Monday, March 12, 2018

He Stuck to Golf: Tiger Woods, Roaring Back, Ties for 2nd

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — The most remarkable aspect of Tiger Woods’s comeback isn’t how quickly his ball-striking rounded into shape after two years of relative inactivity or how well he handled the crucible of contending after being sidelined for so long. To Wayne Gretzky, who watched the weekend telecast of the Valspar Championship with great interest, the most impressive part of Woods’s second-place finish was that he was back competing at all.

Woods, 42, could have limped off the main stage with his legacy secure. After $110 million in career earnings on the course and several times that much off it; after more than 100 worldwide victories, including 14 majors; after two decades of being saddled with a superhero cape that is one loose thread from unraveling into infamy, Woods could have become a full-time chauffeur and cheerleader for his two children, a part-time fisherman and scuba diver and an occasional adrenaline junkie who satisfied his cravings through bungee jumping, sky diving or heli-skiing.

Before carding a final-round one-under 70 to finish tied for second, one stroke behind the Englishman Paul Casey, for his first top-three finish since 2013, Woods could have drifted from the sport. He could have concentrated on his golf-design projects, his restaurant business and his foundation-funded learning labs. That Woods chose instead to rejoin a tour that in his absence had become the domain of players nearly half his age impressed Gretzky, the Hall of Fame hockey player.

“I think it shows how much he loves the sport,” Gretzky said in a telephone interview. “That sends a great message that the best athlete in the world in his sport is the hardest working and the guy that loves the game the most and still wants to win the most.”

Gretzky, who still owns or holds a share of dozens of N.H.L. records, added, “The Good Lord blessed us with talent, but to be the greatest you have to outwork everyone, too.”

On the eve of Sunday’s final round at Innisbrook’s Copperhead resort, Notah Begay III, Golf Channel’s on-course reporter and a member of Woods’s small inner circle, gave an illuminating explanation for Woods’s resplendent short game, the aspect of his play that failed him spectacularly in his limited starts the past two years.

Begay, a teammate of Woods’s at Stanford, said that Woods had installed four practice greens in his Jupiter, Fla., backyard, including one that replicates the putting surfaces at the Bay Hill course where he has won eight times. Begay added that Woods employed someone to tend the greens who worked at Augusta National, home of the Masters, which Woods has won four times.

“It is one of the advantages he has by having that practice facility when he walks right outside of his house,” Begay said during the Golf Channel telecast, adding, “It is one of the things he was able to do the most — putting and chipping — throughout all of these injuries.”

The last time Tiger Woods won the Masters was 2005 when Phil Mickelson slipped the green jacket on him. When this year’s tournament begins on April 5 at Augusta National, more than a few people will be betting on Woods to win again. Roberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Woods and the rest of the field started Sunday chasing Corey Conners, a 26-year-old PGA Tour rookie from Canada who had held the lead since the first round. Conners’s best finish in his first 10 starts of the wraparound season was a tie for 29th.

When Woods was Conners’s age, he had 30 PGA Tour titles. Woods’s 20s were the days when his mastery of courses and his domination of his competition combined to make him seem more machine than man. He commanded awe while appearing only remotely accessible, like a Rembrandt painting hanging in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Woods’s native Southern California.

The public assumed he would be around to admire for years and years. But then came the injuries to Woods’s knees, neck, shoulder, and back. There were also the indignities, including the public unraveling of Woods’s marriage after his indiscretions were made public and a D.U.I. arrest last May for the misuse of prescription medications.

At the Presidents Cup last September, Woods, an assistant captain for the United States team, acknowledged that he could envision a scenario in which he did not return to competitive golf. He was five months removed from back fusion surgery and had not been cleared by his doctors to make full swings. While he took his first tentative shots with his long irons and woods, Justin Rose, who finished tied for fifth Sunday, was winning back-to-back tournaments in China and Turkey.

When Woods said he didn’t know what the future held for him, fans of his golfing artistry were left to face the prospect of never seeing another of his signature masterpieces. Perhaps that explains the wildly enthusiastic receptions that Woods received here and at the first three stops of his comeback tour. In an interview Friday, Begay said it seemed to him as if fans were hungry to show Woods their appreciation for how he changed the game while he was still around to soak it in.

