#AskLav: Talking Tiger and Phil ... and more Tiger

By Ryan LavnerMarch 6, 2014, 1:15 pm

Last week’s episode of Survivor: PGA National helped reinforce a few ideas. 

Russell Henley is a fearless, tenacious competitor with a lot of upside.   

Rory McIlroy is close, very close, to being a prolific winner once again on the PGA Tour.

And that Tiger Woods’ record as a closer won’t ever be matched.

Winning a tournament on the PGA Tour is no easy task, despite how routine Woods has made it look for so many years. With McIlroy kicking away a third-round lead at the Honda, he became the eighth player in 14 events this season who has failed to convert a 54-hole lead into victory. Last year, only 17 players in 38 tries were able to slam the door after holding the Round 3 lead.

Granted, math was never a strong suit, but in the past year and a half that’s just a 44 percent success rate.

Tiger’s career record with the lead, including the PGA and European tours? A superhuman 89 percent (58 of 65).

Indeed, it appears that he is the last of golf’s shutdown closers.

This week’s mailbag: 

Instagram#AskLav: What does Woods have to gain by playing this week? – Oliver Graham, via Instagram

A ton – provided he can stay upright for 72 holes. Playing (and finishing) this week would give him confidence that his back won’t limit him going forward. And, to use of his favorite Tigerisms, he needs the reps – desperately – after teeing it up in only 10 ½ rounds so far in 2014. With the Masters only five weeks away, he wouldn’t compete here if he was seriously worried about re-injury.



Sure, a few of the story lines have been ridiculous – Tiger, after all, will never return to his 2000 self, neither personally nor professionally, so it’s best to stop waiting. But generally, everyone loves a story in which a player overcomes obstacles (real or imagined) to return to glory. Drama makes for compelling reading or television, no?



A little concerned, no doubt, since his only encouraging round of the year was that Saturday 65 at the Honda … which he followed by withdrawing the next day. He has yet to string back-to-back rounds together, and there isn’t much time to get it sorted out, unless he makes the desperate move and adds an event. That said, Tiger has shown in the past that he can play his first tournament of the year at Augusta and still be a factor, as he did in 2010. Since 2005, the guy has finished outside the top 6 there only once. Injured, rusty, whatever – he’ll probably find a way to contend.

Instagram#AskLav: What is the best thing about the “new” Doral? Hit or miss with the Tour? – Clayton Swanner, via Instagram

We’ll have to wait until Sunday for a more definitive answer, but most early reports indicate that the players are enjoying the new-look Doral. Make no mistake, it’s essentially a brand-new golf course. The routing is the same, but most holes have a different look. The rough is thick. There is more blue – as in water – at the Blue Monster. The greens, however, are the bigger difference-maker – they’re larger and more undulating. Add it all up, and it’s a more difficult test. Keep in mind, of course, that doesn’t always mean it’s a better test.

Instagram#AskLav: Does Tiger have any chance this week if he doesn’t get a practice round in on this new Doral track? – Will Wente, via Instagram

Well, he at least walked the course Wednesday afternoon, which is progress, but he’s still outside the top 10 in my personal Power Rankings. Despite his well-documented success at this track (four wins, five other top 10s), he’ll still be teeing it up semi-blind Thursday – he only chipped and putted on Wednesday – relying mostly on the notes and charts made by his caddie, Joe LaCava. He’s a terrific looper and can adequately guide his man around the course, but Tiger is still putting on brand-new greens and playing shots from different angles. Everyone in the field needs a few early spins around Trump Doral. Woods is no different.

Instagram#AskLav: What is going on with Phil right now? He is missing a whole lot of cuts. – Jack Costello, via Instagram

Actually, the Honda trunk-slammer was his first missed cut since last July, but I see where you’re going with this. Lefty has gone nine starts on the PGA Tour without a top-10 finish … which is not the kind of performance you’d expect from a player who said in January that 2014 had the potential to be a career year. Phil said that he’s hitting his driver longer and straighter than ever before – and he’s currently ranked 137th in total driving. He said last year that he’s figured out the secret to putting – and he’s currently ranked 114th. He’s also outside the top 100 in proximity to the hole from 50-75 yards, 75-100 yards, 100-125 yards, 125-150 yards, 150-175 yards and 175-200 yards. Notice a pattern? He’s not doing anything particularly well right now.

