A Time for Golf

By Rex HoggardNovember 4, 2010, 2:23 am
All hail the Big 3, et al

For the first time in some time there is parity in golf. And that can’t be a bad thing, can it? Could 20 million college football fans be wrong? How about the majority of NFL owners who agreed to a salary cap?

We’ve tried consensus thinking. Given it five years, in fact. Ever since Eldrick T. Woods scaled the World Golf Ranking summit on June 12, 2005, and started piling up ranking points, not to mention majors, between himself and the frat brothers.

Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood
Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood at a pre-tournament event for the HSBC Champions. (Getty Images)
But now parity, as elusive as five-hour rounds and flyer lies on Tour for years, has become commonplace among the elite. Consider this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions event in China, as good a fall stop as has ever been. Among the limited field are three players who can wrest the No. 1 crown away from Lee Westwood, including Woods. And that’s with Steve Stricker back home in Wisconsin hunting and Jim Furyk in Florida counting his FedEx Cup cash.

Unlike the FedEx Cup math, however, the possibilities this week are relatively straight forward. If Westwood doesn’t finish ahead of Woods and Martin Kaymer, and possibly Phil Mickelson, he will be bounced from atop the world order. Translation: the No. 1 ranking has gone from being double-locked and chained for five years to a revolving door.

Not that there was anything wrong with the alpha male thing. Truth is, Woods’ brilliance week in and week out made it beyond historic, but a little musical chairs between friends and foes is good for everyone. No?

Consider this week’s change over, with Westwood talking at length about how much the top ranking means to him and the European Tour. About how he’d dreamed of ascending Mt. OWGR since he was a kid back home in Worksop, England.

“It’s an interesting time for golf,” Westwood said. “It’s a lot more interesting when it’s more volatile with who can become world No. 1. Martin (Kaymer) has obviously played very consistently just recently. Tiger and Phil have been at the top of the world rankings for awhile, as I have myself.”

Now, fast forward a few weeks, or maybe months, to another press conference and another smiling face. This time it’s Mickelson, denied the top spot for so long, resolute not to invest too much emotional capital in the possibility but overcome by the notion that somehow there was still work to be done in a Hall of Fame career without it.

Lefty’s record 266 weeks at No. 2 is far more impressive from a competitive standpoint, but it’s impossible to underestimate how important the “world No. 1” prefix is to a man that has been second to only one for so long.

Kaymer, unquestionably the best over the last 12 months and seemingly destined to join fellow countryman Bernhard Langer atop the pack at some point in his career, Stricker and Furyk would be equally compelling stories if they reached the top spot.

And finally imagine the motivational properties the universal uncertainty brings to Woods. Like most, Woods dismisses the importance of the top spot, an effect impacted only by the ultimate cause – winning. The two are mutually exclusive only to the extent that what happens after the victory speech is background noise to the ultimate statement.

Going winless in 2010 has undoubtedly rekindled Woods’ desire and driven him to the practice tee and into the stable of Sean Foley with a purpose. Slipping out of the top spot in the world ranking for the first time since 2005, however, also resonates somewhere within that stoic psyche.

A win this week at the HSBC Champions wouldn’t salvage the season so much as it would set the stage for 2011 much like last year’s victory in China laid the ground work that Mickelson road all the way to his third green jacket in April.

In short, the debate is about much more than simply a reason to linger at the office water cooler for a few extra minutes. It’s a reason to talk golf when, historically, the world of sport is largely fixated on football and basketball.

It’s a reason to pick up the newspaper on Monday and flip to the agate page to catch the World Golf Ranking for the first time in 281 weeks.

“I think for the neutral (fan) who doesn’t normally watch golf, it’s captured their imagination,” Westwood said.

Mickelson said it best on Wednesday, telling the Associated Press he doesn’t think the battle for No. 1 will be settled until early next year, right about the time the World Golf Championships are played leading into the major championship season. In short, parity has given us a reason to look forward to 2011.

Golf has a new “Big Three, et al.” Enjoy.
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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."