There seems to be a new normal for Tiger Woods

By Rex HoggardFebruary 16, 2012, 12:01 am

Welcome to the new normal.

It’s a strange world where red shirts and conventional wisdom no longer hold sway the way they once did. A land that no longer yields to Tiger Woods’ will by way of clutch putts and on-cue histrionics, and where the status quo is suspect, at best.

Woods’ schedule used to be one of the game’s most guarded yet predictable lineups. Most years, barring injury, he’d start at Torrey Pines, check in at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship before moving on to Doral, Bay Hill and finally the Masters.

The summer months featured similar clockwork: The Players Championship, Quail Hollow, Memorial, et al, not that he ever committed to an event before the deadline. Not that he needed to. If nothing else, Woods was a creature of habit.

For the last few months, however, it seems as if Tiger Inc. is operating under new management.

The year began at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, his first start in the oil-rich Emirate, and on Tuesday Camp Woods revealed he would play the Honda Classic for the first time since his amateur days.

The Honda Classic was a long-rumored natural fit for Woods, a recent Martin County transplant, but to do so would mean playing three consecutive weeks and four events in five weeks, which has been akin to competitive kryptonite for a man who has never played more than 21 events in a single season and no more than 17 in a year since 2007.

“Eighty to 90 percent of his decision (to play the Honda Classic) was tied to Tiger being a resident here,” said Ken Kennerly, the Honda Classic’s executive director. “He almost never plays three in a row. For him to add this event for any other reason than being a local is a stretch.”

The fact that the Honda Classic is played on a golf course (PGA National) that is minutes away from Woods’ new south Florida digs and benefits one of Jack Nicklaus’ charities also likely factors into his decision. Not that Kennerly cares what motivated him to make the drive over from Jupiter Island.

Late last season when Woods added the Open, a fall series stop, to his schedule some speculated it was because he wanted to land an endorsement deal from electronics giant John Fry. When he played last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the first time in a decade some thought it was an attempt to appease AT&T, which also sponsors Woods’ AT&T National event in July.

But to tournament directors from Palm Beach Gardens to Pebble Beach the 'why' is not as important as the 'what'.

“I Googled Honda Classic and Tiger Woods this morning and it had over 1 million hits,” Kennerly said. “It’s worth over $1 million, I believe that. Just look at what has already happened with the brand of Honda over the last 24 hours. The exposure has been amazing.”

Kennerly also estimates that Woods’ presence at PGA National in two weeks could mean an additional 20,000 more fans, which would dramatically increase the amount he and his organization can donate to charity.

Even better news for those who have found themselves adrift in the Tiger Woods lottery in recent years, Woods may not be done mixing and matching a schedule that was once as predictable as the four seasons.

“I got what (commissioner Tim Finchem) wanted us to do is to play different events each year, and I did that this year (2011), and I see no reason why I'm not going to do that next year. That's a double negative, isn't it?” Woods laughed when asked about his 2012 schedule late last year.

“How about this, I will play a new event next year. So that's something that I think is good for the Tour. So I'm going to do that for sure.”

Whether that new event is the Honda Classic, which he played in 1993 as an 17-year-old amateur, seems unlikely, which would set the stage for even more schedule deviations.

Whether his motivations for adding events is driven by business or competitive concerns doesn’t really seem to matter, at least not to those who benefit from his appearance.

“This is Tiger really showing the community some love,” Kennerly said.

Basically, this is Woods trying something different. Basically this is the new normal.

Getty Images

Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

Getty Images

Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

Getty Images

Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

Getty Images

Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”