“Everyone loves a comeback story, and the underdog and Tiger became the underdog,” Begay said. “Just two months ago he was ranked outside the top 1,000 and was overcoming multiple back surgeries and sort of was the punch line on late-night comedy because of everything that had gone on. But through all the trials and tribulations, he nonetheless has found a way to persevere and get back to a level of performance that is literally unbelievable.”

Brandt Snedeker, 37, has enjoyed one of the best vantage points for Woods’s comeback. Snedeker has been in the same group for five of the 14 official rounds that Woods has logged. From what Snedeker has seen, the renewed appreciation being shown Woods by the fans is being reciprocated in kind. Woods is making more eye contact, signing more autographs, smiling more.

“I think he’s more at peace with his role in golf,” Snedeker said. “I think there was a time he was so focused on winning, he lost out on the relationships.”

During the Wednesday pro-am here, Woods stopped when he came upon a group of military personnel stationed at one hole. He thanked them for their service and added, “Appreciate it.”

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Woods’s comeback is that his performance has everybody looking ahead, not back. “The excitement going into the Masters is going to be massive,” said Adam Scott, the 2013 champion at Augusta National, “because I don’t know if any of us were really thinking Tiger was a true favorite in there, and he might be.”

Source: New York Times

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2018 Spring Big Hole Tournament

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Jim “Bones” Mackay reveals Phil Mickelson’s interesting strategy for playing No. 12 at Augusta National

The swirling winds at Augusta National’s 12th hole have been giving golfers fits for more than eight decades. So much so that a pair of John Hopkins professors created a computer model in 2016 that tried to predict the effects of the ever-present gusts from the gods. True story.

RELATED: The biggest disasters on Augusta National’s 12th hole

Throughout the years, Phil Mickelson has handled the hole about as well as anyone. Sure, there was that unfortunate double bogey in the final round of 2009 after he shot a record-low 30 on the front nine, but a birdie on Sunday there in 2004 sparked a five under finish over the final seven holes to give him a one-shot win over Ernie Els and a first major title. Mickelson also birdied the hole in the final round in 2010 to stretch his lead to two over Lee Westwood before going on to win his third and final green jacket.

Many would argue Mickelson has an advantage on the short par-3 thanks to being left-handed, but he also may have found the best strategy for the shot. A strategy shared by his former caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, during an NBC/Golf Channel conference call with reporters on Thursday.

“We had this thing, when I was caddying there called ‘wait on your wind,’ which basically everybody knows if you stand there long enough you’re going to feel the wind blow pretty much every single direction as possible. And it can certainly get in your head a little bit,” Mackay said. “So what we would do is just pick a club for a certain wind and wait for that wind to show up. You had a pretty good idea what that wind would be. We never looked at 11 green. We were more looking over into 13 fairway as to what — the trees and what not were doing over there, if there were any leaves blowing around, things along those lines.”

(By the way, the computer model backed up that looking at the flag on No. 11 was pointless.)

“But my theory always was pick a club for a wind there and you may have to wait five seconds for that wind and you may have to wait a minute for it. But that always seemed to work fairly well in that regard.”

Not exactly great for pace of play, but if there’s any shot in golf that deserves extra time (See: Spieth, Jordan in 2016 along with many others), it’s this one.



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Monday, February 19, 2018

Rory McIlroy: Crazy golf galleries cost Tiger Woods two shots every tournament

It’s no big secret that golf fans can be ridiculous. For every 100 knowledgable, well-meaning patrons, you get one doofus yelping, “Baba Booey!” or “mashed potatoes!” on a random tee shot. We saw this a few weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open when somebody piped up as Tiger Woods was putting.

Woods probably gets more of that than anyone, or so said playing partner over the first two days at the Genesis Open, Rory McIlroy. This is the first time Woods and McIlroy have been paired together since the final round of the 2015 Masters.

“It might have been like this like the whole Tiger-mania … but I swear, playing in front of all that, he gives up half a shot a day on the field,” said McIlroy. “Like, it’s two shots a tournament he has to give to the field because of all that that goes on around. So whether that calms down the more he plays and it doesn’t become such a novelty that he’s back out playing again because it’s tiring. I need a couple Advil … I’ve got a headache after all that.”

So what exactly are they yelling?

“Just the whole thing. Guys, you’ve got a six-foot putt, ‘It doesn’t break as much as you think,’ just stuff like this that they don’t have to say,” McIlroy said. “Just stuff. You know, whoever that’s teeing off at 8:30 in the morning doesn’t get that and can just go about his business and just do his thing. That’s tough. He has to deal with that every single time he goes out to play.”

