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Tiger is back! So, too, is the artist

By Rex HoggardMarch 14, 2018, 6:15 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Although it’s impossible to pick the exact moment when the artist succumbed to the scientist, the metamorphosis has been unmistakable.

Tiger Woods had always balanced his genius on the precipice between technical perfection and natural creativity, spending hours perfecting his technique, whatever technique he was invested in at the time, but reverting to the adventurous teen-ager when the situation dictated a more creative answer.

Some will point to Sean Foley, who Tiger started working with in 2010, as the genesis of a more mechanical player, but that’s unfair to Foley and ignores the fact that throughout the duo’s tenure together Woods was hampered by litany of injuries.

Chris Como, who took over for Foley in 2014, was also viewed as a more mechanical coach, but in his defense Woods made just 15 starts while he was working with Como.

Still, somewhere along the way most observers agree that Woods started playing “swing,” not golf.

“History now indicates, and Tiger might even someday admit, that over time, the artist lost ground to the scientist. As he put himself through several swing changes in the belief it would make him better, the power of his imagination dimmed,” Golf Channel’s Jaime Diaz wrote last year.

Lost amid the frenzy of last week’s runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship and the uber-hype that is building for next month’s Masters has been a much more creative approach.

Gone are the rigid practice swings of the last few years. That a swing coach is also conspicuously missing from his entourage would suggest these things aren’t mutually exclusive.

Asked last week who he is seeking advice from after splitting with Como in December, Woods said he has “friends” look at his swing from time to time, most notably Notah Begay III, and occasionally uses video to make adjustments, but it’s clear that he’s drifted away from the long math and geometry of the past.


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“I finally have gotten to the point where my back is good enough where I can let my hands tell me what to do,” Woods explained on Tuesday at Bay Hill. “My hands tell me how to shape a golf shot. And I've built this golf swing that you see me out there swinging the golf club around, with my hands.”

This notion goes back to the way he was taught the game by his father, Earl. Growing up in Cypress, Calif., there was always a time and a place for technique, but that wasn’t on the golf course.

This return to his youth, both health-wise and as a philosophical approach to the game, was on display late on Sunday at Innisbrook Resort as he played the 71st hole two strokes off the lead.

From 44 feet, Woods was at his imaginative best.

“The putt on 17 was right to left,” explained Woods, who holed the birdie attempt to move to within a stroke of the lead. “The grain goes from more dead across as it comes across, the first part of my putt then it switches to down and when it switches to down, I just kept telling myself just putt to the picture, keep putting to the picture and I did, putted to the picture.”

“Putting to the picture” is how Earl Woods taught a young Tiger to putt.

“How do you teach a kid when he's so small and he doesn't understand an inch and a mile, well you take a look and you putt to that picture and that's what I did,” Woods said. “I kept telling myself just putt to the picture, putt to the picture and I holed it.”

Part of this new artistic Tiger is born from physical necessity. Following four back surgeries and the better part of three years of competitive inactivity, Woods conceded on Tuesday that he’s no longer capable of spending countless hours on the practice tee searching for answers.

“I'm probably more restricted than I used to be,” he said of his practice routines. “I try and get my work in and get out of it. Staying there and lingering on the range for three-, four-hour sessions, that's just not happening anymore.”

And certainly not having a swing coach in his stable for essentially the first time in his professional career promotes a more esoteric approach to the game, but there’s no denying that Woods’ transition to more imagination and feel has been a calculated decision.

This approach is most evident in his short game, which has been vintage Tiger since he returned, but can also be seen in his approach to the full swing.

“I've gone back to a lot of stuff I used to do with my dad and how he first taught me how to play golf,” he said.

The golf world is abuzz with a single thought these days, Tiger is back; but while only time will tell if he’s truly returned, one thing is for certain, the artist is back.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”