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No pain, no clichés: Woods ready to come back

By Rex HoggardNovember 28, 2017, 5:50 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – The final tab was $543.50, but the emotional and professional toll may never be fully known.

That was how much, not including attorney’s fees, Tiger Woods paid in various court costs and fines following his May arrest for DUI in South Florida.

On Tuesday at Albany, site of this week’s Hero World Challenge, Woods spoke publicly of the incident for the first time, giving a glimpse into a life that had been defined for so long by pain and sleeplessness.

This is in no way an excuse for Woods’ decision to get behind the wheel of his black Mercedes on Memorial Day. He could have hurt someone else. He could have hurt himself. But in a rare moment of clarity on Tuesday, Woods seemed to offer an explanation, not an excuse.

“I didn't realize how bad my back was,” said Woods, who is poised to make his competitive return this week following fusion surgery on his lower back in April. “Now that I'm feeling the way I'm feeling, it's just hard to imagine that I was living the way I was living with my foot not working, my leg not working, and then the hours of not being able to sleep at all because of the pain.”

Woods has explained this week in more detail than ever before how debilitating his ailing back had become. How empty his life had become, not being able to go to dinner with friends or play sports with his children.

For so long Woods masked anything even approaching a weakness. As late as February at the Dubai Desert Classic, his last competitive start, he quickly dismissed any lingering health issues. “I wasn’t in pain at all,” he said following his opening round, less than 12 hours before withdrawing with a back injury that was described only as spasms.

Woods’ air of invincibility rested for so long on his ability to do things other players could not, either on the course with a golf club in his hand or in his head when his body betrayed him. He was, after all, the man who won a U.S. Open on one leg, so it stands to reason that he was willing to cling to that bravado longer than common sense and modern medicine would suggest.


Hero World Challenge: Articles, photos and video


However he arrived at that dark crossroads in Jupiter, Fla., in May, he came by his missteps honestly. Woods didn’t set out that night looking for a new path, but there’s little doubt now his arrest and the ensuing legal give-and-take forced his hand.

“I was trying to go away from the pain and I was trying to sleep, which I hadn't done in a very long time because of the things I've been dealing with,” said Woods, who acknowledged in June that he was “receiving professional help” for how to manage his medications and deal with pain.

“As my back improved, I've been able to start sleeping again because I don't have the nerve pain going down my leg, I don't have my leg twitching all over the place. So yeah, I'm loving life now.”

Maybe Woods would have gotten there eventually. Maybe there was no need for the public humiliation his arrest, and the accompanying body-cam footage of his field-sobriety test, caused. But hindsight being the ultimate judge and jury, there’s no denying that May’s low-water mark has impacted the 41-year-old’s road back to competitive relevance.

This week Woods has been confident and relaxed. He’s shown an intriguing level of restraint every time he’s been asked about his expectations and has largely avoided the standard clichés.

“I'm just looking forward to getting through these four rounds and having an understanding, a better understanding of where I'm at,” he said.

That’s a long way from those “second sucks” days every time he put a peg in the ground.

Woods knows this is the 10th comeback in his career, either from injury or personal issues, and the third time he’s returned to the competitive fold at the Hero World Challenge. He also knows there is no real follow-up to fusion surgery. Medically speaking this is the final chapter.

Yet there’s no sense of urgency. No false hope that just because he’s finally pain-free he’ll simply pick up where he left off. If anything, there’s an acceptance that after so many years of uncertainty and pain whatever transpires from here is hardly worth losing sleep over.

“I don't know how I was able to do it, how I was able to compete and play even back in like '13, I was still struggling back then,” Woods said. “To live with that for the last four years like that, that's not been fun.”

Woods conceded that he hasn’t seen the video of his arrest. He doesn’t have to. He lived it. And while he stopped well short of calling it an epiphany moment, there’s no denying that he’s “come out the other side” stronger. Maybe even better.

Woods’ arrest and ensuing probation came with an untold cost to his reputation, not to mention his business portfolio. But in retrospect, that $543.50 seems like a small price to pay for what is undeniably a new outlook.