McIlroy was clearly perturbed by the entire scene as thick galleries lined the course at Riviera Country Club to watch Woods play his 5th and 6th rounds of 2018. He went on to miss the cut after shooting 72-76 over the first two days.

“It’s cost me a lot of shots over the years,” confirmed Woods. “It’s cost me a few tournaments here and there. It’s been a lot because all it takes is one shot on a Thursday that you lose a tournament by a shot on Sunday. What people don’t realize, it’s not just something that happens on Sunday afternoon, this is cumulative and it’s par for the course. I’ve dealt with it for a very long time.”

This probably isn’t going to change any time soon. McIlroy is right. Woods being back out on the PGA Tour is still a novelty, and people are excited. He’s played just three events since the end of 2015, and he’ll play No. 4 next week at the Honda Classic. Hopefully the mashed potato bros will keep the schtick at home.

Source: CBS Sports

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

British Open 2017: You won’t believe how little golf Brooks Koepka has played since winning the U.S. Open

SOUTHPORT, England — Brooks Koepka’s biggest smile following an opening 65 at the 146th British Open had nothing to do with how he played, but rather, a Las Vegas trip to celebrate his U.S. Open victory. “We had fun,” Koepka said with a wide grin, befitting of one of those What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas commercials. When asked to elaborate, Koepka drew laughs in the media center with a coy, “It was fun,” before adding as little detail as possible. “I had a few friends out. We had a good time.”

In case you don’t get the drift, Koepka wasn’t talking about playing golf in Sin City. In fact, you won’t believe how infrequently he touched his clubs in the five weeks between winning at Erin Hills and showing up at Royal Birkdale. Twice. A round with his agent and a photo shoot. That’s it.

Yet there was Koepka on Thursday, grabbing a share of the early lead with Jordan Spieth. So how was he able to snap back into tournament mode so quickly despite an extended break? Quite easily, actually.

“It’s just a mental thing. I don’t think it’s anything else. If I start playing four or five weeks in a row, everything just seems to get nonchalant, I guess you could say,” said Koepka, who admitted to struggling more when he went back to the gym following his Vegas jaunt. “You get to be in the routine and get used to it. And it just doesn’t seem — it just doesn’t ever seem like I’m fully ready to play. If you take some time off and kind of recharge mentally, physically, I feel like I’m in really good shape right now, even with that time off mentally.”

RELATED: Joe Buck misidentifies Brooks Koepka’s girlfriend on live TV

Jason Gay wrote a story in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal about how Roger Federer has used extended periods of rest to his advantage late in his career, most recently winning last week’s Wimbledon after sitting out the entire clay season. In Federer’s case, the time off is taken to combat the tennis great turning 36 next month. With Koepka, a gym fanatic nearly a decade younger, the benefits he reaps from rest all have to do with motivation.

“I was chomping at the bit to get back, kind of those last few days at home. I was excited to get over here. I just wanted to play golf. I just wanted to get back inside the ropes. I wanted to have those juices flowing,” Koepka said. “Sometimes it’s hard even when you’re practicing at home, if you’re playing with buddies or just playing by yourself, really hard to get up for it. I mean, I think — it’s funny, I’ll play with my dad and shoot 75 every time or higher. It’s hard to get into it. It’s something, you just need a little bit of competitiveness and a little bit of something to get me going.”

Koepka didn’t really get going on Thursday until birdieing the par-4 eighth and then ripping off three consecutive birdies on 11-13. He made his lone bogey on No. 16, but bounced back with an eagle on the par-5 17th by holing a difficult bunker shot.

“Seventeen was actually a terrible lie in the bunker,” Koepka said. “It was in one of the those rake marks. And my caddie told me to get inside 10 feet; that would be pretty good. And luckily enough it went in.”

Lucky or not, Koepka taking apart a course in a completely different manner than his destruction of Erin Hills was impressive. Not that we should be too surprised that a player who honed his skills in Europe before becoming a PGA Tour star is comfortable playing links golf. And we definitely shouldn’t be surprised that Koepka is comfortable on the big stage.

“Anytime you’re excited, you’re extremely focused when you’re out here,” Koepka said. “And it’s a major championship, and if you can’t get up for that, you might as well go home.”

If Koepka keeps playing like this, he might be going home with another trophy. Well, after another trip to Vegas first.


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