Instagram#AskLav: Should Tiger change his swing again? – Bradley Wonka, via Instagram

Hmm, that same swing seemed to work last year, when he won five times and earned Player of the Year honors, right? A swing change is not the answer, not at this point in his career. Getting 100-percent healthy – or as close as an oft-injured 38-year-old can be – is of greater importance.



You’ll have to ask my boss. Actually, don’t bother. I already know the answer.

Getty Images

Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.

Getty Images

Just like last year, Spieth in desperate need of a spark

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Jordan Spieth has arrived at the Travelers Championship in need of a turnaround. Again.

Spieth’s playoff victory last year over Daniel Berger, complete with a bunker hole-out and raucous celebration, went down as one of the most electrifying moments of 2017. It also propelled Spieth to some more major glory, as he won The Open in his very next start.

So it’s easy to forget the state of Spieth’s game when he first stepped foot on the grounds of TPC River Highlands a year ago. Things were, quite plainly, not going well.

He was struggling on the greens, even going so far as to switch putters at the AT&T Byron Nelson. He then failed to contend at Erin Hills, only netting a T-35 finish thanks to a final-round 69 that came hours before the leaders teed off.

So here we are again, with Spieth in search of a spark after a series of underwhelming performances that included last week’s effort at Shinnecock Hills, where he bogeyed the last two holes of his second round to miss the cut by a shot. Except this time, the climb back to the top may be even steeper than it was a year ago.

“I’m not sure where the state of my game is right now,” Spieth said. “If I strike the ball the way I have been this year, then the results are coming. But the last couple weeks I’ve played Muirfield and then the (U.S.) Open, and I hit the ball really poorly and didn’t give myself that many opportunities to let the putter do the work.”

While many big names play sporadically in the time between the Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth remained as busy as ever thanks to the Tour’s swing through Texas. So even after failing to contend much in the spring outside of a memorable finale in Augusta, and even after struggling for much of his week at TPC Sawgrass, Spieth looked out at his schedule and saw a myriad of possible turning points.

There was the AT&T Byron Nelson, played in his hometown and at a venue on which he was one of only a handful with any experience (T-21). Then a trip across town to Colonial, where he had beaten all but two players in a three-year stretch (T-32).

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Throw in the missed cuts at Muirfield Village and Shinnecock Hills, and Spieth has made it to the last leg of a six-event stretch that has included only one off week and, to date, zero chances to contend come Sunday.

“I think here this week, the key for me is just to get out in the first round and try not to do too much,” Spieth said. “I mean, 90-plus percent of the tournaments the last two years I’ve thrown out my chances to win a golf tournament on Thursday. I’ve had too much to do from here on.”

That was certainly the case last week on Long Island, where Spieth’s hopes for a fourth major title evaporated well before course conditions became a focal point over the weekend. He was 4 over through his first two holes and spent much of the next 34 stuck in a fit of frustration. He gave himself a glimmer of hope with four late birdies Friday followed by a pair of bogeys that snuffed it out with equal speed.

Spieth has continued to preach patience throughout the year, but there’s no getting around some eye-popping stats; he's 188th on Tour this year in strokes gained: putting and 93rd in fairways hit. It can foster a pressure to find a cure-all in any given week, especially given how quickly he got a middling summer back on track last year.

“It’s something that you fight, sure,” Spieth said. “It’s been that way just about every tournament except Muirfield, because then you go to the U.S. Open and think you don’t even have to shoot under par to win this golf tournament. So as much as that kind of comes into your head, it’s not bothering me this time. I’m going to try and have fun, and make progress.”

After this week, Spieth will have some down time with family before making the trip overseas to Carnoustie. He plans to have a few private dinners accompanied by the claret jug, one last toast to last year’s success before turning the trophy back over to the R&A.

But even Spieth admitted that as it pertains to his chances to follow in Brooks Koepka’s footsteps by successfully defending a major title, he’ll be greatly aided by working his way into the mix this weekend. It represents the last chance in this early-summer swing to get his name back on the leaderboard, an opportunity to light fire to a pedestrian campaign like he did a year ago.

No pressure.

“It’s your basic stuff that sometimes gets off, that the harder you try to get them back on sometimes, the worse it gets,” Spieth said. “It can be frustrating, or you can just kind of wait for it to come to you. I think I’m OK with where things are, whether it’s the rest of this year or next year. I feel like there are good scores coming.”

