Disorderly Golf

April 10, 2010 12:15 AM

Tiger's Roy Jones Jr. Moment

It was on the ninth hole on Thursday that Tiger Woods had his Roy Jones, Jr. moment.

He had hit his drive towards the trees that line the left side, standing between the first and ninth fairways.  He wasn't completely stymied, but his ball was in the second cut (it's not exactly rough, more like a two-day growth of beard), limbs were blocking his path, and his straight-on view included only the front right portion of the green.  

The ninth green sits atop a rise, guarded along its left flank by two deep bunkers.  The flag was at the top left; the front right includes the false front that has broken many hearts, notably that of Greg Norman in 1996.  Woods hit a shot that only he could imagine, a sweeping draw from the fuzzy lie that started well right of the green, rode the right-left wind, landed in the middle of the putting surface and came to a halt on the back shelf, twelve feet from the cup.  He drained the delicate putt for a birdie that no one else in the field could possibly have achieved.

When his ball skidded to a halt on the green, I was reminded of Jones -- not Bobby Jr. the golfer, but Roy Jr. the boxer.  During his reign as the most explosive (and risk-averse) fighter many of us have ever seen, Jones turned to rap to express his thoughts on his life and career.  One number, released around the time he took on another overmatched light-heavyweight, was called, "Y'all Must've Forgot," reminding the world of his greatness and asserting his claim as the best pound-for-pound fighter alive.  

Billions of gallons of virtual ink have been spilled asking whether Tiger Woods would be the same when he returned from his self-imposed exile.  That shot on nine, the eagle that came before it, the other eagle on 15, and Friday's tidy round of 70 on a day when the course played much harder than it had in the first round, provided a wakeup call.  Can his public performances clear the air of all the talk about his private life?  Sure.  Will the crowds cheer for him?  Of course.  Is every golfer on the leaderboard, and every spectator and viewer, going to be intensely aware of his every move, anticipating something extraordinary?

Yes.  We all must've forgot.  
April 5, 2010 4:28 PM

Tiger, Asked and Answered

He came, he spoke, he took questions.

Tiger Woods spoke out with reporters on Monday.jpg
In thirty-five minutes in front of an international press corps and a live audience watching streams and TVs, Tiger Woods did what the world has been asking him to do.  He spoke calmly, but not at all robotically.  He answered nearly every question, addressed issues seemingly without evasion, bridled just a little, but came across as thoughtful, apologetic, and as open as anyone could have expected.

He only once said, "That's personal," when he was asked specifically what he was in rehab for.  

On the touchier subjects, he was forthright if not expansive:

Why did he go to the hospital Thanksgiving night?: "I had a busted-up lip and a pretty sore neck -- that was it.  It required five stitches in my lip."

Was Ambien or Vicodin involved in the accident?: "The police investigated the accident.  Cited me 166 bucks.  Closed case."

Why were you treated by Dr. Galea, who has been subsequently arrested for possessing human growth hormone [HGH]?:  "He's worked with a lot of athletes.  There's a comfort level when you're seeing someone who's worked with athletes."  He also stated again that he did not receive HGH or performance-enhancing drugs from Galea, and has never used them at any time.  He noted that federal authorities investigating Galea have been in touch with his agent, Mark Steinberg, but they have not yet indicated they want to speak with Tiger.  

Will you keep your management team intact?: "I certainly have everyone around me.  I've lied and deceived a lot of people and a lot of people didn't know what I was doing, either...To have Stevie [Williams, his caddie] back, it's tremendous. It really is.  He's a great friend, always has been and always will be.  We are honest with one another.  We've had a long talk, and it was a great talk as well."

Why didn't you do this -- a press conference -- sooner?: "December, because I wasn't at a right place for it.  And in January, I was in rehab."

He also provided information about something that hadn't been reported: that in 2008, in the course of recovering from his knee operation that summer after the U.S. Open win at Torrey Pines, he tore his Achilles tendon, and tore it several times more during the following year.  "It's one of the reasons why when I did come back and I did start playing, I was hitting the ball so short.  I couldn't push off of my right side."