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Web.com Tour releases 2019 schedule, trims Finals

By Will GraySeptember 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

The Web.com Tour has officially released its full schedule for the 2019 season, a slate that will feature a Labor Day finish and only three Finals events as opposed to four.

The developmental circuit will feature 27 tournaments, the same number as this season. Things will kick off in the Bahamas for the third straight year, as two events in the islands begin a stretch of five events in as many weeks across four different countries.

The Feb. 14-17 Suncoast Classic in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., will be the first domestic event of 2019, and one of three new events to the schedule. Also added are the Evans Scholars Invitational in suburban Chicago and the TPC Colorado Championship in Berthoud, Colo.

But with the PGA Tour overhauling its schedule and dropping a FedExCup playoff event to finish ahead of football season, the Web.com schedule also features changes next year. The Web.com Tour Finals, which are used to determine the 50 players who will be promoted to the PGA Tour for the following season, will now feature only three events and follow a similar timeline.

The first Finals event will be the Aug. 15-18 Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, followed by the Albertsons Boise Open. The season will conclude Aug. 30-Sept. 2 with the Web.com Tour Championship in Atlantic Beach, Fla., one week after the PGA Tour season ends with the revamped Tour Championship in Atlanta.

The DAP Championship at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio, a Finals event for each of the last three years, has been dropped from the 2019 schedule. Gone, too, are the North Mississippi Classic in Oxford and the Rust-Oleum Championship in Ivanhoe, Ill.

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Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 20, 2018, 1:30 pm

Tiger Woods is looking to close his season with a win at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him this week at East Lake Golf Club.


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Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 20, 2018, 2:00 am

By RYAN GRIFFITHS

Some stories stick with you longer than others. First time you get to do a feature. First time you meet a sports legend (it was Allen Iverson for me). Seeing a championship isn’t bad, either. Been there, done that. Lawnmower museum on the east coast of England, tsunami survivors in California, re-connecting Al Geiberger with his lost 59 tape, all good, but no story or environment has stuck with me like going to Attica Correctional Facility in 2013 to tell the story of Valentino Dixon.

For starters, I’d never been searched before setting up for an interview. Not just me, everyone - all three cameramen, Jimmy Roberts, the guy escorting us in who worked there. Everyone. Attica trusts no one. Can’t blame them after 1971, when inmates protesting living conditions took members of the prison staff hostage. The ensuing police response left 29 inmates and 10 hostages dead.

Attica has a "shank wall," a collection of homemade weapons seized from inmates and displayed like baseball cards in a plastic case on the wall outside the guards' lunchroom. Prison interior decorating at its finest. Nice touch.

We went to do a story on an inmate who was introduced to the world in a Golf Digest article by Max Adler in 2012. "The golf artist who had never stepped foot on a golf course - Valentino Dixon.: He was in for murder. Second degree. You know, your standard golf story.


Wrongfully imprisoned man freed after nearly three decades


Dixon, a former aspiring artist before getting caught up in the Buffalo drug-dealing scene, started sketching photos from Golf Digest for the warden. I’ve never been to prison, but from what I have gathered from watching The Shawshank Redemption some 8,000 times, getting in the warden’s good graces is a smart habit to pick up if you’re doing serious time.

Dixon's art was insanely good. Even more so because he did it all with colored pencils. No paintbrushes allowed (see shank wall above). Jimmy, the crew and I stopped for a good 10-15 minutes to marvel at his creations before continuing with the interview.

We spent a solid 40 minutes talking to the man who supposedly killed a man 20-something years prior. In that time, he pleaded his innocence to us over and over again. He spoke like a man who had rehearsed every angle of his story over and over and over again. I give him credit - there were no holes in his story. I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and he didn’t look like a killer, didn’t sound like one. either. But what did I know? I’d never met one - that I know of. And if you were stuck in prison for 20-plus years and all of a sudden had a camera in front of you and a platform to plead your innocence, wouldn’t you do your best to try to get out of there?

Since the guards wouldn’t allow any food, the crew and I stopped at the first deli we saw on the ride back into Buffalo. After we were done eating, we all looked at each other, knowing what we all were thinking: "Do you think he did it?”

