#AskLav: The year ahead for Tiger and Phil

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 30, 2014, 4:00 pm

Finally, the fans’ favorite week of the year has arrived. 

You’ve read the preview stories, listened to the analysis from the talking heads, endured the endless hype leading up to the big event.

You’ve coughed up the money for a ticket.

You’ve ordered the first of several overpriced drinks.

You’ve crammed into an uncomfortable seat. 

And now, you’re finally ready to roll up your sleeves (to ensure a nice, even tan, of course) and cheer lustily (and obnoxiously) for your favorite player while being entirely too close to thousands of sweaty spectators. 

Super Bowl week? Puh-leeze. It’s time for the best party on Tour.

And this year should be no different: The forecast at TPC Scottsdale calls for mild temperatures with light winds and occasional beer showers. Sounds glorious.

The mailbag: 



Mickelson, for one, has been surprisingly durable throughout his career – last week was just his fourth career WD, and only his second since ’07. His back has flared up in each of his last two starts, and if Lefty is intent on making this a career year, he needs to shut it down until he’s absolutely 100 percent. As for Tiger, it’s fair to say he’s an old 38. He’s been in the spotlight for more than two decades, which takes its toll, and he continually pushes his body to the brink; in the past few years, his body has started to break down – elbow, neck, Achilles, knees (four operations). Their poor performances in Week 1 were about more than getting older, though. Last week I wrote about their respective war against Father Time, and how, over time, bodies and games must evolve when physical skills diminish. Phil and Tiger will be able to summon brilliant golf at times, but they’ll begin to have more off-weeks like Torrey as well. 

Instagram#AskLav: Who is more likely to win a major this year, Kuchar or Sergio? – via Daniel Jaramillo, on Instagram

Matt Kuchar’s best bet to win a major this year will be at the Masters, where he has finished in the top 10 each of the past years. Look at his stats – he’s short (116th) and crooked (124th) off the tee, which usually isn’t a recipe for success at the majors, except for Augusta, where the rough is a non-factor.

Right now, Sergio Garcia’s a better pick, because he’s happy and in love off the course (for now), which means he’s dangerous on it. He has won two of his last three starts, he seems to be frowning less, and his putter has gone from being his biggest liability to his best friend. Sergio was ranked eighth – EIGHTH! – in strokes gained-putting a year ago. If he can wield the flat stick like that again, he should be able to break through in the Big Ones … so long as nothing conspires against him. 

Instagram#AskLav: I believe Tiger will win a major this year, if not 2. Do you believe he will? And if so do you think it will ‘open the floodgates’ on his major drought? – via Kinley Lee, on Instagram

Do I believe he will win one? Yes – this foursome of major venues is too favorable for him not to add to his major haul. If he doesn’t win one in 2014, it’s reasonable to wonder if he’ll ever get to 15, let alone 18. But opening up the floodgates? No, not like the old days. Majors are harder than ever to win because golf is deeper than ever. These days, winning a major requires superior ball-striking, sublime putting and even a little luck. One little mishap on Friday – see: 15 at Augusta – can affect the outcome on Sunday. The days of expecting multiple-major seasons are long gone.

The most noticeable thing about Tiger at Torrey was that he definitely had gained muscle mass – the guy looked like he could suit up Sunday for the Broncos. As for his swing, well, I have no clue. Compared to my action – little lower body rotation, hands outside on the takeaway, awful impact position – Tiger’s looked flawless. 

Instagram#AskLav: Do you think Jordan Spieth’s performance on Sunday at the Farmers showed he’s not quite ready to win the big tournaments yet? – via Ben Ehrlich, on Instagram

Wrote about this Sunday from Torrey, but the kid is still learning how to win at the highest level. It’s easy to anoint him the Next Big Thing because he had a decorated junior and amateur career and, a year ago, he had a lot of top 10s, backdoored a win at the John Deere, advanced to the Tour Championship and played on the Presidents Cup team. Huge potential. But Spieth himself admitted in San Diego that he “wasn’t really mentally ready to win this week,” and that, under the gun, he didn’t have a go-to shot for the first time in a tournament. A month earlier, he had a shaky back nine at Kapalua with an ice-cold putter. Remember, he is just 20 years old, with one full year under his belt, and he’s already been in a position to win a dozen times. The wunderkind is too talented not to figure it out soon.

Instagram#AskLav: Hey Ryan, do you think Phil Mickelson will be No. 1 this year? – via Todd Peters, on Instagram

Short answer: Um, no. He’s never been No. 1, and it’s likely not coming in his age-43/44 season, either. Tiger, Rory and Adam Scott all will have better years than Phil, who won’t play enough in late summer and fall to make up ground in the OWGR. 

Instagram#AskLav: When will Bubba Watson win another tourney? Been a lot of starts since his Masters win – via Charlie Lallas, on Instagram

Indeed, the 2012 Masters winner has gone silent. He had just three top 10s a year ago, a hugely disappointing campaign as he transitioned to life as a major winner and, more importantly, as a father. His stats weren’t much different from 2012 to ’13 (still top 5 in driving distance and greens hit), and he actually improved in putting (157th to 119th). Bubba will always be a streaky talent who can catch fire and notch a W at any time. He just needs to be properly motivated. 

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What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.

1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.

4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.

7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”

Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  

Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.

The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Web.com Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.  

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."