His wife Elin remains the most delicate subject.  He spoke -- as he has many times before -- of his love for his children, without mentioning his wife in the same context.  "People probably don't realize [that because of my entering rehab] I missed my son's first birthday.  And that hurts.  That hurts a lot.  I vowed I would never miss another one after that.  I can't go back to where I was.  I want to be a part of my son's life and my daughter's life going forward and I missed his first birthday...[that was] something I regret and I probably will for the rest of my life."  (Reading between the lines, it doesn't look good for the Woodses' marriage -- why else would he have to say he wants to be a part of his chidren's lives?)  When asked immediately after if Elin and the kids would be joining him at the Masters, he responded stonily, "Elin is not coming this week, no."

He said many of the things he said in his statement in February, but while his delivery then struck many as remote and over-rehearsed, today he was warmer and also more self-aware than in any interview I've seen.  He was self-lacerating about his shortcomings, the ways he hurt people and betrayed the values taught him by his mother and father.  The words he used included "apologize," "wrong" (twice), "astray," "denial" (three times), "rationalization," "terrible" (twice), "pain and damage" (twice), "horrible," "responsibility" (three times), "not correct" or "not right" (three times), "harm," "mistakes," "lied" (six times), and "hit bottom."  The apology -- as was appropriate -- was to the players who've had to deal with all the questions about Tiger and his actions and his possible return.

The most encouraging comments were in reply to a question about his statement in February that he wanted to show more respect for the game, and how he intended to do that.  After saying he's going to try to not get as angry when he plays, to keep an even keel, he went on: "Just trying to be more respectful of the game and acknowledge the fans like I did today.  That was just an incredible reception today for all 18 holes, and show my appreciation for them.  I haven't done that in the past few years, and that was wrong of me. So many kids have looked up to me and so many fans have supported me through the years.  Just wanted to say thank you to them, especially going through all of this the past few months, it really put things in perspective for me and how much I appreciated -- or underappreciated the fans in the game of golf."  

The words were good and right.  The questions were asked and answered.  It's now up to him to just do it.  
April 3, 2010 12:20 AM

Masters Momentum, or Something Els?

Ernie Els will enter the Masters next week full of confidence, thanks to his back-to-back wins in Florida the past two weeks.  

If he's reading this, he may want to stop right now.

Over the last twenty years, only four Masters winners won any of the three tournaments leading up to Augusta.  The eventual Masters winners missed nine cuts in those sixty tournaments, and combined for just thirteen top-ten finishes.  Eleven of the twenty Masters champions failed to finish in the top ten in any of the three prior tournaments.  

The four who won in the weeks before the Masters were Phil Mickelson in 2006 (won the week before), Tiger Woods in 2001 (won two and three weeks prior), Fred Couples in 1992 (three weeks before), and Ian Woosnam in 1991 (three weeks before).  

If we consider the performance at the Masters of the winners of those sixty tournaments, the picture is less discouraging but muddy at best.  Three of the tournament winners did not qualify for the Masters; two players took two of three on the way to Augusta (Woods, 2001; Duval, 1999 -- he tied for sixth in the Masters that year).  Of the fifty-five individual winners who qualified, fourteen missed the Masters cut.  Besides the four winners, there were three second-place finishes (Woods, tied for second in 2007; Goosen in 2002; Davis Love III in 1995), and twenty-one top ten finishes in the Masters.  

The good news for Els is that, in overall terms, he's probably more like the Mickelson-Woods-Couples-Woosnam group than the likes of Jodie Mudd, Robert Gamez, Mike Standly, Craig Perks, or Rod Pampling, all of whom won their way into Augusta and were barely heard from once they got there.  In the five Masters since Phil Mickelson rolled in the birdie on 18 to win his first major and avoid a playoff with Els, Ernie has finished 47th, tied for 27th, and missed the last three cuts.  Considering that, four winners out of twenty probably sounds like pretty good odds to him.

March 25, 2010 11:40 PM

Like Bay Hill? Not Par-ticularly

Here's a sucker bet for you:  I'll bet you that the winner at this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational will be farther under par than last year's winner (some guy named Woods).

I don't even have to pay attention to know I've got this one in hand.  In his latest tinker with the Bay Hill set-up, Arnie has converted the course from a par 72 back to par 70.  The winner can take seven strokes more than Tiger's 275 and still be more under par.

Bay Hill Golf.jpg
He added several bunkers near the 300-yard mark on the uphill 4th, trying to make it play as a true three-shot hole.  The next step, I suppose, will be to bring in ancient Chinese laborers to construct a Great Wall across the fairway.  

The 16th hole has not been changed, except in par.  It was played as a par-5 for years, then shifted to par-4 in 2007 in an effort to "protect par."  Now it's a par-5 again.  The idea is to make the finish more "exciting," by creating the possibility of an eagle near the end of the round.  