Didn’t matter what we thought, we were just there to tell the story. On Wednesday, however, people whose opinions mattered made a decision and allowed someone who loves the game of golf, but has never stepped foot on a golf course, to do just that if he so chooses. That's a story that will stick with him for the rest of his life.

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Wrongfully convicted inmate who turned to golf artistry freed

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 12:35 am

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A New York prison artist who never played golf but became known for drawings of lush courses he could only imagine was set free Wednesday after authorities agreed that another man committed the murder that put him behind bars for nearly three decades.

Valentino Dixon walked out of Erie County Court into bright sunshine and hugs from his mother, daughter and a crowd of other relatives and friends, ready for a meal at Red Lobster and vowing to fight on behalf of others who are wrongly convicted.

"I love y'all," Dixon shouted after trading the green prison uniform he wore in court for jeans and a T-shirt. "It feels great."

Earlier Wednesday, a judge agreed to set aside Dixon's conviction in the 1991 shooting death of 17-year-old Torriano Jackson on a Buffalo street corner and accepted a guilty plea from another man who had confessed to the killing two days after it happened.

"There was a fight. Shots were fired. I grabbed the gun from under the bench, switched it to automatic, all the bullets shot out. Unfortunately, Torriano ended up dying," Lamarr Scott, who has been in prison for 25 years for an unrelated attempted murder, told the court. "I dropped the gun and ran and it was over and done with."

Scott said he had gotten the gun, a Tec-9 semi-automatic, from Dixon and the two men had driven together to the crowded corner where the fighting broke out. Scott was given a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, concurrent with his current term.

Judge Susan Eagan let stand a count of criminal possession of a weapon against Dixon, and its 5- to 15-year sentence, which she said he had satisfied.


Inside Attica: Interviewing Valentino Dixon


"You are eligible for release today," the judge said, igniting applause and shouts from courtroom supporters.

"Mr. Dixon is not an innocent man. Don't be misguided in that at all," Erie County District Attorney John Flynn told reporters after the hearing. He described Dixon as "an up-and-coming drug dealer in the city of Buffalo" at the time of the shooting and said Scott was Dixon's bodyguard.

"Mr. Dixon is innocent of the shooting and of the murder for what he was found guilty of," he said, "but Mr. Dixon brought the gun to the fight. It was Mr. Dixon's gun."

While behind bars, Dixon rekindled his childhood passion for drawing, often spending 10 hours a day creating vivid colored pencil landscapes, including of golf courses, while imagining freedom. Articles in Golf Digest and elsewhere have drawn public attention to Dixon's case. NBC Sports' Jimmy Roberts spotlighted Dixon in a 2013 segment for his "In Play" series on Golf Channel.

“I’ve worked in this business for close to 40 years, and this is the most consequential thing I’ve ever been a part of," Roberts said after learning of Dixon's release. "I’m a sports reporter, but we helped get a man out of prison. I’m humbled and dumbstruck.”

Georgetown University students made a documentary as part of a prison reform course last spring. The class worked with Dixon's attorney, Donald Thompson, to have the conviction overturned.

"It went so far beyond reasonable doubt that it's pretty outrageous that he would have been convicted and it would have been upheld," said Marc Howard, director of the university's Prisons and Justice Initiative. Howard taught the course with childhood friend, Marty Tankleff, who also spent years wrongfully imprisoned.

Dixon said he will keep drawing, while working on behalf of other prisoners.

"If you don't have any money in this system, it's hard to get justice because the system is not equipped or designed to give a poor person a fair trial," he said. "So we have a lot of work ahead of us."

His daughter, Valentina Dixon, was a baby when her father went to prison. She brought her 14-month-old twins, Ava and Levi, to court from their Columbus, Ohio, home.

"We're definitely going to go shopping and go explore life," she said. "I can't wait to get him a cellphone and teach him how to Snapchat."

Dixon's mother, Barbara Dixon, said she was in shock after relying on her faith while fighting for his release.

"We're going to Red Lobster," she said when asked what was next. "And everybody's invited."