Getty Images

Twice winner Kizzire on missing U.S. Open: 'Fuel to my fire'

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:59 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Based on recent form, there likely wasn’t a more decorated player watching last week’s U.S. Open from home than Patton Kizzire.

Kizzire is in the midst of a breakthrough season that has already included two wins: a maiden victory at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November, and a marathon playoff triumph over James Hahn at the Sony Open in January. While those titles got him into the Masters and the PGA Championship, they didn’t mean an exemption to Shinnecock Hills.

Kizzire got as high as 51st in the world rankings after his win in Honolulu, but his game started to turn shortly thereafter. A T-12 finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship is his lone top-25 finish in 12 starts since his Sony victory, and he missed four straight cuts from the Masters to The Players Championship.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The U.S. Open grants exemptions to the top 60 in the world at two different cutoff points close to the tournament. But in the midst of a cold streak, Kizzire was 63rd and 65th at each of those deadlines. He attempted to earn a spot at sectional qualifying in Columbus, only to find that his score of 5 under was one shot too many.

“I guess just adding a little fuel to my fire, adding insult to injury,” Kizzire said. “Just to have narrowly missed several different ways of qualification was disappointing. But I just tried to spin it as a positive. I got two weeks off, and I did watch those guys struggle a little bit. I wasn’t struggling at home, we’ll just say that.”

Kizzire hopes to put the disappointment behind him this week at the Travelers Championship, where he finished T-53 a year ago. And while his pair of trophies didn’t get him a tee time last week – or guarantee him a berth in The Open next month – they put him in prime position to make the season-ending Tour Championship, which would mean spots in the first three majors of 2019.

The combination of two recent wins and a ranking outside the top 60 isn’t one that comes up often on Tour, but Kizzire maintains a balanced perspective as he looks to get back to playing the kind of golf that will ensure he doesn’t miss any more majors in the near future.

“If I would have played better in between the U.S. Open and my last win, I would have gotten in. So my play was the reason I wasn’t in,” Kizzire said. “You certainly could look at it and say, ‘This guy’s got two wins, he should be in.’ But I’m not making too much of it.”

Getty Images

Masters, Players and U.S. Open champs grouped at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 5:50 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Fresh off a second straight U.S. Open victory, Brooks Koepka is getting right back to work at the Travelers Championship.

Koepka has stood by his commitment to tee it up at TPC River Highlands, becoming the first U.S. Open champ to play the following week on the PGA Tour since Justin Rose played the Travelers after his 2013 win at Merion. Koepka will play the first two rounds alongside Masters champ Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson, who captured The Players Championship last month.

Here’s a look at some of the other marquee, early-round groupings for a star-studded field outside Hartford (all times ET):

7:50 a.m. Thursday, 12:50 p.m. Friday: Jason Day, Xander Schauffele, Daniel Berger

Day is making his second straight Travelers appearance, having missed the cut both last year in Cromwell and last week at Shinnecock Hills. He’ll be joined by reigning Rookie of the Year Schauffele and Berger, who took home ROY honors in 2015 and last year was on the losing end of Jordan Spieth’s playoff dramatics at this event.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

8 a.m. Thursday, 1 p.m. Friday: Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson

Koepka is making his third tournament appearance overall, but his first since a T-9 finish in 2016, before he had either of his two U.S. Open trophies. Reed has become a regular at this event and enters off a fourth-place showing on Long Island, while Simpson cruised to victory last month at TPC Sawgrass and tied for 10th last week.

12:50 p.m. Thursday, 7:50 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman, Russell Knox

This was the tournament that turned things around last year for Spieth, who took home the title in his debut thanks to one of the most dramatic shots of the year in a playoff against Berger. He’ll start his title defense alongside a pair of past champs, as Leishman won here for his first Tour title back in 2012 and Knox was a winner two years ago when the tournament was played in August.

1 p.m. Thursday, 8 a.m. Friday: Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas

This group should get plenty of attention in the early rounds, with Thomas entering as the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 2 and joined a pair of players who will launch drives all across TPC River Highlands. Watson has feasted on this layout, winning in both 2010 and 2015 among five top-10 finishes, while McIlroy tied for 17th last year in his tournament debut but missed the cut last week at Shinnecock.