Why does this silliness persist?  The hole is the same no matter what number is on the card.  It's a four-and-a-half par hole; make four and you'll gain on the field, make five and you lose a little.  Why should it matter if that four is called a "birdie" or a "par"?  

The tees are here.  The holes are over there.  Fewest strokes wins.  Call 'em whatever you like.  

March 23, 2010 11:00 PM

The LPGA Lives!

Michelle Wie has agreed to an endorsement deal with McDonald's for an ad campaign that will run in five languages.  Will one of them be English?277350b7-db6b-45e9-86bc-a1700e673793.jpg

Remember when the only text messages from Tiger that we knew about were the ones he sent to Annika Sorenstam?  Contrary to popular impression, there is still an LPGA.  Its season started over a month ago, in Thailand and Singapore.  Ai Miyazato won both events: by a stroke over Suzann Pettersen at the Siam Country Club, and then by two over Cristie Kerr the next week.  The Tour is in southern California this week and next, first for the KIA CLASSIC Presented By J Golf (linking a Korean car company with a Korean broadcasting concern), then for the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco in Rancho Mirage.  

It's a little sudden to have a major in your fourth tournament, though the Kraft Nabisco has been even earlier, third, in the past decade.  The structure's a little like NASCAR's, where they play the World Series first (Daytona 500), then go on to the regular season.

There was a lot of excitement a few years back about the young American women starting to emerge.  The perception is that they've been disappointing, but for all the talk of their victory drought, Paula Creamer has won eight tournaments and nearly $7 million; Brittany Lincicome won a major last year; Morgan Pressel has a major; and Michelle Wie won her first tournament last November.  The four are 23, 24, 21, and 20, respectively.  They're joined in the American contingent by Twitter All-Star Christina Kim, Angela Stanford, Kristy McPherson, and the irrepressible Juli Inkster.

The international talent in the women's game is both an opportunity and a challenge.  In the wake of the disastrous commissionership of Carolyn Bivens, the schedule is sharply reduced, and half the events will be held outside the United States.  There are eleven countries represented on the schedule: Thailand, Singapore, Jamaica, Mexico, France, England, Canada, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, and the U.S.  The current top eight in the Rolex world rankings are from eight different countries; women from Asia occupy ten of the top twenty spots.  That list includes Korea's Jiyai Shin (below), Rookie of the Year last year when she won three tournaments and led the money list; Japan's Miyazato, who broke through at the Evian Ladies Masters last summer; and Taiwan's Yani Tseng, a major winner in 2008.  
Ji-yai Shin, LPGA.jpg

The LPGA's television presence in the U.S. is all but nonexistent; in the Far East women's golf is a major force, and it is logical that the tournaments would follow the interest and the money.  The year to come is a tricky one for the tour, but a few good showings by Michelle Wie are all it needs to see a quick upswing in attention.  If the LPGA were a stock, this would be an awfully good time to buy.    
March 22, 2010 1:06 AM

Talking Tiger, Hidden Answers

So this is how Tiger will play it: what a disgraced president's men used to call "the limited-hang-out route."  Five minutes here, five minutes there, no questions answered that he doesn't want to answer -- though by all means, feel free to ask.  (That way you can trumpet your "exclusive" as being without preconditions.)

Tiger capture.jpg
He gave brief interviews to ESPN's Tom Rinaldi and GolfChannel's Kelly Tilghman (guess he really wasn't bothered by her "lynch him" comment last year) on Sunday.  He took responsibility for his actions, said he will be making amends for a long time if not the rest of his life, and declined to provide any details about either the Thanksgiving accident or the ailment for which he sought treatment.  "It's all in the police report," he said about the accident, conveniently eliding the fact that he apparently never spoke to the Florida Highway Police.  "Beyond that, everything's between Elin and myself and that's private."

To his credit, when Tilghman asked him about being the worldwide butt of jokes, he acknowledged, "It was hurtful, but you know what, I did it.  I'm the one who did those things."  He insisted no one in his circle knew anything about his infidelities, and if they did, "they would've stopped it... or tried to stop it but I kept it all to myself."  This, too, is a dubious claim, though perhaps one based in good intentions, not wanting to point a finger at anyone else.  

Each time we see Tiger in public, Brandel Chamblee said on GolfChannel, "a little air is let out of the balloon."  There's still plenty of air there, but we're beginning to see his strategy for image-rehab: controlled conditions, prepared answers, no lengthy interrogations.  He'll refuse to give details on the central issues, and eventually the questions will go away.  Let out a little more air, but shine no light.  

It'll probably work.  Five minutes feels long on television, especially when ESPN has hardwired a short attention span into the American brain.  He'll keep saying, "That's private," and the world that devoured what the tabloids were feeding it will soon wonder why these people keep hounding him with questions.  

One disquieting element lurks at the end of the Rinaldi interview:

Rinaldi: I ask this question respectfully, but of course at a distance from your family life.  When you look at it now, why did you get married?

Woods: Why?  Because I loved her.  I loved Elin with everything I have.  And that's something that makes me feel even worse, that I did this to someone I loved so much.  

In a novel or play, it would slowly dawn on him what tense he had used.  

March 17, 2010 3:45 AM

Nine Questions and Answers about Tiger's Return

Tiger_AP_Andrew_Brownbill_40dfce19-55bc-47a4-bfab-e3e0388fd0e0.jpgQ: Is the announcement that Tiger Woods will return to golf at the Masters in April a surprise?

A: Yes.  And no.  It makes sense, certainly.  The Masters is as tightly controlled as a sports event can be.  Heckling is not tolerated.  Running is not tolerated.  The same "patrons" have been attending for generations.  Press credentials are closely monitored, and the Enquirer need not apply.  It's a bit surprising that he'll go directly to a major without another tournament first.

Q: Can he win at Augusta?

A: In his thirteen full years on Tour, he's won his first event of the season six times.  You'd have to say he's got a shot.

Q: What do you think about the timing of the announcement?

A. It takes away a few weeks of speculation and scrutiny, as everyone was watching each Friday to see if he'd meet the deadline to enter the following week's tournament.  He's given us all decent notice, but it was pretty arrogant of him to upstage the Winthrop v. Arkansas-Pine Bluff NCAA play-in game. 

Q: Does this mean the talk of sex addiction treatment was a convenient smoke screen?

A: I don't know.

Q: Does it mean he and Elin have come to a final decision about staying together?

A: I don't know.

Q: Does it mean the big apology last month was just a sham?

A: I don't know.  I don't think so, but anyone who says he knows any of these things has been inhaling too close to the Delphic Oracle.  In the statement about his return, Tiger says he is continuing his treatment after almost two months of inpatient therapy.  His public apology looked like part of a twelve-step program, but we don't know the details and probably never will.

Q: Will he now resume a full playing schedule?

A: Which part of the Delphic Oracle comment was too confusing?  I don't know.  Nobody knows, perhaps including Team Tiger.  Speaking of which...

Q: Will there be any changes in Team Tiger?

A: It doesn't look like it, though if past performance is any indication, he won't be happy that caddie Steve Williams spoke publicly about him on New Zealand television.  

Q: Is there anything you're willing to predict with some measure of confidence?

A: At the Golf Writers Association dinner in Augusta the night before the first round of the Masters, Tiger's PGA Tour Player of the Year Award will be given in absentia.  
March 9, 2010 5:26 PM

The one "must" for the start of golf season

It's been a brutal winter, but warmer temperatures in the past few days have had a spring-like effect on my golfer's heart.  There's still a little snow in the corners, but it's nothing like a few weeks ago, when even Augusta National got a deep coat of the white stuff. 

So you're ready to stop shoveling and start swinging.  You probably already know you should be doing a good stretching program, or you'll just trade one set of sorenesses for another.  It's a good idea to change your spikes if you haven't done it in a while; you should put in new softspikes every fifteen rounds or so.  

With a new season starting, there's a temptation to make everything new.  The clubs in the shop are so shiny, the magazines are filled with Hot Lists (I'll share my Hot List picks another time), you're itching just to get out and hit balls.  But there's one thing you should always do before you start a new season:  Get your clubs regripped.

If you haven't gotten into the habit of regripping your clubs, you're giving away shots in every round.  The grip is the only connection between your swing and the club.  If it's a little slick or slippery, it can affect the way you make contact no matter how good and how grooved your swing path may be.  

It's a cheap, simple way to refresh your equipment.  Take them to your pro shop, your local golf store, or do it yourself with components available from golfgrips.comGolfsmith, and many other outlets.  Do it at the start of every season, for about a quarter of the price of the new driver you've been reading about.  

February 21, 2010 7:02 AM

Give Some Love to the Pros' Club Championship

Why don't we care about the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship?  Ian Poulter, of England,  pitches to the seventh green during the semifinals at the Match Play Championship golf tournament Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010, in Marana, Ariz.jpg

The cumbersome name doesn't help.  Neither does the one-off format.

When so many golfers are so good, anything can happen in an eighteen-hole match.  (When the PGA Championship was a match-play event, in its early years all matches were 36 holes; later, they were 18 holes for the first two rounds and 36 thereafter.)  The sixty-fourth seed can beat the top-ranked player, and it's an upset but not unfathomable.  Ross McGowan did beat #1 Steve Stricker in the opening round this year; #64 John Rollins gave Tiger Woods a scare in 2004 before losing, 1 up.

Seventy-two holes of stroke play may provide a fairer test, but match play goes back to the game's roots.  Golf was played for several hundred years before anyone thought to assign a "par" to each hole; it was a head-to-head sport, and no one worried about the overall score, just the state of the match.  

A match-play bracket is good enough for the thousands and thousands of club championships played all around the world.  The Accenture brings together the top sixty-four players in the World Golf Ranking, and pits them against each other.  (This year, two of the top three skipped the week, for divergent reasons.)  While the results can be quirky, the last seven runnings have been won by Tiger Woods (three times), Geoff Oglivy (twice), David Toms, and Henrik Stenson.  Not a shabby group for an event that gets no respect.  There's an occasional Jeff Maggert or Kevin Sutherland on the list of winners, but the four majors have coughed up a Trevor Immelman, a Todd Hamilton, a Shaun Micheel, and a Michael Campbell in the same period.

casey villegas.jpg
Watching one pair play thirty-six holes can make for tough television, but give some props on Sunday to Ian Poulter and whoever survives the Camilo Villegas-Paul Casey match. They're playing golf the way it was meant to be played -- one on one, for the toughest club championship there is.

February 19, 2010 11:19 AM

Tiger Talks

Tiger Woods during a news conference in, Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.jpg
What did we want from Tiger?  

Should anybody have to stand in public and dwell on his shortcomings like this?

Does he owe us an apology and an explanation?

Deserved or not, we got one today.

Tiger Woods spoke.  His statement was as pure a mea culpa as anyone could have asked for.  I am sorry, he said, repeatedly; I was wrong.  He said it to the collective world, to his family, to his employees, to the kids who have looked to him as a role model, to his business associates.

He acknowledged that he is embarrassed by his own behavior, that he has cheated on his wife and betrayed his family.  He said he has been in treatment, and will return to the rehab facility tomorrow.  He looked directly into the camera as he made his apology to the public that believed in him and was shocked and disappointed by his actions. He spared himself nothing, at one point patting his chest as he declared that no one was at fault but him.

His delivery was steady, his tone abashed and even humbled.  There were a few moments of spontaneous emotion, when his words quickened and came through with greater authenticity than the clearly scripted statement.  Those moments came when he expressed anger at the media scrutiny of his wife and children, and spoke forcefully regarding the stories that Elin had attacked him on the night of his car crash.  With barely suppressed fury, he told the world to leave his family alone.  

The most intriguing comments came when he said he had believed he was above the rules, that they didn't apply to him.  He says he understands that this is not so, and that he will redouble his efforts to treat the world and golf with integrity.  It will be interesting to see if this means he will follow the PGA Tour's guidelines on cooperation with the media in the future.  

We will see him on the golf course again.  When?  Even he doesn't know.  Maybe this year.  Maybe not.      The decision will be based on the progress he makes in getting his life in balance. Since late December, he's been in treatment and incommunicado.  He goes back tomorrow after a scheduled one-week break.  The end of formal treatment doesn't mean the end of the process.  He will return to the game when he and his wife determine the time is right; it will not be dictated by the golf calendar.  

He has talked often of the joy of being a father.  This is the first time I've heard him being a husband.  He praised Elin, defended her, said she'd acted with "grace and poise."  

It's easy to say this was a calculated public relations move, aimed at rehabilitating a shattered public image.  I agree its point was rehabilitation, but on a personal level.  Part of twelve-step recovery is acknowledging the harm you've done to others; in a life like Tiger's, this would means a public avowal in addition to private ones.  

Before dismissing it, ask yourself: If it were completely sincere, how would it differ from what he said?


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