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9:11PM

Tiger needs something impressive to make cut

By Art Spander

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — The old Tiger, meaning when he was the young Tiger, had his bad shots, the ones that clattered in the trees — like his ball Thursday at the 11th hole at Riviera — or buried in the rough. But more often than not, he also had his miracle shots.

Hey, you don’t win 14 majors and 79 tournaments overall if you can’t pull rabbits out of hats, or more specifically turn bogies into birdies.

But this Tiger no longer is young. Or as agile. Or, so far, as competitive. This Tiger keeps trying to wake up the echoes, then leaves us — and himself — with explanations instead of positive results.

He wasn’t terrible in the opening round of the 2018 Genesis Open (yes, it once was the L.A. Open). Except on the 11th, his second hole of the day, when (you’ve read this before) he hit one dead right off the tee, then (you haven’t read this before) lost the ball among the eucalyptus and, whap, had a double-bogey seven.

After starting with a birdie three on the risk-reward 10th hole, which is short (315 yards) and perplexing (do you try to drive it or lay up?).

All three members of their elite threesome, Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, had birdies. But 17 holes later, Thomas had a two-under 69, McIlroy an even par 71 and Woods a one-over 72.

That left him six shots back of Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau, which after 18 holes is not that important. But Tiger also is one above the early cut line, which is that important. He needs something impressive Friday, say a 68 or 69, to play the last two rounds.

There’s an understanding. This Tiger is 42 (or 19 years older than Thomas, who in 2017 was Player of the Year). This Tiger is returning after years of back pain and several surgeries. This Tiger finds success as much in progress as he does in his standing on the scoreboard.

Maybe Woods will win again — although probably not this week, thus remaining without a victory at Riviera, the wonderful course in a coastal canyon a mile or so from Santa Monica. Maybe Woods never will win again.

Someone post-round asked Thomas how he compared this Tiger with the earlier Tiger, the one who crushed everybody within putting distance.

“I’ve never seen (the other Tiger), so it’s hard for me to say,” Thomas explained. “I would say he’s pretty good. He’s obviously not driving it well. He’s not hitting the shots that he wants. He got it around one-over.

“So I think when he was playing (a lot) and not on all the time off, (Thursday’s round) could have been one or two under.”

Could have. But wasn’t. And we have to wonder whether it ever will be. Now he’s the old champion, facing the new champs. They have their rotten days now and then — last year’s winner, Dustin Johnson, the world's No. 1, triple-bogeyed the fifth hole — but more often than not, they have their brilliant days.

Days that Woods had for more than a decade. Days gone by.

Woods’ card on Thursday was a portrait of erratic golf, five birdies, four bogies and that triple bogey.

“I made really silly bogies out there,” was the Woods assessment of his round. “But overall I thought I hung in there well and grinded.” (That’s golfing vernacular for finding a ball and hitting it again. And again).

And trying to persuade yourself there’s a reason to smile.

“No one’s low out there,” he said, which is accurate only if you don’t consider four-under a low score. ”It’s too hard. The greens are getting a little bouncy (because of the poa annua grass on coastal courses). Those short ones are not easy.”

Naturally, as all golfers are, Woods is optimistic.

“I’m not that far off to really putting some good numbers out there,” he said. “If I can just clean up my card, I can start making my way up the board.”

If he can clean up his card.

9:27AM

The Athletic: Tiger Woods still believes, but can he rediscover 'winning time'?

By Art Spander
The Athletic

PACIFIC PALISADES — He continues to believe, which is understandable, because if Tiger Woods deep down didn’t think he could roll back the years and come back from those months of back pain and inactivity, then how could we believe in Tiger Woods?

Which some do. And a great many don’t.

Woods has returned to Riviera Country Club, classic, historic Riviera, where Humphrey Bogart belonged, where Ben Hogan won, where a teenage Tiger in 1992 played in a pro tournament for the first time. And where Woods never had much success, even in his dominant years.

The Hollywood fantasy lives large at Riviera, with photos on the walls inside the huge Spanish-style clubhouse of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Dean Martin — a longtime member — and Jerry Lewis, Clark Gable and Bing Crosby. Myth and reality and tales of Howard Hughes leaving the club because the pro told him he never would be the best golfer in the land.

That’s what Woods used to be. Not just the country, the world. Now, preparing for the Genesis Open, long ago called simply the Los Angeles Open, which begins Thursday at Riviera, Tiger is a man trying to regain the brilliance.

Is he fooling himself? They say you don’t lose greatness, but as months and years creep by, you lose flexibility, lose concentration. Woods says his two children are what’s important in his life. “Priorities change,” was a reminder nobody really needed.

That saying, “You can’t go home again,” is so full of meaning for Woods, who, having grown up maybe 25 miles away, is allowed to think of Riviera and the tournament, L.A. Open or Genesis, as sort of a home — one in which he never got quite comfortable. A second place was his best finish before he stopped entering 12 years ago.

“I love the course,” Woods said Tuesday. “For some reason I didn’t play it well.”

Two weeks ago, down the coast in San Diego, Woods tied for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open while playing in a PGA Tour event for the first time in a year. The back that required one surgical technique after another passed a test. And yet?

Golfers last longer in their sport than most athletes do in other sports, an advantage and a disadvantage because suddenly you’re facing the young golfer you used to be.

For the first rounds of the Genesis, Woods is grouped with Rory McIlroy, who is 28, and with Justin Thomas, who is 23.

“I made my debut here in ’92,” Woods said. “I flew out with Justin. He said that was a year before he was born. I’m sorry, but that really put things into perspective fast.”

To McIlroy, winner of four majors, and Thomas, winner of one, last year’s PGA Championship, Woods has been an example, an idol, even an advisor.

“I think now they’re starting to see me as a competitor,” Woods said.

But how much of one?

Surely one of the reasons Woods chose to return to Riviera and the Genesis is the involvement in his foundation, emphasizing education. One scholarship winner asked, “Who’s Tiger Woods?”

“That doesn’t bother me at all,” Woods said.

What does bother him is not winning a Tour event in five years. There’s impatience, although he said it’s tempered by the unavoidable fact his body wouldn’t allow him to take a cut at a golf ball for weeks.

“I’ve been away from the game for a very long time,” he said when asked about expectations, ours as much as his. “I’ve got a lot of room for improvement and a long way to go.”

At San Diego, some of his drives were crooked. He said he spent a week making corrections. Champions do not concede, and as the winner of 79 tournaments, 14 of them majors, Woods unquestionably has been a champion.

“I’d like to win some tournaments,” Woods said. “Jjust like not to feel sore, to play all-out again with …  three days off.”

He's not yet ready to commit to playing in back-to-back tournaments, even with next week's Honda Classic near his home in Florida.

“It would be a great sign if I do play,” Woods said. “It would be a smart sign if I didn’t play. How about that? Does that dance pretty good?’

It dances elusively, even if his thought is direct.

“It’s winning time,” he said.

When hasn’t it been? For Woods or any other pro?

©2018 The Athletic Media Company. All rights reserved.

 

 

9:11PM

No Tiger, but plenty of Phil — and Scott Piercy

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — So he’s not here. That’s the way it goes. Sport isn’t always what we would wish. Tiger Woods withdraws. The Giants blow a ninth-inning lead.

You can’t always get what you want, the Rolling Stones lyrics advise. Life goes on. The games go on.

Woods was one of a kind. Still is, although he hasn’t played a tournament round in more than a year. In a sport dependent on personalities, Woods was a transcendent personality.

He reached the ultimate status, known by people who don’t know much — if anything — about golf. The way Pavarotti was known by those who didn’t know anything about opera.

The method of Woods’ withdrawal, pulling out the three days after making a formal commitment, was vexing to some, irritating to others. Too much about someone among the missing? Probably, but that complaint was lodged back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the issue dealt with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

“Why are you always writing about people who aren’t playing?” wondered unhappy executives from the PGA Tour. “Write about the others, then people will want to watch them.”

As we know, that’s a false hope. It’s the Steph Currys and Buster Poseys — and Tiger Woodses — who, through success and charisma, draw the fans.

That said, the first Safeway Open is under way at Silverado Country Club. (First, because the event previously was sponsored by Frys). And in the opening round Thursday, Scott Piercy, who if he’s not Tiger also isn’t anonymous, shot a record 10-under-par 62 on the North Course.

The slogan, “These guys are good,” is an understatement. The guys who play the Tour are great — even though Silverado isn’t Oakmont or Olympic, a 62 is a 62 — and in a way Tiger’s fame helped others come to the understanding.

If the fans bought tickets because of Woods, well, they were privileged to watch somebody else, Piercy, go seven-under-par on his first 10 holes and finish with 12 birdies out of the 18 holes. Remarkable.

The Safeway is the first tournament of the Tour’s rather confusing wrap-around season. The calendar may read 2016, but the schedule says 2017. The idea is to make the autumn tournaments seem important, even if they’re lost somewhere among the baseball playoffs and college and pro football.

“Oh man,” said Piercy of his spectacular round, “I think I made more feet of putts than I did all last season.” Last season, of course, ended only two weeks ago, as if it matters. There’s a course. There’s a tournament. Play on.

Phil Mickelson has his own schedule, but fortunately the Safeway is on that schedule. This is Phil’s farewell until the Career Builder Challenge, the former Bob Hope Desert Classic, in January. Maybe there’s no time off for the Tour, but there will be for Mickelson, now 46.

He began the Safeway with consecutive bogies but came in with a three-under 69 and, although it was 5:21 p.m., with the day’s largest gallery. And why not? As Tiger has, Mickelson earned the following. Five majors and a lot of smiles gain anyone a high degree of respect and approval.

“I have to be careful energy-wise,” said Mickelson of his slow start, “because it’s been a very emotional and long year, ending and culminating with the high degree of the Ryder Cup.”

Mickelson led the British Open at Troon in July, then finished second behind Henrik Stenson. Two weeks ago, he was the de facto leader, and as a competitor he was a major factor in America’s first Ryder Cup victory since 2008. His presence at the Safeway should not go unappreciated — and it hasn’t been.

“I didn’t have much time off,” said Mickelson after the Ryder Cup triumph, ”so I’ve got to maintain energy. I got off to a slow start. I wasn’t as focused as I need to be, but I put myself in position where (Friday) I can get hot on the greens, get perfect greens in the morning, get it going, shoot six, seven, eight-under-par and get right back in it for the weekend.”

No Tiger at the Safeway, but plenty of Phil and Scott Piercy. It could be worse. Much, much worse.

7:55PM

At the Frys.com Open, a glimpse of the Tour without Tiger

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — This is what golf will be in the coming years. This is the way golf is at the present. They’re playing the PGA Tour without Tiger Woods, at least for a while. A new season but old worries. What happens to the game?

The Frys.com Open starts Thursday at Silverado Country Club. It’s a place with a great history, a place where Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus have won, as if that has any effect on the game in 2015.

They keep telling us golf is in great shape. That people such as Rory McIlroy, who is entered in this Frys.com, and Jordan Spieth, who isn’t entered, will keep the fans attentive and interested. But golfers have always followed the game. It’s the non-golfers that golf needs.

Bill Veeck understood sports and show business. He owned several major league teams, the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox. The Browns — awful, trapped in the shadow of the St. Louis Cardinals — would eventually become the Baltimore Orioles, but in St. Louis they were all but ignored. Until the stunt.

Veeck signed a midget, Eddie Gaedel, then sent him to bat. Gaedel walked on four pitches, of course, and whether the idea was brilliant or idiotic didn’t matter, it would not go unnoticed. “If you had to depend on baseball fans for your support,” Veeck reminded, “you’d be out of business by Mothers’ Day.”

Golf isn’t going out of business, for certain. And yet, neither is it going as it did when Woods was the attraction. He was golf’s Eddie Gaedel, in a matter of speaking. He brought in an entire new constituency, people unfamiliar with game, who probably didn’t know a sand wedge from a sandwich. But after Woods’ spectacular introduction, the 1997 record Masters win, and the “Hello, World” commercial, they were Woods fans. Not golf fans, per se, but Woods fans.

So now there’s no Tiger Woods, as he rehabs from a second back surgery, so now that his 40th birthday is some two and a half months away, what happens to the Woods fans? Will they shift loyalties to someone like Rory or Spieth or Jason Day — or even Phil Mickelson? Or will they just end their brief relationship with the sport?

Golf is an individual sport. If you’re a Cubs fan and have suffered through the years you remain a Cubs fan, whether it’s Ernie Banks in the lineup or Kris Bryant. But if you’re a Tiger fan, especially one never previously involved in golf, it’s different.

Arnold Palmer was golf’s first superstar, starting in the late 1950s when golf and television formed a happy alliance. As he declined and later as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman declined — not to imply they had the unique appeal of Woods — some connected to the Tour advised journalists to write about the new guys and not the old ones.

“Let your readers know about all the great players out here,” was the usual admonition. The trouble was they knew but often didn’t care. And not much has changed, even with 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose grouped in the first two rounds of this Frys with McIlroy and AT&T Pebble Beach winner Brandt Snedekder. Great players without Tiger's magic.

Tiger’s gone for a while, until next February or March. After that, let’s say another five years, because of the injuries and operations, two on the back, four on the left knee, Woods may be forced to retire and, barring a commemorative appearance, gone forever.

And for those who think it won’t make a difference, look at what occurred during the Wyndham event in August. He made an unscheduled appearance in an attempt to qualify for the Tour Championship events, and the crowds were far greater than in previous years without him in the field.

Woods, as the line goes, still moves the needle. Some dislike him, after the stories of his personal life. Some idolize him, acknowledging the 14 majors he’s won. But nobody disregards him. He’s still a story, even now when he’s not a story.

The golf tour without Tiger Woods? For better or worse, that’s the way it’s going to be.

7:22AM

Bleacher Report: Golf Will Tiger Woods Salvage His Season After Vintage Round 1 at Wyndham?

By Art Spander
Featured Columnist

It’s not really about the season, he said a week ago. It’s about the year. Tiger Woods had his own judgmental way of looking at the past several months, which were not at all pleasant, and at the future.

So many of us saw his result in the PGA Championship a few days ago, and in the U.S. and British Opens — missed cuts alland said it’s over for 2015.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.