a bit of a mystery, one little event in April at Augusta National seemed to be on his mind already.

When asked which major he was most looking forward to next year, Woods didn't hesitate with his response, “Oh, that first one.”

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Podcast: Fujikawa aims to offer 'hope' by coming out

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2018, 12:03 pm

Tadd Fujikawa first made golf history with his age. Now he's doing it with his recent decision to openly discuss his sexuality.

Last month Fujikawa announced via Instagram that he is gay, becoming the first male professional to come out publicly. Now 27, he has a different perspective on life than he did when he became the youngest U.S. Open participant in 2006 at Winged Foot at age 15, or when he made the cut at the Sony Open a few months later.

Joining as the guest on the latest Golf Channel podcast, Fujikawa discussed with host Will Gray the reception to his recent announcement - as well as some of the motivating factors that led the former teen phenom to become somewhat of a pioneer in the world of men's professional golf.

"I just want to let people know that they're enough, and that they're good exactly as they are," Fujikawa said. "That they don't need to change who they are to fit society's mold. Especially in the golf world where it's so, it's not something that's very common."

The wide-ranging interview also touched on Fujikawa's adjustment to life on golf-centric St. Simons Island, Ga., as well as some of his hobbies outside the game. But he was also candid about the role that anxiety and depression surrounding his sexuality had on his early playing career, admitting that he considered walking away from the game "many, many times" and would have done so had it not been for the support of friends and family.

While professional golf remains a priority, Fujikawa is also embracing the newfound opportunity to help others in a similar position.

"Hearing other stories, other athletes, other celebrities, my friends. Just seeing other people come out gave me a lot of hope in times when I didn't feel like there was a lot of hope," he said. "For me personally, it was something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and something I'm very passionate about. I really want to help other people who are struggling with that similar issue. And if I can change lives, that's really my goal."

For more from Fujikawa, click below or click here to download the podcast and subscribe to future episodes: